Rhone Rangers 2014: Celebrating American Rhone Wines

What a spectacular day! The weather was much too warm for early April, but perfect for an outing to the Richmond side of San Francisco Bay. Can’t say I had ever been to Richmond before, just driven through the city on the way to somewhere else. So, when I noticed the Rhone Rangers celebration was to be held in part at Craneway Conference Center and Pavilion at Ford Point, Richmond I was curious.

The San Francisco Bay Area Weekend Celebration of American Rhone Wines, held April 5 and 6, began Saturday evening with a walk-around tasting, winemaker dinner and live auction at the General’s Residence Fort Mason, San Francisco.

The Sunday events, the Seminar Series early in the day, and the Grand Tasting in the afternoon were held at the Craneway Conference Center and Craneway Pavilion respectively. We attended the Grand Tasting in the afternoon.

Craneway Pavilion

The Rhone Rangers organization exists to promote Rhone varietal wines produced in the US. Member wineries now number almost 200 and are making wine in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Michigan and Virginia. Major red varieties include Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah. Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenade Blanc are just a few of the white varieties.

We found lots to like at this tasting, 89 wineries were listed in the program! I tackled white wines and Rosé almost exclusively, Pete concentrated on the red varieties. Here are a few of the wines that stood out to us. It is by no means an exhaustive list, and truth be told, most of what we tasted was pretty darn good. Many on this list are smaller producers.

EdenVale Winery 2009 Viognier ($18) — floral aromas and flavors, stone fruit flavors with bright acidity. Love the flavors and the price. Medford, Oregon.

Holly’s Hill Vineyards 2012 Roussanne ($20) — minerals and citrus, a bit of weight in the mouth.  Sierra foothills.

Holly’s Hill Vineyards 2013 Viognier ($20) — less floral more minerals and citrus than some others I tasted. Nice weight in the mouth. All of Holly’s Hill white wines spend a bit of time in neutral oak.

Lagier Meredith Vineyard 2012 Chester’s Anvil Gretna Green ($30) — stone fruit, a hint of citrus blossom, juicy acidity. This wine is mainly Roussanne with just a bit of Viognier. The Chester’s Anvil is a label Lagier Meredith produce with their neighbors, Pott Wine. Napa Valley.

Lagier Meredith Vineyard 2013 Rosé ($20) — lots of berry aromas followed by red fruit and berry flavors, light but flavorful. Mt. Veeder, Napa

2012 Wrath Ex Anima Muscat BlancWrath 2012 Ex Anima Muscat Blancthe palest of yellows in the glass with oodles of orange blossom aromas and flavors along with minerals, a surprising lack of sweetness and good acidity.

I tried this wine on a lark, just because it was white, and was blown away. Most Muscat is sweet, syrupy and lacking in acidity; mostly not what I want to drink. This wine is not one of those Muscats, it’s fermented to dryness and lovely. It was the most surprising thing I tasted. (I didn’t ask the price, it was not listed on the program. Santa Lucia Highlands, I believe.)

 

Skinner Vineyards & Winery 2012 Picpoul Blanc ($24) — amazing tropical fruit aromas caught my attention right away. Flavors of pears, citrus and minerals combine with good acidity for a clean finish. Delicious, flavorful and refreshing. El Dorado County.

Acquiesce winesAcquiesce 2012 Picpoul Blanc ($22) — citrus blossom aromatics and flavors with minerality, citrus flavors and bright acidity. Lots of flavor and a good weight in the mouth.

This uncommon variety worth looking for. The winery is located in Lodi within the Mokelumne River AVA. All estate fruit.

Acquiesce 2012 Grenache Blanc ($22) — minerals and stone fruit flavors, but the minerality really predominates to me. Very interesting flavors, great acidity. Lovely.

Acquiesce 2012 Grenache Rosé ($20) — floral and berry aromas followed by raspberry and blackberry flavors. Its all about berries with good acidity. Refreshing, and I think it would be a good food wine.

Two ShepherdsTwo Shepherds 2012 Grenache Blanc ($25) — tart, citrusy, juicy, some minerality. Not a simple wine, but easy to like. One you will want to spend time with. Saarloos Vineyard, Santa Ynez.

Two Shepherds 2012 Rosé of Grenache Gris ($24) — transparent ruby in the glass with nice berry and dark fruit aromas, flavors are a bit more restrained than the other Rosés on this list (different varieties), but no less interesting. Definite fruit and mineral flavors along with a bit of tannin. Love this wine. Gibson Ranch, Mendocino.

Two Shepherds 2012 Grenache Saralee’s Vineyard ($38) — was outstanding. The nose hit me with the scent of deep red roses, a scent I often get with Grenache. This carried over to the flavor along with light red fruit. Their style is to make a little lighter bodied wines than many of the others I tasted which made them stand out.

Tablas Creek WinesTablas Creek Vineyard brought a large line-up of white wines and two Rosés. All are excellent with interesting, nuanced flavors. Look for these wines. There were a lot of wines to taste through, and the staff were very informative and pleasant.

2013 Chacewater Rose

 

Chacewater 2013 Roséplenty of berry flavors and aromas along with citrusy flavors make this wine bright and flavorful. Add food or not. Their vineyard is located in Nevada City (Sierra foothills) and is certified organic.

 

 

 

 

Bonny Doon Vineyard winesBonny Doon 2009 Le Cigare Volant “Normale” ($38) — was well balanced with nice fruit and smooth integrated tannins. As a comparison, the Bonny Doon 2009 Le Cigare Volant Reserve  ($75) was also being poured. It was similar but richer and earthier. The Reserve spends time on the lees (in glass demijohns) soaking up flavor and texture. Usually I prefer the “Normale” but today I preferred the Reserve. Both are blends of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Cinsault.

Cline CellarsCline Cellars brought an affordable and flavorful lineup of wines. The Cline Cellars 2012 Cashmere (a blend of Granache, Mourvedre and Petite Sirah), 2012 Ancient Vines Mourvedre, and 2012 Los Carneros Syrah were all very good. Priced at $21, $20 and $30 respectively, they won’t break the bank.

 

McCay CellarsMcCay Cellars 2012 Rosé ($18) — lovely red fruit flavors and interesting minerality. Yet another flavorful Rosé, this time made from Cinsault.

In addition to the Rosé, McCay was pouring their Grenache ($32), Syrah ($32), Carignan ($32) all 2011 vintage, and their 2012 Petite Sirah ($24). All are very well made showing great flavor, well integrated tannins and restrained use of oak. Michael McCay’s winemaking style includes indigenous yeast fermentation in many of his wines along with minimal oak influence. Very nice group of wines.

Just a few more general notes on the red wines: Fields Family Wines also poured a group of nice wines made with a more restrained use of oak. The Fields Family Grenache ($22) was especially nice. As always, the Ridge Vineyards group of wines was very good.

As the weather warms, I am always looking for interesting white wines. Picpoul Blanc and Grenache Blanc will get particular attention from me this summer.

Rosé is amazingly variable depending upon the grape(s) used to produce it. Grenache tends to be more floral, strawberry-flavored, Syrah a bit more blackberry flavored — to me. The Two Shepherds Rosé of Grenache Gris just must be tasted.

This year’s edition of the Rhone Rangers Celebration of American Rhone Wines was a complete success from my point of view. Pete and I both thought the wines we tasted were really outstanding this year. A thoroughly enjoyable sampling of a range of varieties, winemaking styles and vineyard locations. That’s one of the really wonderful things about wine, the variety is endless.

Former Ford Assembly PlantThe location was spectacular. This former Ford assembly plant, which opened in 1931, is a treasure; I’m so glad it has been saved and renovated (also happy not to be the one who washes all of those windows!)

Rhone Rangers organizers did a fine job of providing connections using public transportation to the venue. We were able to drive part way, take BART and then make the final connection by complementary shuttle bus. It all worked well. Connections from San Francisco were available by private ferry. The day was picture-perfect, the ride on the ferry must have been spectacular.

View of SF from Craneway
With tasting tables well spaced around Craneway Pavilion, and with perhaps fewer tasters this year than last, the tasting was very enjoyable. Especially early in the Trade Tasting it was possible to spend a bit of time asking questions of the wineries.

I only had one negative experience with snotty staff pouring wine. I gave the table two chances, returning later in the tasting, and they struck out both times. I walked away from the table.

On the other hand the staff at nearly all other tables were stellar. Bonny Doon Vineyards, Tablas Creek, Fields Family, McCay Cellars, Acquiesce and Two Shepherds went out of their way to engage with tasters. That is the positive note I will take with me.

Cheers!

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Lodi Native: A Zinfandel Project Reflective of the Vineyard

What happens when you remove the winemaker from the equation of making wine? Well technically nothing happens, no wine, just raisins. But consider this. What would happen if a group of Lodi winemakers got together, sourced Zinfandel from heritage plantings within the Lodi AVA, agreed to a specified winemaking protocol using what the group describes as “minimalist winemaking practices” to eliminate the winemakers’ personal style, then submitted their wine individually to the group for approval by all members? A lot of hand wringing, heated debate, sleepless nights… yes, almost certainly. But in the end what resulted is a collection of six very special Zinfandels clearly expressive of each vineyard.

The Project

The seed for the Lodi Native project was planted in January 2012 when Randy Caparoso, sommelier and blogger for LoCA (the Lodi Winegrape Commission) gathered together a group of Lodi winemakers to taste their wines with a visiting New York sommelier. From that tasting, a discussion followed as to how Lodi might best highlight its historic Zinfandel vineyards. The goal of producing the most vineyard-expressive Zinfandel possible emerged. The emphasis was to be on the vineyard and the variety, not the winemaking style.

A winemaking protocol was established. Native yeast fermentation only and no inoculation for malolactic fermentation. No adjustment to acid levels. No addition of water or other methods of alcohol reduction. No new oak. “Old vines” (prior to 1962) preferred.

Lodi Native winemakers

Lodi Native Winemakers

Six winemakers agreed to participate in the Lodi Native project. For some of the winemakers in the group this protocol represents a significant departure from their normal winemaking practices for others, not as much. All committed to making wine following this protocol, stepping outside of their usual comfort zone.

Six vineyards, all located within the Mokelumne River sub-AVA of the Lodi AVA are represented in this inaugural bottling. The Mokelumne River area is the historic heart of Zinfandel in Lodi, with original plantings dating back to the 1800s. The oldest existing vineyard was planted in 1888. The soil is mostly Tokay sandy loam, with some variation. Soil in the eastern portion of the AVA (east of Hwy 99) tends to be deeper, sandier soil. In the western portion, the sandy soil tends to be shallower and contain more organic matter.

The Lodi Native project and its wines were presented to the public for the first time on March 29. Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) and Lodi Winegrape Commission hosted the presentation which included an educational seminar, escorted vineyard tours, winemaker reception and BBQ-themed dinner. The vineyards were wet, but beautiful, due to the rainy day.

It was a great opportunity to hear the grape growers and winemakers talk about the vineyards and the process. We attended as media representatives (thank you Charles Communications Associates) and are excited to share our experience.

Lodi Native Wine Tasting

Lodi Native Wine Tasting


The Vineyards and Their Wines

Wegat Vineyard Zinfandel

Wegat Vineyard Zinfandel

Wegat Vineyard — farmed by Todd Maley, this 21 acre Zinfandel vineyard was field grafted by Todd’s dad and uncle in 1958 and yields about 3 tons per acre. Todd typically does shoot thinning to assure optimal sun exposure and ripe flavor development. He will drop 20 – 30% of the fruit. Todd feels the most important factor in developing the concentrated fruit flavors he prefers is withholding water from the vines in May and June. The vines produce smaller berries and a uniform crop with riper flavors. The vineyard is farmed according to Lodi Rules of sustainable farming.

Chad Joseph decided early in his winemaking career he wanted to work in Lodi, particularly with Zinfandel. He is the winemaker for Maley Brothers Vineyards, a small “handcrafted, growers label”, and therefore is familiar with the fruit produced by the Wegat Vineyard.

He chose to harvest at a lower Brix to facilitate a smoother native yeast fermentation. Also, a bit of sulfur was added to inhibit non-Saccharomyces yeast. Light destemming followed with as many whole clusters as possible. Chad feels whole cluster fermentation (carbonic maceration) accentuates the berry flavor of the fruit and adds herbal notes. Fruit was stored, covered, at 45º for 6 days during which time the cap developed. At that time, the cap was gently punched down and the fruit moved to a warmer portion of the cellar.

Over the next 7 days, fermentation took place and when the temperature rose to about 85º – 88º the bins were moved to an area of the cellar that is not temperature controlled. Fermentation completed very quickly. Fruit was pressed and moved straight to barrels on the pressed lees. After a month, with malolactic fermentation completed, the wine was racked and returned to barrel with a bit of sulfur. “That’s all we did,” Chad modestly stated.

He described the process as a learning experience that allowed him to grow as a winemaker. He was happy to participate.

2012 Lodi Native Maley Brothers Wegat Vineyard Zinfandellayered flavors of dark plums and blackberries with a bit of black pepper and vegetal back notes. The body is light to medium with smooth tannins and good acidity. The finish is long. ABV 14.9%

Soucie Vineyard — the most westerly vineyard of the group, this 6 acre vineyard was planted in 1916. It is own-rooted, head-trained and planted in debris sandy loam. 90% of the original planting remains, some vines are held together with bailing wire and ropes. The soil has a lower organic content than Tokay sandy loam and a high quartz content.

The Zinfandel fruit from this vineyard, located only about a mile from the Wegat vineyard, produces much larger bunches of grapes with larger berries. Clusters can weigh a pound-and-a-half.

m2 Wines winemaker Layne Montgomery has been making wine from this vineyard since 2002. By his own account, it took him 7 or 8 years to figure out this vineyard. In his estimation the Soucie vineyard consistently produces a deep, rich forest floor characteristic in its wines. He feels it is one of the best Zinfandel vineyards in California.

Layne described himself as probably the most skeptical winemaker of the group. He admitted that he did not liking giving up control over the grapes. Because of the need to use a native yeast fermentation and the inability to acidify, he picked half the Zinfandel at 22º Brix, lower than he would like. As he put it, “The grapes sat in the bin for 6 days before starting fermentation, mocking me.” He harvested an additional half-ton at 25º Brix and then blended the two batches. He had no issue with un-inoculated malolactic fermentation.

2012 Lodi Native m2 Soucie Vineyard Zinfandellighter red fruit flavors of cherries, some sweetness and spice mixed with earthy notes, smooth tannins, good acidity. This wine has a light body for such a full-flavored red wine. The finish is so long with flavor, the wine just becomes almost weightless but the flavors remain. Very nice. ABV 14.5%.

Trulux Vineyard — this 30 acre Zinfandel vineyard is planted on St. George rootstock and is farmed in accordance with Lodi Rules. These very tall vines, at nearly 6’ in height, produces long, scraggly open clusters of grapes with small berries. McCay Cellars winemaker Michael McCay is able to spot-pick the Trulux vineyard, enabling him to choose only fully-ripe clusters. The fruit varies considerably on these tall vines, with fruit growing at between 1 and 6 feet above the ground.

According to Michael, the dependable growing season in the Lodi AVA with consistently warm days and an average temperature of only 57º at night is perfect for Zinfandel. It allows the vines to be “pushed” during the day (by 100º temperatures) and then to rest at night with the cooler temperatures. In Michael’s opinion,“It’s what makes Zinfandel so special in Lodi.”

Michael McCay first made wine from this vineyard in 1994…in a barn. He fell in love with the vineyard right away. Of all the winemakers in the Lodi Native project, he is probably the most comfortable with the Lodi Native protocol. His commercial production of Zinfandel for McCay Cellars is 85% native yeast fermentation. He picks according to pH more than ripeness, though one does follow the other.

Wine from the Trulux vineyard takes time to show its true potential, according to Michael, typically 12 – 18 months. For his commercial bottling, 2010 is the current release and the 2011 Trulux Zinfandel was just bottled last week. Patience is required, but rewarded.

2011 Lodi Native McCay Cellars Trulux Vineyard Zinfandeldark fruit and earthy aromas are echoed in the flavors along with leather. Tannins are smooth with good acidity and once again, a very long finish. The flavors are darker, almost brooding. Delicious. ABV 14.6%.

Marian's Vineyard Zinfandel

Marian’s Vineyard Zinfandel

Marian’s Vineyard — this 8.3 acre vineyard was planted 1901. It is own-rooted and planted in deep, sandy soil. Technically located on the west side of Hwy 99, its soil is more characteristic of the east side Mokelumne River AVA’s deep sandy soil. As winemaker Stuart Spencer noted, they don’t like to choose sides! As part of the Mohr-Fry Ranch, Marian’s vineyard is farmed by father-son team of Jerry and Bruce Fry. This lovely old vineyard, which is farmed according to Lodi Rules, is one of the best known in Lodi. The origin of its budwood remains unknown.

Marian’s vineyard continues to produce 3 to 4 tons per acre in good fruit years. This level of production is surprising to me given its age, and surely a testament to the farming practices of Jerry and Bruce Fry.

The Spencers, Stuart and his father Tim before him, have a longtime relationship with Jerry and Bruce. Back in 1996, when St. Amant Winery was faced with the destruction of their vineyards by phylloxera, Tim Spencer first made Zinfandel from the Mohr-Fry vineyards. The Frys provided the fruit from a block planted in 1944 in exchange for some of the wine. Without regard for payment for the fruit, their agreement was sealed with just a handshake.

