Chobe National Park, Botswana: A Bit Dusty But Beautiful in the Dry Season

Chobe National Park is enormous, about 11,000 sq kilometers in area. It, along with the Chobe Forest Reserve occupy the northeastern corner of Botswana. We explored but a tiny portion of the National Park, mostly along the banks of the Chobe River between Ngoma and Serondela, but also traveled through areas of the park distant from the river.

The Chobe River originates in Angola where it is called the Kwando River. Its name changes to Linyanti as it enters Botswana and then changes to Chobe at Ngoma.

 

This permanent water source is an animal magnet. As smaller, temporary water sources throughout the park begin to evaporate during the dry season, animals must make the trek to the Chobe River for water. This concentrates a large number and variety of animals in the area along the river as the dry season proceeds, between May and November.

As expected, the area near the Chobe River is the greenest. This flood plain is covered with grasses and very few trees, though there were many woolly caper bushes along the river. The open area was great for game viewing and it was here that we saw a very large herd of elephants out in the distance moving toward the river. We also saw large numbers of hippo, zebra, antelope, lion and and giraffe.

Large elephant herd along the Chobe RiverGiraffe along the Chobe River

Everywhere else we visited was dusty and dry. The single track, unpaved roads took us through mostly sandy soil, mostly light brown in color but in some areas it was a beautiful rusty red.

Sandy single track through Chobe National ParkRed dirt single track through Chobe National Park

 

 

 

The areas surrounding the roads to and from the river were covered with shrubs and trees. Though the grass was dry the trees and shrubs were mostly still green.  Here the animals were frustratingly difficult to see and even more difficult to photograph. With a bit of patience and careful placement of the safari vehicle by our driver, we managed to photograph many, but often it was best to just put down my camera and watch the animals. I can only guess how many animals we drove right by, never seeing them.

There is a relatively large number of elephants in Chobe National Park. Evidence of their numbers and their fondness for striping the bark off the mopani trees was reflected in the large number of very tall, dead trees. They stood in bare, stark contrast to the smaller mopani trees that look more like shrubs than trees. Everywhere we drove in the wooded areas we saw large dead trees and trees that had been knocked over by elephants.

Elephants in Chobe National Park
Mixed in among the mopani trees were African teak, raintree, and the occasional sausage tree, more correctly called Kigelia, but so named for the shape of its large seed pod. Some forested areas were still very green and others had taken on a golden-rusty color that made me think of fall.

On more than one occasion we were able to stop and watch as family of elephants fed in one of these shrubby areas. Once as we sat very still, with our camera shutters clicking away, we watched as the family moved around our vehicle and continued feeding on the other side of the road. It was so amazing.

Another highlight of our Chobe safari was observing a pack of African wild dogs (also called spotted dog, painted dog or painted wolf.) These pack animals are endangered in Africa, but we were fortunate to come upon a group shortly after (thankfully) they had killed a warthog. We were able to watch them finish finish their meal and laze around for a bit before moving on. Pete was thrilled with the sighting, as they were one of the animals he most hoped to see.

Wild dogs in Chobe National Park

Birds are most numerous in Chobe National Park during the rainy season, when they are nesting and breeding, but we saw many birds during the two days we toured Chobe in July (and we didn’t have to endure the mosquitoes.)

Marabou stork in Chobe National ParkLilac-breasted roller in Chobe National Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the first day of game drives we went out for a morning game drive and returned at lunchtime to Baobab Safari Lodge. After lunch we headed out again and returned to Baobab after enjoying sundowners along the Chobe River.

This more western end of the park along the Chobe River was not too heavily traveled, and we saw only a few other safari vehicles during the day. I felt as if we had the park all to ourselves.

On the second day we left early in the morning for an all day game drive. Our drive was punctuated morning and afternoon by the usual ‘tea and pee’ which allowed us time to stretch our legs, catch up with what others in the other vehicle had seen and snack on the savory cookies prepared or us by the kitchen staff. We enjoyed a delicious lunch at Serondela Picnic Site which the kitchen staff had also packed for us.

We returned to Baobab Lodge just in time for a very special sundowners along the Chobe River near the lodge. The next morning we would leave for the next safari camp in the Okavango Delta. The staff at the lodge were stellar and provided us with one spectacular day after another.

It was a long day in the park, and though we were unsuccessful in achieving our main goal of spotting leopards, it was great to be able to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the park all day. The terrain was varied throughout the day and all of it was beautiful.

Chobe National Park is more heavily used near Serondela, and eastward, where we saw many African families camping, picnicking and enjoying ‘self-drive’ tours of the park. It was so nice to see that Africans are enjoying their National Parks just as we do in the US. I can’t help but think this is the only thing that will protect remaining African wildlife.

Slideshows of our two days of safari in Chobe National Park are at the end of this post. Within the Day 1 slide show are two videos. The first is of two young male giraffes ‘necking’, where they swing their heads and hit each other in the side with their horns. This sparring is common among males (and female giraffes) to establish dominance. Just watching them makes my neck ache.

The second video is a short clip of several wild dogs playing as we watched them. They all had full bellies and looked pretty relaxed.

Please enjoy.

Cheers!

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Bushman Rock Estate — Why Yes, I Will Have Some Zimbabwean Wine With My Botswana Safari

Travel is great fun and so is wine. Combining the two can be twice the fun. As we planned our trip to Africa, we knew we would be tasting many wines from South Africa. In fact we extended our stay to do just that. But, we also wanted to try and find wine from at least one of the other countries we would be visiting.

We did a bit of research online and found Bushman Rock Estate in Zimbabwe. As far as we know, it is the only remaining winery operating in Zimbabwe. You can read the history of the winery on this blog post by Wine Explorers, which is where we first read about the winery. Their wine is produced from estate fruit and is truly Zimbabwean. Just what we wanted.

We contacted Sanction, our Overseas Adventure Travel trip leader, and asked him if it was possible to check the availability of Bushman Rock Estate wine. Though not available in local markets, it was possible to purchase a 6-bottle case directly from the winery. That worked for us and Sanction made it happen.

Bushman Rock Estate wines
A few days later Sanction emailed us to let us know the wine had been delivered to him in Victoria Falls from Harare. It was possible for us to take the wine with us to our first safari camp, Baobab Safari Lodge. We were so excited.

Because of weight restrictions, and our subsequent flight through Kasane airport on our way to the Okavango Delta, we would not be able to take the wine with us to our next destination. We would need to consume it during our three day stay at Baobab Lodge…no problem! As I recall, we and our fellow travelers finished the wine by the second evening.

Over the two evenings we drank the Bushman Rock Estate wine with a variety of food. Typically our dinner began with soup and was followed by a buffet dinner and dessert. The buffet always included several vegetable dishes, pasta or polenta, chicken, fish or beef prepared with a variety of spices, often curries. The combinations were unusual and delicious.

So, what did we think of the wine? Following is a summary of comments by our fellow travelers combined with our own notes. It was a fun exercise and everyone seemed to enjoy tasting these unique wines from Zimbabwe.

AFR_7968

2009 Bushman Rock Estate Dry Whitecitrus aromas and flavors with hints of almond extract in the background gives this light white blend a unique and pleasing flavor. The finish is clean, quick and it is easy to sip by itself or to enjoy with lighter fare.

This is the perfect wine to enjoy after a day spent bouncing around in a safari vehicle taking pictures. It’s light, refreshing and interesting. Just the thing to revive you after a hard day on safari.

AFR_79732010 Charlevalecomplex nose with herbaceous back notes. Citrus and mineral flavors with great acidity and a clean, quick finish. It’s light in the mouth with a hint of smoke for complexity. Very good food wine.

The Charlevale is a blend of Semillion, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle that was fermented in 3rd and 4th use French oak barriques. This wine demonstrates just how interesting blended wines can be, with each grape variety lending its own flavors to the mix.

2008 Alicante Bouschet2008 Alicante Bouschetbeautiful light ruby in the glass with distinctive herbal and red fruit aromas. Tart red berry and pomegranate flavors combine with minerality and herbal flavors which echo the aromas in the glass. The finish is tart with very smooth tannins. This is a nice warm weather red wine, light in the mouth with plenty of flavor. Very unique.

We were pleased to be able to taste this unusual varietal wine for the first time. Alicante Bouschet is unusual because its flesh is red along with its skin. Most red grapes are white-fleshed. Known as teinturier, these red-fleshed grapes are generally used as blending grapes to add color and tannins.

This Alicante Bouschet was lighter in color than we expected, more like a Pinot Noir, and also less tannic than some we’ve read about. Never mind though, it was interesting to taste and very enjoyable. Now we must look for more to try so we can compare the flavors.

2010 Merlot2010 Merlotruby red in the glass with familiar aromas of plums and blueberries. Ripe red fruit and blackberry flavors combine with smooth tannins, nice acidity and a medium body to produce a very pleasing glass of wine. Not too tannic, very easy to like. Characteristic of the variety.

This wine offered pleasant and familiar flavors. It offers up all of the dark fruit flavor I expect in a Merlot, but with a lighter body and smooth tannins. A delightful summer red wine.

We paid $36 for the 6-bottle case of wine, definitely a bargain. This group of wines offered extremely good value and were all really delicious. As a group they were lighter bodied, not over-oaked and not too ripe. They all had plenty of flavor and were well-balanced wines. What a find!

At this point we were just on happiness overload. We were in Botswana enjoying spectacular game drives every day and then were able to come back to the lodge and enjoy these delightful wines. Really, it does not get any better than that.

Of course, our little wine tasting would not have been possible without Sanction. Thank you to Sanction for making contact with Bushman Rock Estate and arranging for the wine to be shipped. This is but one example of the many things you did to make our African safari the trip of a lifetime. You rock!

Cheers!

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Baobab Safari Lodge, Botswana: Our Safari Begins

Baobab Safari Lodge is situated above the Chobe River in Botswana along a broad open forest that slopes toward the river. It isn’t far from the Ngoma Bridge which reaches between Botswana and Namibia. By July the river forms a series of narrow channels in the area due to decreasing water levels. High water is generally in April and May after which it begins receding until January when water levels again begin to rise.

Baobab Safari Lodge Botswana, Africa
June, July and August are the driest months of the year and remaining grasses had turned golden in color by the beginning of July. Because water sources become more concentrated and because grasses have died down and woodlands are less leafed-out, game viewing is best this time of year. No rain and less water also means almost no mosquitoes. These are the reasons we chose to travel in July.

The days were generally warm, short sleeves were comfortable, but as the sun went down it got very chilly. Layered clothing was essential to keep us comfortable at 40º in the morning but which we could peel off as the day warmed.

Our flight into Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe from Johannesburg South Africa took just less than two hours. The quick flight, with an excellent in-flight meal complete with South African wines (at no additional charge for either, thank you British Airways), got us into Victoria Falls in the early afternoon. We were met there by Sanction, our Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) Trip Leader.

Sanction, our OAT Trip Leader in Africa
Sanction’s broad smile is my first memory associated with our safari. His smile would be a constant throughout our trip. For the next three weeks he kept us organized, on time and informed. At times he must have felt like he was herding cats, but he never let on. Sanction set the tone for our fun-filled safari from the very beginning.

Our drive to Baobab Lodge took us through the town of Victoria Falls to the border crossing at Kazungula and into Botswana. Most of the drive was on ‘tarred road’. These two-lane roads are used by autos, buses, large trucks, pedestrians, donkey carts and assorted animals (domestic and otherwise). I can only imagine how dangerous, for both driver and animal, driving at night must be.

We made our first official animal sightings along this stretch of road. My first animal photo was just by chance that of an elephant, my favorite African animal. It is giving me what is amusingly called the ‘African salute’, rear end facing me. How appropriate.

Elephant in Botswana 'African Salute'
Before reaching the lodge we saw baboons, ground hornbills, more elephants, cape buffalo, and once we turned off the paved road onto the dirt track leading to Baobab Lodge, giraffe. We were all so excited with these initial sightings. They were the first of so many to come.

It was late afternoon by the time we reached Baobab Lodge. We were greeted by the lodge staff with a welcoming song complete with ululation! This would be the routine followed by the wonderful staff at each camp. Whenever we returned from game drives we were greeted with singing and cool wash cloths to wipe the dust from our faces (unless it was a chilly day, then they were warm). A wonderful welcome that never got old.

As we walked into camp and into the open-air dining area we were able to take in the view of the Chobe River for the first time. Just breathtaking. We sipped cool fruit juice, nibbled on snacks and tried to listen to the camp orientation. The scenery was so distracting!

Welcome to Baobab Safari Lodge
We were in tented cabin #8, the next to last cabin. As I mentioned in our first post, we wanted to experience a safari in the wilds of Africa, but did not want to sleep in a tent in sleeping bags. This was so much better. We loved it. Our cabin was built on a stone foundation with a wooden deck, solid roof and walls. Both ends of the tented cabin were screened like a tent, so it was almost open air. We had a front door that locked, so there was no issue with security, from either human or baboon intruders.

#8 Baobab Safari Lodge
We had a spacious area for our bed, a couple of chairs, space for our luggage, indoor bathroom, shower and vanity area. Everything we needed, including electricity and even a blow dryer! Our bed was surrounded by mosquito netting, just what I was hoping for. It was such a lovely room that looked out over the open forest leading to the Chobe River. The sunsets were stunning.

Because both ends of the cabin were screened, we were able to enjoy the sounds of the night. That first night we heard baboons screaming as if they were being killed. I thought they were being eaten by lions. Turns out they were just squabbling among themselves while jockeying for the best sleeping areas in the trees. I had so much to learn.

Camp staff were very serious about safety. We were not allowed to be outside our tented cabin after dark — no exceptions. The rules were the same at all four of tented camps at which we stayed. We were informed of their emergency procedure should we need assistance overnight for a medical condition or something serious (which did not include spiders in the bathroom). After dinner we were escorted as a group by camp staff to our cabins. In the morning a staff member came to each cabin to wake us to the sound of a drum or calling out to us. We were allowed to walk to breakfast unescorted and to walk around the camp by ourselves during the day.

All of the tented camps were unfenced. Animals regularly move around the cabins and this is the reason guests are not allowed to be outside at night. You never know when you might walk smack into a cape buffalo or elephant. We had just such an experience on the way to breakfast one morning at one of the subsequent camps. It was memorable.

Our days fell into a fairly regular pattern. Early to rise, generally at 6 am, with half-an-hour to get dressed and walk down to breakfast. We were instructed to bring everything we needed for the day with us to breakfast, as we departed immediately after breakfast for the morning game drive. By 7 am or so we were in the game drive vehicles and ready to go.

Mornings were chilly and each camp provided us with hooded and flannel-lined ponchos. That extra layer of warmth felt so good over my multiple layers along with ear warmers and gloves. Some morning were so cold I needed to tie a handkerchief over my nose and mouth to protect my face from the cold.

The vehicles have three rows of seats behind the driver, with each row elevated above the one in front of it, and are open air with covers for shade. Every morning two vehicles left camp but took separate tracks once we went through the Chobe National Park entrance. We were fortunate to have only 12 people on our safari, so everyone had a ‘window seat’.

Safari vehicle
We typically met up again about 10:30 for ‘tea and pee’. A cup of hot bush tea or coffee was so warming, and the biscuits (cookies to us) were delicious. Mostly they were shortbread cookies, sometimes with the savory addition of rosemary. It was during these breaks that each group would compare what they had seen. Every group had a unique experience.

Animal sightings in Chobe National Park were outstanding. We saw very large numbers of elephant, cape buffalo, antelope and giraffe. And lots of birds. Our drivers, Nic and Richard were excellent at spotting wildlife and then positioning the vehicle so we could take pictures. We were not allowed to get out of the vehicles or to stand up. At times it was difficult to stay in my seat, I have to admit.

Generally we were back at the lodge by 11:30 or so. We had a little time to go back to our tented cabin, drop off our things and get phones and camera batteries on the chargers before lunch. After lunch typically we had a couple of hours to relax, shower, upload picture etc., before ‘high tea’ at about 3 pm.

Lunch at Baobab Safari Lodge
High tea always included something savory and something sweet along with fruit juice and cold tea. The food was delicious and the quantities very generous. These daily afternoon snacks were provided before the afternoon game drive which were structured much like the morning drive. Two vehicles headed out, usually each group changed drivers in the afternoon, we entered the park at a checkpoint and headed out on separate tracks. We met up for our afternoon tea and pee, then continued our game drive until late in the day.

Vehicles must be checked out of the park by 6:30 pm, so we were always heading home by that time. Sometimes we cut it close, but we were generally back to the lodge by 7 pm. Once again we dashed for our tented cabin to put batteries on their chargers.

Dinners were always preceded by happy hour including beer, wine, liquor, soda and snacks. The snacks were always different and always delicious. We had our meals in the large open air dining room with an adjoining bar and lounge area. It was so restful to sit with a drink and enjoy the setting sun over the Chobe River in the evenings. We spent this time before dinner talking about the day’s events, our sightings and the things we learned. It was so much fun.

Sunset on the Chobe River

Dinners were always several courses. Most often we were served soup as a starter, a buffet dinner and then dessert. Enormous amounts of delicious food once again. Flavors were interesting, sometimes curries, sometimes pasta or polenta, chicken, vegetables, pork and fish were in the mix. Honestly, I enjoyed everything I tried and I didn’t pass on anything.

After such a satisfying dinner we were ready for bed and our nightly escort to our tents. Although I didn’t check my watch, because I wasn’t wearing one, I’m sure we were headed for bed by 8:30. When we reached our tented cabin, our beds had been turned down for us, the mosquito netting had been dropped and hot water bottles had been placed in our beds. The hot water bottles were a wonderful surprise and felt so good during the very chilly nights.

