Zinfandel – America’s Heritage Grape

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Zinfandel has suffered something of a bad rap recently, with people thinking immediately either “white zin” or “jammy zin”.  The truth, of course, is that there is much more to America’s Heritage Grape than those two simple interpretations. With zinfandel grown all over California, as well as all over the world, it is one of the most diverse varieties in both grape and style.  From Primativo to Crljenak Kastelanski, the genetic make up is the same – but both terroir and winemaking style yield vastly different results. Here in California, the areas of Sonoma, Paso Robles, Lodi, and the Sierra Foothills are well known for their Zinfandel.  Today, I am reveing 4 different zinfandels that are perfect for your thaknsgivng talbel.   2015 Robert Biale Black Chicken Napa Valley   Bright red and red flowers on the nose.  Black cherry, baking spices leaping out of the glass.  The first sip surprises you with the acidity, and cranberry overwhelms . Rosehips and hibiscus dance around my mouth with juicy ripe strawberries on the mid palate.  It finishes with white pepper and chalk, and mouthwatering rhubarb.  There is nothing jammy about this zinfandel.  $25 2016 Trentadue La Storia Block 303 Another classic, La Storia has been making excellent zinfandel for years.  This block designate has the immediate sense of presence from warm Alexander Valley, with dried cherry, prune, and raisin on the nose.    Boysenberry jam and cherry compare on the palate are rich but not overly jammy.  There is still a hint of red current and a nice cranberry note that keeps the acid in balance . Finishes with a cloud of black pepper. Big and bold but not a bruiser.   $22   2015 Peachy Canyon Paso Robles Westside Softer and earthier on the nose, clear aromas of blackberry and bosenberry.  Jammy at first, but the inky dark color belies the spicybackground.  Coffee, roasted meats, the slightest hint of campfire, the classic blue and black fruit of Paso Robles come out to play.  With over a dozen differnet zinfandels on Peachy Canyon’s roster, this is a classic stewed fruit and raisey Paso example.  $22   Erostasia Reserve Old Vine Lodi Probably one of the most well known zinfandel regions, Lodi has been producing big, bold wines for over 100 years.  This classic example is perfect for a cold winter night, with stewed fruit, prune, and boysenberry jam layered in strong baking spices like nutmeg, the dark notes of smoked meat, and stewed fruit are accented by the 22 months in new oak, and you can taste the classic vanilla laying over the fruit.  This will stand up to hearty fare like chicken wings with blue cheese sauce and ore. These four wines are very different, and all very much zinfandel.  With such diversity, make sure you have a zinfandel on your table for your holiday celebration and enjoy America’s Heritage Grape! And don’t forget about the Zinfandel Experience here in San Francisco, January 18-20.  Celebrate all things zinfandel with 3 unique events, and taste […]

Onward Wines

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When I was first introduced to Onward Wines, I was intrigued by the thought of three wines made from Malvasia Blanca, as I thought of how to approach a piece on unique wines for weekend brunching.  I love Malvasia, and there is really none to speak of in the US – save this little patch of land in Contra Costa County. Further investigation in to Faith Armstrong Foster’s wines, however, revealed wines that are expressive of terroir in its purist form, quality, uniqueness, and a sense of place in every glass. Onward 2015 Pétillant Naturel, Malvasia Bianca, Capp Inn Ranch, Suisun Valley Beginning with the beguiling Pétillant Naturel, made from Malvasia Bianca, the Onward selections express freshness that can often get lost in the shuffle.  Pet-Nat, a fun, rustic take on sparkling wine, captures bubbles the old fashioned way.  Bottling these wines before primary fermentation occurs, without the addition of a dosage or yeast, Malvasia Blanca makes a natural muse for this style. With nutty Marzipan, hazlenut and lychee notes, complemented with Asian pear and honey, the Pet Nat holds peaches and brioche, with ah hint of ripe tuscan melon.  There is a natural salinity coming fro the Malvasia, and a pinch of citrus zest to keep it fresh. This Pét-Nat is floral and fruity, but refreshingly bone-dry. The opening aromatics are like sticking your nose in a fermentation vat, with yeasty brioche notes and lively youthful freshness. To follow are notes of night blooming jasmine, citrus blossom, melon rind, warm Kaffir lime scones with preserved lemon…and a refreshing hint of sea air….and did I mention soft tiny delicate bubbles! Onward 2014 Malvasia Bianca, Capp Inn Ranch, Suisun Valley Like a summer day in a bottle, Malvasia Blanca jumps out of the glass with stone fruit, fresh and floral notes and a searing acidity to refresh your hot and dusty taste buds.  The grapes were whole cluster pressed, adding much needed texture and tannin, the wine was finished in stainless steel while the lees were stirred every two weeks.  Oh so very fresh and happy, kumquats and pears dance around golden delicious apples with a splash of fresh cream. Onward 2013 Pinot Noir, Hawkeye Ranch, Redwood Valley The often forgotten Redwood Valley, deep in the forests of Mendocino County, is an interesting growing region.  With cooler than average temperatures, dense Redwood groves and chilly damp fog, it’s a challenging place to grow any wine – let alone pinot noir.  But grow it does, and this example is a beautiful expression of cool climate pinot noir. Pale and clear, wild strawberries are front and center with bright hibiscus and Queen Anne cherries.  Juicy pomegranate and rhubarb are rounded out with lingering methol and forest floor notes.   Onward 2014 Carignane, Casa Roja Vineyard, Contra Costa County i love Carignane.  It is one of those lost grapes of California, and was, at one point, a huge part of the old Italian field blends that helped to solidify the commercial wine industry in the state.  Often overlooked, […]