In 1999 Tim approached Jerry wanting to make wine from what Jerry considered his best block, Marian’s vineyard. That was the first vintage of Marian’s vineyard produced by St. Amant Winery and it has been a huge success for the winery since. It is this kind of longtime relationship that Stuart feels characterizes the spirit of St. Amant Winery and the Lodi winemaking community in general.

Stuart chose to pick fruit from Marian’s vineyard for the Lodi Native project at a bit lower Brix than usual. He said the fruit came into the winery a bit hot and the fermentation got “funky” and was not a success. He picked a second batch at the more usual 24.5º Brix and that native fermentation proceed without problem. He admitted to some anxious days, waiting for that fermentation to get started.

Stuart stressed that the collaborative process involved in Lodi Native, though challenging at times, has been a great experiment. He has learned a lot from it, and will continue to experiment with native fermentation. He can see the potential for using a combination of native and commercial yeast fermentations to enhance the flavor profile of his commercial bottling.

2012 Lodi Native St. Amant Marian’s Vineyard Zinfandellight aromas of dark berries. Berry pie flavors, a bit of spice and pepper and a touch of earth combine with smooth tannins and good acidity. Another long, flavorful finish. Just delicious. ABV 14.5%.

Century Block Vineyard — this 3 acre block located on the east side of the Mokelumne River AVA was planted in 1905 on its own roots. It is a tiny island among cherry orchards and Zinflandel on wire trellising that is used for bulk production. The soil is very sandy, poor in nutrients and well drained.

In parts of this vineyard there is Grenache and Tokay. Some vines are robust and hearty, others small and squat. As winemaker Ryan Sherman puts it, “It has a lot of weirdness that makes it cool.”

In Ryan’s opinion, meticulous vineyard management was a key to the success of this project. When making wine without a safety net, as with the Lodi Native project, quality fruit is essential. He applies a compulsive attention to shoot thinning, sucker removal and fruit thinning. Ryan harvested at 23 to 24.2º Brix.

Ryan is the winemaker with the least amount of experience in the group. His winemaking experience began in 2008 and Fields Family Wines’ first vintage was 2010. His production remains relatively small at 1600 cases. To his knowledge the 2012 Lodi Native bottling is the first wine produced as a vineyard designate from the Century Block vineyard. That makes this wine even more special. Unfortunately, he lost the contract for fruit from this vineyard in 2013.

In spite of the challenges of winemaking according to the Lodi Native protocol, the experience was a worthwhile one for Ryan. It did offer an opportunity to produce a wine purely characteristic of the vineyard, even if only one-half of his production made it into the final bottling. Definitely not a money-making proposition.

2012 Lodi Native Fields Family Century Block Vineyard Zinfandeldelicate cherry aromas followed by dark cherry flavors and a bit of spice and pepper. Smooth tannins, good acidity and a medium body combine with pleasing fruit flavors for a very long finish. Fresh and juicy. ABV 14%.

Noma Ranch Zinfandel

Noma Ranch Zinfandel

Noma Ranch — this teeny-tiny vineyard was planted in the early 1900s. It is own-rooted and dry farmed. No water, period. The vines are so short, they look as if they are struggling to survive, some crawl across the ground. No wonder they produce only 1 ton per acre. It’s surprising they manage that. The clusters are very small, smaller than your fist, with tiny berries. Winemaker Tim Holdener calls them “buckshot on a vine.”

Shoot thinning and cluster thinning are generally not needed in this vineyard. The very small yield produces concentrated flavors with very high acidity even when very ripe. Typically the pH remains less than 3.4 even at 28º Brix. This high acid characteristic makes is possible to dry-farm this vineyard and achieve physiologic ripeness. This suits Tim’s winemaking style just fine.

Tim, who is winemaker/owner of Macchia Wines, feels the Lodi Native project is the natural evolution of winemaking in Lodi. He described how Lodi has been the engine driving wine production in California by producing a very large volume of grapes used for mostly bulk wines. Over time a number of family wineries have grown up in Lodi. Finally, winemaking has moved to this project which is able to showcase some very unique and special vineyards in Lodi.

Being “handcuffed” as a winemaker by the Lodi Native protocol was challenging for Tim. He was skeptical, especially given his beer brewing background, he naturally relies on the contribution yeasts make to the fermentation process. But, in the end Tim is pleased to be able to produce a wine that represents this special vineyard. In his view this wine reflects exactly what he tastes as he walked through the vineyard tasting the fruit before harvest. A sense of place.

Tim, picked three batches of grapes from different vineyards for the Lodi Native project. He chose the best batch and that’s what is in the bottle.

2012 Lodi Native Macchia Noma Ranch Zinfandela obvious spicy, floral nose is followed by very concentrated, dark fruit flavors, spice, significant tannins and juicy acidity. Lots of dark fruit flavor, lots of texture. ABV 15.8%.

Take Aways

Wow, what a flavorful group of wines. Similar fruit flavors were common to these wines, but each tasted unique. We were favorably impressed with the depth of flavor, great acidity and generally very long finish of these wines. There were no under ripe flavors. Not one wine in this group was thin or lacking in flavor.

Every one of these wines was so pleasing to drink on its own. None was heavy, ponderous or overly alcoholic. I can imagine everyone of these wines will be very good food wines.

No wood aging…no problem. Every one of these wines had lots of flavor, great tannin structure and elements of spice or earth from the fruit itself. Just delicious on its own.

The challenges of slow, unpredictable native fermentation and its unsuitability for a large volume production facility was noted by several of the winemakers, so we won’t look for it from large producers. But, that presents an opportunity for small, artisanal producers.

No only is Native Lodi a demonstration of some of the area’s most aged and unique vineyards, it is a demonstration of the power of cooperation and comradery among this group of Lodi winemakers. It’s so refreshing to see in a competitive commercial market.

These elegant, flavorful wines with restrained use of oak and great acidity should have the potential to age well and perhaps gain complexity with time. It would be interesting to taste these wines again over time.

The Lodi Native project continues…all winemakers in the group produced a Lodi Native wine in 2013 and expect to do the same in 2014. Will the number of winemakers participating in Lodi Native increase? That remains to be seen.

Where to Find the Wine

Lodi Native Six Pack

Lodi Native Wines

 

Six bottles of the 2012 Lodi Native Zinflandel presented in a wooden box and priced at $180 will be available at the Lodi Wine and Visitors Center. Additional information is available on the Lodi Native website as well.

 

 

Many Thanks

Thank you to Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) and Lodi Winegrape Commission for organizing the tasting, vineyard tour and dinner. The day was informational and fun, even if somewhat soggy. We enjoyed the vineyard tour in spite of rain showers, the vineyards were beautiful in the rain. Thanks also to Charles Communications Associates and Alex Fondren.

Finally, a tip of the hat to this group of Lodi winemakers who were willing to work together to make wine outside their comfort zone. Your project is a success, and you are all still smiling! Well done!

Cheers!

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Côté Mas: An Ensemble of Sparkling Wines From Limoux

I can’t really call it a resolution, though the thought did pop into my head around the New Year, it really was more of a mental note prompted by my enjoyment of sparkling wine over the holidays. The thought was to seriously explore sparkling wines this year by tasting and learning more about sparkling wine production.

So, you can imagine how happy I was when PullThatCork was contacted by McCue Communications about participating in an online tasting of sparkling wines made by Languedoc producer Domaines Paul Mas. The tasting promised “delicious French sparkling wine for under $20” and I have to say the tasting delivered just that.

Using the Brandlive platform, which combines live video and social media interaction, we were able to sip on the samples, watch and ask questions of Côté Mas winemaker Bastien Lalauze and Jamal Rayyis, Sud de France Educator. It was fun and educational.

Domaines Paul Mas is comprised of 7 wine estates located throughout Languedoc-Roussillon that produce a full range of red and white still wines in addition to sparkling wines from Limoux. Some of the wine estates are located in more coastal areas and others in the mountains such as Domaine de Martinolles, where these sparkling wines are produced.

Domaine de Martinolles

Domaine de Martinolles – photo courtesy of Domaines Paul Mas

The Domaine de Martinolles wine estate is located in Limoux at an elevation of 800’ to 900’ above sea level, at the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains. The elevation provides a cooler climate in what is otherwise a much warmer wine region than is usual for the production of sparkling wine. The elevation also means nighttime temperatures drop significantly.

In addition, vineyards are planted on north facing slopes composed of clay and limestone soils. This cooler exposure extend the ripening process so that flavors fully develop and acidity is maintained in the grapes.

Limoux, and the Saint Hilaire Abbe which is close by, has been home to sparkling wine production since at least 1531 when the first intentional production of sparkling wine was documented at the Abbe. That pre-dates production in Champagne.

The three sparkling wines in this tasting represent a range of styles giving us a chance to appreciate the difference and learn how each is made.

Cote Mas St Hilaire Cremant De Limoux BrutCôté Mas St. Hilarie Crémant de Limoux NV Brut light yellow in the glass with many fine bubbles and just a bit of yellow apple and toast on the nose. Citrus flavors with hints of green apple and toast finish with clean acidity. The wine has a nice weight in the mouth thanks in part to all of the bubbles. The finish is long and crisp. The blend of 60% Chardonnay, 20% Chenin Blanc, 10% Pinot Noir and 10% Mauzac produces pleasing and complex flavors. ABV 12.5%.

Sip this wine as an aperitif and enjoy the fresh fruit flavor, or enjoy it with a meal. Pair it with something rich and fatty, a creamy pasta dish perhaps, it has enough acidity to cleanse your palate. To my taste, this wine is the most similar to Champagne.

This sparkling wine is made according to Méthode Traditionelle, that is essentially the same method used to produce Champagne. Fermentation of the still base wines take place in stainless steel. Liquer de tirage, a blend of sugar and yeast, is added to the base blend a few hours prior to bottling.

A second fermentation is triggered by the additional sugar and yeast and occurs in the bottle. The byproduct of the second formation, carbon dioxide, cannot escape the sealed bottle and therefore is forced into the wine. Voilà bubbles!

The bottles are aged one year on the lees, then disgorged. Liqueur de dosage is added to each bottle before being sealed for the final time. The wine is aged 12 more months before release.

Cote Mas St Hilaire Cremat De Limoux Rose NV BrutCôté Mas St. Hilarie Crémant de Limoux Rosé NV Brut the color is pale salmon with many fine bubbles. Blackberry and toasty aromas are followed by raspberry, toasty flavors and hints of citrus pith. This sparkler has lots of flavor and bubbles, and a nice weight in the mouth. The color is lovely. Drink it by itself or with most lighter fare. ABV 12%.

This sparkling Rosé is a blend of 70% Chardonnay, 20% Chenin Blanc and 10% Pinot Noir. The delicate salmon color of this wine comes from the Pinot Noir which spent time on the skins to produce a blush wine which is added to the white wines. The addition of red wine to white wine to produce rosé is not allowed in the production of Crémant.

The winemaking process for the Rosé is the same as for the Brut, Méthode Traditionelle, as is the aging. The blend of grapes is of course different, giving each a unique flavor. Crémant de Limoux AOP wines may be a blend of a minimum of 40% Chardonnay, minimum 40% Chenin Blanc, maximum 20% Mauzac and maximum 10% Pinot Noir. The winemaker may create the desired blend within these percentages. So interesting to compare the flavors of these two blends.

Cote Mas Blanquette De Limoux NV Methode AncestraleCôté Mas St. Hilarie Blanquette de Limoux NV Méthode Ancestralelight yellow in the glass with lots of bubbles and profuse aromas of baked apples. Sweet flavors of brown butter and baked apples echo in the mouth along with a roundness, distinct sweetness and good acidity. This is like dessert in a glass. ABV 7.8%.

Possible food pairings suggested by Jamal: tart tatin or, if you’re adventuresome, pungent  cheeses. It might be fun to experiment with that.

This Blanquette de Limoux is produced using a unique winemaking technique called Méthode Ancestrale, which accounts for the higher residual sugar. Fermentation begins in stainless steel and is halted at about 7% alcohol by chilling to 32º F and filtration to remove the yeast. The wine, which has about 100g/L of sugar at this point, is held until March when the second fermentation in the bottle is initiated with the addition of yeast. The second fermentation produces a finished wine with 7.8% alcohol and 80g/L of residual sugar. At this time disgorgement takes place and the bottles are sealed for the final time. The wine is released after 3 months of bottle aging.

Because wine produced using the Méthode Ancestrale involves less time on the lees and shorter bottle aging, it produces larger bubbles than Méthode Traditionelle. It represents a small proportion of total Blanquette de Limoux production.

Blanquette de Limoux  may be produced in the Méthode Traditionelle as well, and tend to be drier and have smaller bubbles. If you have the opportunity to try both, do so. It is interesting to taste the different flavors produced from Mauzac using these these two winemaking techniques.

This wine is 100% Mauzac, a white grape variety indigenous to Limoux. It produces large berries with very thick skins and has a high level of acidity which is maintained through its relatively long maturation on the vine. By law, Blanquette de Limoux must contain at least 90% Mauzac with the additional 10% coming from only Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc.

The Blanquette de Limoux AOP is intended to preserve the use of the traditional variety Mauzac. It was feared by producers that with the introduction of non-indigenous varieties, such as Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, the traditional Mauzac variety would fall out of use. Today the production of Crémant de Limoux is only slightly larger than Blanquette de Limoux.

All three of these wines offer fresh, lively flavors with excellent acidity. They are very easy to enjoy on their own. Choose a relatively dry style, or a sweeter style. Adding food is no problem, they are very versatile.

If you prefer to make a cocktail using these sparkling wines, go right ahead. Winemaker Bastien Lalauze is fine with that. His only advice is to use a quality wine to make a quality cocktail. And as he puts it “There is not only one good wine, and not only one way to drink a wine.” Great advice.

Look for these three Paul Mas French sparkling wines at retailers in the months to come. They will become widely distributed, and at under $20 are a great value.

Thank you to Domaines Paul Mas and McCue Communications for sponsoring the tasting. It was a fun and informative way to learn about and taste these delicious wines made in Limoux.

Cheers!

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Wines of Southern Arizona — One More Taste

It’s no secret we are fans of the wines being made in Southern Arizona, both from the Sonoita AVA and Cochise County. We spent some time there last summer and thoroughly enjoyed our visit. We are of course, longing to return.

In lieu of a return trip, we broke out a selection of wines we purchased while we were there, and Pete presented them at a recent Thursday Night tasting at Fine Wines of Stockton. One of the fun aspects of combining travel and wine is being able to purchase wines and then share the wines you collect along the way with fellow wine lovers when you return home.

There are two wine growing regions in Southern Arizona. The Willcox area in Cochise County is located southeast of Tucson and is framed by the Chiricahua Mountains to the east and the Dragoon Mountains to the west. Elevations range from nearly 5000 feet to about 4200 feet above sea level. Soils are a combination of volcanic and sandy loam with areas of limestone beneath.

Sonoita, also south of Tucson and to the west of the Willcox area, is the only AVA designated in Arizona. It too is located at nearly 5000 feet, and surrounded by the Santa Rita, Whetstone, Huachuca Mountains and the Canelo Hills.

The Sonoita/Elgin area is home to the first vineyards and wineries established in the state. It all started with a soil scientist named Dr. Gordon Dutt who determined in the early 1970s that soil conditions for grape growing were ideal.

Both areas are subject to cold winters, which can include a dusting of snow. Springtime is always a gamble in terms of frost and summer can bring hail. Every vintage is completely unique with the vineyards subject to extremely unpredictable weather.

To a degree, winemakers are still experimenting to see what grows best where. Rhône and Italian varieties are widely planted, along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Here’s what we tasted.

2012 Lawrence Dunham Sky Island Viognier2012 Lawrence Dunham Vineyards Sky Island Viogniersubtle floral aromas and flavors with both tending more toward minerality and citrus. This wine is fresh, crisp and refreshing. It’s all Viognier, all stainless steel and no malolactic fermentation. This is a good food wine and one that will be a pleasure to enjoy as the weather warms up. ABV 13.8%.

Lawrence Dunham Vineyards is located in the foothills of the Chiricahua Mountains in Cochise County at 4896’. Summer days are warm and the nights are cool. The porous soil is volcanic, a result of the Turkey Creek Volcanic eruption 27 million years ago.

The 2012 vintage was very productive for LDV, they went from a 500 case production to 1800 cases, and it was the first year all of their production was from estate fruit. Current plantings include Petite Sirah, Grenache, Syrah and Viognier.

2012 Dos Cabezas Pink2012 Dos Cabezas Pinkstrawberries and limes combine in the aromas and flavors to produce a bright, clean wine. It’s dry, not too fruity and has great acidity. This drinks well on its own and is a great companion with lunch, we know this from experience! ABV 14%.

Dos Cabezas WineWorks has vineyard in both Willcox area and Sonoita/Elgin. This wine is a blend of 85% Grenache 15% Monastrell (Mourvèdre) from blocks in the Cimarron Vineyard in Cochise County specifically dedicated to the production of this Rosé. It is good every year and we always look for it on restaurant menus when we visit Scottsdale in the summer.

2008 Sonoita Vineyards Sangiovese2008 Sonoita Vineyards Sangiovese transparent garnet color in the glass (just as I would expect from Sangiovese) with aromas and flavors of dried cherries, spice and sweet plums. It is a fairly light-bodied wine with smooth tannins.

Dr. Gordon Dutt planted his own vineyard in 1979 and opened Sonoita Vineyards in 1983. Both were firsts in southern Arizona. Dr. Dutt’s granddaughter, Lori Reynolds, is the current winemaker having taken over the responsibility in 2013. The winery is in a period of transition, and we are looking forward to a new generation of wines from Sonoita Vineyards.