The days were long and filled with something new every day. The landscape, color of the soil and vegetation were so variable. The first day we went on morning and afternoon game drives. On the second day we were gone on an all-day game drive. We drove more than 63 miles that day. Our lunch was packed for us by the kitchen staff and we enjoyed it at the Sarondela picnic site along the Chobe River over 20 miles from Baobab Lodge. It was great fun being on the road all day.

A slide show of our travel to Baobab Safari Lodge and an introduction to the Lodge follows. We spent two full days at Baobab Lodge. Besides the game drives we also celebrated a 50th wedding anniversary, tasted wine from Zimbabwe and had an opportunity to watch local women making baskets. More about all of these in our next installment along with a slideshow of our game drives. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy this introduction to Baobab Safari Lodge.

Cheers!

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Our Africa Adventure Begins: A Quick Intro And Then On to Johannesburg

The flying time between California and South Africa was a grueling 22 hours in length for us (not counting a 4-hour layover). We tried hard not to think how long a time that really is. To that end, we officially began our trip with a toast made with Graham Beck Brut NV, what else? We have had this delicious South African sparkling wine made in the Method Cap Classic style (South Africa’s Méthode Traditionnelle) several times. It is always delicious and just what we wanted to celebrate the beginning of what we expected to be an exciting vacation.

Our toast with Graham Becks NV

Pete, Craig, Denise and Leslie. I’m behind the camera!

Off on vacation

Us and our pile of luggage!

 

The five of us traveling together from California gathered at our home for the toast before our airport transportation arrived. We all enjoy wine tasting together on a regular basis. That weekly nexus is what brought the five of us together for this trip.

 

 

 

In all, twelve of us booked the Ultimate Africa trip through Overseas Adventure Travel. It is our second trip with OAT, as everyone calls the travel company. Others were first-time OAT travelers and one member of our group had been on twenty OAT trips! Along with its small size, one of the very nice things about this booking is we knew most of our fellow travelers before this vacation.

We left the West Coast late on a Wednesday evening and arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa on Saturday morning. The rest our group not traveling from California had arrived the day before and were enjoying breakfast when we dragged in. We all introduced ourselves and grabbed some coffee and a quick breakfast.

We all stayed at the Protea Hotel OR Tambo at the Johannesburg airport. OAT usually schedules flights to arrive late in the day with departures for Victoria Falls the next morning, but everyone in the group decided to arrive early to have a bit of rest time before departing for our safari the next morning. Our group was the last to arrive.

Protea OR Tambo Hotel, JohannesburgHotel in Johannesburg

Arriving early also gave us the opportunity to see a bit of Johannesburg. At our request, OAT scheduled a afternoon driving tour of Joburg (apparently only tourist call it Johannesburg) that included a drive around the city and visits to the Apartheid Museum and Mandela House in Soweto. Our time in Joburg was short and this tour gave us only a snapshot of the city. I cannot offer more than our very superficial impressions of Johannesburg.

It is a city of great contrast. A very modern airport, many multi-lane highways, numerous sky scrapers, at least one enormous soccer stadium, suburbs, gated communities, open space within the city. The city and its surrounding communities are spread over an enormous area and have a population of over 10 million.

The streets of the city’s business district were filled with people, and the skyline is punctuated by many skyscrapers. In portions of downtown many large buildings are empty, the result of the exodus of white-owned business after the end of Apartheid, we were told. Other buildings have been or are in the process of being renovated.

Johannesburg skylineJohannesburg city

We heard from several South Africans that Joburg is the cultural heart of South Africa. They visit regularly to enjoy that culture and soak up the vibrant atmosphere. Everywhere we drove there were lots of vehicles and lots of people walking everywhere (even on the highways, yikes!) The city does appear to be very busy.

Our first stop was at the Apartheid Museum. The modern building includes exhibits both inside and outside. It is one of the most interesting museums I’ve toured.

Apartheid MuseumEntrance to the Apartheid Museum

'Europeans Only' bench at the Apartheid Museum

‘Europeans Only’ bench at the Apartheid Museum

Every ticket purchased for entry into the museum arbitrarily classifies the the holder as either ‘white’ or ‘non-white’. You are instructed to use the appropriately labeled, and separate, entrance into the museum. It was a very tangible way to emphasize race classification, which was the basis for apartheid laws.

Apartheid Museum ticketSeparate entrances to the Apartheid Museum

The museum exhibits begin by summarizing how Johannesburg came to be a racially mixed community, how segregation developed into apartheid and what life was like for ‘non-whites’ under apartheid.

Outdoor exhibit at the Apartheid MuseumDSC_8305
Exhibits continue with the individuals who fought to impose and those who fought against apartheid. Of course the familiar name of Nelson Mandela is there, but there were many others who fought the system. The exhibits are very detailed and do an excellent job of explaining this very dark part of South Africa’s history.

The exhibits bring you out of this awful darkness to Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, the fall of apartheid, a new South African constitution and the 1994 presidential election which saw Nelson Mandela elected president. With the detailing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission another familiar name was present, Archbishop Desmond Tutu who was chair of the commission.

As I said, a moving and thought-provoking experience. I am very glad we took the tour.

Soweto was our next stop. Soweto appears to be a busy and crowded area with a definite sense of community. The former township includes very nice homes, some located behind gates, as well as very simple homes, and tiny box-like homes opening directly onto the busy streets.

Welcome to SowetoFruit vendor in Soweto

Driving in Soweto
We drove only briefly through Soweto to Vilakazi Street. The street is famous because two Nobel Peace Prize recipients lived on this street, just blocks from each other. Mandela House, the former home of Nelson Mandela is located here and just a few blocks away Archbishop Desmond Tutu also has a home.

Mandela House in Soweto

Mandela House
8115 Vilakazi Street Orlando West
Soweto.

Mandela's house is SowetoTour guide at Mandela House
We toured Mandela House which was built in 1945.  It has been restored and preserved, complete with bullet holes and burn marks from the molotov cocktails which were thrown at the house.

Touring Mandela HouseMandela House in Soweto

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was the first home Nelson Mandel owned and his second wife Winnie lived here during his imprisonment.

“It was the opposite of grand, but it was my first true home of my own and I was mightily proud. A man is not a man until he has a house of his own.”

Nelson Mandela, The Long Walk to Freedom

Along Vilakazi Street, Soweto

Along Vilakazi Street, Soweto

We walked along several blocks of Vilakazi Street and once again the street was full of people. There were busy restaurants, homes and many roadside stands selling everything from clothing to wooden carvings. It is a ‘touristy’ few blocks, but there is a definite sense of community among the residents. Everyone seemed to know everyone else.

The home of Archbishop Desmond TutuTutu House placard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bally, the owner of the tour company that provided our driving tour was also our driver. He had come to Johannesburg from another part of South Africa because he believes there are better opportunities for advancement in Johannesburg. Over his lifetime he has had a variety of occupations and speaks something like seven languages. We were astounded. He said it was easy, because many of the 11 officially recognized languages of South Africa are similar. Still, seven languages. That’s just amazing.

As the sun began to set the warm afternoon turned chilly. We piled back into our mini-van and returned to our hotel at OR Tambo International Airport. That was our very brief introduction to the city of Johannesburg. Too brief, but just enough of an introduction to leave us with the desire to return for further exploration.

The following morning we departed for Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe where we were met by our trip leader and then transferred to Baobab Lodge in Botswana along the Chobe River. That is where our safari begins!

Cheers!

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#winePW 3: Wine for Summer’s Bounty. Will Garnacha Do the Trick?

Wine for Summer’s Bounty is the theme of this month’s Wine Pairing Weekend  where we, along with other food and wine bloggers, put  a meal together around the theme, select a wine to pair with the meal then write about it. It’s great fun to plan the meal and wine pairing and then to read about the pairings other bloggers planned.

In preparation for this month’s Wine Pairing Weekend theme, I took a quick tour through our local Farmers’ Market just to see what jumped out at me. There is so much to choose from at the Farmers’ Market this time of year that it can be a bit difficult for me to focus. Everything looks good and I want to bring all of it home with me. Same goes for the choices from our wine cellar. Decisions, decisions.

I made one quick pass through the market without making any purchases, just looking, smelling and deciding. Then I decided on melons. Yep, that’s right, melons. Specifically, watermelon. I couldn’t resist one display of bright red, cut melons that looked and smelled like summer. So with that decision made and with the purchase of a round, heavy, seedless watermelon I began the planning process.

Salad, I decided, would be how I put the melon to use. Before leaving for the Farmers’ Market, I had taken a walk through our herb garden, just to see what I had to work with. Basil, mint, rosemary, marjoram, sage and oregano were all possibilities. Again, too many choices — but with the watermelon tucked under my arm, I decided mint.

Green beans were plentiful in the Farmers’ Market as well. That sounded good to me, so I also came away with tiny green beans, some fresh garlic and cherry tomatoes. I love tomatoes and green beans together and they’re even better with a bit of butter and garlic. That was decided.

Now, what to serve as the main course? Mint always makes me think of lamb. Mint jelly was so often served with leg of lamb when I was growing up, I suppose that is the reason for the association. Leg of lamb is much too large a piece of meat for the two of us, so I thought about ground lamb. I headed to our local market hoping they would still have some in the counter. I was in luck. Oh happy day.

We decided to make this wine and food pairing a real challenge by choosing a red wine to pair with the meal. Most often when the weather is hot, the mercury has been at or near 100-degrees lately, we drink white or rosé wines. It’s simply more refreshing to sip a chilled, lighter bodied, low alcohol wine in the heat. But surely we must have a lighter red wine in our cellar.

This was Pete’s part of the assignment. He did some searching and decided on a bottle of Garnacha we received from our Les Marchands Wine Bar and Merchant wine club. Les Marchands has become our favorite destination when in Santa Barbara for its extensive by the glass wine list and delicious food (which comes from the kitchen of The Lark.) As a result, we joined their Daily Drinkers wine club.

The wines we have enjoyed from Les Marchand are made in an old world in style, that is with less ripe fruit with judicious use of oak aging, just what we would enjoy drinking on a warm summer evening.

The Food

Watermelon salad prepBalsamic Watermelon Salad with Mint: this recipe is inspired by a recipe for Balsamic Watermelon Chicken Salad from Pinch of Yum. I added the mint and used red leaf lettuce as the greens, left out the chicken and since I had aged balsamic vinegar did not make the balsamic vinegar reduction as called for in the recipe.

I added heirloom tomatoes to the mix as well, because they just looked so juicy and delicious in the Farmers’ Market.  (Yes, I know, I don’t follow instructions very well.)

Green beans and tomatoesSteamed Green Beans with Cherry Tomatoes and Garlic: I quickly steamed the green beans, leaving them a bit firm. In the mean time I lightly sautéed chopped garlic and a pinch of crushed red pepper in a combination of butter and olive oil. Just add the cherry tomatoes long enough to heat them through, season with salt and pepper then serve the mixture over the steamed green beans.

Adding blue cheese to ground lambGrilled Lamb Burgers: generally I like to keep it simple, just seasoning with salt and pepper and a bit of marjoram. But in keeping with the theme of bounty, and at Pete’s suggestion, I added a bit of crumbled blue cheese to several of the burgers. I surrounded the blue cheese with the meat like a meatball, then flattened the meatball to a burger and added salt and pepper.

Grilled lamb burgers

 

Oh, yum! Although the flavorful lamb did not need the creamy, salty deliciousness the blue cheese added, it was a delicious addition. The cheese became soft and warm with grilling. It really was too good for words.

 

The Wine

2011 Maldivinas Garnacha ‘La Movida Granito’ Castilla y Leon2011 Maldivinas Garnacha ‘La Movida Granito’ Castilla y Leonruby-violet color in the glass with aromas of strawberries and blueberries. Spicy, savory flavors combine with blackberry and ripe plum flavors, smooth tannins and a medium body. The finish is medium in length with nice acidity. Obvious flavors from wood aging are not present. Overall a flavorful wine, but not heavy on the palate, perfect for a summer meal. ABV 14.5%.

This wine is produced in the Castilla y Leon region of Spain, not far from Madrid. The 60 year old Garnacha vines are farmed organically, no pesticides or herbicides are used in the vineyard. The vineyards are planted on granite and slate soils.

Following a cold soak for three days, fermentation proceeded with only natural yeast. The wine was not fined or filtered. Notes from the importer indicate oak aging, but not the type of oak or length of aging.

The savory flavors of the wine paired perfectly with the flavors of the grilled lamb. The salty deliciousness of the blue cheese in both the lamb burgers and the watermelon salad accentuated the savoriness of the wine. The buttery richness of the green beans contrasted nicely with the clean finish of the wine. And most importantly, this Garnacha was not too ripe, too heavy bodied or too alcoholic for a summer meal.

The Take Aways

Overall, a great pairing. Both the food and wine were juicy and savory. Blue cheese makes almost anything better, the salty, creamy goodness contributes so much flavor. It certainly was not necessary in the lamb burgers, but it was delicious. The key to using blue cheese is to add just enough to accent flavors, but not overwhelm the dish. We found this true for both the watermelon salad and the lamb burgers. A little bit goes a long way.

It always surprises me when I hear someone say they don’t like lamb. If this describes you or someone for whom you cook, consider grilling ground lamb. Season liberally with salt and pepper and marjoram and grill the burgers. If you add a bit of blue cheese as we did with this preparation, I’m confident you will enjoy them.

The meal
Fresh mint added a pop of flavor to the watermelon salad. I must remember to use it more often. Mint too is best added just as an accent flavor, so that its flavors are in the background lending complexity and freshness but not dominating the flavors of a dish.

More and more we are appreciating wines made with minimal intervention in the cellar. Natural yeast fermentation and neutral oak aging allow the flavors of the grape and the region to shine through. We appreciate that in a red wine, especially during the summer months, because these wines often have a lighter body and fresher flavors.

So to answer the question as to whether Garnacha would do the trick, we have to say that yes this one absolutely did. Enjoy, and we hope you are inspired to make you own delicious food and wine pairing.

Thanks to David for another great theme for Wine Pairing Weekend #3.

Be sure to check out what my fellow bloggers have come up with for the August Wine Pairing Weekend!

Pull That Cork shared “Wine for Summer’s Bounty. Will Garnacha Do the Trick?
Meal Diva paired “Summer Vegetable Red Sauce with Amarone
Culinary Adventures with Camilla posted “Pan-Seared Padròns with DeRose Vineyards’ Négrette
Vino Travels — An Italian Wine Blog shared “Tomato, toe-mah-toe: Summer’s bounty with Sicilian wine Donnafugata
Grape Experiences paired “Cecchi Chianti Classico 2010 and Vegetable Lasagna
Curious Cuisiniere shared “Chipotle Garden Salsa with Wild Hare Petite Sirah
ENOFYLZ Wine Blog posted “Grilled Paiche with a White Greek Blend
Take a Bite Out of Boca shared “Quinoa-Crusted Eggplant and Heirloom Tomato Stacks paired with Monrosso Chianti
foodwineclick shared “Summers’ Bounty or Attack of the Killer Turnips?
Confessions of a Culinary Diva blogged about “Lobster Paella and Albarino
Tasting Pour shared “Summertime and the Cooking is Easy
Cooking Chat paired “Linguine with Pesto, Fresh Tomatoes and a Sauvignon Blanc”


Join the #winePW conversation: Follow the #winePW conversation on Twitter throughout the weekend and beyond. If you’re reading this early enough, you can join us for a live Twitter chat on our theme “Wine for Summer’s Bounty” on Saturday, August 9, from 11 a.m. to noon Eastern Time. You can also visit our group Pinterest board to pin some great pairing ideas for later! Stay tuned for the September Wine Pairing Weekend, which will focus on “Regional Food and Wine Pairings” on Saturday, September 13.

Cheers!

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Domaine de Bila-Haut: Roussillon Wines from Michel Chapoutier

Maison M. Chapoutier is a family-owned winery (and négotiant business) located in Tain-l’Hermitage in the northern Rhone. The family’s winemaking history dates back to 1808 and is closely linked with Hermitage. Though the family’s winemaking roots are in the northern Rhone, current winemaking interests also include vineyards in Alsace, Portugal, Australia and the Languedoc-Roussillon region in southern France.

We recently received three wines produced by Domaine de Bila-Haut, the Chapoutier property in Roussillon, as tasting samples. This gave us the opportunity to learn a bit about the wine region as well as the wines.

Domaine de Bila-Haut
Domaine de Bila-Haut was purchased by Chapoutier in 1999 at least in part for its complex soil composition. The 190-acre estate includes a combination of schist, gneiss and clay soils. Nothing excites a winemaker like soil. The hilly location at the edge of the Agly Valley enjoys very warm, dry summers and cold winters.

Weather throughout the Roussillon is similar, dry and warm in summer and cold in winter. Vineyards are planted with the varieties you would expect in a warmer climate: Grenache, Cinsault, Carignan, Syrah and Mourvèdre. White varieties include Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris and Rolle.

A large portion of mid-level French wine (classified IGP) is produced in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. This very large region stretches from the French border with Spain along the Mediterranean coast almost to Nîmes in the East, with Roussillon located adjacent to Spain.

The IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée) designation is placed above entry-level Vin de Table wines (with few restrictions on production) and below the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) level with strict regulations on vineyard location, grape variety and viticultural practices.

2013 Domaine de Bila-Haut Cotes du Roussillon2013 Domaine de Bila-Haut Côtes du Roussillonpale yellow in the glass with lemony aromas and hints of kiwi fruit. Crisp citrus flavors along with those of delicate white flowers combine with brilliant acidity. The finish is crisp and clean and medium in length. ABV 13.5% $13

This refreshing white blend of Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc, Macabeo and Vermentino (Rolle) provides surprising complexity for the price. It is just the kind of wine I like to sip on a warm afternoon. It will take you all the way to dinner as well, holding up well with food.

Each grape variety was vinified separately. A cool fermentation with extended maceration was followed by aging is stainless steel. Multiple racking from tank to tank naturally clarified the wine before blending and bottling.

The Cotes du Roussillon AOC designation encompasses the southern portion of the larger Roussillon region. This very warm region borders Spain and produces mostly rosé and red wines. Only a small fraction of production is white wine.

2013 Domaine de Bila-Haut Pays d'Oc2013 Domaine de Bila-Haut Pays d’Oclight salmon color in the glass with generous aromas of raspberries, blackberries and peaches. The aromas constantly change in the glass. Blackberry and strawberry flavors combine with citrusy acidity and just a hint of tannins to produce a very pleasing rosé. ABV 13.5%. $13

This rosé is produced from a blend of Cinsault harvested from the Gard district (at the western end of the Languedoc) and Grenache. With only a short time spent on the skins to obtain the desired delicate color, a cool fermentation followed. Aging in stainless steel tanks occurred prior to blending and bottling.

The Pays d’Oc IGP classification allows winemakers a bit more latitude in terms of choice of grape varieties, farming practices and the geographical location of the vineyards. Regulations allow a large number of grape varieties to be sourced from within the very large Languedoc-Roussillon region.

2012 Domaine de Bila-Haut Cotes du Roussillon Villages2012 Domaine de Bila-Haut Côtes du Roussillon Villagesruby with a bit of violet at the edges of the glass along with ripe raspberry and blueberry aromas. The flavors are a mixture of ripe plums, blueberries and earth. Moderate tannins are a bit drying. ABV 14.5% $13

Syrah, Grenache and Carignan are fermented in concrete vats with maceration lasting two to three weeks. The wine ages further in concrete before being racked multiple times to clarify the wine, then bottled.

Côtes du Roussillon Villages AOC designation, which allows only red wine production, requires lower yields in the vineyards. The geographic boundaries include only the northern portion of Roussillon north of the Têt River. Lower yield in the vineyard often produces bolder red wines.

It was a warm summer evening when we tasted the three Domaine de Bila-Haut wines. Our evening meal of grilled, marinated chicken and watermelon salad made an interesting pairing for the wines. We found the Côtes du Roussillon and the Pays d’Oc were the best partners to the light meal. The flavors of both wines matched well with the flavors of the grilled chicken, and neither wine overwhelmed the watermelon salad.

The Côtes du Roussillon Villages was a fine partner to the grilled chicken. The grilling process lent plenty of flavor to the chicken and the rich flavors of the wine did not overwhelm the flavors of the chicken. The watermelon salad was too light a partner for the red wine however. Had we prepared roasted potatoes or a potato salad, we would have had a better match. I can also imagine a delicious pairing for the Côtes du Roussillon Villages would be grilled pork chops or grilled pork tenderloin.

What a fun evening of wine tasting along with our meal. Many thanks to Creative Palate Communications for the tasting samples. We enjoyed this collection of flavorful, well made and affordable wines. All would be good choices for a summer meal, any day of the week.

Cheers!

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Africa — Our Dream Vacation Come True

Pete and I have wanted to visit Africa for a long time. It’s something we have talked about over the years, often in the afternoon with a glass of wine in hand, in our back yard. Vacation day dreaming. But finally our plans turned from wistful thinking to planning - over a year of planning actually. There were lots of things to consider. Where exactly in Africa did we want to go? What did we most want to see? What kind of experience did we want?

Wildlife was our first consideration, naturally. It’s all about the animals and viewing them in their natural habitat. We recognized that meant going out in the middle of nowhere, actually that’s exactly where we wanted to be. That said, we also wanted a certain level of comfort, no dry camping. A warm bed, running water and inside toilets were high on our list.

Okavango Delta Elephants
Had we planned this trip ten years ago, viewing wildlife and scenery may have been our major considerations in planning a trip to Africa. That was before wine. In the past ten years our interest in wine has moved from casual to obsessed. Neither of us would consider making this trip to Africa without spending some time tasting wine in South Africa. We have tasted many wonderful South African wines, many of which we have written about, and we both were absolutely set on visiting the region. So, those were our priorities, the animals, the landscape and the wine.

It was a tall order, but we managed to pull it off! We were on African soil a total of 22 days. The days flew by. Over the next several weeks we will be sharing the details of our trip with you. For us it was the trip of a lifetime, filled with memories of the places we visited, the people we met, and the animals we saw - the wildlife viewing was spectacular. And then there was the wine, the wine was out of this world. There is so much we want to share with you.

At this point we are organizing photos, no small task, we took over 13,000 between the two of us. As we organize our photos and our thought we will begin posting. In the mean time, here is a brief outline of what’s in store.

Johannesburg, South Africa – we visited on July 4 and spent our Independence Day touring the Apartheid Museum and Mandela House, Nelson Mandela’s home in Soweto.

Baobab Lodge welcome
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and overland to our first tented camp, Baobab Lodge, along the Chobe River in Botswana. Here we visited Chobe National Park on morning and afternoon game drives.

We also managed to put our hands on 6 bottles of wine made by the only remaining winery in Zimbabwe (This was only made possible with the assistance of our Trip Leader, Sanction). You know we will write about that.

Our next camp in Botswana was in the Okavango Delta, near the Moremi Game Reserve. This camp was unique for its elevated walkways and tented cabins. Morning and afternoon game drives awaited us along with elephants and Cape buffalo in the neighborhood.

Zambia was our next stop at Lafupa Camp along the Kafue River. We awoke in the mornings to the boisterous grunts of hippos and the beautiful songs of countless species of Kingfishers. Fishing and river tours made this stop unique. One such river tour provided a unexpected discovery that caused even our guide to reach for his camera.

Lafupa Camp
Kashawe Tented Camp in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe was our final camp destination. This stop was one of contrast with beautiful golden landscapes, lions that sang to us during the night and the ugliness of open pit mining adjacent to the park.

Our return to civilization came when we transferred to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Here we stayed in a hotel with all of the amenities, toured Victoria Falls (which are spectacular), shopped the open markets and even zip-lined across the Zambezi River.

Protea cynaroides South Africa's national flower
Cape Town, South Africa was our final destination. Five days filled with the gardens, the Cape of Good Hope, shopping, eating and not least…wine tasting. We enjoyed three days of wonderful wines and beautiful wine country. Our final wine experience was the most unique of our “wine career”. You will have to wait to read about it, it exceed all expectation.

Vineyard in South Africa
As good as it is to travel outside the US, it is always good to return home. When the US Customs Officer, after questioning us in detail about our travels, said, “Welcome home,” I had to quickly turn away to prevent him from seeing the tears in my eyes. In my experience not every Customs Officer says those two simple words to returning US residents, but when they do it is very emotional for me. Only the familiar sound of crickets outside our bedroom window during the first night we returned made me feel more at home.

We will of course continue to write about what is going on in our wine world as we share our Africa experiences with you. It will be a busy, but I hope enjoyable few months!

Cheers!

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Sauternes and Cherries — A Special Summer Pairing

Those of us who are regular tasters at the Thursday night wine tasting at Fine Wines of Stockton know one of George’s great loves is Sauternes and cherries. Not just any cherries mind you. They must be cherries that are not overly sweet, just a touch of tartness is what’s desired to counter the sweetness of the Sauternes.

Rainier or Queen (Royal) Anne are the cherries to look for. They are yellow and red in color with light colored flesh. They have soft skins with fairly firm flesh. I usually find them in the Farmes Market as Rainier here. I have purchased them in the grocery store as well but always find the cherries from Farmer’s Market are always much more flavorful.
Rainier cherries
We have tried both Rainier and Bing cherries with Sauternes at prior tastings and have agreed with George that the Bing cherries are too sweet to make a good match for Sauternes. So, if you love Bing cherries, as I do, just go by some and eat them on their own. If you are lucky enough to find Rainier cherries, save them to try with a bottle of Sauternes. You will find the combination surprisingly good.

In our area, Rainier cherries are not the first to ripen. I usually see several types of red cherries in the Farmer’s Market before the Rainier cherries appear. We also have the good fortune to have regular Thursday night tasters that have access to a Rainier cherry orchard, so when the cherries are ready George schedules the tasting. Generally it is early to mid-June.

For the tasting this year George very generously pulled three bottles of Sauternes from his cellar. The shelves at Fine Wines of Stockton are bare of Sauternes at the moment, as their shipment is somewhere between France and Stockton. George and Gail usually stock a few Sauternes in the shop and they always sell quickly.

“Great wines made in the cellar”, that’s how George describes Sauternes. Some magic must happen in the vineyard too for the greatness of Sauternes to express itself. Really, quite a lot must happen before Sauternes can be made in the cellar. Semillion is the main grape variety used to produce Sauternes along with smaller amounts of Sauvignon Blanc. Muscadelle and a bit of Sauvignon Gris in some areas used as blending grapes as well .

All varieties are susceptible to the fungus Botrytis cinerea, aka botrytis. Botrytis is the key to Sauturnes along with the perfect weather conditions to work its magic. When the mornings are foggy and damp followed by warm, sunny and dry afternoons botrytis extract water from the grapes causing desiccation. The grapes almost become raisins on the vine.

If mornings are not foggy enough for botrytis to develop, it cannot work its magic. If morning are cool and foggy but so are the afternoons, it is likely grapes just develop grey rot and spoil. When Botrytis works its magic to product just the perfect amount of desiccation, it is referred to as noble rot. Doesn’t sound very appetizing, but the wine certainly is delicious.

Not every year is not a good one for Sauternes production. About 5 years in 7 are good and only 2 years out of 10 are perfect. One of the reasons Sauternes are so expensive.

As you can imagine the yield in the vineyard of botrysized grapes is very small. The grapes are no longer large, plump and heavy with water and juice. The raisined grapes are little bundles of concentrated sugar and acid with very concentrated flavors. Not only that, grapes are harvested by making multiple passes through the vineyard, selecting just the grapes at the right stage for Sauternes production.

It is no simple task to manage the fermentation of Sauternes. The botrytis fungus can interfere with the yeast responsible for the fermentation process, so it is the job of the winemaker to make sure all of the organisms play well together to produce a wine with an adequate level of alcohol.

Finally, Sauternes are wood aged, generally from 18 to 36 months. It’s a long, expensive process that is not possible every vintage. Sauternes producer must be some of the most tenacious winemakers in the world.

Sauternes lineup
The three Sauternes George presented were from the 2003, 1999 and 1977 vintages. Even before we began tasting, it was so interesting to see the difference in color of the wine in this group. With age Sauternes changes from medium golden to amber in color.

2003 Château Filhot Sauternes2003 Château Filhot Sauternesvery dark yellow in the glass with aromas of pineapple and delicate minty hints in the background. Pineapple and apricot flavors combine with significant sweetness and a very round feeling in the mouth. Along with sweetness there was tongue-tingling acidity.

This combination of sweetness with great acidity is what makes Sauternes so wonderful. Without that clean, crisp acidity the sweetness would be overwhelming.

1999 Château Coutet Sauternes-Barsac1999 Château Coutet Sauternes-Barsac — light amber in the glass with hints of pineapple and a bit of spice. Sweet pineapple flavors combine with spices and earth. This wine is not as round in the mouth as the Château Filhot. It has good weight, but less roundness and great acidity. Somehow it is more angular and muscular.

The flavors in this wine still taste youthful. It is closer in flavor profile to the Château Filhot than the Château Rieussec.

1997 Château Rieussec Sauternes1997 Château Rieussec Sauternes light amber in the glass with aromas of very ripe melon flesh and seeds. Complex flavors of spice, apricots and ripe melon combine with with great acidity for a clean finish.

The aromas and flavors in this wine taste aged, that is the melon flavors are closer to over ripe melon than barely ripe melon, aromas and flavors I associate with those flavors that develop over time in the bottle. These are flavors I love in an aged white wine.

If you prefer brighter pineapple, apricot flavors consume Sauternes when they are young. They are delicious, I love those flavors. But, I love the complex older flavors Sauternes develop with time in the bottle even more. Whenever I drink a bottle of Sauternes young, I can’t help but wonder what it might have become, then I just sit back and lose myself in the fresh sweet flavors.

If you haven’t already done so, be certain to try Sauternes. You will quickly discover their charm. Wonderfully round in the mouth with rich pineapple and apricot flavors, Sauternes are not just any other sweet wine. All of those complex flavors and sweetness is balance with tong-tingling acidity for a clean finish. This is what makes Sauternes so special to me.

They are a special occasion wine (one to drink for a special occasion or one that makes any occasion special!), and admittedly very expensive, but worth the cost to further your wine education. Get together with some friends and split the cost of a bottle among you. Try Sauternes when they’re young and then see if you can put your hands on some older vintages. You will be amazed at the change in flavors.

Thank you George (and Gail) for sharing your liquid gold with us!

Cheers!

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Rosé Rocks!

Rosé is one of the things I like the most about summer. Every year we look forward to seeking out new, and familiar, rosés to enjoy as outdoor temperatures rise. I love rosé for many reasons. Flavors: strawberries, citrus, raspberries in a lighter bodied wine. Lower alcohol: 12.5% – 13.5% is the general range. Color: salmon, pale salmon, blush, pink. Versatility: rosé accompanies everything from salads, to roasted chicken, to fish tacos.

We recently tasted a group of rosés at a Thursday night wine tasting at Fine Wines of Stockton. They were an interesting collection of rosé made from a variety of grapes produced around the globe. Here’s what we tasted and a bit about each wine.

2013 Listel Sable de Camargue Grain de Gris Rosé2013 Listel Sable de Camargue Grain de Gris Rosélight salmon in color with delicate floral and strawberry aromas. Light flavors of berries combine with lime zest, a kiss of sweetness and crisp, clean finish. Subtle but flavorful. ABV 12.5%

This rose is a blend of Cinsault, Grenache and Carignan produced using a very short period of skin contact to impart color and flavor into the wine.  The Sable de Camargue Indication Géographique Protégée (IGP) applies to vineyards planted in sandy soils along the ocean (just south of Picpoul de Pinet) in the eastern portion of the Languedoc. This region’s sandy soils largely protected the vines here from the phylloxera epidemic in the 1880s.

2013 Jean-Luc Colombio Cape Bleue Rosé2013 Jean-Luc Colombio Cape Bleue Rosévery light pink in the glass with blackberry aromas. Citrus pith dominates the flavors along with blackberries, minerality and good acidity. This wine feels a bit rounder in the mouth. ABV 12.5%.

A blend of 67% Syrah and 33% Mourvèdre is produced near Marseille in the Languedoc. It’s Méditérranée IGP classification means winemakers have more latitude in selecting grape varieties for their wine and less restrictive winemaking regulations than Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) classifications.

2012 Cline Cellars Mourvèdre Rosé2012 Cline Cellars Mourvèdre Rosédarker salmon in the glass with aromas of raspberries and blackberries. Flavors are reflective of the aromas with a combination of sweet and tart red berries. This wine has lots of flavor and perhaps a bit of fizz. I noticed some tiny bubbles clinging to the inside of my glass. It has plenty of flavor and texture. ABV 13%.

Produced from Mourvèdre harvested from Cline’s 100 year old vineyard in Contra Costa County. These red grapes are pressed prior to fermentation so that a bit of color and tannins are extracted from the grape skins. Cool fermentation aims to preserve the bright flavor and it is not quite fermented to dry. There is just a touch of residual sugar.

2013 CrossBarn Rosé of Pinot Noir2013 CrossBarn Rosé of Pinot Noirvery light salmon in the glass with minerals on the nose. A burst of citrus flavor is followed by minerals and berry fruit and juicy acidity. This wine is weightless in the mouth. I like that. ABV 12.5%.

This wine is fermented to dryness in stainless steel without going through malolactic fermentation. Paul Hobbs, who in addition to producing California wine at CrossBarn, produces wine under the Paul Hobbs label in Napa and Vina Cobos in Argentina. He is also beginning a wine project in the Fingerlakes region of New York State. Busy man.

2013 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé2013 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosébright rose color in the glass with complex aromas of minerals, ripe berries and vegetal notes in the background. Flavors are mostly berries to me with a touch of sweetness and adequate acidity for a clean finish. It gains complexity in the glass over time (maybe as it warmed a bit). ABV 12.5%.

While I did not think this wine was lacking in flavor, it did not have a great depth of flavor, especially after those complex aromas. There was a lot of discussion about this wine among the group. Everyone seemed to taste something different in it.

Mulderbosch is a South African producer widely distributed in the US. They do not produce this Cabernet Sauvignon rosé by bleeding off juice from their red wine production, but harvest the Cabernet Sauvignon early to preserve flavor and natural acidity. Hint: this is the way rosé should be made. The wine is cold fermented using aromatic yeasts.

2013 Caves D’Esclans Whispering Angel2013 Caves D’Esclans Whispering Angelthe palest of pinks in the glass, ballet slipper pink to me, with aromas of berries and roses. Berry and floral flavors repeat from the aromas and combine with minerals and good acidity. This wine is subtle but interesting and satisfying. ABV 13%

Produced from a blend of Grenache, Vermentino, Cinsault, Syrah and Tibouren sourced from around the village of Le Motte in Provence. After destemming and light crushing, both free-run and pressed juice is fermented in stainless steel.

You may be unfamiliar with Tibouren, I was. It is a variety not widely planted elsewhere, but it is commonly used in the rosés of Provence. It’s a bit difficult in the vineyard, producing wildly variable yields from year to year, and for that reason it is used mostly as a blender. It is credited with producing distinctive earthy aromas characteristic of Procençal wines. I missed it in the Whispering Angel, but look for more wine containing the variety. Now I’m curious.

With the price of many of these wines very close to $10 and the alcohol levels around 12.5% rosè is a winner in my book. Most are so versatile, pairing well with lighter fare but even charcuterie, or pork.