2011 Pillsbury WildChild Red2011 Pillsbury Wine Company WildChild Redlight garnet in the glass with flavors and scents of tart cherries, leather, earth and spice in the background. This wine has plenty of flavor along with soft tannins, good acidity and medium body. This wine is so drinkable and so versatile, add food — or not. ABV 14.8%.

The Pillsbury Wine Company vineyards, planted in 2000, are located in the Kansas Settlement area of Willcox. About 20 acres of primarily Rhône varieties are planted in the sandy loam soil.

This vintage WildChild Red is a blend of Merlot, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Mourvèdre and Shiraz. The blend may vary, the current release is Sangiovese and Merlot only, but the wine is always delicious. The Roan Red, another of their red blends, is another of our favorites.

2011 Callaghan Vineyards Claire's2011 Callaghan Vineyards Claire’sdark ruby in the glass with aromas of sweet, dark fruit with vegetal notes tucked into the background. Rich, dark fruit flavors and spices along with moderate tannins and juicy acidity. ABV 13.8%.

A blend of 70% Mourvèdre 15% Grenache 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, from the very difficult 2011 vintage. A hard freeze on May 1 eliminated 85% of the crop, leaving yields for the year at one-third ton per acre. About 35% whole cluster fermentation, was followed by aging in new French oak for 4 months, then in neutral barrels for 7 months.

2009 Callaghan Vineyards Claire's2009 Callaghan Vineyards Claire’searthy, dark fruit flavors of ripe plums and ripe sweet cherries with plenty of tannins. Flavors are riper and sweeter in this vintage along with more alcohol. ABV 15.9%.

The 2009 growing season was characterized by mild temperatures and very little rainfall, only 3”, producing a moderate crop of 1.5 tons per acre. The 2009 blend of 55% Mourvèdre and 45% Granache was aged sur lie for 23 months in neutral oak.

Kent Callaghan is one of the most experienced winemakers in the area. He and his parents planted the original vineyard in 1990. He has continued to learn and experiment with winemaking techniques and grape varieties over the years. And then there is the extreme weather, his entire 2010 crop was damaged by hail in August of that year.

Pete chose these two Callaghan Vineyards wines to demonstrate the different styles capable of being produced from vintage to vintage. Every year is different in terms of weather, the blends the winemaker chooses and the vinification techniques chosen.

The southern Arizona wine region is absolutely worth exploring. The Willcox area has at least 10 tasting rooms and the Sonoita/Elgin area about 14. Both areas are beautiful. Rolling hills, mountains and grasslands are accented with spectacular cloud formations. There is no end to the hiking and birding available and the temperatures are much cooler than the central portion of Arizona.

Go for the wine, but be prepared to fall in love with the scenery.

Cheers!

PS ~ here are links to our southern Arizona trip last August. Sorry for the shameless self-promotion. Enjoy!

Welcome to Willcox (includes a slideshow)
Willcox Wine Tasting
Lawrence Dunham Vineyards
Pillsbury Wine Company
Dos Cabezas WineWorks
Callaghan Vineyards

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Elizabeth Chambers Cellar 2011 Winemaker’s Cuvée Pinot Noir

Elizabeth Chambers Cellar is proudly releasing their first vintage. We are happy to be among the first to sample their Elizabeth Chambers Cellar 2011 Winemaker’s Cuvée Pinot Noir.

Their History

Elizabeth Chambers Cellar is located in McMinnville, Oregon, that’s Oregon Pinot Noir territory, in the winery formerly occupied by Panther Creek. Oregon winemaker Ken Wright founded Panther Creek in 1986, producing single vineyard Pinot Noir until launching Ken Wright Cellars in 1990 and selling Panther Creek, which the Chambers family purchased in 2005.

The family sold the Panther Creek name and brand in 2013, but not the winery in McMinnville. Former Panther Creek winemaker Michael Stevenson is continuing to make wines for Elizabeth Chambers Cellar.

Liz’s mother was a collector of butterflies. The blue butterfly on every label, capsule top and cork is a tribute to her. She encouraged Liz to follow her dream of making quality Pinot Noir. Liz is a 3rd generation Oregonian.

While Elizabeth Chambers Cellar is a new name in Oregon Pinot Noir, the winemaking team has over 20 years’ experience in the Willamette Valley. Liz and Michael purchase grapes from the well-regarded Freedom Hill Vineyard and Shea Vineyard for their single vineyard bottling and the signature blend. Their current production is 3,500 cases.

Their Wine

Elizabeth Chambers 2011 Winemaker's Cuvee Pinot NoirElizabeth Chambers Cellar 2011 Winemaker’s Cuvée Pinot Noirlight ruby in the glass with aromas of berry bramble and spices. Flavors of cherries and earth mingle with a hint of smoke. Tannins are silky smooth in this light-bodied wine which has good acidity and a medium length finish. This wine gains complexity and depth of flavor as it sits in the glass. ABV 13.3%. SRP $32.

The Winemaker’s Cuvée will be a custom blend every vintage. The fruit for this cuvée is sourced primarily from Freedom Hill Vineyard and from selected blocks of the Lazy River Vineyard. The wine was aged in mostly used oak for 10 months.

Elizabeth Chambers Cellar 2011 Winemaker’s Cuvée Pinot Noir is a wine I would choose to drink in warmer weather. It’s light bodied yet flavorful, the perfect combination for warm weather and the lighter meals that are typical of the season. We enjoyed it with baked chicken, smashed sweet potatoes and string beans. Nice combination.

If you’re impatient, decant this wine to develop flavors quickly. It you like to sit and sip your wine and taste its evolution in the glass, then don’t. Either way this is an enjoyable bottle of wine in a less fruit-forward, elegant style.

Elizabeth Chambers puts it well, “It may be because I am a woman, but I am not interested in seeing who can make the wine with the biggest muscles. I want to drink wines that have table manners, wines that dance. I want elegance and style in my wines.” This wine achieves those goals.

It was a pleasure to taste and review the Elizabeth Chambers Cellar 2011 Winemaker’s Cuvée. While the wine was provided to us as a tasting sample by Gregory White, a strategic marketing and public relations agency, our opinions are our own.

Cheers!

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La Paulée de San Francisco 2014 — A Sampling of Burgundy

I don’t recall how I stumbled upon the announcement for La Paulée de San Francisco 2014. Probably it was a Tweet or an article somewhere that referenced the celebration.

From a quick look at the history of La Paulée I could see that this celebration was modeled after the Burgundian celebration, La Paulée de Meursault, a very prestigious three day event held in November every year. Who would not be curious about an event called Les Trois Glorieuses, the three glorious days?

I could tell from the San Francisco event information that this too would be a serious (and potentially very expensive) celebration of food and Burgundy. Immediately I knew I wanted to participate. My next order of business was to determine what most interested me and what was within my budget.

The Rare Wine Dinner, Collectors Lunch, Legends Dinner and Gala Dinner were all way out of my price range. They must have been amazing events, but not my style on so many levels. I would leave those events for others.

There were two Verticals Tastings, filled with 3-year verticals of Premier and Grand Cru wines. So tempting, but ultimately I was intimidated by the price and yes, I admit it, the wines. I am after all, a relative novice when it comes to Burgundy. I’m certain it was a wonderful tasting, and absolutely something to consider for future celebrations.

Next choice was the Grand Tasting, a large tasting including many Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines. Also very tempting. Not as intimidating as the Verticals Tasting. A strong maybe.

The offering titled Chablis Seminar — Exploring the World’s Most Unique Expression of Chardonnay with Jon Bonné sounded very interesting, but very narrowly focused.

The final consideration was a tasting titled La Paulée Off Grid: A Tasting of Burgundy’s Hidden Gems. The location, Bluxome Street Winery, a working winery in the SOMA neighborhood of San Francisco sounded really interesting.

“Go off the grid and experience all that Burgundy has to offer by sampling a selection of exciting wines curated by a group of our nation’s top sommeliers” stated the description of the tasting. Wines from Chablis, Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Chalonnais, Mâconnais and Beaujolais would be included. Like a sampler plate. And oh yes, speaking of food, there would be food too.

Bluxome Street WineryFor me, this sounded like the best choice. A sampling of all of Burgundy, a mix of regional and village wines with a sprinkling of Premiers Crus and all in a more casual setting. It sounded like a good place to start what would be my largest Burgundy tasting. There were 67 wines on the list!

I have to say my expectations were met and exceeded in every way. The location was charming. Located along what seems more like an alleyway, the winery space was framed by the tasting room at the entrance and a barrel room along the back of the building.

Tasting table La Paulée Tables were organized by region, complete with detailed maps of each area.  It was possible to taste wines beginning with Chablis in the very north of the region and end with Beaujolais in the south, if you wanted to. Wines were grouped along the tables, leading up to the Premier Cru wines.

Food tables were well-spaced around the room. Food was provided by Prospect, Tartine, Delmonte Meat Co. Inc. and Andante Dairy.  A great assortment of warm and cold dishes, bread, cheeses and meats. Just perfect.

 

 

Chablis at La PauléeSommelier Corner: a dedicated space with  sommeliers scheduled to pour two wines from the region they represented. It was a chance to talk wine and region with some very knowledgeable folks. It also drew tasters away from the regional tables, always a good thing.

One more detail before I get to the wine portion of this post…thank to the organizers for locating multiple pour buckets (spit buckets – yuck!) in the center of the room away from the tasting tables. I don’t know why more event organizers don’t do this. It allows us to spread out a bit and have a place to make some notes without further crowding the tasting tables. Pour buckets were also located at both ends of every tasting table. Well done!

My love of Chablis was confirmed. I noticed a variety of flavors from citrus, mineral-centric flavors with a lighter body to smoky, diesel-influenced flavors with a more substantial body.

The big surprise for me was my introduction to Saint Bris, an AOC allowing only Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris, located to the west of Chablis. The Domaine PL & JF Bersan, Saint-Bris 2012 was fresh, floral and only a bit herbal. I will look for more from this AOC.

The wines of Côte de Nuits tasted like red cherries, sometimes a bit tart, with hints of earth and spice. All had great acidity, a lighter body and mostly smooth tannins. These wines were so elegant with so much flavor. Excellent representations of Pinot Noir one and all.

The Pinot Noir from Côte de Beaune were a bit darker in color and had flavors of darker cherries and a bit more weighty. The two Premiers Crus from Côte de Beaune (Domaine Pierre Guillemot, Savigny-lès-Beaune 1er Cru Savigny Aux Serpentières 2010 and Michel Gay & Fils, Beaune 1er Cru Toussaints Vieilles Vignes 2010) showed complex cherry fruit, smoke, asphalt and savory qualities.

The next revelation came as I moved to Chalonnais and was introduced to “serious” Aligoté from Bouzeron AOC. Both the Domaine Jacqueson, Bouzeron Aligoté 2009 and Domaine A. & P. de Villaine, Bouzeron Aligoté 2011 showed surprising complexity and pleasing minerality and spice. More research will be required on Aligoté from Bouzeron (and Aligoté in general. I tasted several delicious version from Côte de Beaune as well.)

Morgon BeaujolaisI intended to leave Beaujolais for last, because I thought I did not like Beaujolais. My impression of Beaujolais was clouded years ago by an unpleasant experience with Beaujolais Nouveau. Since, I have just not pursued Gamay…my mistake. I was more than pleasantly surprised by the selection at the tasting. I started with two wines grown on Côte du Py, the famed slope outside the town of Villié-Morgon. I was told it is the most famous site in all of Beaujolais.  I was blown away by the pleasing fruit flavors, spicy complexity and depth of flavor. I will absolutely continue my exploration of Beaujolais.

Tasting notes La PauléeMy tasting book is full of notes. As I reviewed them I wished some were more complete. The tasting seemed so hurried, there were so many wines.

The evening was an educational and fun experience for me, it was a great introduction to Burgundy. I will look to participate in future La Paulée events.

I have much to learn about the region, its complex classification and labeling. More tasting and reading will be required. I can hardly wait!

Cheers!

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Wines From South Australia — Cabernet Sauvignon Is One of Its Stars

While it is true that Shiraz steals most of the headlines in the Australian wine world, other red varieties play an important role in their own right as both varietal wines and blenders. A recent tasting at Fine Wines of Stockton set out to remind us just how delicious Cabernet Sauvignon from South Australia can be.

Most of Australia is much too hot and dry to sustain vineyards. The southern portion of the country near Perth in Western Australia, Adelaide in South Australia and near Melbourne in Victoria are all coastal areas cooled by ocean breezes and therefore suitable for vineyards.

The Great Dividing Range which runs along the southeastern coast of Australia from Melbourne to Brisbane provides higher elevations and thus a cooler climate suitable for vineyards. The most northern Australian vineyards are located a bit north of Sydney in the Hunter Valley.

A few inland grape growing areas in New South Wales are made possible by large rivers that provide ample irrigation for vineyards.

Tasmania represents the most southern reach of viticulture in Australia. This island has a very cool and short growing season.

Shiraz is the variety most often associated with Australian winemaking, at least in part because so much of it is produced. In 2013 it was the number one red variety crushed, nearly double that of Cabernet Sauvignon, with Merlot coming in a distant number three.

This group of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Sauvignon blends are all from the  southeast corner of South Australia around Adelaide and to the southeast.

The climate in this region is generally described as Mediterranean, that means warm summer days moderated by cool ocean breezes and cool nights. This combination of warm days allows for adequate ripening of fruit and preservation of acidity thanks to the cool nights. Here is what we tasted.

2010 Greg Norman Limestone Coast Cabernet Merlot2010 Greg Norman Limestone Coast Cabernet Merlotsubtle vegetal, minty aromas are followed by tart fruit flavors of blackberries and plums with a bit of mint. Juicy acidity and moderate, well integrated tannins combine with the bright fruit flavors to create a flavorful wine in a less-ripe style. Tasty on its own, and a good partner with food. ABV 14.5%.

This delicious blend of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon 5% Merlot is made from fruit sourced along the Limestone Coast in South Australia; specifically from Coonawarra, Padthaway and Robe.

Coonawarra is famous for its terra rossa soil, red soil that is rich in iron which overlies limestone. Coonawarra, Padthaway and Robe share a Mediterranean climate with warm days and cool nights. Cabernet Sauvignon is very happy growing in the Limestone Coast area of South Australia.

2007 Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Cabernet Sauvignon2007 Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Cabernet Sauvignonaromas of dark ripe fruit and figs are followed with flavors of ripe plums, spice and leather. Significant tannins and good acidity combine with mature flavors to produce a wine with a heavier body and a very long finish. ABV 14.5%

Fruit is harvested from a collection of South Australia vineyards selected for their low yield. Traditional winemaking methods are used along with aging in American and French oak before blending and bottling without filtering.

Kilikanoon was only established in 1997, but has quickly been recognized for producing quality Shiraz and Riesling. It farms a number of vineyards within the Clare Valley, the oldest of which was planted in 1865.

2012 Mollydooker Maitre’d Cabernet Sauvignon2012 Mollydooker Maitre’d Cabernet Sauvignonvanilla, caramel and cherry fruit aromas are followed by sweet cherry flavors, moderate tannins and good acidity. The body is surprisingly light. The fruit flavors peak quickly and do not last a terribly long time. Surprising flavors for a Cabernet Sauvignon. ABV is 15.5%

Fruit is sourced from the McLaren Vale area, including Langhorne Creek. Once again, the climate in this area is cool thanks to ocean breezes. Soil is variable, running between thin topsoil and deep alluvial soils. Aging takes place in a combination of new and one year old American and French oak.

In case you don’t already know, mollydooker is Australian for left-handed. Owners Sparky and Sarah Marquis are both left-handers, hence the name. As you might guess, the pair bring a sense of fun to their winemaking.

2011 Thorn-Clarke Shotfire Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah2011 Thorn-Clarke Shotfire Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon Syrahdark fruit, earth and mint combine to produce an intoxicating aroma. Flavors of dark plum, blackberry and a bit of mint along with moderate, smooth tannins and clean acidity produce flavors that are fairly long. Plenty of flavor, not too ripe, interesting integration of mint and fruit flavors. ABV 14%.

The Cabernet and Syrah are sourced from the St Kitts and Kabininge vineyards located in the Barossa Valley and the blend is 76% Cabernet Sauvignon 24% Shiraz.

Located near Adelaide, the Barossa valley is well known for Shiraz, but clearly produces very nice Cabernet as well. Blend the two together and voilà, you get some interesting flavors.

Vineyard plantings in the Barossa Valley date back to the 1840s. If you are at all curious about how the Barossa Valley got its name, read this brief account and follow the link to the original article. It’s an interesting story.

2010 Penfolds Thomas Hyland Cabernet Sauvignon2010 Penfolds Thomas Hyland Cabernet Sauvignonmint and eucalyptus aromas predominate along with ripe plums. Darker fruit flavors of blackberries and ripe plums, significant tannins and good acidity combine to produce a bit more weight in the mouth and a long finish. This tastes great now, and should be really interesting with more time in the bottle. ABV 14%.

Produced from Cabernet grown in vineyards throughout South Australia, this Cabernet Sauvignon is made for early drinking but has good depth of flavor and good structure which should allow flavors to continue to evolve in the bottle.

Penfolds’ winemaking history dates back to 1844. By their account, it was Mary Penfold, wife of Dr Christopher Rawson Penfold, who was responsible for their early winemaking efforts. Their early wines, made from Grenache, were prescribed “as tonic wines for anaemic patients.”