My take-aways for the evening: complex flavors in a lighter bodied, very dry, rosè is what I’m looking for. I’m not a fan of sweeter rosè. The best way to figure that out is to get out there and taste some rosè.

Also, don’t judge a rosè by its color, or lack thereof. Sometimes very light rosès can be very flavorful. That’s the goal in Provence, to create the most flavorful rosè possible with a very light color.

The Whispering Angel was my favorite and the CrossBarn my second favorite. The group voted the same way.

Cheers!

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#LodiLive Summer White Wine Tasting

If you’re like many people, you think of Lodi as red wine country and Zinfandel country in particular. The self-proclaimed Zinfandel Capital of the World does produce 32% of California’s premium Zinfandel with some of Lodi’s old vine Zinfandel plantings date back to 1888. But Lodi is home to any number of white grape varieties as well. It is a leading producer in California of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc. In addition, you will find Viognier, Verdelho, Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Garnacha Blanca. So, really Lodi is all about diversity in wine grape growing.

Lodi lineup
We recently participated in an online tasting with LoCA (the Lodi Winegrape Commission) that features 5 white wines from Lodi producers. The discussion was moderated by Camron King, Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission and winemaker Susan Tipton. Susan is the winemaker at Acquiesce Winery & Vineyard and with the single exception of a Rosé, Susan’s entire wine production is white wine. LoCA sent us the wine and we all joined in the conversation via Twitter and Brandlive®.

2013 Borra Vineyards Nuvola2013 Borra Vineyards Artist Series Nuvola Gewürztraminervery light yellow in the glass with delicate floral and spice aromas. Melon and apple flavors combine with pleasing minerality and crisp acidity. ABV 13.6%. $19.

This crisp white wine is fermented to dryness. That’s winemaker Markus Niggli’s style. It is delicious, refreshing and food-friendly.

The story of this wine and Borra Vineyards combines many cultures. Steve Borra’s family came to Lodi from the Piedmont region of Italy three generations ago. Steve Borra founded Borra Vineyards (it was one of the first bonded wineries in Lodi) after beginning as a home winemaker. Borra Vineyards’ winemaker Markus Niggli is Swiss-born and brings a European style of winemaking to Borra.

Markus’ natural affinity for European varieties made his collaboration with the Koth family of Mokelumne Glen Vineyards in Lodi a natural. In addition to Gewürztraminer, Markus also sources Riesling, Kerner and Bacchus from the Koths. If you read our prior post about the Koths and Mokelumne Glen Vineyards, then you know about the diversity of grapes being grown on their property.

2013 Bokisch Garnacha Blanca2013 Bokisch Vineyards Garnacha Blanca Vista Luna Vineyardalmost colorless in the glass with delicate floral and tropical fruit aromas. Rich flavors of pears, tropical fruit and white flowers. A touch of sweetness combines with nice texture and crisp acidity for a long flavorful finish. ABV 13.2% $18.

Markus and Liz Bokisch brought their love of Spanish varieties with them to Lodi. In addition to Garnacha Blanca they also produce other Iberian whites: Albariño, Verdejo and Verdelho. Red varieties include Tempranillo, Graciano, Monastrell and Garnacha.

The Bokischs are committed to the land and community as well. Bokisch Vineyards is part of Certified Green Lodi Rules, farming 2500 acres of grapes sustainably. Lodi Rules is the only third party certified sustainable grape growning program in the country. Wine made in accordance with Lodi Rules will carry the Green Certification label on the bottle.

2013 Acquiesce Viognier2013 Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards Viognierthis very aromatic wine is light yellow in the glass with honeyed melon, floral and apple aromas. Flavors are dominated by ripe Meyer lemon flavors with hints of orange blossom and citrus pith. Bright acidity provides a crisp finish and this wine has a bit of weight in the mouth. Just delicious. ABV 14.1% $23.

Acquiesce Winery is relatively new to the Lodi area. 14 years ago Susan moved to Acampo, began tending the vineyards surrounding her home and learned to make wine. Her passions are white wine and Rhone varieties in particular. It was a delicious bottle of white Châteauneuf-du-Pape that started her on the journey to planting Rhone varieties on her Acampo property.

Sue obtained the cuttings for her white varieties from Château de Beaucastel through Tablas Creek Winery. Her style of winemaking is to produce a wine that tastes like the grape itself. She does not use oak aging and thanks to the unique soil and climate in Lodi her wines have a nice roundness in the mouth without going through malolactic fermentation.

2013 Heritage Oak Sauv Blanc2013 Heritage Oak Winery Sauvignon Blancvery light yellow in the glass with aromas of dried hay and tropical fruit. Flavors follow the aromas with added melon and lime. The finish is fairly long. ABV 13.48% $18.

This is the most popular wine in the Heritage Oak Winery tasting room and winemaker Tom Hoffman, like Sue, uses no oak on his white wines. Tom’s family has farmed in the Lodi area for five generations.

The winery is located along the Mokelumne River on property that has been in Tom’s family since 1892. It’s a beautiful location with a scenic trail through the vineyards and along the river. Not to be missed when you visit Lodi.

2012 Uvaggio Moscato Secco2012 Uvaggio Moscato Seccolight yellow in the glass with interesting herbal notes of marjoram along with orange blossoms. Similar floral flavors of orange blossoms combine with citrus pith. Nice acidity. ABV 12.9% $14

Although the flavors in this wine are very floral, it is not sweet (secco means dry in Italian). This dry Moscato would be nice before a meal or just to sip on a warm afternoon.

The Uvaggio winery is located in Napa but the moscato for this wine is grown in Lodi. Moscato Giallo (Yellow Muscat) is the cultivar and there are only 40 acres planted in all of California. Just a fraction of that total acreage is planted in Lodi.

So while it is true that Lodi is the Zinfandel Capital of the World, any number of white grape varieties are grown in the region as well. This tasting included just a sampling of the variety produced in Lodi. Any of the wines in this group would be a good choice on a warm afternoon or to pair with a summertime meal. All are delicious and have relatively low alcohol levels which is essential in the warm weather. It is just one more reminder of the great quality of wine coming from Lodi.

There are 65 tasting room in the Lodi area now. Think about visiting the Lodi area to do some wine tasting. You will be pleasantly surprised.

Thanks to LoCA (the Lodi Winegrape Commission) for providing the wines in this tasting and to Charles Communications Associates who organized the tasting. Thanks to Camron and Susan as well, you hosted and fun and interesting tasting.

Cheers!

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Fields Family Wine — Marching to the Sound of Their Own Drummer

Fields Family WinesRyan Sherman loves to talk wine, but he loves making wine even more. He grew up in Lodi which means an exposure to vineyards and winemaking was inescapable. He grew up with kids whose parents were farmers and winemakers, though his parents were not. Ryan’s family was in real estate and he pursued a career in commercial real estate himself. He eventually circled around to winemaking, establishing Fields Family Wines with partner Russ Fields in 2008.

On a recent Friday afternoon we, along with fellow wine enthusiast and blogger Peter Nowack, visited with Ryan at the Fields Family winery and tasted through Ryan’s wine. We learned about Ryan’s style of winemaking, what inspires him and what’s in store at Fields Family Wine.

Ryan Sherman winemaker Fields Family wines

Ryan Sherman – Winemaker Fields Family Wine

Ryan describes himself as a self-taught winemaker. He has read the writings of old-time producers in Cornas and Côte-Rôtie. He has learned from the writings of Paul Draper and Randall Grahm. His research has lead him to understand the importance of getting to know vineyard sites and learning what is possible in Lodi.

He has informed his palate by drinking wine from Crozes-Hermitage, the Barossa Valley and Côte-Rôtie. Ryan describes himself as more of an adventuresome wine drinker than his business partner Russ who prefers Cabernet and Pinot Noir. But they tasted Tempranillo from Rioja and Ribera del Duero, wines from Oregon as well as through out California wine. Through tasting and paying attention to what happens in the cellar Ryan now makes the style of wine they both enjoy. This evolution started as a home winemaker and continues in the cellar at Fields Family Wine.

Ryan’s first commercial vintage was 2008. That first vintage they released their Big Red Blend, Oak Knoll Merlot and Oak Knoll Cabernet Sauvignon. Syrah did not make the cut as a varietal wine. In 2009 Ryan released Zinfandel, Syrah, Oak Knoll Merlot and Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon, in addition to the Big Red Blend. He feels he began to hit his stride with the 2009 vintage, learning what each vineyard site had to give.

He began experiments with wood aging and fermentation yeasts in 2009 and 2010. Ryan fermented as many as 13 micro lots using various yeast strains. He is always learning, always reading, always stretching as a winemaker.

Gradually production has increased as demand has increased. The current 1650 case production is at the upper limit of what winery space and time will allow. Russ has a busy law practice in Sacramento and Ryan has maintained his real estate business in addition to winemaking and family. Neither expects to quit their “day job” any time soon, so for now, Fields Family Wine is making about as much wine as is possible.

The 2009 vintage has brought recognition for the Fields Family Estate Syrah. It was recently named Best In Show Red at the San Diego International Wine Competition which has increased demand for Fields Family wines. With steady sales at the winery, and the new tasting room in downtown Lodi, regional placement in a few restaurants and wine shops Fields Family Wine is just where Ryan would like to be.

Fields Family Winery

Fields Family Winery

Ryan’s winemaking style is generally low intervention. Fruit is harvested by hand early in the morning and comes to the winery for destemming. Mostly whole berries cold soak for 3-5 days. Ryan uses native yeast fermentation whenever possible, only rescuing a fermentation if it doesn’t move forward. Similarly with malolactic fermentation, he does not inoculate. Over time he has learned that fermentations proceed at different rates depending on the variety and the barrel. Some barrels of Syrah or Zinfandel may complete malolactic fermentation in as quickly as 15 days. Each barrel has its own unique chemistry.

Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon is always his problem child though. It can come into the winery with high Brix, high acid and high pH. It’s always the most challenging wine he makes. The 2013 vintage poked along not finishing malolactic fermentation until March. Experience has taught him to just monitor the wine and wait. Those barrels that don’t finish by November or December will stand still for a month or so then suddenly take off. Ryan doesn’t know if it’s the lunar cycle or what, but this has consistently been his experience.

As we talked wine, inspiration and fermentation, we sipped through a series of Fields Family wine.
Fields Family Lineup of wine
2011 Fields Family Wines Estate Syrahlots of dark fruit aromas and flavors. Nice tannins. Its big and full of texture, but not over done. Delicious and will get more interesting with time in the bottle. $22

2011 Fields Family Wines Il LadroLodi Sangiovese, harvested early for the red fruit flavors and bright acidity Ryan prefers in Sangiovese. Just a touch of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot round out the flavor and body a bit. It’s Ryan’s take on a Super Tuscan wine. $25

2012 Fields Family Wines Century Block Zinfandeldark fruit, a bit of smoke, lots of texture. Juicy acidity. Dark and delicious. This bottling is essentially the same as Ryan’s Lodi Native Century Block Zinfandel with the exception that it is aged in about 25% new oak. The Lodi Native bottling sees no new oak. This wine is a darker version of the Lodi Native wine to my palate.

2009 Fields Family Wines Oak Knoll Merlotdark fruit with great depth of flavor and significant, grippy tannins. This is a Merlot with personality. It is not a generic red wine. $28

2010 Fields Family Wines Oak Knoll Merlotlots of bright fruit flavors, great depth of flavor, juicy acidity and once again beautiful, grippy tannins. Just delicious. This wine is not yet released (look for it in the fall) and Ryan is very pleased with the flavors and tannins in this wine. It’s a bit younger tasting, but delicious.

2009 Fields Family Wines Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignona combination of bright and dark fruit, earth and spice. Grippy tannins and juicy acidity in a medium body round out the package. Just a small amount of Malbec adds additional complexity to the flavor profile. $59

Making Napa Valley may not be the norm in Lodi, but it’s what Ryan enjoys the challenge Mt. Veeder fruit brings. In general Ryan’s Napa Valley wine is aged two years in barrel and two years in bottle prior to release. He likes to give the wine time to pull itself together.

Last year Ryan purchased only one new barrel, a 500L Ermitage barrel. One more barrel will be added in 2014. Ryan prefers the flavor profiles French oak adds to Syrah and prefers mostly multiple-use oak barrels for aging with just a fraction aged in new French oak.

2014 will bring two additional Syrahs to the Fields Family line-up. Ryan will be making Shiraz from a small vineyard planted in Lodi in the 1970s from cuttings brought from the Barossa Valley. Because the vineyard is so tiny, the bottling will be called Postage Stamp Shiraz. In addition, Ryan will make a Côte-Rôtie inspired Syrah. These two bottlings of Syrah will join the Estate Syrah.

Fields Family Wines Estate Vineyard SyrahThe Estate Syrah vineyard, planted about 25 years ago, surrounds the winery on Woodbridge Road. Ryan believes it was the first Certified Organic vineyard in Lodi until this year, when a persistent problem with voles required leaving the Organic program. Fields Family use a portion of the grapes from the Syrah and the balance is sold to others. Tempranillo will be grafted onto a portion of the Syrah vineyard so Fields Family will eventually have Estate Tempranillo as well.

If you enjoy wine that expresses the variety and site with minimal wood influence, you will enjoy Fields Family Wines. The selection we tasted was flavorful and complex with great acidity and nice tannin structure. We love significant tannins in red wine and we liked what we tasted.

Fields Family Wines is a great example of the diversity of wine being made in the Lodi AVA. Lodi is of course the self-proclaimed Zinfandel Capital of the World, but there is a lot going on in the Lodi wine world besides Zinfandel. Ryan has not ignored Zinfandel, he makes several and is a participant in the Lodi Native Project. He just has lots of other interests as well. And that’s great news for wine lovers!

You can taste Fields Family wine at the winery or the tasting room in downtown Lodi. We have tasted at both locations and they offer different ambiance. Going to the winery and talking with the winemaker is as good as it gets.

Winery and Tasting Room
3803 E. Woodbridge Rd
Acampo, CA Lodi, CA
Thurs – Mon 11am- 5pm
209 896-6012
Google Maps

Downtown Lodi Tasting Room
20 N. School St
Weds & Sun 1 – 6 pm
Thurs – Sat 1 – 8 pm
209 368-3435
Google Maps

Thanks to Ryan for taking time to talk and taste wine with us. It was a very enjoyable afternoon for us.

Cheers!

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SakéOne — They Brew Saké in Oregon and Import Saké from Japan Too!

SakéOne has been brewing quality saké in Forest Grove, Oregon just west of Portland for nearly twenty years. They produce 80,000 cases of Saké per year. In addition they import quality saké from Japan into the US. Their brewing experience makes them uniquely qualified to choose the best Japanese saké for import.

Saké consumption in Japan reached its peak in the 1970s. Japanese saké production is currently only one-third the volume of that time. But even as saké production and consumption has decreased sharply in Japan, there are any number of smaller brewers making very high-quality saké there.

The market for saké in the US is growing and currently stands at about 3 million cases. Of that, 2 million cases are produced in California (that’s a surprise!), and 500,000 cases are imported from Japan. The Japanese imports are largely high quality saké. Another 250,000 cases are imported from Korea and China. The balance is produced in the US.

We recently tasted a selection of saké imported from Japan by SakéOne. We received four samples which gave us an opportunity to learn about saké styles, regional differences and food pairings. We were guided in our tasting by SakéOne President and CEO Steve Vuylsteke and Marcus Pakiser Regional Director of Saké for Young’s Market Company, based in Portland via Brandlive® video conference.

Before we move to the tasting, here are a couple of guidelines Steve and Marcus gave us. Saké should be served slightly chilled or at room temperature. Think of it as similar to white wine. Choose your Saké glass as you would a white wine glass. If you’re a stemless glass kind of person, go for it. I prefer a stemmed wine glass, just because I don’t like seeing all those fingerprints on the glass. The most important thing is to choose a glass that will allow you to swirl the Saké a bit and allows you to put your nose into the glass to smell those aromas. It’s pretty straight forward.

If you are new to the flavors of Saké you may find it easier to taste Saké with food. Hard cheeses make a good accompaniment to many Sakés according to Marcus. I found these sakés easy to taste without the benefit of food, but do what suits your taste. Most likely you will taste saké with a meal at home or in a restaurant anyway.

Murai Family Tanrei Junmai sakéMurai Family Tanrei Junmaicolorless in the glass with only very restrained, vaguely melon aromas. The flavors are delicate as well, but fresh, clean and melon-like. This Saké is a bit viscous, it feels round in the mouth but finishes clean. ABV 14.5%. SRP $20

This Saké is produced in northern Japan where winters are very cold. A cool temperature fermentation is used to produce the crisp, clean flavors in this saké. This style is common in the region and this sake represents a classic Japanese style. Crisp, clean and a quick finish (that is, not long lasting). Steve joked that the finish is short so that you will want to take another sip sooner!

Traditionally, saké is brewed to match the food of the region. As this saké is produced in a kura (brewery) located along the coast, it is a natural partner for seafood.

The rice is milled to 65% for this Junmai saké. Only water, rice, yeast and koji may used to produce Junmai saké.

Kasumi Tsuru Kimoto Extra Dry sakeKasumi Tsuru Kimoto Extra Drycolorless in the glass. Very obvious aromas of mushroom and forest floor combine with savory, earthy flavors. This saké has a bit of weight in the mouth and has very complex flavors. The finish lingers. ABV 16%. SRP $27

The aromas of this saké transport me to the mushroom stall at the Farmer’s Market. So earthy! I can imagine drinking it with a salad and baked chicken or mushroom soup.

Kimoto is an ancient style of brewing saké. Most modern brewers add lactic acid to the water and rice prior to adding the yeast to get the process going. Kimoto is produced without the addition of lactic acid, by manually breaking up the rice to produce lactic acid naturally. Only a handful of breweries still use this ancient method which produces the distinctive aromas in the saké. Kasumi Tsuru brewery has been family owned since 1725.

Kasumi Tsura is produced in Kasumi, within the Hyogo prefecture much further south along the Sea of Japan. This area is very remote area is well known for crab, which according to Steve and Marcus, is a perfect pairing.

Hakutsuru Superior Junmai Ginjo sakeHakutsuru Superior Junmai Ginjocolorless in the glass with obvious floral and melon, almost tropical aromas. Flavors are crisp and clean and a bit floral. The finish is tongue-tingling! Just delicious. ABV 14.5%

Hakutsuru has been family owned since 1734 and is the largest saké producer in Japan. Their saké is produced using what they call “heavenly water”, spring water common to the area which produces a very fast, vigorous fermentation.

The taut flavors of this saké had me craving a thin crust roasted chicken pizza with creamy garlic sauce. A of bit salt and a bit of fat will compliment this delicious crisp saké perfectly.

Yoshinogawa Junmai Ginjo Winter Warrior sakeYoshinogawa Junmai Ginjo “Winter Warrior” colorless in the glass with delicate melon aromas and flavors. A bit of earthiness and mushroom flavors join the finish which is light and clean. This saké is a bit round in the mouth with perhaps a touch of perceivable sweetness. ABV 14%. $27

I can imaging this would be delicious with spicy Asian food, spicy Italian food or maybe even ribs in a spicy tomato sauce.

This saké was produced as a collaboration between SakéOne and Yoshinogawa with American food and palates in mind, so that it would pair with bigger flavors. It is completely different than the dry, tight style of saké Yoshinogawa usually produce in Niigata prefecture.

You will find saké bottled in a variety of colored bottles. The black and brown bottles protect the sake from the effects of ultraviolet light. Over time saké will change from colorless to straw yellow without this protection. To a degree the frosted blue bottles provide the same protection.

Consume saké within 18 months of purchase. The flavors of saké will change a bit over time, but Marcus told us there is no point to holding saké. Once you have opened a bottle it will remain good for several months (though I can’t imagine it would last that long once you taste how delicious it is). Marcus stated that some in the beverage trade will disagree with this point, but he has tested it in blind tastings with tasters unable to tell the difference between freshly opened bottles and bottles that have been open for months.

Steve described Marcus as a saké evangelist, and he is right. Marcus told us the limits of food pairings with saké is limited only by our imagination. Don’t think just sushi. Essentially all kinds of food pairs with saké according to Marcus, so get out there and experiment. Marcus even said he thinks saké pairs better with cheeses than wine! Can you imagine?

One last tip from Marcus. Please say saké correctly. Say “sah-kay” not “sah-key”.  As he put it, you wouldn’t say “mer-lot” instead of “mer-low” would you?

Thanks to Steve and Marcus for a fun and interesting discussion. Hats off to Charles Communications Associates who once again organized a great tasting and to SakéOne for providing the tasting samples. Now it’s up to us to get out there and try some more saké.

Cheers!

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Learning About Wine with #WineStudio — Hungary and Slovenia

The month of June has flown by for us, in part because we have been so busy with wine tastings and learning about wine this month. Just yesterday we completed #WineStudio Session XIV – Hungary and Slovenia with Old World Vines. #WineStudio is a Twitter-based wine tasting and discussion organized by the folks at Protocol Wine Studio. They are wine geeks with a passion for teaching and promoting wines from around the world.

Slovenian and Hungarian wines from Protocol Wine Studio
Each month they choose a wine region or varietal wine and organize a series of tastings around that theme. They provide the tasting samples, some background on the wine and we join in the conversation on Twitter, Tuesday evenings at 6 pm. It is a fast-paced hour of sipping, Tweeting and learning. You never quite know what direction the discussion will go, or what you will learn, but that’s part of the fun.

The four week session began with our introduction to Katy Bendel Daniels and Old World Vines, her wine import company. Katy’s passion for the wines of Central Europe was sparked by a trip to the area several years ago. During that and subsequent trips she had the opportunity to meet winemaking families in Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia and Czech Republic. The individual stories of these families and the quality of the wine they are producing moved her to begin importing these wines to the US. Old World Vines now imports wine from Greece, Hungary and Slovenia. Most are small family operations, some with very limited production.

Hungary

Hungarian Wine Regions

Hungarian Wine Regions Courtesy of Old World Vines

The second week we moved on to taste two wines from Hungary. Hungary has a winemaking history going back centuries and is perhaps best known for producing Tokaji Aszú a concentrated, sweet, botrytized wine. This wine was prized by nobility throughout Europe as far back as the mid-1600s.

Hungary was well known for its food and wine culture before Soviet occupation. During occupation, families lost their farms to collectivization and quantity rather than quality was the focus of wine production. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain Hungarian families have been able to regain property and quality wine production has returned.

White grape varieties predominate in Hungary, but some red wine is produced in the southern portion of the country. We tasted one white and one red wine from Hungary.

Erzsebet Pince Kiraly dulo Furmint2011 Erzsébet Pince Király dűlő Furmintvery light yellow in the glass with spicy aromas and a whiff of citrus. Minerality and stone fruit flavors predominate with back notes of citrus. This wine has a nice weight in the mouth, it’s just a bit round, great depth of flavor and crisp acidity. ABV 13%. SRP $31.95

This very flavorful white wine sips nicely on its own, and would be enjoyable on a warm afternoon. I can imagine it would be delicious as well with Chicken Paprikash seasoned with hot paprika. I have a delicious recipe I may just have to dig out!

Pince translates to “cellar” in English and Király dűlő to “kings vineyard”. The Erzsébet Cellar is located in the famous Tokaj region and the original cellar dates back to the 1700s. It was used by the Russian Wine Trade Company as a fermentation and aging cellar for their prized Tokaj wine.

The Erzsébet vineyards are located in the Mád district of Tokaj, up in the northeastern portion of Hungary. The Király vineyard, which is planted mainly to Furmint, grows in rhyolite bedrock with clayey Nyirok soil. The vineyard has a beneficial southern sun exposure. This versatile variety is also used to produce the highly-prized Tokaji Aszú (along with Hárslevelű and Sárgamuskotály).

Vineyards in the Tokaj region have been classified since the 1720s (that pre-dates the Bordeaux classification of 1855 which classified the Châteaux rather than the vineyards) into first, second, third class and unclassified vineyards. Erzsébet Cellar vineyards are classified first and second.

Winemaking is as low intervention as possible. The grapes were gently pressed, using a tradition press, and fermented in second and third-fill Hungarian oak barrels.

2011 Bock Kekfrankos2011 Bock Cellars Kékfrankossmoky, dark fruit aromas followed by bright red fruit and berry flavors and great acidity. The body is light to medium with smooth tannins. The combination of lighter body, bright fruit and medium tannins makes this an excellent warm-weather red wine. ABV 13%. $22.95

If you’re a fan of flavorful, lighter bodied red wine, produced in a cooler climate, this is one you will enjoy. It’s easy to enjoy on a warm day and will pair well with lighter fare. The flavor of the variety shines through, not being muted by oak aging. This wine was fermented in stainless steel and aged in second-use Hungarian oak barriques.

The Bock family’s history in Hungary dates back to the 1720s when the family immigrated to southwestern Hungary from Germany. Over time the family became well known for producing quality wines. During Soviet occupation the family lost their land without compensation, but have since gradually bought back vineyards. From the original purchase of 5 hectares in 1990, the Bock family have increased their vineyard holdings to 70 hectares.

The wine region of Villány, in the southwestern portion of Hungary, is close to the Croatian border. Limestone and marl soil predominates in this region, and it is primarily a red grape growing region. Cabernet Franc does particularly well in this region in addition to Kékfrankos (aka Blaufränkisch) and Bock Cellars is known for producing blends of indigenous and international varieties.

Hungary is a small country with a relatively small wine production. Most Hungarian wine is consumed in the country, but production is gradually increasing so importers like Katy now have the opportunity to bring us these delicious wines.

Fun fact: in 1857 Hungarian immigrant Agoston Haraszthy founded Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma County. Still in operation today, is the oldest commercial winery in California.

Slovenia

Slovenian Wine Regions

Slovenian Wine Regions Courtesy of Old World Vines

Week number three of #WineStudio brought us to Slovenia, the first of the Yugoslav nations to declare independence in 1991. Also with a wine culture dating back to Roman times, if not before, its wine culture in the western part of the country is closely tied to Italy. Friuli-Venezia Giulia located in northeastern Italy is just across the border. The first Slovenian wine we tasted is one such example.

Wine production, mainly by a large number of individual growers farming very small vineyards, is mostly white and mostly from indigenous varieties. Some international varieties are grown, but not in large amounts.

2011 Erzetic Rebula2011 Erzetič Rebulalight yellow in the glass with delicate floral and crushed rock aromas. Flavors of white flowers and lemon combine with minerality, juicy acidity and a light body. The finish is long with a bit of citrus pith and texture. This wine just keeps on giving up flavors. Truly amazing. ABV $22.95

Grapevines were first planted on this property in 1725. It has been and continues to be a family operated winery with the younger generations of the Erzetič family work beside the older generations.

Rebula, also known as Ribolla Gialla, is indigenous to northwestern Italy and western Slovenia. Erzetič Winery is located in Višnjevik within the Brda district of the Primorje region, near the Italian border. Vineyards here are planted at elevation and on hilly terrain requiring hand harvesting. The soil is composed of marl and sandstone with limestone underneath.

Grapes are destemmed, then chilled and pressed. Cool fermentation takes place in stainless steel, as does aging before bottling. This fresh, flavorful, lively wine is reflective of the terroir and the variety. No wood aging and just straight-forward vinification.

2011 Kupljen Rumeni Muskat2011 Kupljen Rumeni Muškatdarker yellow in the glass with obvious aromas of orange blossoms and flower stems. Sweet orange and floral flavors combine with citrus pith and herbal flavors. The finish, though sweet and long-lasting, has adequate acidity. Like dessert in a glass. ABV $22

Vino Kupljen also has a long history producing wine, dating back to 1836. Kupljen is located in northeast Slovenia, and bordering Hungary and Croatia, in the Podravje wine region. Here the climate is continental, with less influence from the Adriatic than in the Primorje region. Mostly white wines are produced here from indigenous varieties with a smattering of international varieties.

The final evening of discussion was just as lively as the prior three evenings. We discussed our favorite wines among the group, Erzetič Rebula and Bock Cellars Kékfrankos  for me. Others loved the Kupljen Rumeni Muškat and of course there were votes for Erzsébet Pince Király dűlő Furmint, a variety so closely tied to the history of Hungary.

We learned it is easy to travel in Hungary and Slovenia, the people are friendly and the food is as delicious as the wine. No need to speak the language, but try and learn a few phrases and do make an effort to use their language.

We all seemed to gain confidence with regard to wine from these two regions. We at least are familiar with a few of the indigenous varieties and can look for them on wine lists and in wine stores. And Katy suggested we ask for them in restaurants.

We were very impressed with all of the wines in this collection. The dry white wines were flavorful with great acidity and the sweet white wine had adequate acidity for a clean finish. The one red wine in the group was perfect for summer weather. If these wines are at all reflective of Hungarian and Slovenian wines in general, then they most certainly will succeed in the world market.

Whenever we explore a new wine region we end up learning not just about wine, but about geography, geology, weather and history. It’s always lots of fun. This exploration of Hungary and Slovenia was no exception.

Thanks to Katy and Old World Vines for sending us the samples and thanks to Protocol Wine Studio for your organization of the month-long program. We have learned a lot, enough to order Hungarian or Slovenian wine from a list with confidence. You hit another one out of the park. Well done!

Cheers!

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

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Mokelumne Glen Vineyards — Meet the Winemakers

Mokelumne Glen Vineyards in Lodi is home to quite a collection of grape varieties, over 40 in all. No doubt the largest number of varieties on a single property in Lodi. It didn’t start out that way though. Pears eventually gave way to Chardonnay and Viognier. Then one corner of the property was planted with 30 German varieties, what the Koths call the German Collection. The Chardonnay and Viognier have yielded to Kerner and Riesling in addition to other varieties. It has been quite an evolution, one we wrote about after we visited Mokelumne Glen Vineyards in January. Riesling, Kerner and Dornfelder comprise the largest plantings along with the German Collection. The Koths believe these three varieties hold great promise.

Bob and Mary Lou Koth and their daughter and son (Ann-Marie and Brett) have worked the property as a family. Summer vacations and weekends have been spent tending the vines, harvesting and making wine until their final commercial vintage in 2009. The work in the vineyard has continued though. New vines are being planted, pruning experiments are being conducted and Bob is researching additional clones for planting. Though commercial winemaking by the Koths has ceased, it continues by a group of winemakers drawn to this unusual collection of grape varieties.

MGV gathering of winemakers
Recently Brett Koth organized a gathering of this adventuresome group of winemakers. Some winemakers are making wine commercially, some for personal consumption others with an eye toward possible commercial production in the future. They are a diverse group but all have a passion for making wine. Each winemaker brought samples of their wine, explained their winemaking process and a bit about what drew them to Mokelumne Glen Vineyards (MGV). Pete and I were happy to be invited to the gathering which took place on a warm afternoon in May. We gathered around picnic tables in the shade of ancient oak trees adjacent to the vineyards. We sipped wine and listened to winemakers talk about their wines. All the while, an amazing number of birds serenaded us in the background. It was a special afternoon.

Markus Niggli — Borra Vinyards

Markus Niggli - Borra VineyardsMarkus Niggli, winemaker at Borra Vineyards in Lodi since 2010, began making wine with MGV grapes in 2011. It was Brett who first suggested Markus consider using some of their Kerner. Markus started small, thinking it would be a good adventure to learn how to work with the variety. He produced 50 cases in 2011. That first vintage was 85% Kerner, 15% Riesling with Kerner bringing intense minerality and acidity and the Riesling adding fruit flavors.

This is exactly the style of wine Markus prefers, very dry, high acid wine. He uses a short all stainless steel 4-month production using native yeast fermentation, which can take several weeks to begin. Once fermentation begins, Markus adds a touch of nutrients for the yeast and fermentation finishes within a week. Temperature is maintained at 50º F and most vintages require no acid adjustment, a result of picking fruit early.

Since the 2011 vintage Bacchus has been added to the Kerner and Riesling. The blend varies every year. Because of crew availability and that fact that Bacchus is a late ripener, Markus has had to pick the Bacchus earlier than he would have preferred (it’s challenging to get a crew in to pick just a small amount of Bacchus at the same time Borra Vineyards’ red varieties are also demanding to be harvested). The earlier harvest has worked out very well and Markus is learning to work with these varieties. “I am not afraid! I am not afraid! I am not afraid!”, Markus repeated with a laugh.

Borra Vineyard labelsKnowing that most customers would be unfamiliar with the Kerner grape, Markus used the label to sell the wine initially. He was confident once consumers became familiar with Kerner they would like the variety. He contacted the Art Department at the University of the Pacific in Stockton to create the label. The result is the “zip code label” designed by a student at the University. The label actually contains the zip code of Markus’ home town in Switzerland. The marketing strategy worked well. Demand for the Kerner blend has been strong.

We tasted both the 2012 and 2013 Artist Series Kerner blend wines. Both were mineral driven with floral hints and tongue-tingling acidity. The 2013 vintage contains a bit more Riesling, and less Kerner, and as a result is a bit more floral. The aromas are typical Clone 90 Riesling aromas according to Bob Koth. Just the thing for a warm afternoon and food friendly too. Delicious.

Row 41 spur pruning the KernerMarkus and Brett are working on a Kerner pruning experiment involving transitioning from cane pruning to spur pruning. The experiment is based on Markus’ experience with Viognier at Borra Vineyards. Markus expects that spur pruning will produce a more even fruit set with uniform growth of fruit clusters. Early indications are that this will be the case, though it is still early in the growing season. He will be watching sugar and acid development and expects ripening to be earlier in the experimental row. All eyes are on row 41!

Markus also makes a dry Gewürztraminer from MGV fruit as well. Though sweet wines are not his style, he enjoys making this dry Gewürztraminer. Markus approached this project much as he did the Kerner blend. Make the wine, market it and see how it is received. Demand for the Nuvola has been strong as well.

He harvested two blocks of Gewürztraminer at MGV. The lower block at about 22.4 and the upper block at 24.5º Brix. Markus likes the combination of ripeness, it lends complexity. He ferments the wine to dryness with a RS .49 g/L and TA of 7.6 g/L.

Wine production is the same as the Kerner blend, whole cluster press, native yeast fermentation in stainless steel. “No magic.”, Markus states, “The magic happens in the vineyard.”

The 2013 Nuvola shows stone fruit, minerality and citrus flavors and aromas. It is light bodied and has a medium finish. Crisp, clean and flavorful.

Markus also makes a Kerner blend that is aged in oak called Intuition. The inspiration for this wine comes from Switzerland where a friend is making a similar wine, a Kerner blend aged in oak. Markus enjoys this wine when in Switzerland and wanted to make it here.

2011 was the first vintage for his Intuition white blend of 60% Kerner, 20% Rieslaner, 20% Gewürztraminer. Fermentation began in stainless steel and finished in oak barrels, 85% new French and American oak and 15% neutral barrels. Aging for 9 months was followed by bottling in June. This first production was only 48 cases due to limited fruit availability. 12.8% ABV.

Markus feels the wood flavors are now integrated nicely into the flavors of the 2011 vintage adding complexity to the spice contributed by the Gewürztraminer, the minerality from the Kerner and freshness from the Rieslaner. He’s right, it’s truly is delicious.