2010 Château Tanunda Grand Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon2010 Château Tanunda Grand Barossa Cabernet Sauvignoncomplex aromas of black tea, dark fruit and mint are followed by flavors of plums, ripe blackberries and sweet tea. The body is light to moderate and the finish is moderately long. Lots of flavor, not too ripe, great complexity. ABV 13.5%.

Grapes were destemmed and fermented without crushing in open top stainless steel fermenters before pressing and maturation in new and older oak for 16 months.

A Château in South Australia? This impressive property dates back to the 1880s when the “Bavarian-style Château” was built.  It produced wine from grapes grown by over 500 local farmers. The wine was then shipped to a European market thirsty for wine due to the phylloxera epidemic sweeping through their own vineyards.

The current owners purchased the property in 1998, by which time it had been abandoned and was in a state of total disrepair. It has since been restored beyond its original glory and includes gardens, a croquet lawn and cricket ground. The cellar door (tasting room) is located in the center of the wine cellar. Definitely a place to visit when in South Australia.

These six wines give us a partial view of what Cabernet Sauvignon from South Australia can offer. If you like a riper, higher alcohol style, look for the Mollydooker Maitre’d Cabernet Sauvignon or the Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Cabernet Sauvignon. All others are a less ripe style with lower levels of alcohol. Prices range between $15 and $28 per bottle. They taste good and won’t break the bank.

Cheers!

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Wine From Sicily — Gotta Love Those Local Varieties

I admit to not thinking much about Sicily with regard to wine and winemaking. True, I knew Marsala was Italian, but honestly did not know it was made in Sicily.

A bit of reading about Sicily lead me to discover the island is a leading wine production region in Italy, right in there with Veneto and Puglia in terms of total production. Though it has produced mostly lower quality wines in the past, its production is improving in quality.

Sicily is located just off the “toe” of of Italy’s boot and only 100 miles from the coast of North Africa. The island is mostly hilly and mountainous. Mount Etna, an active volcano, rises above 10,000 feet in the eastern portion of the island.

The Mediterranean climate is hot and dry in summer, cold and wet in winter. Hot winds from North Africa warm the southern portion of the Island in summer. Agriculture dominates the island and viticulture fits right in.

Marsala, a fortified wine produced from local varieties Catarratto, Grillo and Inzolia, is produced here. I have always thought of Marsala as just cooking wine, but it is made in several styles some of which is aged for more than 10 years.

Other indigenous varieties are well-regarded and the Cerasuolo de Vittoria DOCG has been established for two of them, Nero d’Avola and Frappato. It is the only DOCG currently designated on Sicily. In addition, Sicily has 23 DOC and 7 IGT designations, all of which can be found on this map.

In addition to geography that includes an active volcano, Sicily has an abundance of ruins from ancient times. It is littered with Greek temples and theaters, Moorish ruins and Roman mosaics. Look here for a quick peek at what Sicily has to offer.

Of course George and Gail Herron of Fine Wines of Stockton know Sicily is home to some mighty fine wine, and they very cleverly poured a selection of six Sicilian wines at a recent Thursday night tasting. Here is what we tasted:

2011 Tenuta Rapitalà Grillo2011 Tenuta Rapitalà Grillopale yellow in the glass with obvious citrus scents. Pleasant and complex flavors of Meyer lemon, minerals and citrus pith combine with clean acidity for a crisp, refreshing finish. This palate-cleansing wine would be perfect with appetizers, light summer dishes, or just to sip on a warm afternoon. ABV 13.5%.

The Tenuta Rapitalà Grillo is made from 100% Grillo harvested from low-yield vineyards and vinified using a long, cool fermentation to preserve the aromatic qualities of the variety.

Tenuta Rapitalà is located in the hills around Camporeale, in the northwest corner of Sicily, at between 900 and 1800 feet above the sea level. Soil is a combination of sand and clay. Restoration of the earthquake-damaged estate by Hugues de la Gatinais and Gigi Guarrasi began after their marriage in 1968. Their first vintage was released in 1976.

The name, Tenuta Rapitalà is derived from the Arabic Rabidh-Allah “river of
Allah” for the stream which flows through the vineyards. Tenuta Rapitalà produces a wide range of wine on the estate from both local (Catarratto, Grillo, Nero d’Avola, Pinot Nero) and international varieties (Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah). In recognition of the history of the area, the names are a combination of French, Italian and Arabic. Very interesting.

2011 Torresella Nero d’Avola2011 Torresella Nero d’Avoladark ruby-garnet in the glass, with smoke, caramel and and vegetal aromas. Flavors of dark plums with hints of smoke and vegetal back notes combine with juicy acidity and significant, slightly grippy tannins. The wine has a fairly light body and has lots of fruit flavor without being too ripe. ABV 13.5%.

The flavors in this wine are mostly fruit, very little wood influence. That makes this wine a good choice for warm weather and a good match for lighter food. The production notes for the 2010 vintage does not indicate any wood aging.

2010 Tenuta Rapitalà Alto Nero d’Avola2010 Tenuta Rapitalà Alto Nero d’Avoladark ruby-garnet in the glass with a closed nose. Pleasant sweet cherry and dried cranberry flavors with a hint of flowers more than make up for the lack of aroma in the glass. Tannins are moderate and drying, the body is a bit heavier in this wine but it still has good acidity and overall is a bit more complex. ABV 14%.

Another wine produced by Tenuta Rapitalà, as the name Alto implies the vineyard is located at between 1300 and 1700 feet above sea level. Wood aging is 5 months in French oak barrique, followed by 7 months aging in large French oak barrels.

2011 Planetta Cerasuolo de Vittoria Nero d’Avola2011 Planetta Cerasuolo de Vittoria Nero d’Avolalighter ruby in the glass. Aromas of red fruit and perfume are followed by complex flavors of tart red fruit, cranberries, earth and coffee. Tannins are smooth and acidity is juicy. The finish is not terribly long, but this pleasant, flavorful, light-bodied wine is sure to please in the warm weather. It will pair nicely with lighter dishes or grilled fish. ABV 13%.

Produced on the other side of the island of Sicily in the southeast corner near Vittoria, this wine is classified as a Cerasuolo de Vittoria DOCG. It is the only DOCG for the island of Sicily and is approved for Nero d’Avola and Frappato varieties only. The DOCG wines must be a blend of the two varieties with required proportions 50–70% Nero d’Avola and 30–50% Frappato. There are minimum requirements for both alcohol level and aging.

Frappato is a lighter variety than Nero d’Avola, and with only an 8 day maceration during vinification, the resulting wine is lighter color and body. The blend is 60% Nero d’Avola 40% Frappato. Malolactic fermentation takes place in stainless steel, followed by 4 months aging in stainless before bottling in mid-February.

2012 Villa Pozzi Cabernet Sauvignon2012 Villa Pozzi Cabernet Sauvignondark ruby in the glass with smoke, flowers and dark fruit aromas. Flavors of dark fruit, plums and smoke are fairly complex, a bit sweet and combine with adequate acidity and moderate tannins to produce a moderately long finish. This wine has a bit more weight in the mouth, has pleasant flavors and is not overly influenced by wood aging. ABV 13.5%.

Located in the western portion of Sicily, in the area of Marsala, Salemi and Mazzara del Vallo, Villa Pozzi vineyards are planted in the hills at 1300 feet above sea level in clay soil. Grapes are hand-harvested, gently pressed and undergo a 15 – 20 day period of maceration. Aging follows with 20% in oak and the remainder finished in stainless steel before blending.

Winemaking in the Pozzi family goes back 4 generations, beginning in Cremona in northern Italy. In 2000 the family purchased a 19th century winery in Marsala, and after a complete renovation, lauched the Villa Pozzi brand in 2006. The family’s goal is to produce affordable, approachable wines that give the consumer a “taste of Sicily.”

2007 Planeta Syrah2007 Planeta Syrahdark garnet in the glass with dried fruit scents of raisins and figs. Flavors of concentrated, dried, dark fruits along with cedar and a lingering sweetness. Tannins are smooth, acidity is adequate and the finish medium to long. This is a contrasting style to the previous wines, much riper and more concentrated. ABV 14.5%.

The Planeta family have been making wine in Sicily since the 1600s, beginning at the original estate in Sambuca di Sicilia located in the western end of the island. The family now make wine in 5 areas within Sicily.

The Syrah is grown in the area around Menfi, just a bit southwest of Sambuca di Sicilia. 12 days of maceration was followed by fermentation in stainless steel and eventual aging for 12 months in French oak barrels.

What an interesting group of wines. I have to say I have fallen in love with the local varieties of Sicily in particular. Both the Grillo and the Nero d’Avola in its various renditions caught my attention.

I love finding light bodied, flavorful red wines that I can enjoy in the summer when I am more inclined toward white wine. I just can’t drink heavy red wines when the weather is hot. Nero d’Avola from Sicily is now on my go-to list for summertime red wine. And it fits in with my new mantra…drink local varieties!

Cheers!

Reference: The World Atlas of Wine, 7th edition, Hugh Johnson &  Jancis Robinson.

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Lodi Wine and Cheese Pairing

It’s no secret that wine and cheese can be a yummy combination. Charles Communications Associates and LoCa (The Wines of Lodi, CA) brilliantly combined a tasting of both recently, and we were fortunate to participate in the tasting and discussion.

We all joined together via Brandlive, a live video conferencing tool, to discuss, tweet and enjoy the Lodi wine and cheese pairings. Our hosts, Camron King Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, Jeremy Trettevik of Jeremy Wine Co., & Cindy Della Monica of Cheese Central in downtown Lodi kept the conversation lively.

We received the four wines and four cheese samples with pairing suggestions and background information on all. Here’s what we tasted.

2012 Estate Crush Albarino 2012 Estate Crush Albariñothis aromatic white was all melons and honeysuckle. Citrus flavors of Meyer lemon along with a stony minerality and a bit of citrus pith on the finish combine with bracing acidity for a refreshing and delicious glass of wine. The finish is fairly long. A very nice example of Albariño. This wine makes me long for warm weather. $18.

Estate Crush is a custom crush facility located in downtown Lodi. They make wine for wineries, individuals and for themselves. They also have a tasting room in downtown Lodi  that features the wines made in their facility.

Central Lechera Gallega Tetilla – Galicia, Spain. This soft cow’s milk cheese, is finished with a salt rub or brine soak. It is aged only 2 weeks before release and is soft, creamy and sweet. The flavors are fresh, delicate and buttery. The center is softer than the rind, providing a pleasing contrast in texture. Yes, the rind is edible on this cheese.

Great pairing. The floral and citrus flavors of the Albariño harmonize nicely with the creamy, buttery flavors of the Tetilla cheese. It figures these two Galician natives would play well together.

2011 Fields Family Wines Syrah 2011 Fields Family Wines Estate Syraha hint of smoke and dark fruit aromas combine with flavors of dark plums, smoke and a bit of bacon fat and earth. Tannins are well integrated and the finish is moderately long. Flavors are true to the variety. This wine evolves with time in the glass, delicious. Drink this wine with a wide range of food, or with nothing at all. ABV 14.2%.

The details of this wine’s production are really interesting. The vineyard is certified organic, likely the first in Lodi. The exact age of the vineyard isn’t known, probably about 26 years. Fruit was harvested with several passes through the vineyard at 23.8º to 25.8º Brix. Both initial fermentation and malolactic fermentation were non-inoculated. Aging in 25% new oak for 16 months. All of this care and attention to detail for $22.

Fields Family Wines has a tasting room in downtown Lodi, just across the street from Cheese Central on School Street, and at their winery on Woodbridge Road.

Westland Old Amsterdampale orange in color, flavors are tart, nutty and toasty. The texture is firm with crunchy crystalline bits which add an interesting texture. These amino acid nuggets indicate a long, careful aging of this cow’s milk cheese. This cheese has a paper rind, so don’t eat the rind on this cheese.

The tart distinctive flavors of the Old Amsterdam cheese were not lost in the flavors of the Fields Family Syrah. The flavors of both played off each other nicely.

2011 Jeremy Wine Co. Zinfandel2011 Jeremy Wine Co Old Vine Zinfandel Costa Vineyarddried fruit and asphalt aromas give way to flavors of tart red fruit, raspberries and luscious Zinfandel flavors. Black pepper, moderate tannins and juicy acidity combine with fruit flavors for a moderate to long finish. Not a shy wine, pair it with flavorful braised dishes or grilled meat. $28.

Jeremy told us he and his wife Choral had to audition with the Costa family in order to obtain fruit from their vineyard. After tasting through Jeremy’s wines and talking winemaking philosophy the family was convinced he is as passionate about wine making as they are about growing the grapes.

The one “fence row” of Zinfandel that is the source for this wine is own-rooted, planted 60 years ago from cuttings of 112 year old vines. That’s a lot of history. What a great story.

The Jeremy Wine Co. tasting room is downtown Lodi on W. Pine Street less than a block off School Street.

Cypress Grove Midnight Moonthis pale yellow Gouda is firm and rich, not as tart as the prior Gouda. It has subtle goat’s milk flavors and a crunchy texture thanks once again to those crystalline bits that are a result of aging.

This cheese is made in Holland for Cypress Grove. The 12 month aging, or affinage, is completed at the Cypress Grove creamery in Arcata, California. The flavors were bold enough to be a good partner for the Zinfandel, and it was delicious with the Fields Family Syrah as well.

2010 Vinedos Aurora Petite Sirah 2010 Viñedos Aurora Petite Sirahtrue to the variety, this wine is inky dark in the glass. Aromas of very ripe dark fruit with floral back notes combine with flavors of rich, ripe dark fruit and earth. Chewy tannins and ripe flavors cry out for steak — a grilled ribeye would do nicely. $22.

Fiscalini Farms Bandage-Wrapped Cheddar – very firm, pale yellow cheese with tart, nutty, aged flavors. This cheddar does not shy away from the big flavors of the Viñedos Aurora Petite Sirah.

Though the texture is firm, the cheese is a bit crumbly. Cindy explained this is due to the cheddaring process used to make this cheese, a process which also allows it to age 12-14 years easily. Read more about the cheddaring process here. The 60-pound wheels are wrapped in cheese cloth during aging, which is the origin of the description “bandage-wrapped”. Just in case you were wondering.

The Tetilla cheese was the most delicately flavored cheese in this group and paired best with the Albariño. Mix and match all of the red wines with any of the other cheeses and you will have great pairings. Flavor combinations were unique and all very pleasing.

In addition to reminding us how delicious Lodi wines can be, this tasting was a great reminder that there are many shops, tasting rooms, restaurants and a fabulous cheese shop all located in downtown Lodi. All are within just a few blocks of each other. You will find all of the tasting rooms indicated on this map of downtown Lodi, and as mentioned above, Cheese Central is located just across the street from the Fields Family tasting room on School Street.

Cindy and her staff will sample cheese with you and help you make a selection to match your Lodi wines. We spent a day last fall shopping and tasting in downtown Lodi and had a great time. Check it out!

Thank you to Charles Communications and LoCa for sponsoring the tasting and providing the tasting samples.

Cheers!

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Mokelumne Glen Vineyards — A Collection of German Varieties in Lodi

Bob Koth knows the exact moment that started him on the path to making wine from German and Austrian grape varieties. He was having lunch with his daughter, Ann Marie, in Mainz, Germany in the early 1990s. Don’t ask him what he ate, that’s not the memorable part of the story. Ask him about the wine, it was a German Riesling.

As he ordered, he wondered if the wine would be overwhelmed by the flavorful, spicy German food they would be eating. Would it be like what he jokingly refers to as California kool-aid? Well, he was pleasantly surprised. Bob recalled, “One sip informed me I had a lot to learn about Riesling and a lot to learn about German wine.”

Mokelumne Glen Vineyards
At the time the Koths (Bob and his wife Mary Lou, daughter Ann Marie and son Brett) were living in Lodi on a large property along the Mokelumne River. It was home to Zinfandel and Tokay, some of which had been planted during Prohibition long before the family lived on the property.

Back in the mid 1970s they had added plantings of Zinfandel, small amounts of Chardonnay, Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon. They even had Pinotage and Grignolino for a while. Never afraid to experiment, the plantings took place over time and along the way Bob learned about viticulture.

Bob describes himself as a curious person with a need to know and learn about things. He studied, he read and he learned how to make wine. He compared notes with other home winemakers in Lodi.

So, with that brilliant glass of German Riesling in the 1990s the seed was planted which would eventually grow into the German Collection (it’s actually a combination of German and Austrian varieties). It began with Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, which of course became Grauburgunder and Weissburgunder once in the vineyard.

Bob and Mary Lou laugh about that experience. There was a mix-up somewhere. As the vines matured, it became clear the fruit was not consistent with Pinot Gris. They laughingly call it their mystery grape, but are fairly certain it is Pinot Blanc.

In all there are 41 varieties planted at Mokelumne Glen today. Plantings include Zinfandel, Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), Riesling, Gewürtztraminer, Bacchus, Rieslaner, Dornfelder and Kerner.

RotbergerThe German Collection includes about 35 varieties. Not a lot of any one variety, vineyard rows contain multiple varieties. Optima, Rotberger, Kanzler, Ehrenfelser, Regent to name just a few, all neatly labeled. The varieties have been grafted over Lemberger vines on 5C  rootstock.

Grafted vine in the German CollectionThe German Collection vineyard is about to be expanded to a block of Zinfandel near their house. Rather than removing the Zinfandel vines, and planting the German varieties directly in the ground, the Zinfandel will be grafted over with the German varieties. This will save time, and allow a small harvest after the first year.

We visited the vineyard in mid-January. Not a very scenic time of year in the vineyard. For a spectacular look at the varieties that comprise the German Collection in all of their glory, take a look at this post on the LoCa website.

Lower vineyards along the Mokelumne RiverThe pruning and trellising used at Mokelumne Glen Vineyards is unique in Lodi. When the Koths began planting a few cool weather varieties, Chardonnay, Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon, in the mid 70s Bob had no idea how to prune them. He said he developed his technique by dumb luck, but really it was through research and testing.

He looked to what was being done in vineyards along the north coast and discovered they were using cane pruning that allowing canes that would produce next year’s crop to be exposed to the sun. Bob indicated that research at the time showed that good sun exposure would produce more high quality fruit the following year.

He describes their trellising as expanded vertical or narrow cross along with cane pruning. Bob allows the canes that will produce next years’ crop “to be out growing all over the place, taking in the sun,” as he puts it. He said after reading and thinking about the techniques applied in north coast vineyards, it made perfect sense.

Their trellises do have horizontal supports which allows the canopy to protect the fruit from excessive sun. This method of pruning is more time consuming and expensive, but it has worked for them.

Bob’s interest in winemaking turned from home winemaking to a commercial venture with Mokelumne Glen Vineyards, they were the 8th bonded winery in Lodi. By 2009 the family needed to step back from winemaking, and 2009 was their final commercial vintage. As winemaking at Mokelumne Glen has tailed off, interest in the German varieties from other commercial winemakers has increased.

Markus Niggli, winemaker at Borra Vineyards in Lodi is Swiss and has an appreciation for the German and Austrian varieties. The Koths have increased plantings of Riesling and Kerner for his use. Brett and Markus and are currently beginning a pruning experiment with Kerner to maximize fruit quality.

Matthew Rorick of Forlorn Hope discovered the German Collection last fall and harvested twice at Mokelumne Glen last year. You can read the details of their harvest in this post.

There has been interest from winemakers in the Santa Rosa area and elsewhere. The Koths are very close to having their entire crop sold for 2014. The vineyard is farmed with as little intervention as possible. Minimal use of fungicides to control powdery mildew is about all they have needed to use. Sulfur use in the field has been unnecessary for ages.

Bob and Brett feel there is great potential for Kerner and Dornfelder in particular. Kerner holds up well in the Lodi climate, they described it as a workhorse. It is capable of producing a wide range of wine styles, from dry to late harvest. Dornfelder produces very dark juice and is used as a blending grape, but the Koths feel its potential as a varietal wine should not be overlooked.

And don’t forget about the Riesling. They have great faith in Clone 90, which is among the five Riesling clones currently planted in their vineyard. Bob has his eye on four more Riesling clones he hopes to add soon.

Brett is active in the management of the vineyards at Mokelumne Glen and Bob has hopes that Brett’s involvement in the vineyard and winemaking will continue long beyond his own. There were fallow portions of the vineyards when we visited, so there is room for expansion of the vineyard plantings.

Lucky for us the Koths are generous people. After touring the vineyard, we spent time talking vineyards, wine and winemaking while sampling a few of their wines from the final vintage.

Mokelumne Glen Vineyards 2009 Riesling2009 Rieslingdelicate aromas and flavors of citrus and minerals with floral back notes. There is a hint of petrol behind the delicate flavors and just a touch of perceived sweetness which is balanced with good acidity. A delicate, flavorful and approachable wine.

Borra Vineyards Intuition2012 Borra Vineyards Intuitionthe Riesling shows through here in the aromas and flavors with peaches and flowers. Flavors and aromas of both fruit and wood aging are in the mix, but this wine is not overly influenced by wood aging. Flavors evolve over time.

This wine is made by Borra Vineyards from Mokelumne Glen Vineyards’ fruit. It is a blend of 60% Kerner 20% Riesling 20% Gewurtztraminer.

Mokelumne Glen Vineyards 2009 Pinot Noir2009 Pinot Noir is expressive of the variety showing cherries and earthy bramble, smoke and a touch coffee flavors. It is medium bodied with good acidity and wood influence from Hungarian oak adding complexity. The 2009 vintage was aged 1/3 in new, 1/3 one year old and 1/3 neutral oak.

By Brett’s estimation there is a bit more wood in the Pinot Noir than he likes. Winemakers are endlessly critical of their wines, much like chefs I imagine. To our taste this wine is not overly influenced by wood.

Mokelumne Glen Vineyards 2009 Dornfelder2009 Dornfelder is inky dark ruby in the glass. Dark rich, ripe plums, complex dark fruit flavors with a bit of spice and earth on a backbone of moderate tannins.

The dark fruit flavors are unlike most red vinifera varieties I have tasted. I just don’t have the wine vocabulary to describe it other than to say it is unique, and delicious.

This variety can be a challenge for the winemaker, according to Bob. He has learned this over the years by studying, testing and doing. It has been Bob’s experience with German-made Dornfelder that flavors vary significantly by vintage and producer. This uncommon variety has unique and complex flavors. If you come across it be sure to taste it.

When we asked about using native yeast for fermentation, Bob indicated he is not a fan of the practice. He prefers to be in control of fermentation by choosing commercial yeast. Whole cluster fermentation is not a technique he favors either. He prefers to minimize the flavor influence of grape stems in his wine production.

Bob’s choice for wood aging is Hungarian oak. He prefers Hungarian oak because it does not trample the flavors of the fruit, which he always wants to show in his wines. It just adds subtle flavors in the background. Mostly he would use a combination of new, used and neutral oak to age his red wines. No wood aging on any of the white wines, thank you very much.

Mokelumne Glen Vineyards 2009 Dreirebe2009 Dreirebe —  The aromas and flavors are an exotic combination of pineapple, peaches and tropical fruit with lingering spice. It is round in the mouth, has perceivable sweetness but good acidity for a clean finish.

This late harvest blend of Gewurtztraminer, Rieslaner and Weissburgunder has always been their best seller. The grapes were harvested in mid to late October and the wine has residual sugar of 14.9g/100ml.

Next we sampled Borra Vineyards Crealto which is the same late harvest blend as the Dreirebe but was made by Markus Niggli and Brett at Borra Vineyards. Here are the details of their winemaking story. Flavors are similar with a lighter body, crisp acidity and an interesting minerality. It too is sweet but has a clean finish.

Mokelumne Glen Vineyards 2008 Kerner2008 Kerner Select Late Harvestdark yellow color. Honeyed scents and flavors combine melon, citrus and orange pith. It is distinctly sweet, but has good acidity for a clean finish. Flavors are changing, aging in the very best way possible lending complex, honeyed flavors. Residual sugar is 18.4g/100ml.

The Kerner harvested November 4 – 5 at 39º Brix. Fermentation took place in a jacketed tank so the fermentation could be cool and controlled. Kerner has many faces according to Bob and Brett. It can produce dry, off-dry and up to sweet late harvest wines. That’s one of the reasons they like the variety so much.

As Mary Lou correctly pointed out, consumers like a variety of flavors and levels of sweetness. These three wines are similar but distinct and give the consumer that choice. Interesting comparison.

Although the Koths are no longer producing wine commercially, they have library wines dating back to 1977 that include both amateur and commercial bottlings. Their wines appear to be made to age. Brett joked that their Pinot Noir and Zinfandel from 1977 through 1981 might just be about ready now.

Winemaking is clearly in Bob’s blood. He did not indicate he intends to make wine again commercially, but I have the impression he has not closed that door. His curiosity and desire to learn are still evident. He is clearly pleased that other commercial winemakers have discovered his German Collection. I can imagine many lengthy conversations between him and those winemakers.

Based on his experience with Dornfelder, Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch, Bacchus and Riesling Bob feels that in the right hands some of these varieties can produce very interesting wines. It is a challenge for the small winemaker, however. Techniques found in a larger commercial winery such as cool, controlled fermentation and good filtration techniques are keys to producing high quality wines — and also difficult for the small producer.

Bob is optimistic about the collection in his vineyard and the ability of other winemakers to shed some light on these unusual varieties. He puts it this way, “There are so many varieties out there that we haven’t gotten the chance to work with. My feeling is that out in that field we have a number of treasures we have no idea about.”

Bob may not be the one making the wine, but his vineyard has been discovered by a handful of adventuresome winemakers who he is hoping can successfully make and market quality wines from his grapes. He will continue researching, planting and learning about these special German and Austrian varieties.

The take-away message from our visit with the Koths: be an adventuresome wine drinker. Next time you have the opportunity to try a variety you don’t know, like Lemberger (Blaufränkisch), Dornfelder or Kerner, take advantage of the opportunity. Figure out if you like the flavors, introduce them to your friends. Don’t wait for someone to tell you these varieties are good, get out there and make that discovery for yourself.

The Koths

Bob, Mary Lou and Brett Koth

Our thanks to Bob, Mary Lou and Brett for sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm of these special German and Austrian varieties. And of course ‘danke’ for sharing your delicious wines with us. We are converted.

Cheers!

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South Africa Wines – Often Underrated

Many people don’t think much of wines from South Africa, maybe because most are so affordable they aren’t taken seriously. If that is what you believe, I think you should reconsider and try more wines from the area. I am not saying they rival Bordeaux or Napa but they certainly have the potential and I think they will get there someday. Meanwhile, drink up while they are still inexpensive.

We have written about South Africa in several previous posts and will write more posts once we have visited the area this summer. With that in mind I’ll keep this brief with primarily our tasting notes. Please use the search box on the right to view all of our previous posts on South Africa wines.

At our usual Thursday night tasting at Fine Wines of Stockton we had six wines, all red, covering Stellenbosch, Paarl, Worcester and Robertson. If you take a look at a map South Africa Wine Regions of South African wine country you will see this covers a lot of area, all with their own climate and terroir differences. Looking at the map you will also see there is much more area to cover if you really want to explore wines from South Africa.

Our first wine was from Guardian Peak Winery in Stellenbosch. Their wines are made by the team at Rust en Vrede Wine Estate in a “New World” style and the grapes may come from their own vineyards in Namaqualand, a quite dry area, or sourced from other areas in the Western Cape. Guardian Peak’s wines are made to be ready to drink on release. The name “The Kalahari Lion” on the Merlot we tasted reflects their involvement in the preservation of the lions in the Kalahari desert.

2010 Guardian Peak Merlot

 

2010 Guardian Peak “The Kalahari Lion” Merlot – medium ruby to garnet in the glass. Smoke, concentrated dark fruit and a bit of an earthy aroma waft from the glass. Flavors of dark, ripe plums combine with earthy, vegetal flavors. The fruit flavors are a tiny bit sweet, but are well-balanced with juicy acidity, smooth tannins. A flavorful glass of wine.

 

 

Interestingly, our next wine was a Merlot from Rust en Vrede Wine Estate by the same team that made the Guardian Peak Merlot. Rust en Vrede has been around for over 300 years sometimes making wine, sometimes not. However, they have been specializing in Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for the past 30 plus years. They produced the first South African to be nominated in the Top 100 Wines of the World and repeated this accomplishment for four consecutive years.

We tasted two wines from Rust en Vrede, a Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvignon.

2012 Rust en Vrede Merlot

 

2012 Rust en Vrede Wine Estate Merlot – dense, bright ruby color in the glass. Aromas in the glass are predominantly vegetal. Flavors of jalapeño and tart plums combine with zippy acidity and grippy tannins to produce a glass of wine that is a bit austere.

The flavors are pleasant and well balanced, but this wine is not as extroverted as the prior Merlot. Interesting contrast in style. This wine came in as the second favorite in our tasting group.

 

2010 Rust en Vrede Cabernet Sauvignon

 

2010 Rust en Vrede Wine Estate Stellenbosh Cabernet Sauvignon – dark ruby-garnet color in the glass. The nose is an interesting combination of mint and dark fruit with a bit of smoke in the background. The flavors in this wine developed significantly in the glass over time. Complex, dark fruit flavors, moderate acidity and drying tannins combine to produce a riper style of wine.

 

 

We moved on the Graham Beck Wines with vineyards in both Stellenbosch and Robertson. Graham Beck is a large producer with a wide range of wines, several of which we have had in the past. All of their wines we have tried have been very good. As far as the estate, you just can’t say enough about Graham Beck in a small article, low intervention winemaking, socially responsible and environmentally sustainable. The entire team at Graham Beck really practices what it means to give back to the land and community.

2010 Graham Beck Cabernet Sauvignon

 

2010 Graham Beck “The Game Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon – dark ruby-garnet in the glass with a complex minty, smoky dark fruit nose. Rich dark fruit flavors combine with a bit of mint, lots of acidity and lingering, drying tannins. The finish was long with both flavor and tannins. Overall, a very flavorful, well balanced glass of wine with a light to medium body. This was the number one wine in our tasting group.

 

 

Are you a golfer? If so you will know who Ernie Els is a very successful professional golfer from South Africa. He also owns a winery there which has won many awards for their wines. As you would expect from a professional golfer, you can walk out of the winery and practice your chipping. They even have chipping competitions on the last Friday and Saturday of each month.

2011 Ernie Els Cabernet Sauvignon

 

2011 Ernie Els Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon – dark ruby-garnet in the glass. The nose is mostly dark fruit aromas with just a hint of vegetal in the background. Obvious dark fruit flavors dominate with a subtle earthiness and hints of green pepper in the background. Tannins are drying and produce good structure for this rich, fruity wine. Lots of flavor, but not lacking in acid.

 

 

Our last wine from the evening was made by Mulderbosch Vineyards and is called Faithful Hound. Several of our tasters have a fondness for Faithful Hound as we have tasting it on and off for several years. Mulderbosch also makes a very nice Chenin Blanc in addition to their other wines.

They were purchased in 201 by a California investment company headed by a former Screaming Eagle co-owner. We will just have to wait and see where the company heads now, although I have heard prices will be increasing so lets hope there is a commensurate increase in quality.

2010 Faithful Hound

 

2010 Mulderbosch Faithful Hound Stellenbosch Red Blend – very dark ruby in the glass. Obvious mint on the nose. Flavors are a combination of jalapeño, dark fruit, blackberries and cedar. Drying tannins provide good structure for the complex flavors. Lots of flavors here, not too ripe, not too much wood influence. Just delicious.

 

 

 

In conclusion, all of the wines were quite good for their price point. As I said earlier, enjoy these wines while they are affordable.

I’ll go on a little bit of a rant here now. I have nothing against investment groups owning wineries like Mulderbosch except I think the focus may become profit rather than quality. After all, what is an investment group but a bunch of people making investments to grow their capital? Much better is an individual or family who has a passion for making wine. Hopefully other wineries in South Africa won’t be pressured into raising prices so they don’t get lumped in with “the other cheap wines”.

Cheers!

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How About A Ferrari Rosé for Your Valentine?

Ferrari is a well-recognized name around the world. The fast, red, sexy car might be your first association. But consider this. Ferrari is also about sparkling wine made in the north of Italy, in the Trentino region, and Ferrari Rosé NV is perfect for Valentine’s Day.

This is my first taste of Ferrari Rosé NV sparkling wine, and a chance to learn a bit about the region, the winemaking process and the wine which was provided as a tasting sample.

The Region

Trentino, has a long association with sparkling wine production. Giulio Ferrari (who was not related to the Ferrari automobile family), founded Ferrari in 1902. He traveled to Germany and France to learn winemaking, and then returned to his native Trentino, where he was convinced he could make outstanding sparkling wine. He brought Chardonnay vines back to Italy with him, he was the first to do so. Turns out he was right about making quality sparkling wine in the region.

Trentino is located in the southern portion of the Trentino-Alto Adige region in northern Italy and shares borders with Austria and Switzerland. The area is mountainous, it’s at the foot of the Alps, and has a cool climate with significant diurnal temperature variation which preserves the acidity of its grapes. The climate moderates somewhat in areas adjacent to Lake Garda in the southern portion of the region.

Vinification

Trento DOC designation has been established to recognize sparkling wine exclusively. Only Méthode Champenoise, referred to as Metodo Classico in Italy, is permitted in the production of Trento DOC sparkling wine. Still wine is made in the usual manner. The second fermentation takes place in the bottle, followed by riddling, disgorgement, final corking and aging.

Chardonnay, Pinot Noir (Pinot Nero in Italy), Pinot Meunier and Pinot Blanc are the only grape varieties permitted. Grapes must be grown following strict cultivation, trellising and harvesting methods, and only in specific areas within Trentino.

There are aging requirements as well. Non-vintage Trento DOC must age on the lees for a minimum of 15 months, vintage for at least 24 and Riserva for at least 36 months.

The Ferrari Rosé NV is a blend of 60% Pinot Nero and 40% Chardonnay. Grapes are grown on hillsides at an elevation of 985 to 1970 feet above sea level. Sustainable growing practices are followed on all estate properties, and in the family vineyards that grow grapes for Ferrari. All fruit is harvested by hand.

Today, the Lunelli family own and manage Ferrari. The third generation now continues Giulio Ferrari’s commitment to producing quality sparkling wine in Trentino.

The Wine

Ferrari Rosé NV
Now to the really fun part. Let’s start with the visual aspect of the the Ferrari Rosé NV mini. The 375ml bottle is clad in rose foil. This half-bottle is just the perfect size for an occasion when just a glass or two of sparkling wine is what you want — like a party of two for Valentine’s Day.

A few quick twists of the muselet, the wire cage that holds the cork in place, will allow it to be loosened so that you can remove the cork.

As you pour the wine into your glass you will notice the delicate salmon color and a vigorous effervescence with many small and medium-sized bubbles. Berry aromas with a subtle yeastiness are followed by flavors of raspberry, citrus pith and a steely finish. Good acidity provides a clean finish which is long-lasting. It is not perceivably sweet. ABV 12.5%.