For the 2012 Intuition Markus increased production to 200 cases, being pleased with the 2011 vintage and having access to more MGV fruit. The 2012 blend is 60% Kerner, 20% Riesling, 20% Gewürztraminer. Fermentation and aging were essentially the same, with a bit less oak aging, 65% new oak for 2012. 13.7% ABV

The flavors of oak are still very evident in the 2012, as expected. Over time the oak flavors are expected to integrate into the flavors of the wine. Markus noted that the Intuition, though produced is a similar manner to that in Switzerland, is a different tasting wine — reflective of Lodi’s terroir.

Matthew Rorick — Forlorn Hope

Matthew Rorick - Forlorn HopeRare Creatures is how Matthew Rorick refers to his wines. They are made with minimal intervention in the winery with the goal of expressing just what the vineyard gives him. “All Forlorn Hope wines are produced from winegrapes. That’s it.” is how he puts it on his website. No yeast, enzymes or acid additions are made. No water is added and wood aging takes place in neutral oak barrels.

Matthew discovered Mokelumne Glen Vineyard during harvest in 2013 and was intrigued by the German Collection of over 30 varieties. They harvested what they could from the German Collection and added Bacchus to give them enough fruit to produce at least a barrel of wine. His intention was to make what Austrians call Gemischter Satz, a field blend. In this case the blend consisted of over 30 varieties!

We tasted a barrel sample from the 2013 harvest. Because Matt discovered the vineyard so late in the season (they picked late in September), the grapes were a bit riper than desirable — 25º Brix at harvest. The Bacchus measured 21.5º Brix at harvest, being a late ripener, which helped even out the total ripeness of the blend a bit.

Winemaking was straight forward — whole clusters were pressed manually into a neutral oak barrel. The wine was fermented dry in the barrel. ABV is 14.6%. Matthew believes this wine is an expression of the site, rather than the variety, as you would expect to be the case with this extreme a field blend.

This blend, which is yet to be named, is extremely floral with nice minerality and great acidity. It really leaps out of the glass. Matthew feel this is a really exciting first look at what the vineyard site has to offer and is looking forward to the 2014 harvest.

Matthew and his crew came back to do a late harvest at MGV on November 19. They harvested Weissburgunder, Kerner, Rieslaner and Bacchus — at an amazing 39.5º Brix. Matt was surprised how much intact fruit remained so late in the year.

Whole clusters were pressed into neutral barrels. Fermentation is still chugging along, though it has slowed considerably. ABV is at about 14%, TA at about 8 g/L and RS about 139 g/L. The flavors are complex, concentrated and reminiscent of botrytisized wines to me.

Matthew described making a late harvest sweet wine as a “whole different discipline.” He has had prior success and failure with “sweeties” and is continuing to learn with this wine.

Chad Hinds

Chad HindsChad Hinds sells others’ wine, working for a distributor selling mostly natural and organic wines, much in the style of his own wines. In his spare time he works evenings for an online wine application. He’s a busy guy and passionate about winemaking. His wine label, Sauvage, will debut later this year.

Chad found Mokelumne Glen Vineyards the modern way, by doing an Internet search for unusual grape varieties. He was astounded at the number of grape varieties planted at MGV, describing it as “the biggest estate of random grapes ever.” Chad appears to be attracted to the unusual. In addition to Kerner and Blaufränkisch from MGV, he has also made a Valdiguié from Mendocino and Syrah from El Dorado AVA.

The inspiration for Chad’s 2013 Kerner comes from wine made in the Alto Adige in northern Italy. He harvested the Kerner at about 22º Brix and began the winemaking process with a cold soak for a few days followed by pressed into neutral barrels. He used only native yeast fermentation. We tasted barrel samples, as Chad expects to bottle in June.

Chad’s 2013 Kerner is very aromatic, showing tropical fruit aromas, good minerality and nice texture. ABV is 13.5% and RS probably less than 1%, the final measurement has yet to be done. Total production was 3 barrels, an expected 60 cases. Marketing will be to small wine shops in the Bay Area initially.

For his 2013 Blaufränkisch, Chad picked at relatively low 20º Brix. He is looking to produce a light, acid-driven red wine in the style of a Loire Cabernet Franc. Because Chad wanted to do 100% whole cluster fermentation, he picked for pH rather than Brix. He used native yeast fermentation and pressed the juice into neutral oak barrels. ABV is 11.9% with bottling expected in June.

Both of Chad’s wines will be released young and are intended to be drunk when young. That’s the style of wine he likes, a delicious, low-alcohol food friendly wine. His Blaufränkisch has lots of fruit flavors, great acidity and significant tannins. A great warm weather red wine that will be a good partner for a variety of summer fare.

“It’s been a fun experiment.” says Chad of his winemaking from MGV Kerner and Blaufränkisch. He’s looking forward to the 2014 vintage at Mokelumne Glen Vineyards.

Andrew Yandell — Trumpet Wine

Matthew Yandell - Trumpet WineAndrew Yandell has recently established Trumpet Wine to import and distribute wine, specifically organically produced in Catalunya. His business is new, the Catalan wines are arriving in July and Andrew is building his business.

In addition to distribution, Andrew has an interest in making wine. He spent time in Würtzburg, Germany interning as a chef. The region has a strong wine culture tied to lower alcohol, light bodied wines that are easy to drink. This experience influenced his winemaking style.

Andrew shared with us his 2013 Zweigelt harvested from Mokelumne Glen Vineyards. Andrew found MGV through Chad, who also provided the “wine recipe”, as Andrew put it. He describes his winemaking as straight forward. Andrew crushed one-half of the harvest (the old-fashioned way, by foot) and did his version of carbonic maceration (involving plastic garbage bins, whole-cluster grapes, dry ice, plastic wrap and duct tape) on the other half. Both batches were pressed off to a single barrel where the wine fermented dry. Andrew just bottled the wine we tasted a few days earlier, without any addition of sulfur. ABV is 12.7%.

This wine is meant to be enjoyed while young. Chill it, drink it by itself or with food. This light red wine has lots of fruit flavor with a bit of earthiness.

Although Andrew’s 2013 Zweigelt is for his own consumption, but he plans to harvest at MGV this year in anticipation of making wines commercially. He plans to make both Zweigelt and Dornfelder in the same lighter, low alcohol style.

Todd Hafner

ToddTodd has known the Koth family for about 10 years. He and a friend have been making wine from Mokelumne Glen Vineyards grapes since 2008. That first fermentation took place in his garage, in a plastic barrel. He bottled his wine and sent it to the California State Fair homemaking wine competition. He received a Silver Medal and was off and running as a home winemaker.

Todd shared three of his wines with us. The 2011 Dornfelder was handled in two batches, one with commercial yeast, one with natural yeast. The natural fermentation started slowly and both fermentations were kept below 80º. After fermenting dry, the batches were pressed off and aged separately for a few months in French and Hungarian oak.

Todd bottled both batches separately and we were able to taste them side-by-side. The Dornfelder fermented with native yeast was much more lively with bright fruit flavors and a touch of earthiness.

Todd then poured his 2011 Lemberger. It is made in a similar manner, with similar oak treatment and showed bright acidity, red fruit and grippy tannins. A nice glass of juice. Todd includes some whole clusters in the fermentation because he believes it lends complexity to the flavor profile.

The afternoon would not have been complete without as taste of Mokelumne Glen Vineyards’ last commercially produced wines. The Koths shared two of their wine with us.

2009 Mokelumne Glen Vineyards Dornfelder — this five-year-old wine still tastes so young. It has lots of dark and red fruit flavors, the color is still very dark without a hint of brick. Tannins still have plenty of grip. Everyone agreed this is a wine to accompany BBQ. This wine has held its age very well. ABV is 13.7%.

We finished the afternoon with Mokelumne Glen Vineyards’ final bottling of their proprietary sweet wine 2009 Dreirebe Reserve Late Harvest. A combination of Weissburgunder, Rieslaner and Gewürztraminer was harvested at 31.5º Brix. This wine is sweet, full of lively flavor, round in the mouth and finishes with nice acidity. Delicious dessert in a glass.

In addition to a passion for making wine, all of these winemakers have a desire to produce wines with minimal intervention in the wine cellar that are reflective of the site and the variety. They are all learning about the Mokelumne Glen Vineyard site one vintage at a time. Getting to know the vineyard site is something I have heard several winemakers in the Lodi area talk about recently. It is an exciting time in the Lodi wine world.

While there is a place for all kinds of wine, from mass-produced wine that tastes the same year after year, to small boutique producers (and everything in between), it is this kind of small volumn, very passionate winemaker that makes wine appreciation so much fun — and so interesting.

So, thank you to this group of winemakers interested in working with these uncommon varieties. Keep doing what you love, we appreciate your efforts.

Bob and Mary Lou Koth - Mokelumne Glen VineyardsThank you to the Koth family as well. You have followed your passion for winemaking with these unusual varieties you love so much, marching to the beat of your own drum. Now others have heard the drumbeat and winemaking from your vineyard is moving in many exciting directions. Thank you for organizing this gathering and for inviting us.

Cheers!

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Wine Pairing Weekend: Rolled Pork Florentine on the Grill, Which Wine Pairs Best?

Food and wine often accompany each other during a meal. In our house they are always companions on the dinner table. Whether you start with the wine first, then plan the meal or the other way around you need to consider how one will influence the other. The general idea is always to find a harmonious pairing — one which enhances both the flavors of the wine and the food. This of course is a matter of personal taste. Not everyone will agree on every food and wine pairing. But that makes things interesting!

So with food and wine pairing in mind, Pete and I gathered a group of wine friends together to participate in an event organized by fellow blogger, David Crowley. David has organized Wine Pairing Weekend, what will become a monthly event aimed at bringing together food bloggers and wine bloggers. He will choose a food theme and leave it to the participants to find the best wine pairing. Then we will all write about our pairings. The goal is to get food bloggers writing about wine and wine bloggers writing about food. You can read the details on David’s blog Cooking Chat. Sounds fun doesn’t it?

The theme of the first Wine Pairing Weekend was wine pairings for grilled meat. Perfect for this time of year as we already have our grill fired up for the season.

The Food

After a bit of discussion Pete and I decided to grill Rolled Pork Florentine. This recipe by Laura Calder is one of our favorite stuffed pork-roast recipes. We have made it several times, once roasted in the oven and once on the grill. We much preferred the extra flavor grilling gives the roast.
Grilled Rolled Pork Florentine
So with the decision made to grill Rolled Pork Florentine, we set about inviting a few wine friends to join in the fun.  We described the premise for the tasting and the pork recipe and asked each person to bring a bottle of wine they thought would match well.  Everyone was game for the experiment and thought it sounded like a fun idea.

Food and wine before dinner
We began the evening with hors d’oeuvres and wine out on the patio. You know, just to make sure our palates were tuned-up for the main meal! It was so nice to relax outside for a while and it was convenient for Pete to check the grill periodically.

I admit to being a bit intimidated  the first time I prepared Laura Calder’s Rolled Pork Florentine recipe because it required butterflying the pork roast. I followed the instruction one step at a time and it worked out just fine. There are countless videos online that demonstrate both butterflying and roll cutting techniques.

I slightly modify the spinach stuffing by adding chopped cremini mushrooms and marjoram. Marjoram is an herb I use both fresh and dried. We have it growing in our herb garden and I especially like it with pork.
Rolled pork florentine, corn pudding and roasted squash
Summertime in our house means corn pudding. It’s a bit early in the year for local corn, but I was just so hungry for this recipe I made it anyway. The Barefoot Countessa’s Sagaponack Corn Pudding recipe is easy to put together and delicious. I admit to cheating a bit, in that I no longer cook the pudding in a water bath. Once when making it I forgot the water bath part, and just baked it without, and it was fine (and a whole lot less work!)

Finally I oven-roasted squash, onions, red bell pepper and mushrooms tossed with freshly chopped basil. That made three items on the plate. That’s how my mother taught me to cook. Always three items and not two starches. This of course does NOT apply to Thanksgiving dinner!

The Wine
The WinePW Lineup
We had four bottles of wine, all red, to pair with dinner. We used the extremely unscientific method involving serial tastings of all wines with the food to evaluate which we liked the best. The most technical portion of the evaluation involved providing two wine glasses per guest, so each person could taste between two wines if they so chose. There was no statistical evaluation, we merely asked each person which wine they preferred and totaled the votes.

The final tally was verified by measuring the amount of wine remaining in each bottle which assumes the bottle with the least wine remaining was the most popular. This method of verification was at least as unscientific as the initial method used to tally the favorite wine, which seems totally appropriate.

2006 Pietra Santa Cienega Valley Sangiovese

2006 Pietra Santa Cienega Valley Sangiovesethis dark, delicious wine showed spicy, earthy and dark fruit aromas. Cedar popped in the flavor along with dark fruit, moderate tannins and and a long finish.

This wine, though by no means heavy bodied, was the heaviest bodied wine of the group. Most of us thought this wine was a bit heavy for the meal. It is a delicious wine better suited to a grilled steak perhaps.

Another consideration was the very warm day. Sometimes a lighter red wine just tastes better when the weather is very warm.

2011 Stemmler Carneros Pinot Noir2011 Stemmler Carneros Pinot Noirlight ruby in the glass with tart cherry aroma and flavors along with earthy bramble and significant tartness. Tannins are smooth and well integrated.

The Pinot Noir lovers in the group favored this wine with the pork for its light body and tart cherry flavors. It is a nice warm-weather red wine that did not overwhelm the pork flavors, but ultimately more tasters preferred a wine with a bit more weight and a little less tart.

2011 Seghesio Langhe Nebbiolo2011 Seghesio Langhe Nebbiolomedium ruby in the glass with complex, dark fruit flavors and aromas along with smoky deliciousness. Tannins are moderate and well integrated into the flavors and the body is medium weight.

This wine is absolutely delicious. The combination of smoky, dark fruit, pleasant tannins and medium body makes this wine a winner. Though this wine did not garner the most votes, the bottle was empty at the end of the evening. That combination makes this wine a tie for favorite.

 

2011 Graci Etna Rosso2011 Graci Etna Rossolight ruby in the glass with dark fruit and savory, herbal aromas. Flavors of dark fruit, tobacco, green tea combine with moderate tannins and a relatively light body.

Those that favored this wine did so for its flavor and lighter body. Those who chose the Nebbiolo as favorite preferred a wine with a bit more body, feeling it made a more substantial partner to the pork. The basic style of wine you prefer always influences what wine tastes best with food. No big news item there.

 

The Conclusion

Though the Etna Rosso had the most favorite votes, there was more of it remaining in the bottle at the end of the evening than the Nebbiolo. For that reason we declared the 2011 Seghesio Langhe Nebbiolo and the 2011 Graci Etna Rosso to be co-favorites of the evening. Two favorites are better than one!

The WinePW Lineup

The remains of the dinner

We finished the evening with a lemon tart and an assortment of fortified wines. We ate, sipped and voted. All-in-all it was a fun evening. Everyone seemed to enjoy sampling a variety of wine with the meal and I enjoyed hearing why each person chose their favorite wine. A great way to taste and learn. The first Wine Pairing Weekend was certainly a success for us. Thanks David for the great idea!

Lemon Tart for dessert

Wine Pairing Weekend #1 Bloggers: Be sure to check out the great pairings my fellow bloggers have come up with for the first Wine Pairing Weekend! 

The Tasting Pour is posting “Pairing Food and Wine: Cabernet Cliché
Culinary Adventures with Camilla is pairing “Lemon Marmalade-Glazed Duck Legs + Holman Ranch’s Off-Dry Pinot Gris
Vino Travels – An Italian Wine Blog will share “Food and Wine Pairing: BBQ with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
Grape Experiences is sharing “Wine and Dine: Sinfo Rosado 2012 with Chicken Enchilada Burgers
Pull that Cork posted “Rolled Pork Florentine on the Grill, Which Wine Pairs Best?”
From Cooking Chat, “Grilled Pork Tenderloin Paired with a Bonny Doon Syrah
Meal Diva blogged about “Grilled Sausage Kabobs and White Wine
Curious Cuisiniere paired “Wine Grilled Chicken with Lewis Station Winery’s Oaked Chardonnay

Join the #winePW conversation: Follow the #winePW conversation on Twitter throughout the weekend and beyond. If you’re getting this early enough, you can join us for a live Twitter chat on our theme “Wine Pairings for Grilled Meat” on Saturday, June 14, 10 to 11 a.m. Eastern Time. You can also visit our group Pinterest board to pin some great pairing ideas for later! Stay tuned for the July Wine Pairing Weekend, which will focus on “Refreshing summer wine pairings” on Saturday, July 12.

Cheers!

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#LanguedocDay: a great reason to have a party

We were recently contacted and asked if we would like to participate in a celebration of the wines of the Languedoc region of southern France. It didn’t take long for us to decide yes! We joined others around the country in celebrating #LanguedocDay on May 30. We invited a few of our wine friends and put together dishes we thought would match with each of the four wines we received as tasting samples.

AOC Languedoc Map
Our first significant introduction to the wines of the Languedoc AOC in southern France came at the 2012 Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland. There, we were able to sample a large selection of Languedoc wines and liked what we tasted. When we returned home, we put together a Languedoc party of our own. We had six Languedoc wines, some of which were samples and some we purchased. We made dishes to pair with them and invited some of our wine friends. It was a fun way to learn about the wine and what food paired the best with them.

Similarly, we were favorably impressed with the four wines we tasted for this celebration of #LanguedocDay. Here is what we tasted and the dishes we paired with each wine.

J Laurens Brut Cremant de LimouxJ Laurens Brut Crémant de Limouxthis medium yellow sparkling wine has obvious aromas of baked apples and toasted bread. Flavors reinforce the aromas with baked apples and toasted almonds. Mouth-filling bubbles combine with nice acidity for a round, clean finish which lingers on the palate. ABV 12%. $13.99

I couldn’t help but smack my lips as I savored the lingering flavors of this Crémant de Limoux. About the same time one of our guests commented, “this wine is just lovely.” She described the aromas and flavors as reminiscent of the oats she used to feed her horses! Lots of flavors and aromas in this delightful wine.