The combination of berry and citrus flavors along with the steely, clean finish produces a complex, flavorful glass of sparkling wine. It is flavorful on its own and would be perfect before a meal. No food necessary to enjoy this lively sparkling wine.

Because I have Valentine’s Day on my mind, and because chocolates so often are a part of Valentine’s Day celebrations, I also sampled four dark chocolates along with the Ferrari Rosé NV sparkling wine.

Ferrari Rosé NV and chocolatesDark Chocolate Chip Truffle was the best pairing, with the chocolate flavors not overpowering the flavor of the wine. The flavors of both came through well. Cafe Au Lait Truffle worked just as well. Dark Chocolate Marzipan was the next best pairing, with almond flavors complimenting the berry and citrus flavors of the sparkling wine. Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cream competed a bit with the berry flavors in the wine and tasted slightly too sweet.

Enjoy Ferrari Rosé NV sparkling wine before dinner by itself if you want to concentrate on the flavors of the wine. Consider dark chocolate as an accompaniment for dessert. Either choice will be a good one.

Gregory White, a strategic marketing and public relations agency, provided the Ferrari Rosé NV sparkling wine in the “mini” 375ml bottle as a tasting sample (SRP $16). It is available in 750ml bottles as well.

Ferrari Rosé NV sparkling wine is imported by Palm Bay, along with Ferrari’s other sparkling wines. Ferrari produce a range of sparkling wines, both vintage and NV, some of which are aged as long as 10 years on the lees. Lots to explore from this producer.

So plan ahead and surprise your valentine with a Ferrari. I’m certain your thoughtfulness will be greatly appreciated.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Cheers!

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French Sparkling Wines — They’re Not All Champagne

We were in for a treat last Thursday night at Fine Wines of Stockton. We tasted a collection of French sparkling wines, but none were Champagne. What’s the difference you ask. Well, it boils down to location, production methods and allowed varieties.

According to French wine law, only sparkling wine made in the Champagne region, from specific grape varieties and in a prescribed manner may be labelled Champagne. The laws regulating the production of Champagne are very strict and detailed. High standards can come with a high price, literally. Champagne can be very expensive.

Not to worry, there are many lovely examples of sparkling wine made elsewhere in France using similar methods and a variety of grapes that produce delicious and affordable alternatives to Champagne. We tasted six such sparkling wines in this tasting.

2010 Saint-Hilarie Blanquette de Limoux2010 Saint-Hilarie Blanquette de Limouxlight yellow in the glass with abundant, tiny bubbles. Yeasty scents are followed by lemony, steely, toasty flavors. This wine is weightless, has bracing acidity and a long, clean finish. The flavors are delicate and long lasting at the same time. An amazing glass of wine. 12% ABV.

This sparkling wine is named for Abbe Saint-Hilarie, whose Benedictine monks were producing Blanquette de Limoux as early as 1531, well ahead of anyone in the Champagne region. Limoux is located in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France, near the Pyrenees Mountains.

Blanquette de Limoux is produced using the same method as Champagne. Separate still wines are vinified from each grape variety that will comprise the base wine. The blend is then created and bottled with the addition of liqueur de tirage (sugar and yeast) to initiate a second fermentation in the bottle.

The by-product of this fermentation, carbon dioxide, cannot escape the sealed bottle and is forced into solution creating bubbly wine! The wine must rest for a minimum of nine months before disgorgement and final corking.

Blanquette de Limoux AOC designation requires that Mauzac be at least 90% of the blend with only Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc allowed to make-up the remaining 10%. The Blanquette de Limoux AOC requirements are intended to preserve the use of the indigenous Mauzac variety and thus the Blanquette style. How nice to have tradition maintained.

The blend of the 2010 Saint-Hilarie Blanquette de Limoux is, 90% Mauzac, 5% Chenin Blanc, 5% Chardonnay. The vineyards grow in clay limestone soils that enjoy a Mediterranean climate. The wine is bottle-aged for a minimum of 12 months.

A fun fact: Thomas Jefferson was a fan of Blanquette de Limoux. Me too.

2008 Gratien & Meyer Saumur Brut Premium Millésimé2008 Gratien & Meyer Saumur Brut Premium Millésimélight yellow in the glass with lots of medium-sized bubbles. Distinct, but fleeting aromas of pear are followed by yeasty, toasty flavors and green apples. This wine is distinctive for its very round feel in the mouth and its creamy texture. It has good acidity, but the finish is not quite completely clean.

Saumur AOC is located in the central portion of the Loire Valley, where still red and white wines as well a sparkling wines are made from Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc. Sparkling wines are made in the traditional method, as in Champagne, with Chenin Blanc often comprising the major proportion of the blend.

The 2008 Gratien & Meyer Saumur Brut Premium Millésimé is a blend of 70% Chenin Blanc, 20% Chardonnay, 10% Cabernet Franc. Wines are aged in limestone cellars below the vineyards which maintains a constant cool temperature. The producer attributes the roundness of this wine to the Cabernet Franc in the blend.

In case you were wondering, Millésimé on the label indicates all wine come from a single vintage – in this case 2008. It is not an indication of quality.

Both the 2008 Gratien & Meyer Saumur Brut Premium Millésimé and the 2010 Saint-Hilarie Blanquette de Limoux are vintage sparkling wines, that is grapes used in the vinification of the wine are all harvested in the same year. The following sparkling wines are non vintage (NV), which means wine from more than one vintage may be used in their production.

Marquis de la Tour BrutMarquis de la Tour Brutlight yellow with lots of bigger bubbles. Floral aromas spill over to the flavors along with tropical fruit and toasty, yeasty notes in the background. Very round in the mouth, with good acidity and a bit of citrus pith in the finish, which lingers. ABV 11%.

Marquis de la Tour Brut is also produced in Saumur, in the central portion of the Loire Valley. The base wine is a blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Ugni Blanc.

This sparkling wine is made in a slightly different method called Méthode Charmat (you will also see it called Tank Method or Bulk Method). The second fermentation takes place in a pressurized tank, instead of individual bottles. After clarification (instead of disgorgement) the sparkling wine is bottled.

This method of vinification is less expensive, and allows the aromatic qualities of varieties such as Riesling and Muscat to be preserved. It is used in the production of Prosecco which is made using the delicately-flavored variety called Glera.

Charles Lafitte Brut Prestige Sparkling Wine

Charles Lafitte Brut Prestige Sparkling Wine light yellow with abundant bubbles in the glass. Wheat and toasted bread scents are obvious, followed by similar flavors along with green tea. This wine has a creamy texture, good acidity for a clean, long finish with complex flavors. ABV 11.5%.

This wine is something of a mystery. Charles Lafitte sparkling wine is made at Domaines Listel, which is noted in small print on the bottom of the label, located near Montpellier in the Languedoc-Roussilon region.

There is no indication as to the production method used to make this wine, so presumably it a Bulk Method wine. If a Traditional Method were used, it would most certainly be indicated on the bottle.

The Charles Lafitte is identified as Brut on the bottle which indicates the wine is considered “dry”, that is not perceivably sweet.

Domaine Bott Frères Cuvée Nicole Crémant d’AlsaceDomaine Bott Frères Cuvée Nicole Crémant d’Alsacemedium yellow, a bit darker than the rest with lots of bubbles. Caramel apple aromas with flavors of ripe, sweeter apples and toasty, yeasty notes in the background. This wine is round in the mouth, and has a long, clean finish. Very complex flavors. Lovely.

Crémant d’Alsace is an AOC designation and requires the use of the Traditional Method used in Champagne.  Only specific grape varieties are allowed, among them Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, which comprise the blend of this base wine. The wine is aged 12 months on the lees, before disgorgement and final corking.

Whenever you see Crémant on a bottle the Traditional Method will be used in its production.

Toad Hollow Amplexus Crémant BrutToad Hollow Amplexus Crémant Brutlight yellow in the glass with lots of fine bubbles. Citrus and grape flavors predominate on the nose and in the flavors as well. This wine is very light in the mouth, has good acidity and a clean finish. ABV 12.5%.

This sparkling wine is produced around Limoux in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France just like the first wine in this group. Because it is labeled Crémant, we know it is made using the same method as Champagne.

It is not labeled Blanquette de Limoux however, though it is made from a blend of Chardonnay, Mauzac, and Chenin Blanc grapes. I do not have the proportions of the blend, but presume Mauzac does not comprise the required minimum of 90% to be labeled Blanquette de Limoux. No matter, it is still delicious and shares the same very light mouthfeel as the Blanquette de Limoux.

So, next time you are looking for a French wine with bubbles, but can’t or choose not to spend a lot on it, remember you have choices other than Champagne. The sparkling wines in this tasting ranged in price from $14.50 to $25.50.

A Blanquette de Limoux or a Crémant will be made using a similar method to Champagne. Many will have great acidity, a clean finish and interesting flavors. Plus, you’ll have a few extra dollars in your pocket.

Cheers!

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Cabernet Franc – The Quiet Parent

A recent tasting of Cabernet Franc from around the world got me thinking about the variety. It is one of my favorites. My first tasting experience with Cabernet Franc was with a Napa Valley Cabernet Franc. It was medium bodied, had complex dark fruit flavors and spice with vegetal back notes. The tannins were significant. It was not a shy wine.

That flavor profile is imprinted upon my wine memory. It was for a while the center of my Cabernet Franc universe. Since that early tasting experience I have tasted Cabernet Franc from various parts of the world and found that, just as with any grape variety, place significantly influences the taste of the wine. Sometimes flavors are similar, sometimes not, which makes for interesting tasting!

If I am in the mood for that Cabernet Franc of my early wine memories, I look to a wine from a warmer climate. If I’m in the mood for a more delicate Cabernet Franc I look to the Loire Valley where the wines are mostly lighter in weight and tannins and the flavors more delicate.

Cabernet Franc of course is an important variety in Bordeaux where on the Right Bank it can be close to a major proportion of the blend, along with Merlot. On the Left Bank, Cabernet Sauvignon is the star, with Merlot and Cabernet Franc playing supporting roles.

Cabernet Franc ripens earlier than both Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and in Bordeaux has been planted as a hedge against poor weather come harvest time. It also plays well with others, making a flavorful blending partner and softening Cabernet Sauvignon.

Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz opened my eyes to the importance of Cabernet Franc in the wine world. I never thought much about the origin and parentage of wine grapes before referring to this comprehensive text, but I now  know that Cabernet Franc likely originated in the Basque country of Spain. The variety was brought to France where the most interesting part of the story took place.

Cabernet Franc is a parent of some very important and delicious grape varieties. Cabernet Franc (along with Sauvignon Blanc) is a parent of Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the most widely-planted varieties in the world. Cabernet Franc is also a parent of Carmenère. Merlot is the result of a natural cross of Cabernet Franc and an ancient variety (Magdeleine Noire des Charentes) found in Brittany. Impressive offspring, don’t you think?

Cabernet Franc also found a home in the Loire Valley where the variety is called Breton. It is grown in the areas of Chinon, Bourgueil and Saumur in the central portion of the Loire Valley. This part of the Loire Valley is more sunny, with less maritime influence than the western portion of the valley but its northern latitude means it is considered a cool-climate region.

As is usually the case with the wines we taste at Fine Wines of Stockton , the selection of Cabernet Franc that we tasted on a recent Thursday night was most interesting.

2012 Domaine de la Butte Le Pied de la Butte Bourgueil2012 Domaine de la Butte Le Pied de la Butte Bourgueiltransparent ruby-violet in the glass with aromas and flavors of blueberries and raspberries. Tart acidity, a light body and very smooth tannins make for a very delicate glass of wine. ABV 12%.

The transparent color in the glass makes me think of Pinot Noir. The delicate flavors would be a good match for salads or roasted chicken. It would be good on its own as well, to sip on a warm afternoon.

The 14 hectare Domaine de la Butte vineyard  has a prized south-facing orientation and limestone soils beneath clay and sand.  This bottling is selected from the lower slope of the vineyard (hence le pied in the name which means the foot), is vinified in stainless steel and intended to be drunk young.

2011 Raffault Les Galuches Chinon2011 Raffault Les Galuches Chinonmedium ruby in the glass with vegetal aromas of jalapeño and berries. Flavors include red cherry and blackberries with vegetal back notes. Moderate, but smooth tannins and juicy acidity combine to produce a light to medium-bodied wine. ABV 12.5%

The history of this producer goes back to 1693 with the purchase of vines in Chinon. 14 generations have worked the family vineyards. Les Galuches vineyard is located on alluvial soil that was originally Loire riverbed. The soil is sandy and rocky on top, with limestone beneath. The wine was barrel aged on the lees for 8 months.

Both of these wines are made in a lighter style, with a lighter color, lighter body and more delicate flavors that stood in contrast to the final four wines of the tasting.

2009 Carmel Winery Cabernet Franc Galilee2009 Carmel Winery Cabernet Franc Galileedark ruby color in the glass. Vegetal and ripe cherry aromas are obvious. Flavors of very ripe dark cherries and licorice combine with a unique coffee/cocoa flavor. Tannins are moderate, providing more texture and a chewy finish. The finish is a bit hot. ABV 14.5%

This is the first wine I have tasted from Israel and this winery has an interesting history. It was founded in 1882 by Baron Edmond de Rothschild. Rothschild inherited Château Lafite in Bordeaux (along with brothers Alphonse and Gustave) upon his father’s death just three months after purchasing the château in 1868.

Carmel Winery owns four wineries in Israel, two of which have large underground cellars built by Rothschild in the 19th century. Vineyards are located in five regions in Israel.  Upper Galilee, in the Kadesh Valley is the origin of the Cabernet Franc in this wine. It is located in the northern portion of Israel south of Lebanon. This region is cooler, with some vineyard locations at 3200 feet above sea level. Soil types include gravelly, terra rossa, basalt, volcanic and limestone. This Cabernet Franc was aged in mostly used oak barrels for 10 months.  All Carmel Winery wines are Kosher.

2011 Conn Creek Cabernet Franc Napa Valley2011 Conn Creek Cabernet Franc Napa Valleydark ruby in the glass with aromas of dark fruit. Ripe cherries and sweet plum flavors combine with hints of vanilla in the background. This medium-bodied wine has moderate, somewhat drying tannins, good acidity and a moderate-length finish. ABV 14.5%.

Winery details for the 2011 vintage Cabernet Franc are unavailable. In prior vintages fruit has been sourced from a combination of Atlas Peak and St. Helena vineyard locations. Oak aging is the norm, and I taste it in the 2011 vintage as well.

2012 Upstream Cabernet Franc Lodi Appellation2012 Upstream Cabernet Franc Lodi Appellationmedium ruby in the glass. A subtle nose of cherries and a hint of celery is followed by dried cherry flavors, black tea and juicy acidity. Tannins are moderate and the finish is medium in length. ABV 13.5%.

Overall, this is a bit lighter style of Cabernet Franc showing mostly fruit flavors. Fruit is sourced from the Clements Hills AVA, located in the southeast portion of the Lodi Appellation.  The Upstream label, produced by Watts Winery in Lodi, is intended to appeal to a “younger palate”, according to tasting room staff.

2009 Hagafen Cabernet Franc Napa Valley2009 Hagafen Cabernet Franc Napa Valleymedium ruby-garnet in the glass. Dried cherry and plum aromas are obvious. Similar flavors of dried cherries and plums combine with grippy tannins and a juicy acidity. This wine has lots of texture and a bit more weight in the mouth. ABV 13.5%

Hagafen Cellars was founded in 1979 in Napa Valley, just south of Stags Leap District. It produces wines according to Jewish dietary law. Yes, they are Kosher, and this Cabernet Franc is delicious.

Quite a selection of Cabernet Franc. As expected, the Loire Valley wines were delicate and light, a reflection of the relatively cool climate in which they are grown. The California and Israeli wines are riper wines with a bit more weight and wood influence. All were enjoyable wines that would suit a variety of foods and occasions.

So, don’t forget about the quiet parent. Remember to look for Cabernet Franc as a varietal wine. You will likely not be disappointed. Cabernet Franc may be eclipsed by its offspring (Cabernet Sauvignon in particular) but it too is a star in its own way.

Cheers!

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An Evening at Musée de Chablis

I think of wine grapes in much the same way I do an artist’s set of paints. Both can be used to create a potential masterpiece. An artist’s paints can create anything from a modern abstract to something more evocative of the Old Masters. Will it become a Jackson Pollock or a Johannes Vermeer? Same with wine grapes. The wine will be a product of the winemaker’s artistry. And just as art is in the eye of the beholder, so taste is on the palate of the wine drinker.

A recent tasting at Fine Wines of Stockton, during which we tasted a group of delicious Chablis, brought this comparison into clear focus for me. George and Gail stock Chablis from only one producer, Domaine de Chantemerle. Their Chablis is made without wood fermentation or aging, in contrast to the style of many white Burgundies which are often aged in wood. This is the style George and Gail prefer, a pure expression of what the variety has to offer. George said with a laugh that even the cellar door at Domaine de Chantemerle is steel.

Chablis is technically part of Burgundy, though it is located about 80 miles northwest of the Côte d’Or. The climate is continental: very cold winters, springtime with significant risk of frost and cool summers. The soil, Kimmeridgian clay, is a combination of clay, limestone and fossilized oyster shells. It is said to contribute to the unique minerality and flinty characteristics of Chablis.

Chardonnay is the only grape variety allowed in Chablis. In Burgundy it is the vineyard that is classified according to quality, not the château as in Bordeaux. Location and soil are the keys to the highest quality classification.

Grand Cru is the highest quality designation. These seven, contiguous vineyards are located along the northeast bank of the Serein River overlooking the village of Chablis. They have a desirable southwest-facing orientation that allows the vineyards to soak-up the sun. That and a very large concentration of that prized Kimmeridgian clay soil are what have earned these vineyards this highest designation.

Premier Cru comes next in terms of quality. These vineyards are located throughout Chablis occupying the next-best soil and sun locations.

Chablis AOC and Petit Chablis are the final quality designations. These vineyard locations tend to have less favorable slope locations and a lower concentration of the limestone and oyster shell components and more clay in the soil. If you are interested, here is a detailed map of Chablis.

As would be expected, the Grands Crus command big money, and sadly are beyond the Thursday Night Tasting budget at Fine Wines of Stockton. That’s alright, because George and Gail are very good shoppers and particularly so in the case of Chablis.

We tasted six wines blinded. We knew only that there were three Chablis AOC and three Premiers Crus, all from the 2010, 2011 and 2012 vintages and from the same producer. Our only task was to choose our favorite two wines. Here is what we tasted.

2012 Domaine de Chantemerle Chablis AOC

 

2012 Domaine de Chantemerle Chablis AOC – light yellow in the glass. Stone fruit and honey aromas followed by citrus flavors, minerality and good acidity. This wine is extremely light in the mouth. The finish is short to medium in length. Not overly complex, but pleasantly flavored. It would be a great choice for a summertime sipper. ABV 12.5%.

 

 

2010 Domaine de Chantemerle Chablis AOC

 

2010 Domaine de Chantemerle Chablis AOC – medium yellow in the glass. Just a touch of citrus aromas along with granite and gravel. More complex flavors of citrus, ripe melon and minerals develop with a bit of time in the glass. This wine had a bit more body than the first, and crisp acidity. There is more of everything in this wine. Very nice. ABV 12.5%.

 

 

2011 Domaine de Chantemerle Chablis AOC

 

2011 Domaine de Chantemerle Chablis AOC – light to medium yellow in the glass. An intoxicating, delicate aroma of crushed flowers and stems that I can only inadequately describe as herbal predominate the nose. The same floral, herbal flavors follow along with citrus, minerality and good acidity. The finish is medium in length. This wine is angular and flavorful. ABV 12.5%.

 

 

2012 Domaine de Chantemerle Fourchaume Chablis Premier Cru

 

2012 Domaine de Chantemerle Fourchaume Chablis Premier Cru – medium yellow in the glass with a citrusy, lemony nose. Stone fruit, lemon, grapefruit flavors and stony minerality combine with a light body and significant acidity. Complex and light, there is more of everything, except weight in the mouth, in this wine. Lovely combination of ample, pleasant flavors in a weightless wine. ABV 12.5%. This was the group’s favorite wine.

 

 

2010 Domaine de Chantemerle Fourchaume Chablis Premier Cru

 

2010 Domaine de Chantemerle Fourchaume Chablis Premier Cru – this wine is noticeably darker yellow in the glass. Aromas are different as well, tending toward tart and cheese-like initially. Then complex aromas of citrus, minerals and granite dust. Flavors are an equally complex combination of citrus, minerality and stones. Flavors are older, but acidity is bright and the finish is medium to long. It is a bit round in the mouth as well. ABV 12.5%.

 

2011 Domaine de Chantemerle Fourchaume Chablis Premier Cru

 

2011 Domaine de Chantemerle Fourchaume Chablis Premier Cru – medium yellow in the glass, with a hint of rubber tire then that herbal aroma again along with citrus—such a complex nose. Bright, lively citrus flavors combine with grapefruit pith and great acidity for a moderately long finish. ABV 12.5%. This was the group’s second-favorite wine.

Fourchaume is located very close to the Grand Cru vineyards, just a bit north along the Serein River. It also has a south to west orientation, favorable for ripening in the cool climate. As you might expect, it is a highly-regarded Premier Cru because of its great location.

What an outstanding group of Chablis. Not at all like the nearly colorless jug wine that was slightly sweet and lacking in flavor that often graced the dinner table of my youth. This was Chardonnay at its best. Different than many Chardonnays I have tasted. No oak influence, just the flavors of the fruit. I loved every wine in the group.

This unique tasting allowed us to compare this producer’s interpretation of Chablis AOC and the Foruchaume climat over three vintages. The vineyards are the same, the winemaking the same, only vintage variation and of course time in the bottle vary. From what I have read, vintage variation can be significant in this cool growing region which is subject to threat of spring frost.

Flavors absolutely become more complex with time in the bottle. My favorites tended toward the older wines, but they are all lovely and all very affordable. Prices range from $20 to $26 per bottle.

I was quite happy to spend the evening at Musée de Chablis. It has left me planning a return visit. I am curious to taste other producers’ interpretations of Fourchaume. Or maybe I’ll save for a bottle or two of Grand Cru classified Chablis. That would no doubt be a treat.

Cheers!

Reference: The World Atlas of Wine, 7th edition, pages 69 – 71. Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson

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Pinot Noir – That Delicate Red Variety

When Pinot Noir is good, it can just defy words. Silky, earthy, fruity, complex, delicate, weightless . . . all at the same time. And then there is the color, transparent garnet, almost the color of iodine at times. Pinot Noir will always be my favorite varietal wine.

Burgundy is the standard against which all Pinot Noir is judged, because of the amazing quality of some Burgundies and partly because Burgundy is the historic home of Pinot Noir. However, sifting through all of those producers, often there are several for a single vineyard, can be frustrating not to mention expensive.

The frustrating and expensive part can apply to Pinot Noir in general. Maybe it’s the thrill of the hunt that partially attracts me to the variety.

Pinot Noir prefers a cool climate, but is susceptible to mildew and botrytis if the weather is too damp. It buds early, so can be damaged by spring frost. Because Pinot Noir buds early, it requires a long growing season to ripen slowly and develop the desired flavor complexity. The most complexity develops with lower yield per vine. Pinot Noir also produces thin-skinned berries, so can sunburn in hot climates. It’s a challenge in the vineyard.

We recently tasted a group of West Coast Pinot Noir at Fine Wines of Stockton. George and Gail put together a collection of Pinot Noir from Washington, Oregon and California. There are cool, coastal growing regions in both California and Oregon. Washington is more of a challenge.

This tasting provided us with an opportunity to learn a little about six winegrowing regions.

2011 Sean Minor Carneros Pinot Noir

Sean Minor wines are made in a cooperative wine production facility in Napa Valley. The Pinot Noir fruit, a combination of Pommard and Dijon clones, is hand-harvested at night from select vineyards in the Carneros region.

Clusters are destemmed and placed in open top fermenters and cold-soaked for three days. After fermentation is initiated, the must is punched-down two to three times a day until it is fermented to dryness. After racking to oak barrels, malolactic fermentation is initiated and aging takes place in 100% French oak, 18% new.

Carneros AVA, officially named Los Carneros but mostly called Carneros, was established in 1983 and lies just north of San Pablo Bay covering portions of Sonoma and Napa counties. A long growing season is characterized by warm days and cooling fog that is drawn into the region by afternoon wind from San Pablo Bay.

2011 Sean Minor Carneros Pinot Noir2011 Sean Minor Carneros Pinot Noir - transparent ruby-garnet in the glass. Smoke and earthy aromas are followed by flavors of tart cherry, spice and herbs. Tannins are smooth, there is juicy acidity and the body is very light. 13.5% ABV.

This light, delicate Pinot Noir has everything I associate with the variety, that transparent ruby-brown color, those characteristic aromas and flavors and it is weightless in the mouth. Very nice.

I would pair this wine with fish or chicken. It would be a good partner to a quinoa or farro salad during the summer months as well.

2008 Paraiso Vineyards West Terrace Pinot Noir

In 1973 that Rich and Claudia Smith at Paraiso Vineyards were among the first to begin planting vineyards  in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Prior to that, Spanish missionaries had planted vines in the 1790s.

The Santa Lucia Highlands was designated an AVA in 1991 and runs approximately 12 miles along the the Santa Lucia mountains overlooking the Salinas River Valley. The mountain-side vineyard sites enjoy morning sunshine before being cooled by afternoon breezes from Monterey Bay. It is classified as a cool Region 1 climate.

The fruit for the Paraiso Vineyards West Terrace Pinot Noir, Dijon clones 667 and 777, was grown on estate vineyards. Fruit was cold-soaked for 48 – 72 hours prior to inoculation, with punch-down twice daily. When fermentation is complete, aging takes place in 45% new French oak for less than one year. The wine is bottled and held one year before release.

2008 Paraiso Vineyards West Terrace Pinot Noir2008 Paraiso Vineyards West Terrace Pinot Noirmedium-garnet in the glass. Smoke and earthy aromas are obvious in the glass. Ripe, dried cherry flavors combine with moderate, smooth tannins and good acidity. The finish is fairly long with a bit of spice. 14.5% ABV.

This wine has classic Pinot Noir aromas and flavors. The flavors are beginning to mature, as well and show a bit more complexity.

There is more of everything in this glass of wine — more color, heavier body, more tannins, older flavors. I sensed a bit more alcohol in this wine as well.

This Pinot would pair nicely with roasted pork or lamb stew, but would not overpower roasted salmon either.

2012 Castle Rock Winery Columbia Valley Pinot Noir

Produced from Pinot Noir grown in Washington state’s Columbia Valley AVA.  The Columbia Valley AVA is an astounding 11 million acres in size and contains ten sub-AVAs. This region of the eastern Washington desert receives little rain, about 6 to 8 inches annually, because it is in the rain-shadow of the Cascade Mountains.  Temperatures can be very warm with significant diurnal temperature changes.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Riesling are the most-planted varieties in the Columbia Valley AVA. Pinot Noir is not one of the larger plantings.

2012 Castle Rock Winery Columbia Valley Pinot Noir2012 Castle Rock Winery Columbia Valley Pinot Noirmedium ruby-violet in the glass. Cherry and caramel aromas predominate on the nose. Flavors of sweet red cherries and minimal tannins combine with adequate acidity to produce a flavor profile that is sweet, but pleasant. 13.%5 ABV.

I did not find aromas and flavors typical of Pinot Noir. The earthy, mushroom aromas and flavors were absent. Nor would I have guessed the grape variety by looking at the color in the glass.

 

2012 WPA Pinot Noir

WPA – Wine Projects Administration – is a play on the Works Progress Administration established in 1935 as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal. It is the second label of a well-regarded (Santa Barbara county I think) winemaker who chooses to remain anonymous. Fruit is sourced from prime Sta. Rita Hills vineyards and made in Lompoc (most likely at the Lompoc Wine Ghetto).  All very hush-hush.

2012 WPA Pinot Noir2012 WPA Pinot Noirruby in the glass. Shy nose with just a bit of earth and berry fruit. Flavors of black cherries and only a hint of earth with good acidity and very smooth tannins. Overall this is a very light-bodied wine with subtle flavors typical of Pinot Noir. 14.1% ABV.

Give this wine some time to open-up, you will be rewarded. Not unlike the first wine in this group, it would pair nicely with fish, chicken or a salad. Good summertime choice.

 

2009 Alderbrook Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

Russian River Valley AVA was originally designated in 1983, with expansions in 2005 and 2011.  The Russian River Valley AVA is located in the center of Sonoma county and the cool coastal fog that drifts over the area is its distinguishing feature. Fog moves over the area late in the day and retreats back to the ocean in the morning.

Soil types are variable including loam, clay-laden areas in the central portion of the AVA and alluvial deposits left by the Russian River.  Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the two most-planted grape varieties.

2009 Alderbrook Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir2009 Alderbrook Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noirmedium garnet in the glass. Aromas of earth and blackberries are followed by flavors of boysenberries, black tea and smoke. Moderate, smooth tannins, clean acidity and a relatively long finish combine with the flavors to produce a well-balanced complex wine. 14.2% ABV.

Some time in the bottle has allowed all of the flavors in this wine to combine beautifully.

This wine will pair nicely with a variety of food. Anything braised, or roasted would be amazing, even a roasted chicken would do nicely alongside this Pinot Noir.

2011 Archery Summit Premier Cuvée Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

The Willamette Valley is a large AVA extending from a bit north of Portland, Oregon to well south of Eugene, 100 miles in length and 60 miles at its widest.  The AVA was designated in 1983, though plantings of Pinot Noir (and other cold-weather varieties) by David Lett date back to 1965.

By 2002 a group of vineyardists and wineries had noticed unique soils, terrain and climate within the northern portion of the AVA. Six unique AVAs were designated in the following few years to acknowledge the uniqueness of these regions:  Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge, and Yamhill-Carlton.

Cool-climate grape varieties predominate in this cool region. Pinot Noir far exceeds Pinot Gris, then Chardonnay and Riesling.  Soil types vary from marine sedimentary, to volcanic to silt.

The Archery Summit Premier Cuvée Pinot Noir is a proprietary blend from six of their vineyards located in the Dundee Hills and Ribbon Ridge AVAs planted with a wide variety of clones. Fruit was allowed to cold-soak for five to ten days before temperature-controlled fermentation using native yeast was started in both stainless steel and wooden fermenters.

After fermentation, the wine was transferred via gravity flow to 33% new French oak barrels and aged for 10 months.

2011 Archery Summit Premier Cuvée Willamette Valley Pinot Noir2011 Archery Summit Premier Cuvée Willamette Valley Pinot Noira bit of vanilla and red fruit aromas followed by tart cherry flavors with black pepper spice and cedar, moderate tannins and juicy acidity. A bit more weight in the mouth, it is a very clean, flavorful wine with more wood influence. 13% ABV.

This wine had the biggest flavors of the group, though it is not particularly typical of Pinot Noir. Drink this wine with any hearty cold-weather dish. It is not a shy wine.

These wines range in price from $14 to $58, with most in the mid-$20 range. Some had flavors I consider more characteristic of Pinot Noir than others. Those are the wines I enjoyed the most. As always, it was an interesting group of wines.

Cheers!

Reference: Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, Jose Vouillamoz

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Stolpman Vineyards — Tasting the Wine

We recently had a great vineyard tour at Stolpman Vineyards, located in the Ballard Canyon AVA within the Santa Ynez AVA. It was a warm December afternoon and we were met by Joe Neenan who took us on a driving and walking tour of the vineyards.  We wrote about that tour in the prior post.

The vineyards are a short drive from the Stolpman Vineyards tasting room in picturesque Los Olivos. After the vineyard tour, we drove back to the tasting room and tasted through the Stolpman Vineyards wines with Joe.
Stolpman Vineyards Tasting Room
All of the wines at Stolpman Vineyards are produced from Estate fruit. Vineyard manager Ruben Solorzano and winemaker Sashi Moorman collaborate to produce fruit that expresses the soil, climate and terrain of the vineyards. They use a variety of creative pruning and planting techniques to achieve their goals.

Joe explained that all oak aging is done in French oak, and only in barrels produced by Ermitage Cooperage. Moorman uses whole cluster fermentation in some of the wines and produces a range of styles from drink now to those capable of bottle aging. Here’s what we tasted.

NV La Cuadrilla White

La Cuadrilla WhiteThis release is 100% Viognier with partial malolactic fermentation and a bit of oak aging. The current label depicts Ruben Solorzano, vineyard manager (and ‘grape whisperer’).The label is redesigned every year. It is a non vintage release, as there is blending between vintages. A portion of the profits from this wine is shared with the members of the highly-skilled vineyard workers —la cuadrilla. There is a Red version as well.

NV La Cuadrilla White is light yellow in the glass, tropical fruit, citrus and minerality pair with good acidity and a nice weight in the mouth. Drink this now. Its pleasantly flavored and well balanced.

2010 L’Avion

2010 L’AvionMade from Roussanne planted on one of the few flat areas in the vineyard, what used to be a landing  strip, and given the clever name and artful label.

In order to achieve even ripeness of the grapes, the vineyard crew hand-turn each cluster of Roussanne. Yes, you read that correctly.

This is a “big white wine”. It goes through malolactic fermentation and new wood aging. In spite of oak aging, flavors of the fruit are still present.

2010 L’Avion shows vegetal hints on the nose, and is viscous in the glass with scents of spice, melon and great acidity. This is a big flavorful white wine that will not shy away from food.

2010 Estate Sangiovese

2011 Estate Syrah2010 was a cool vintage. This wine is made in a ‘Brunello style’, aging 30-32 months in oak.

2010 Estate Sangiovese — perfume and medium red fruit on the nose. Bright fruit, spice flavors combine with a light body. Moderate tannins are well-integrated. Juicy acidity with lots of flavor and complexity in a light bodied wine…always a good thing. Easy to drink and enjoy with food.

 

 

 

2011 Estate Syrah

2011 Estate SyrahThis is the largest production Syrah of the group, about 4000 to 5000 cases per year. It is intended to showcase the entire vineyard and is a blend of many vineyard blocks. To keep it approachable it is a blend of 94% Syrah, 1% Viognier, 2% Roussanne, 3% Grenache made with 10% whole cluster fermentation and only 10% new oak aging. Not too much of anything. A wine almost anyone will like.

2011 Estate Syrah is very young in the glass, ruby and violet still. Smoky aromas combine with red fruit. Flavors of plums, raspberries along and moderate tannins combine with juicy acidity and a fairly light body. There is a lot of flavor is this wine,. It tastes good now, but I’m thinking this could be really interesting with a bit more time in the bottle.