It paired nicely with both cheeses we served, a goat brie and a chèvre with herbs. The mild creaminess of the goat brie especially matched the mouth feel of the Crémant. Not that the J Laurens Brut Crémant need food to be enjoyed. It is very easy to sip on its own and is not perceivably sweet.

The Limoux AOC is an area 25 km to the south of Carcassonne in the Languedoc. The region makes still and sparkling wines and is home to Abbe St. Hilaire where sparkling wine production dates back to 1531, predating its production in Champagne.

Chateau Font-Mars Picpoul de Pinet2012 Château Font-Mars Picpoul de Pinetpale yellow in the glass with delicate melon aromas. Clean flavors of citrus and minerals combine with a steely acidity for a lingering finish. ABV 12.5%. $11.99

This wine has summertime written all over it. Enjoy it anytime the temperature gets warm and with a wide variety of food. Seafood is a natural combination with this wine, we chose crab filled avocados, but shrimp, clams, oysters would all be delicious as would grilled fish. When looking for white wines to pair with seafood, it’s wise to look at coastal regions making white wine. The combination is usually a natural.

It is perfect for a picnic, and convenient too, it has a screw cap closure. The tall green bottle, called a Neptune bottle, has waves embossed around the neck of the bottle and most importantly the Languedoc Cross above the label. It is unique to the appellation. You can see it in the photo at the end of this post.

Picpoul de Pinet is both an appellation within the Languedoc AOC and the name of the grape variety—the only variety that may be used for the AOC wine. The area is located in the center of Languedoc along the Thau lagoon where the indigenous variety has grown for centuries.

2013 Domaine Fontsainte Corbieres Rose2013 Domaine Fontsainte Gris de Gris Corbières Roséa beautiful rose color in the glass with aromas of flowers and berries that just shouts, “Here I am!” Flavors of strawberries, blackberries and lime zest combine with zippy acidity for a long finish. ABV 12.5%. $14.99

This is one of our favorite Rosés and we buy it every year. It is always flavorful and fresh tasting. We were really excited when we received the samples for this tasting and this wine was among them. It is produced using the saignée method, that is the juice is “bled off” the skins soon after crushing. The blend of grapes used in the production of this Rosé is 70% Grenache Gris and Grenache Noir, 10% Mourvèdre, 10% Carignan, 10% Cinsault.

We often begin the evening with a glass of this wine before dinner, while sitting in the shade of our back yard. It’s refreshing and flavorful enough to enjoy with dinner to follow as well. For our #LanguedocDay celebration we enjoyed it with charcuterie, which was a perfect pairing.

AOC Corbières is the largest appellation in the Languedoc region, and produces mostly red wine. Located between Carcassonne and the Mediterranean, this large appellation has widely-variable soil types, climates and exposures.

Chateau Coupe roses La Bastide Minervois2012 Château Coupe Roses La Bastidestill a very young ruby-violet color in the glass, dark fruit aromas and flavors combine with cedar, spice and savory flavors. It is medium bodied and has ample tannins and great acidity. It has plenty of savory, dark fruit flavor without being heavy, a good warm weather red wine. ABV 13%. $12.99

The La Bastide is made of Carignan and Grenache, with around 5% Syrah. We paired it with our version of cassoulet, that southwestern French dish containing white beans, roast pork, duck and sausage that can take days to prepare. Our version is made with white beans and a variety of sausages. It was delicious with the Château Coupe Roses La Bastide.

The Château Coupe Roses vineyards are located at the highest elevations (750 – 1350 feet above sea level) in Minervois. Here the growing season is long and the nights are cool. Read a detailed and interesting account of the people behind the winery and their wines at Vintage 59, the importer of this delicious wine.

AOC Minervois is located north of Corbières and inland from the Mediterranean. Red wine is mostly produced in this appellation. Climate is largely Mediterranean, but very cold winters are characteristic of higher elevations in the appellation.

This collection of wine, all with modest alcohol levels, provided an excellent introduction to the wide range of wine made in the Languedoc. This very large region has so much to offer in terms of soil, terrain, grape varieties and wine styles. There truly is a wine for every taste from the Languedoc AOC and at a very reasonable price. The prices noted are from the K&L Wine Merchants website, who shipped the wines to us.

Merci to Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Languedoc (@LanguedocWines on Twitter), the trade council of the Languedoc AOC wines, for their sponsorship of #LanguedocDay. What a fun way to learn about the wines of this diverse region.

Languedoc Lineup
Thanks also to Laura at Benson Marketing Group for reaching out to PullThatCork. The selection of samples from the Languedoc region shipped from K & L Wine Merchants was spot-on. Nice choices all.

Cheers!

Reference:

Robinson, Jancis. (Editor), 3rd edition, The Oxford Companion to Wine. Oxford University Press. Retrieved via www.jancisrobinson.com

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‘IL’ Ugo : the name will make you smile and so will the flavor!

My first reaction to the name ‘IL’ Ugo was to giggle. I don’t know why, I just found it amusing. Then I got curious about the name? After doing a little reading, I discovered that ’IL’ Ugo is inspired by ‘the Hugo’, an elderflower sparkling wine cocktail made in northern Italy. Typically the cocktail is made with elderflower syrup and Prosecco. Add ice, sparkling mineral water and mint to complete the cocktail. Sounds refreshing.

Now I was really curious, having never tasted elderflower syrup, and had to give
’IL’ Ugo a try. After all, ‘IL’ Ugo, is produced by Mionetto, a well-known producer of Prosecco in the Veneto region of northern Italy. They produce a range of Prosecco including Treviso DOC and Valdobbiadene DOCG classified Prosecco. We received this bottle of ‘IL’ Ugo as a tasting sample.

After chilling the bottle completely and searching for our bottle opener to remove the crown cap (after all we usually PullThatCork), I poured a glass of the sparkling beverage.

‘IL’ Ugo‘IL’ Ugovery pale yellow in the glass with the light effervescence of a “frizzante” wine. The aromas are completely unfamiliar to me. They are a combination of white flowers and obvious green flower-stem aromas. Floral flavors, green herbal flavors combine with vague pear flavors. There is a delicate bitterness which balances the moderately sweet flavor of the beverage. ABV 8%.

Mionetto suggests the addition of ice and mint to the glass with ‘IL’ Ugo. That works too, the mint lending freshness to the drink as well as making it pretty.

I have to say, Mionetto have created a fun, delicious and refreshing sparkling wine cocktail. Is it a serious Prosecco? No, but it is not intended to be. It is intended to be fun and refreshing and ‘IL’ Ugo scores on both counts.

‘IL’ Ugo label dateAnd freshness counts too. You will find the back of the label on the neck of the bottle is dated.

Serve ‘IL’ Ugo when you want a glass of something cool and refreshing (and low in alcohol which is always a plus) on a warm afternoon. It will be a pleasing drink before a meal with appetizers. The frosted bottle is pretty to look at, imagine in an ice bucket on your table next time you entertain.

The name will make your guests curious and it will spark all kinds of conversation about elderflower syrup (it’s a popular ingredient in mixed drinks these days). And all of this for about $12 for 750ml bottle.

No extra charge for the smile it will put on your face.

Thanks to Creative Palate Communications who provided the sample for tasting.

Cheers!

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Charles Krug Winery Spring Releases — What’s New From This Napa Icon

The Peter Mondavi family and Charles Krug Winery have much to celebrate in 2014. The winery has completed an ambitious renovation of both their vineyards and winery as well as the Redwood Cellar tasting room originally built in 1872. Owner Peter Mondavi Sr. will celebrate his 100th birthday this year and the Charles Krug Winery spring release wines from the 2011 vintage represent both the 150th Anniversary harvest and the inaugural release of the Family Reserve Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.

We recently participated in an online tasting and discussion of the Charles Krug Winery spring release wines organized by Charles Communications Associates. We received four sample wines before the tasting and participated in the tasting via Brandlive®. Peter Mondavi Jr. and winemaker Stacy Clark lead the discussion. You can view the discussion for all of the amusing family details provided by Peter and the winemaking insights from Stacy. In the meantime here are the highlights of the tasting, the wines of course.

2013 Charles Krug Limited Release Estate Sauvignon Blanc2013 Charles Krug Limited Release Estate Sauvignon Blancaromas of dry hay, peaches and lime zest are followed by tropical fruit and citrus flavors. There is plenty of acidity for a juicy finish along with a bit of roundness in the mouth, a really pleasing combination. ABV 13.6%.  SRP $35. Natural cork closure. 325 cases produced.

This Sauvignon Blanc is a labor of love. The vineyard was planted in 2005 on the winery property. Stacy has the opportunity to identify special rows and portions of rows within the vineyard, ones with more rocky, gravelly soil that produce smaller clusters of small berries, for this special bottling.

Once in the winery the grapes are lightly crushed and left for a couple of hours of skin contact before being pressed. After settling, the juice goes to stainless steel tanks for fermentation. Fermentation takes place in several batches, some with only native yeast fermentation, others with yeasts selected specifically to develop the aromas characteristic of Sauvignon Blanc.

The wine remains in stainless steel, aging on the lees, until bottling in April. Sur lie aging slightly decreases the overtly floral aromas and gives the wine a bit of texture and roundness. By comparison the Charles Krug St Helena Sauvignon Blanc is cool fermented without sur lie aging and exhibits more floral aromas without the added texture.

This is the third vintage of the Limited Release Sauvignon Blanc. One more point of interest …the unique bottle. Stacy chose this “bowling pin bottle”, made in France, to highlight this special wine.

2011 Charles Krug Napa Valley Merlot2011 Charles Krug Napa Valley Merlotmedium ruby in the glass with aromas of dark fruit with a suggestion of mint in the background. Bright red fruit flavors combine with a bit of tobacco and moderate well-integrated tannins. This wine has plenty of flavor and structure, but is not overly ripe. A flavorful, leaner style. ABV 14%. SRP $25. Natural cork closure.

2011 was Stacy’s first vintage with Charles Krug Winery, and a difficult vintage in terms of weather. Winter was wetter than normal and the growing season was cool with late spring rains. Harvest was late, early September rather than mid-August, and yielded a 30% smaller crop than usual. Fruit was harvested at about 24.5º Brix

Merlot is planted over 400 acres of Krug vineyards in Carneros, St. Helena and Yountville largely in clay-based soils. The goal every year is to make the best Merlot possible, accordingly the blend varies year-to-year. The 2011 blend is 84% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petite Sirah, 3% Malbec, 1% Petit Verdot. Aging is 18 months in French and American oak barrels, about 40% new oak.

Both Stacy and Peter Jr. describe the 2011 vintage Merlot as an old world style. To my palate that is accurate, but this wine is by no means lacking in flavor. There is plenty of red fruit flavor, complexity and texture.

The alcohol level in the 2011 vintage is a full 1% lower than usual. Don’t look for this as a trend in winemaking at Krug, the lower alcohol is reflective of the vintage. Though it must be said, Peter Mondavi Sr. is a proponent of lower alcohol wines, and he and Stacy have had numerous conversations on the topic.

The 1861 date along the right side of the Merlot label which commemorates the date Charles Krug Winery was established and the 150th harvest for the winery.

2011 Charles Krug Family Reserve Generations2011 Charles Krug Family Reserve Generationsdark fruit aromas with a hint of jalapeño. Complex dark fruit flavors, tobacco, earth and hints of jalapeño combine with moderate tannins and nice acidity. The finish is fairly long with flavor and tannins. ABV 13.9%. SRP $50. Natural cork closure.

This Reserve wine is made from select fruit, in fact the selection process begins this time of year in the vineyard where ideal rows are identified and managed for the Reserve Cabernet program. Fruit from these blocks is brought into the winery in small lug boxes, hand sorted and fermented in small fermenters.

Aging is in 100% French oak barrels for 20 months and the blending process involves a barrel selection from among these special lots of wine. The blend for the 2011 vintage is 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, 4% Malbec, 3% Merlot.

The first vintage of the Generations blend was made in 1991 by Peter’s brother Marc who was the Krug winemaker at the time. It happened without planning, when Marc was offered 5 tons of Cabernet Franc by a friend. Just by chance Krug’s best Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon was being harvested as well. Marc co-fermented 5 tons of Cab Franc, 5 tons of Merlot and 10 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon.

When Peter Sr. returned from a marketing trip a few days later and noticed the fermentation tank labeled Bordeaux blend, he made some inquiries. Marc had some explaining to do and Peter Sr. was not happy with what he heard. At the time producing blended wines was not the focus of winemaking at Krug. Peter Sr. actually banished Marc from the winery for a bit.

Fun fact: that 1991 vintage was bottled in plain bottles, without a capsule and unbranded corks. Only the vintage date appeared on the corks. At the time of bottling the Mondavi family was not certain what the fate of the wine would be.

In the end though, the blend tasted really good and was bottled under the Charles Krug Vineyard label. Generations, the name was suggested by a cellar worker at the winery to acknowledge the multiple generations of the Mondavi family involved in the winery, is made by the winery to this day. The blend has been extended beyond the three varieties used in the first vintage, and co-fermentation is no longer used due to the difficulty in picking all varieties optimally at the same time.

2011 Charles Krug Family Reserve Howell Mtn Cabernet Sauvignon2011 Charles Krug Family Reserve Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignondark plum and delicate floral aromas are followed by dark plum and blackberry flavors with just a hint of green pepper lending complexity. Tannins are significant, but not out of balance. This exhibits the most complexity and texture of the group. I can only imagine how interesting this wine will become with some time in the bottle. ABV 13.7%.  SRP $75. Natural Cork Closure. 500 case production.

Stacy’s goal through blending (95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Malbec) is to produce a wine with a slightly softer version of those famous Howell Mountain tannins, so that it is approachable for a wide spectrum of wine drinkers. Aging takes place in new French oak for 19 months.

This inaugural release of the Family Reserve Howell Mountain Cabernet is harvested from Krug’s Howell Mountain vineyard. The 60-acre property located at the end of Cold Springs Road, was purchased in 2000 and the vineyard planted in 2007. Only 23 acres were developed due to restrictions on the development of steeper portions of the land.

The vineyard is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and a small amount of Petit Verdot. The terrain is rolling hills with a large variation in soil type and exposure. Its location at 1600 ft above sea level means the vineyard is above the fog line. Temperatures warm earlier in the day when the valley floor is covered in fog. But the elevation also means temperatures fall quickly late in the day and overnight.

Stacy is particularly excited about this parcel because of the diversity of soil types and exposures. Grapes from the Howell Mountain vineyard are used in this bottling as well as the winery’s Limited Release Cold Springs Cabernet Sauvignon (you can taste it at the Krug tasting room) which features Howell Mountain’s famous tannins more prominently.

Thank you to Charles Communications Associates for organizing the tasting and sending the tasting samples. Thanks as well to Peter Mondavi Jr. and Stacy Clark for painting such a vivid picture of the history of Charles Krug Winery, the Mondavi Family in Napa and winemaking at the winery. Peter told many amusing stories about his famous family and Stacy gave us lots of insight into her winemaking style. With renovation of the original Charles Krug Winery complete, visiting the property is a must when in the Napa Valley.

Cheers!

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Ribera del Duero — Another Interpretation of Tempranillo

Located on the northern plateau of Spain, two hours north of Madrid, Ribera del Duero is a wine region dedicated largely to Tempranillo. It has come to prominence fairly recently, though winemaking dates back to Roman times. Monasteries in the area were sources of vines and winemaking during the 12th and 13th centuries. It was during this time that the area’s underground cellars were dug to store wine, protecting it from the extreme weather.

Ribera’s wines were highly valued as exports during the 17th and 18th Centuries when the Spanish Empire was at its height. Winemaking developed in the region without the intervention of outside influences, unlike in Rioja where French winemakers had a direct and significant influence.

But there was some influence from Bordeaux. Bodega Vega Sicilia was founded in 1864 and became the first modern-day winery known for exceptional quality. Its founder Don Eloy Lecanda Chavés studied winemaking in Bordeaux and brought Bordeaux grape varieties back to Ribera del Duero with him. When Ribera del Duero earned Denominación de Origen (DO) status in 1982 the French varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec were included along with indigenous varieties of Tempranillo and Garnacha Tinta for the production of red wine.

Ribera del Duero follows the Duero River through the provinces of Burgos, Segovia, Soria and Valladolid within the autonomous region of Castilla y León. The word Ribera translates to riverbank, so Ribera del Duero accurately describes the area as the river runs through the center of the roughly 22 mile wide and 71 mile long wine region.

Map of Ribera del Duero DO

Map of Ribera del Duero DO from www.drinkriberawine.com

This important “wine river”, which flows from east to west, goes on to flow through the other Spanish wine regions of Rueda, Toro, Tierra del Vino de Zamora and Arribes before entering Portugal where it becomes the Douro River lending its name to the Douro Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC) famous for producing Port wine.

The northern plateau region of Spain is situated at more than 2500 feet above sea level. It is protected from the moisture of the Atlantic Ocean by mountains, and receives less than 18 inches of rain annually. The elevation and limited rainfall make the climate challenging for growing grapes.

Winters are very cold and snowy, spring frost is always a threat and the cool weather delays bud-break making for a short growing season. Storms can be unpredictable and severe. Summertime temperatures can reach 100º F but the high altitude means that temperatures cool significantly at night, producing a temperature swing of 40 – 50º  on summer days. Very warm days allow the grapes to fully ripen and the cool nights preserve acidity within the grapes — which is exactly what winemakers want.

Vineyards are planted at between 2500 and 3100 feet above sea level. Soil types within Ribera del Duero are variable. Soil near the river is more alluvial and sandy. Chalky limestone and clay characterize soil types at higher elevations.