2011 Originals Syrah

2011 Originals Syrah2011 Originals Syrah comes from the original Syrah plantings on the vineyard, 23 years of age, planted on a sandy portion of the vineyard. These vines are not only the oldest planted on the Stolpman property, they are the oldest in Ballard Canyon.

La Chapelle, the Paul Jaboulet Hermitage produced from parcels surrounding the chapel on the hill of Hermitage, is the inspiration for this wine. Barrel aging is brief, only about 12 months in neutral puncheon. Lees contact in the larger barrels provides body in the wine.

2011 Originals Syrah is dark ruby in the glass with aromas of dark fruit followed by complex dark fruit flavors, chewy tannins and more weight in the mouth. This wine has bigger, richer flavors. Older vines, more complex flavors. Flavors are all fruit, not much influence from wood in this wine. Very nice.

2011 Hilltops Syrah

2011 Hilltops SyrahProduced from the B2 and B6 blocks planted on limestone soils at the highest elevation on the winery, about 1000 feet. The fruit is picked a bit later lending riper fruit flavors to the wine. It is produced using 30% whole cluster fermentation and 25% new oak.

2011 Hilltops Syrah is dark ruby in the glass. Dark fruit and spice aromas combine with dark plum flavors, baking spice and chewy tannins. More concentrated flavors and more texture in this wine. A pleasing combination.

 

2011 Angeli Syrah

2011 Angeli SyrahAngeli is Tom Stolpman’s wife’s family name. This label is being positioned as a top-tier label at Stolpman. It is 100% Syrah, from select barrels, tends to have more whole cluster fermentation and a bit more oak aging. It is intended to be held to age in the bottle.

2011 Angeli Syrah is very dark ruby in the glass. Complex dark fruit aromas and flavors with back notes of spice, big, chewy tannins and a longer finish. This is a big wine, give it some time in the bottle. When all of the layers of flavor in this wine integrate, it should be amazing.

 

2010 Sangio degli Angeli

2010 Sangio degli AngeliThe most intense lots of Sangiovese are reserved for this bottling, a combination of younger high-density and 20 year old Sangiovese fruit. No whole cluster fermentation for this wine, with wood aging beginning in 10% new oak barriques then finished in neutral puncheon for an additional 10 – 12 months.

The 2010 Sangio deli Angeli  releases ample dark fruit aromas and flavors with spice, significant tannins and a good weight in the mouth. This is a riper more intense Sangiovese compared to the Estate Sangiovese. It is intended to spend a few years in the bottle. Both are delicious. You can drink the Estate Sangio while you are waiting for the Sangio degli Angeli to age.

Stolpman Vineyards was a unique experience for us. We have never had such a detailed tour of a vineyard. The variety of terrain, soil types and vineyard trellising techniques was so interesting. Thanks to Joe Neenan for the tour. It is an excellent reminder that a great wine starts in the vineyard.

Stolpman Vineyard wines are crafted at the Lompoc Wine Ghetto. They were the first winery to operate in the location, and Tom Stolpman may have been the first to call it the Wine Ghetto. In any event, on our next trip to Santa Barbara this spring we plan to visit the Lompoc Wine Ghetto. We are left with many questions about the winemaking of Sashi Moorman.

Cheers!

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Stolpman Vineyards — A Tour Through the Vines

Wine tasting is fun any time of year, but tramping through a vineyard in December? It might sound crazy, except that we recently did just that and had a great tour of Stolpman Vineyards thanks to Stolpman ‘Passionista’ Joe Neenan.

Often when we visit a winery for the purpose of writing a winery profile, we begin in the tasting room, or in the winery itself among the barrels. Not so with our recent visit to Stolpman Vineyards. We began by driving through and walking the vineyard.

Stolpman Vineyards

A Panorama of Stolpman Vineyards

Stolpman Vineyards sits on 226 acres of mostly limestone soils in the recently designated Ballard Canyon AVA. Ballard Canyon lies in the center of Santa Barbara’s Santa Ynez Valley AVA, sandwiched between the cooler Sta. Rita Hills AVA to the west and the warmer Happy Canyon AVA to the east.

Owner Tom Stolpman choose the property for its mostly limestone soil. The original idea was to find an investment that he and his wife Marilyn could be passionate about. They purchased the property and began planting vineyards in 1990. After noting the fruit they sold from their vineyards produced some very well-regarded wines, they decided to begin making wine themselves.

The vines at Stolpman Vineyards are hard workers. They are planted on largely limestone soils over rolling hills. Some areas are sandy loam and others have a bit of sandstone mixed in. They are dry-farmed (after being irrigated for only the first 4 – 5 years to help establish the root system). They are trellised in a variety of creative and experimental ways. They are asked to produce daughter vines. Some are planted in very high-density plantings so they must compete with each other for soil nutrients and moisture. The yield is very low — only 1 to 3 tons per acre. The goal is quality, not quantity.

Skill in the vineyard is essential to achieve the desired results. Ruben Solorzano began employment with Stolpman Vineyards as part of “the crew”, or la cuadrilla, working in the vineyard. He became vineyard foreman in 1994. He is a familiar figure and highly regarded in the area for his skills in the vineyard. He is equally well known for developing a highly-specialized crew, employed year round, who are capable of the complex and variable pruning styles used in the vineyards.

Ruben works closely with winemaker Sashi Moorman who began making wine at Stolpman Vineyards in 2001. Moorman brings a culinary background into the winery. In fact, he grows heirloom variety wheat on a property adjacent to Stolpman in order to produce flour for his bakery. These are but two of his interests, he’s a busy man.

Together they work to produce the most flavorful fruit the property can give them. Because of the rolling hills and the variable soil types, individual vineyard blocks produce unique flavors. Individual blocks and sub-blocks are vinified separately, then blended to achieve the flavor profile Moorman desires. Wines are crafted using native yeast, and without the addition of bacteria to facilitate malolactic fermentation. Moorman’s style generally tends toward lower alcohol, as well.

Sangiovese with Villa Angeli

Sangiovese vines and Villa Angeli

The Stolpman Vineyards variety map details 8 varieties planted on the property. Syrah is the largest planting, and the variety that is the focus of the Ballard Canyon AVA. Sangiovese comes in second, it is the personal favorite of Tom Stolpman. Roussanne, that difficult variety that can produce crisp, aromatic white wine is planted on the only flat section of land in the vineyard. It is the area formerly used as a landing strip by a prior owner in the 1930s and gives rise to the bottling’s clever name, L’Avion. Grenache, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay and Petite Sirah round out the plantings.

Though not a part of the vineyard map, there is a small block of Trousseau — that Jura variety that can be difficult, but that is capable of producing ageworthy reds. It is a project of winemaker Sashi Moorman and Sommelier Rajat Parr.

Here are the highlights of our walk through the vineyards.

Ruben’s Block

Ruben's Block

The inspiration for this block came from a visit to the northern Rhone by Sashi Moorman and Ruben Solorzano. This head pruned Syrah vineyard is trained each vine to its own stake, similar to en echelas seen in Côte-Rôtie. This high-density planting is one meter square. Using this technique requires significant hand work, not to mention skill, by the vineyard crew. This trellising technique has made it possible to plant this very steep portion of the vineyard.

 

Individual vines in Ruben's Block

 

 

Six shoots per vine are trained onto the stakes. Just after veraison, shoots are tipped to encourage the vines to send their energy into the grape clusters rather than the canopy.

 

 

 

High density plantings in Ruben's Block

 

With only about 2 grape clusters produced per shoot, production per vine is low; the high-density planting helps balance production per acre.

The soil in this section of the vineyard is noticeably rocky. Syrah was first harvested from Ruben’s Block in 2008.

 

 

 

Mother-Daughter Block

Mother-Daughter BlockNew vines in this Grenache vineyard are being creating by training a basal shoot from the prior season into the soil to take root. These own-rooted vines are generally healthier and heartier; both Moorman and Solorzano are proponents of this method of propagation.

Mother-Daughter Grenache Block

 

 

The risk is that these plants are on their own rootstock and therefore not resistant to phylloxera. About 10% of the total vineyard is planted on their own roots.

 

 

Mast Block

Mast Block

The name of this blocks comes from the horizontal bars supporting the trellising on these vines, with the widest supports at the bottom. Fruiting wires begin very low to the ground.

 

 

 

 

Quadralateral cordons in the Mast Block

This block of Grenache has been grafted onto Nebbiolo and using a quadrilateral cordon system shoots are trained up on wires and tied off in the middle of the vines to form a triangle. The idea is to shelter the fruit below the canopy to prevent sun bleaching.

Lowering Fruiting Wire

Fruiting wire is being lowered

Vines throughout the vineyard are being trained onto lower fruiting wire. This makes it easier for the vines to move soil nutrients to the canopy because the distance between the two is reduced .

 

 

Variety and Experimentation

Hilltops Syrah high density spacingAs vineyards are being replanted, some are planted in a high-density spacing of 2.5 feet between vines. In this Syrah block the spacing is six feet between rows.

10-20% of vineyard is under experiment at any one time, but thanks to the large acerage, there is adequate production to remain profitable.

Stolpman Vineyards is not certified organic, but use very little in the way of chemicals in the vineyard. Cover crops, including clover and rye, are used to promote insect diversity.

Bird box in the vineyard

There is a large population of predatory birds which keep rodents in check. Owl boxes are located in the vineyards in addition to “the cross” (essentially a huge perch built to attract hawks). We heard and saw many hawks in the vineyards during our visit.

A large block of ground on the property is farmed organically and produces a variety of vegetables. Olive trees are planted in several areas and olive oil is produced every year.

Stolpman Vineyards' Tasting Room

The Stolpman Vineyards’ tasting room is located in the historic town of Los Olivos, just a short drive from the vineyards. We finished our tour with a tasting as Joe told us about each of the wines. We will detail the tasting in our next post.

Until then, thanks again to Joe Neenan for his time and expertise. Our tour through the vineyards was the perfect reminder that great wine starts in the vineyard.

Cheers!

 

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A Selection of Red Wines From South Africa

This is the second post reviewing a group of South African wines we received as tasting samples from Cape Classics, an importer of South African (and French) wines in to the US, with distribution in 49 states. We dedicated the prior post  to the white wines in the selection.

The weather can be more than a bit chilly this time of year and as a result we tend to cook heartier meals. Hearty, meaty dishes pair nicely with red wine and as a result that is mostly what I reach for this time of year with meals. We tasted each wine without food, then because we mostly drink wine with food, we tasted them with the dishes we prepared to enjoy with the wines.

We prepared two dishes to taste with this selection of wines. Cochinita Pibil is a Yucatán dish prepared by slow-roasting pork that has been marinaded in a spicy achiote seasoning that is covered with roasted chilies and onions, then wrapped in banana leaves prior to roasting. The tender meat is then shredded, added to small corn tortillas and topped with pickled red onion.

The second dish is one of my favorite wintertime meals, Boeuf Bourguignon. I used Julia Child’s recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It is rich and flavorful, absolutely worth the time it takes to prepare.

Now, let’s learn about these South African wines.

2009 Kanonkop Paul Sauer

Kanonkop is located on the lower slopes of Simonsberg Mountain in Stellenbosch. The name is derived from the 17th century practice of firing a cannon placed on a hill, or kopje, to alert area farmers that sailing ships were approaching the harbor in Cape Town. The farmers could then load their wagons, “span their oxen” and travel to Cape Town to sell their produce to the ships traveling between Europe and the East.

Kanonkop is owned by brothers Johann and Paul Krige. The family-owned farm has been operated by the Sauer-Krige family since the early 1930s. The emphasis at Kanonkop is red wine. They were among the first to plant Pinotage commercially, which are maintained as bush vines. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc are planted on the estate as well, in mostly decomposed granite soils over clay which allows dry-farming on almost all of the property.

2009 Kanonkop Paul SauerThe 2009 Kanonkop Paul Sauer is dark ruby in the glass. Aromas of earth, dark fruit combine with flavors of dark plums with a bit of mint in the background. Tannins are fairly smooth and well-integrated. ABV 14%.

This medium-bodied wine is easy to drink on its own and paired nicely with both the Cochinita Pibil and of course the Boeuf Bourguignon. This Bordeaux blend has a lot of familiar flavors and will pair well with a wide variety of food. A good choice for this time of year, but really, it will work well through out the year. It would pair nicely with Chicken Cacciatore.

The 2009 Kanonkop Paul Sauer is a blend of 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc. Grapes were hand-harvested and fermented in open-top concrete vats with manual punch-downs every two hours. With initial fermentation complete, malolactic fermentation took place in 100% new Nevers French oak barrels. After barrel aging for 24 months, bottling took place without filtration or fining.

2012 Indaba Mosaic

Established in 1996, Indaba a Zulu word meaning “a meeting of the minds” and refers to a traditional gathering of tribal leaders for the purpose of sharing ideas. Social responsibility is an essential part of the Indaba philosophy. A portion of Indaba’s global sales supports the Indaba Scholarship which is awarded to financially needy and academically qualified students to pursue wine-related studies at the graduate and post-graduate levels. The scholarship is offered in conjunction with Stellenbosch University.

Current winemaker, Bruwer Raats (also winemaker and proprietor of Raats Family Wines), joined Indaba in 2008. In addition to winemaking, Raats works closely with growers to manage grape production. The Indaba line includes Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot and Mosaic (a red blend).

2012 Indaba MosaicThe 2012 Indaba Mosaic was light ruby in the glass. Blackberry and raspberry scents dominate the aromas. Flavors tend toward blackberry fruit and pomegranates with a light body and smooth tannins. ABV 14%. Easy to enjoy on its own, this wine complimented the Cochinita Pibil nicely. It would pair nicely with many braised chicken or pork dishes.

The 2012 Indaba Mosaic is a blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 4% Malbec, 1% Petit Verdot. Fruit was sourced from Stellenbosch, Robertson and Elgin. Soils are variable, including decomposed granite, calcareous clay and sandstone.

Following handpicking, destemming and a 2 – 3 day cold soak, each variety was fermented to dryness in stainless steel. The wine was then pressed and returned to the tank for malolactic fermentation and aging. 10% of the blend came from 2011, which spent 18 months in used oak, for additional complexity.

2010 Bartinney Cabernet Sauvignon

Bartinney is located on the slopes of Helshoogte Pass (which translates to hell’s heights) overlooking the beautiful Banghoek Valley in Stellenbosch. The farm is 99 acres in size with elevations reaching to 1800 feet. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are planted at the highest elevations, and Cabernet Sauvignon is planted on the lower foothills. Vineyards are very steep, requiring all vineyard work to be done by hand.

2010 Bartinney Cabernet SauvignonThe 2010 Bartinney Cabernet Sauvignon is very dark ruby in the glass. Dark fruit and spice are evident on the nose. Dark plums, spices, earth and back notes of mint combine to produce a serious, complex flavor profile. Moderate tannins are well integrated and the finish is moderate in length. ABV 14.5%.

This 100% Cabernet is the perfect wine to drink on a cool evening beside a roaring fire. It paired nicely with the Boeuf Bourguignon, naturally.

Current owners Michael and Rose Jordaan purchased the farm in 2006. Bartinney was originally established in 1920, then was purchased by Michael Jordaan’s grandfather (also named Michael) in 1954. The farm was sold in 1993 a few years after the grandfather’s death.

Back in Jordaan family hands, the farm has been renovated, vineyards planted and the first vintage (2009) released in 2011. Planting of non-vineyard land on the farm with trees and fynbos, a native vegetation, continues.

2010 Rudi Schultz Syrah

Rudi Schultz is winemaker at the well-known Thelema Mountain Vineyards, located just “across the street” from Bartinney in Helshoogte Pass. He has been winemaker there since 2001. The flavors he tasted in highly-regarded Côte-Roties and Châteauneuf-du-Papes are what drew Schultz to winemaking in the first place, and then to producing his own Syrah.

The Rudi Schultz Syrah is vinified at Thelema from Syrah sourced from a single vineyard in the Bottelary Hills ward of Stellenbosch. The vineyard is located 16 miles from the ocean at an elevation of 348 feet. The soil is a granite based “duplex” form consisting of coarse sand on gravel with a small amount of clay.

2010 Rudi Schultz SyrahThe 2010 Rudy Schultz Syrah is bright ruby in the glass (actually it’s almost iridescent). Earthy, dark fruit aromas contrast with the bright color in the glass. Smokey ash with dark, complex, ripe fruit flavors, black pepper and moderate drying tannins combine for a mouthful of flavor and texture. This wine is flavorful, juicy and full of texture. ABV 14%.

With the reasonable ABV, ample fruit flavors and significant tannins, this wine could become something very interesting over time. If you have the patience, keep it for a few years. This wine paired best with the Boeuf Bourguignon. It was too big a wine for the Cochinita Pibil. If you’re thinking of a wine for braised lamb shanks, this would be the one.

Once again, a diverse group of well-made wines. Cabernet Sauvignon, and blends of Cabernet are extremely versatile wines. In general, they pair nicely with most braised dishes, grilled meats and sausage. This group fits that generalization. The Indaba Mosaic was the most approachable and all were flavorful and well-balanced. The Rudi Schultz Syrah was dark, full of texture and flavor. It is a cool weather drinking wine to my taste. All of these wines deliver exceptional flavor with judicious use of wood aging and all with reasonable levels of alcohol. I appreciate that.

Thank you to Cape Classics for this sampling of South African wines. We have learned a lot about about South African wines through the process of this tasting. Each farm has an interesting history and unique growing conditions. Most importantly, we have learned there is a great selection of quality wines coming to the US from South Africa. Very good news for us!

Cheers!

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