All aspects of viticulture,  allowed varieties, winemaking, alcohol levels and labeling are regulated by the Consejo Regulador of the Ribera del Duero DO. Only red wine production, inlcuding rosada (rosé), may be classified. Tempranillo, also called Tinto Fino and Tinta del Pais locally) must be 75% of any blend. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec are used as blending varieties with Tempranillo, though you will find 100% Tempranillo as well. Garnacha Tinta is used to produce Rosado.

Maximum yield in the vineyard is regulated at of 3.1 tons per acre, though maximum yields are generally kept lower (averaging 1.6 tons per acre) in the interest of quality fruit production.

Ribera del Duero uses numbered back labels similar to those used in Rioja to certify origin, quality and aging. Aging requirements are similar with the addition of Rosado to the labeling. These are the aging categories from Ribera del Duero DO at  drinkriberawine.com.

  • Cosecha: Joven usually see no oak aging. Joven Roble or Joven Barrica aged three to six months in oak. These wines are released soon after harvest and are fruity wines intended to be consumed when young.
  • Crianza: aged two years with a minimum of one year aging in oak. May be released after the first of October two years after harvest.
  • Reserva: aged three years with a minimum of one year aging in oak. May be released after the first of October three years after. Aging is generally one year in oak, two years in bottle. Reserva wines are ready to be enjoyed upon release.
  • Gran Reserva: aged a minimum of five years with a minimum of two years in oak followed by bottle aging. May be released after the first of October five years after harvest. Gran Reserva wines are made in only in select vintage years.
  • Rosado: Rosé wines produced with minimal skin contact and released soon after harvest. These wines are intended to be enjoyed while young and fruity.

The use of oak barrels is closely regulated in terms of type, classification and length of use.

We recently tasted six wines from Ribera del Duero at a Thursday night tasting at Fine Wines of Stockton. The previous Thursday evening we tasted six wines from Rioja, another Spanish region known for producing wine from Tempranillo. It was a great opportunity to contrast the styles and learn a little about both regions. Here is what we tasted from Ribera del Duero.

2012 Bodegas Convento de Las Claras Tinto Fino2012 Bodegas Convento de Las Claras Tinto Finovery dark ruby-violet in the glass with aromas of red and dark fruit. Obvious bright fruit flavors of ripe plums, raspberries and blackberries combine with a smokiness in the background. Tannins are significant and drying, in fact they dominate the finish which is moderately long. This is not a shy wine. It has lots of color, aroma, flavor and texture. ABV 14%.

 

2012 Bodegas Convento de Las Claras Tinto Fino backlabel

 

The Tempranillo was harvested from a single vineyard named Pago el Carrascal planted in 1986 near Bocos on the north bank of the Duero River. Soils here are alluvial, and after harvest in October fermentation began in stainless steel with malolactic fermentation completed in new French oak. The wine was aged in new French oak for a further 8 months.

Before founding Bodegas Convento de Las Claras, José Carlos Alvarez worked as a researcher and then Consejo Regulador of Ribera del Duero DO as well as winemaker at several other wineries.

2007 Bodegas y Viñedos O. Fournier Spiga2007 Bodegas y Viñedos O. Fournier Spigadark ruby in the glass with aromas of dark, dried fruit and a hint of vanilla. Complex flavors of concentrated dried plums and earth combine with significant, grippy tannins. A bit of vanilla is hiding in the background and the flavors in this wine are very layered with the tannins well integrated into the flavors. The finish is very long with both fruit flavors and tannins. 14% ABV.

 

2007 Bodegas y Viñedos O. Fournier Spiga backlabelAlso made from 100% Tempranillo, the grapes were hand harvested in October. Fermentation started in stainless steel and malolactic fermentation was completed in new and second-use barrels. Aging in new French oak for 13 months followed.

2008 Bodegas y Viñedos Montecastro2008 Bodegas y Viñedos Montecastrodark ruby in the glass with smoky red and dark fruit aromas. Ripe red and dark fruit flavors of berries and plums combine with significant, smooth tannins and juicy acidity to produce a very well-balanced wine. There is some vanilla in the background flavors of this wine, it is pulled together and delicious. 14% ABV.

 

2008 Bodegas y Viñedos Montecastro backlabelProduced from Tempranillo that is both estate grown and purchased from growers. Due to the warming climate, vineyards at higher elevation and with a northern exposure are selected. Vineyards are located at between 2300 and 3300 feet above sea level. Wood aging takes place in a combination of French and American oak for 17 months.

2010 Condado de Haza2010 Condado de Hazavery dark ruby in the glass with earthy dark fruit aromas and flavors, lots of acid and significant drying tannins. The finish is very long with both ripe, dark fruit flavors and tannins. The body of this wine feels a bit lighter than the preceding wines. 14% ABV.

 

 

2010 Condado de Haza backlabelCondado de Haza is the second project of winemaker Alejandro Fernández. Tempranillo is grown in a 500 acre south-facing vineyard on a stretch of the Duero River below the hilltop village of Haza. Vineyards were planted beginning in 1989 and the first vintage produced was 1993. Aging for 15 months in American oak is the norm.

2010 Tinto Pesquera2010 Tinto Pesqueravery dark ruby in the glass with dark fruit and slightly vegetal aromas. Rich flavors of very ripe, sweet, dark fruit and spice combine with good acidity and smooth, well-integrated tannins. The finish is a bit hot, and the flavors are consistent with grapes grown in a very warm climate. 14% ABV.

 

 

2010 Tinto Pesquera backlabelTempranillo clusters are destemmed and a temperature-controlled fermentation begins with only natural yeast. After pressing, aging in new American oak takes place for between 16 and 36 months.

Tinto Pesquera was established in 1972 by Alejandro Fernández, who for years made wine on a small scale and dreamed of having his own winery. He was the first to plant Tempranillo and trellis the vines on wires. Until then, Tempranillo was planted as individual goblet vines (head-trained vines to us). Tinta Pequera’s Tempranillo vineyards are planted on gravelly terraces and at an altitude of over 3000 feet above sea level.

The quality of Tinto Pesquera made Alejandro Fernández famous and raised the stature of Ribera del Duero as well. His success enabled him to establish Condado de Haza in the late 1980s.

2010 St. Amant Winery Tempranillo2010 St. Amant Winery Tempranillodark garnet in the glass with obvious dark fruit aromas followed by sweet, dark fruit flavors with tobacco and black tea flavors in the background. Tannins are smoother in this wine, it’s not as muscular as those preceding it in this tasting. Some tasters noted significant wood influence in the flavors. 14.5% ABV

George often likes to include a “ringer” in a group of wines and this is it. Produced in Lodi from Tempranillo grown in the Sierra Foothills by the Spencer family whom George and Gail have known for years. It was interesting to taste this local interpretation of Tempranillo along with those from Ribera del Duero. Flavors were similar but different — of course.

An interesting and flavorful group of wines. Tempranillo shows it fruity quality in these wines with lots of dark and red fruit flavors. Flavors are bold and ripe, but not overly alcoholic. These wines as a group tasted more fruit-forward than the group of Tempranillo from Rioja, where flavors of tobacco, earth and tea combined with fruit.

The two tastings are admittedly small, but they were an interesting sampling and comparison. These two Spanish wine regions, though separated by only 60 or 70 miles, are very distinct in terms of weather especially, elevation and soil type, so it is no surprise the wines from each region are so distinctive.

Tempranillo is a wine made to pair with grilled meat. The smoky, juicy flavors of grilled steaks would be delicious with Tempranillo. Something to remember with grilling season fast approaching.

Cheers!

Reference:

Robinson, Jancis. (Editor), 3rd edition, The Oxford Companion to Wine. Oxford University Press. Retrieved via www.jancisrobinson.com

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Rioja — Tempranillo is the Star in this Spanish Wine Region

Spain is one of the world’s major wine producing countries. It is in the top three, along with Italy and France, having the most acreage under vines and producing the third largest volume of wine behind Italy and France. (Spain is likely to overtake both countries in terms of production when the tally is final for the most recent vintage.)  Spain also exports a lot of wine, especially to the US, which is Spain’s largest non-European market. So, chances are you have heard of or seen wines from Spain in the store or on restaurant wine lists.

Rioja is a wine region located in northern Spain (between Bilbao and Madrid) that is highly regarded for its Tempranillo, which comprises the majority of the plantings in the region. Garnacha, Carignan (called Mazuelo in Rioja) and Graciano are also planted and are most often blending partners to Tempranillo. White wine production comprises only a small fraction of total production, mainly from Viura (called Macabeo elsewhere in Spain), Malvasia de Rioja and Garnacha Blanca. Recently, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc have been added to the list of approved varieties and you will find Rosé wines are made in Rioja as well.

Viticulture in the region dates back to Roman times, continued during the Middle Ages and in the monasteries of the area after that. When powdery mildew in the 1840s and then phylloxera in the late 1860s invaded Bordeaux devastating the vineyards (both ‘gifts’ from North America) the French needed to look elsewhere for wine. They naturally looked south and ran smack into Rioja just beyond the Pyrenees Mountains. The French helped improve the quality of wines produced in the region and put Rioja ahead of other wine regions in Spain.

Two World Wars and the Spanish Civil War in particular pretty seriously impacted wine production in Spain, setting all of Spanish wine production back. With the resolution of these conflicts, Rioja was well prepared in terms of winemaking skill to move forward quickly.

Rioja is a region approximately 60 miles in length, running from Haro in the western end of the valley to Alfaro in the east and straddling the Ebro River. At its maximum, the valley is 25 miles wide. The wine region is roughly funnel shaped with the narrowest portion near Haro. The rainy, cool maritime influence of the Atlantic Ocean is moderated by the Cantabrian Mountains to the northwest which continue on to become the Basque Mountains and eventually the Pyrenees Mountains to the north. To the south a series of mountains run nearly to the Mediterranean and moderate the very warm continental climate of central Spain. It is through this depression between these mountain ranges that the Ebro River runs originating in the Cantabrian mountains and emptying into the Mediterranean.

09rioja_regions map

Map of Rioja from riojawine.com

Rioja is divided into three regions based largely on climate, elevation and soil type.
Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Alta have the most Atlantic influence, with nearly 20 inches of rain annually in the wettest portions, and are located at the western end of Rioja. Rioja Alavesa is smaller and located entirely north of the Ebro River. Soil here is chalky clay and terraced vineyards are located on small parcels. The climate is considered Mediterranean in spite of the Atlantic influence.

Rioja Alta has the highest elevations and the climate here has the most Atlantic influence, though it benefits from Continential and Mediterranean influences as well. Soil types are described as chalky-clay, ferrous-clay and alluvial over limestone.

Rioja Baja, the third region is flatter, warmer and drier. Its more eastern location means the climate is essentially Mediterranean, days can be very hot is the summer. The soils here are a combination of rocky alluvial and ferrous clay similar to that of Rioja Alta. Garnacha is particularly happy growing here.

Blending not only grape varieties, but also grapes grown in all three of these regions has been the practice historically and continues today in Rioja. This allows winemakers to take advantage of the variable soil, elevation and climate nuances of each vintage.

Spain recognizes six levels of wine in terms of quality. The two major quality designations are Denominación de Origen (DO) and Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa). Allowed grape varieties, crop yield, winemaking and aging requirements are determined for each DO by a consejo regulador, the governing body responsible for establishing regulations and area boundaries. The designation DOCa represents the best of the DOs, and to date only Rioja and Priorat have earned DOCa status. (The very highest designation, Vino de Pago, applies to vineyards as opposed to regions.)

Finally, a note on aging of Rioja wines. Wood aging is generally accomplished in 225 L oak barrels (the French influence). Aging requirements are defined and certified. Each bottle of Rioja will bear a numbered back label certifying aging, origin, vintage and quality of the wine. The categories are defined as follows (from Rioja DOCa at riojawine.com):

  • Young wines: Wines in their first or second year, which keep their primary freshness and fruitiness.
  • Crianza wines: Wines which are at least in their third year, having spent a minimum of one year in casks. For white wines, the minimum cask aging period is 6 months.
  • Reserva wines: Selected wines of the best vintages with an excellent potential that have been aged for a minimum of 3 years, with at least one year in casks. For white wines, the minimum aging period is 2 years, with at least 6 months in casks.
  • Gran Reserva wines: Selected wines from exceptional vintages which have spent at least 2 years in oak casks and 3 years in the bottle. For white wines, the minimum aging period is 4 years, with at least one year in casks.
Rioja back labels

Rioja back labels indicating aging from riojawine.com

We recently tasted a collection of six wines from Rioja at a Thursday night tasting at Fine Wines of Stockton. Here is what we tasted and our notes from the tasting.

2001 Ramirez de la Piscina Gran Reserva2001 Ramirez de la Piscina Gran Reserva — dark garnet in the glass. Aromas are dominated by dried plums and are very concentrated. The flavors that follow include dried dark fruit, leather, tobacco and black tea. Tannins are present but fairly smooth in texture and acidity is adequate. Overall this wine tastes aged, fruit flavors are mature and the tannins are smoothed out.

 

2001 Ramirez de la Piscina Gran Reserva-back label

 

 

This Reserva is 100% Tempranillo, hand harvested from minimum 30 year old vines, located in Rioja Alta. Aging begins in American and French oak for 24 months and is completed with 36 months aging in the bottle before release.

2007 Herederos del Marqués de Riscal Reserva2007 Herederos del Marqués de Riscal Reserva — medium garnet in the glass. Aromas in the glass are a combination of dark fruit and iodine — almost a bit medicinal. Flavors are a combination of dark ripe fruit and earth. Tannins are still prominent and grippy. The combination of dark fruit and earthiness is constantly changing in the glass and makes for a very interesting glass of wine.The tannins are still significant and grippy.

 

2007 Herederos del Marqués de Riscal Reserva-back label

 

 

Made from a blend of 90% Tempranillo (from Rioja Alavesa), 7% Graciano, 3% Carignan (Mazuelo). Oak aging begins with 2 years in American oak and is completed with at least one year aging in the bottle before release.

2007 Marqués de Murrieta Reserva2007 Marqués de Murrieta Reserva — dark garnet in the glass. Aromas of dark fruit and earth are followed by flavors of ripe raspberries and blackberries with a bit of licorice. Tannins are significant and grippy and this wine has zippy acidity. Overall, this wine is a riper style with bright fruit flavors and a bit of heat in the finish.

 

 

2007 Marqués de Murrieta Reserva-back label

 

 

This blend of 85% Tempranillo, 8% Garnacha, 6% Carignan (Mazuelo), 1% Graciano and was harvested from Estate vineyards surrounding the winery located in the southern portion of Rioja Alta. Vineyards are located at an elevation roughly between 1000 to 1600 feet above sea level. Aging in American oak barrels for 20 months was followed by bottle aging for 24 months before release.

2008 Coto de Imaz Reserva2008 Coto de Imaz Reserva — ruby-garnet in the glass with subtle aromas of smoke and dark fruit. Plum and blackberry flavors combine with tobacco, smoke and leather. Tannins are moderate and drying, there is good acidity and the body is lighter in this wine than in the prior three wines. Complex flavors in a lighter bodied wine is always my favorite combination.

 

2008 Coto de Imaz Reserva-back labelMade from 100% Tempranillo harvested from the Rioja Alta region. Aging in American oak barrels for 17 months was followed by bottle aging for 3.5 years before release.

 

2009 Muga Reserva2009 Muga Reserva — dark ruby in the glass along with dark cherry aromas and a bit of earthiness. Flavors are a bright combination of red and dark fruit with ripe flavors and a hint of black tea. Tannins are grippy and the wine has good acidity. Overall this wine has brighter, younger fruit flavors than the prior wines.

 

2009 Muga Reserva-back labelFor the 2010 Reserva  the blend is 70% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha, 7% Carignan (Mazuelo), 3% Graciano with 24 months in oak (unknown type) and finally a minimum of one year aging in the bottle. (I couldn’t find the details for 2009 vintage.) The Bodegas Muga vineyards are located in Rioja Alta.

2009 Sierra Cantabria Crianza2009 Sierra Cantabria Crianza — dark ruby in the glass with ripe dark cherry aromas. Ripe plum and black cherry flavors predominate with only a hint of black tea flavors in the background. The tannins are very grippy and slightly bitter on the finish. This wine has good acidity and still tastes very young. It needs time in the bottle to pull itself together.

2009 Sierra Cantabria Crianza-back labelHarvested from vineyards in San Vicente de la Sonsierra (Rioja Alta) and Labastida (Rioja Alavesa) near Haro, this 100% Tempranillo is barrel aged 14 months in French and American oak barrels then bottle aged before release.

 

An interesting collection of wines that demonstrates how the flavors of Rioja change over time. The 2009 vintage wines still showed bright, fruit-forward flavors with only a hint of black tea and earthy flavors in the background. Tannins were grippy, but really it was the brighter fruit flavors than made the most difference. The older Tempranillos had more mature, dried fruit and darker fruit flavors with more obvious flavors of earth and tobacco or leather. Both are enjoyable flavors so make you choice of wine based on age to match the flavors you prefer.

Tempranillo is said to express unique flavors based on where it is grown in Rioja. That makes sense to me, but this small sampling does not allow us to draw any conclusions about that. More “research” will be necessary.

Roasted or grilled meat is the natural choice for these flavorful, tannic wines. Add roasted vegetables and potatoes and you will have yourself a feast.

If you are interested in learning more about what makes this region so unique, the Worlds Flavor of Spain website has a series of interesting videos explaining the geology, climate, soil and winemaking. Caution: you will want to visit the region after viewing these videos. I’m ready to pack my suitcase!

Our next post will detail our recent tasting of Tempranillo from another region in Spain, Ribera del Duero, where the climate is much warmer.

Cheers!

Reference:

Robinson, Jancis. (Editor), 3rd edition, The Oxford Companion to Wine. Oxford University Press. Retrieved via www.jancisrobinson.com

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