Rosé Colored Glasses: Sidebar Cellars

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  When I first tasted the Sidebar Cellars Kerner, from the Mokelumne Glen vineyard in Lodi, I thought to myself, “wow this is a fun little white”, as I sat in the heat of Lodi in April.  At that time, we were exploring the Mokelumne River AVA, and I didn’t make the connection to David Ramey of Ramey Cellars. Fast forward to 2016, and as I get my rosés ready to rumble, a little birdie told me that Sidebar Cellars did a rosé.  Knowing how much I love pink wine around this time of year, I made sure I got my hands on one and I was glad I did! Sidebar Cellars was born out of Ramey’s desire to play around a bit, and presents a departure from the Ramey Wine Cellars more austere lineup of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon; hence, Sidebar. The 2016 Sidebar Cellars Russian River Valley Rosé comes from an old-vine Syrah vineyard, and represents a refreshing change of pace from the more common place saignée (bleed off) Pinot Noir rosés, which while delicious, can get a little boring. Bursting with strawberry and peach on the nose, herbal rose hips and hibiscus came through on the palate.  Tart plum skins and tannin give this wine some oomph, while ruby red grapefruit hides at the back f the palate, offering a refreshing finish.  The zesty green apple and lime lingers on your palate with a hint of pickled watermelon rind, and keeps you going back for another sip. This is a great summer sipper and pairs surprisingly well with sriracha potato chips!  It would also be an excellent match to your Easter Ham or a roast chicken. Special thanks to Alexandra O’Gorman, Communications Director at Ramey Wine  Cellars for this delightful sample!  

How Green was my Valley

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Driving along highway 116 in western Sonoma County, you may have driven by the former River Road Vineyards, now the Rubin Family Wines complex – a sprawling, aging wood complex including a restaurant and bar patio, as you head towards Forestville. This area of the Russian River Valley has been home to some of the world’s best pint Nor producers for decades, and while River Road Vineyards had been experiencing somewhat of an identify crisis in the mid 2000s,  in 2011, the Rubin Family of Wines tok over the property. A particularly ideal place to grow Pinot Noir, the fog often lingers here beyond other area of Russian River, cooling down the vineyards and adding an earthy, acid driven profile to the wines. The Rubin Family of Wines is committed to producing exceptional wines. Sourced from both the River Road estate and other local sources, the Ron Rubin brand includes a Pinot Blanc and two Pinot Noirs, as well as a Chardonnay and Syrah. With specific attention paid to the vineyards and resulting wine, the dedicated winemaking team focuses on passion and precision. 2015 Ron Rubin Green Valley of Russian River Pinot Blanc Stainless steel fermented with a touch of neutral barrel blended in, this is a classic Pinot Blanc in style and weight.  Ripe pear, juicy peach, crisp golden apples bathing in honeysuckle fields.  Finishes with tart lime and bright acidity.  A refreshingly low alcohol wine, it comes in at only 13.5% abv.  The early harvest of 2015 came from Dutton Ranch’s Shop Block a mere 1.5 miles from the Rubin Estate, and since Pinot Blanc is unusual for Sonoma County, this was a rare treat (only 3.5 acres are planted in Green Valley). $30 2013 Ron Rubin Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir A bold Russian River Pinot Noir with brown sugar, black cherry, and Dr. Pepper notes layering on top of chocolate mocha.  Rich but still fresh with earth and wet leaves.  I really wanted this wine to have more acid, but this is a crowd pleaser to be sure and would be popular at any gathering.  Also low in alcohol, and unusually so given the region and the flavors, this clocks in at 13.7%.  With a long and slow ripening season in Green Valley, the estate Pinot Noir is a mix of hand harvested clone 667, 115, 777 and Pommard.  The Pommard adds a richness to the wine, with a soft and round body with the 9 months of French Oak give it the spice and vanilla backbone. $40 Special thanks to Jo Diaz of Diaz Communications for the hookup!

Materra Cunat Family Vineyards – blendng culturees and family history in Napa

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Tucked away in a corner of Napa Valley known as Oak Knoll, the Materra Cunat estate sneaks up on you out of the bucolic vineyards of the eastside.  This 50 acre property was purchased by the family in 2007, and through the use of modern technology and an expert wine making team, has developed in to a world class winery. The farming roots of the Cunat family are deep.  Brian Cunat was raised on a farm in Indiana, and his 17 lifelong pursuit of travel, wine, and vineyard explanation with his wife Miki have instilled a passion in him to create his own world class wine.  His first visit to Napa had him enthralled with it’s natural beauty, and the rest is history.     On a particularly splendid spring day, I met with the Cunat’s youngest daughter Neena to taste through the Bordeaux inspired wines. “Each Materra wine is a perfect expression of the land, the grapes, the passion the Cunat family has invested in each bottle and the unyielding quality delivered consistently by the growing conditions and terroir of the Napa Valley.” With a special focus on Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Bordeaux blends, Materra is able to showcase the expression of both the estate fruit, as well some additional sources in nearby AVAs within Napa Valley. The stand out wines for me were the Right Bank Reserve and the Howell Mountain Cabernet, which offer a special look at what Napa Valley can offer.  While not estate, these are wines to pay attention to. 2011 Materra Right Bank Reserve An homage to the Right Bank of Bordeaux, which is typically based on Merlot, with it’s silky tannins and grippy dark blue and black fruit.  This is a wine for the ages, and should be tucked away for a while as the sharp edges blur and become calmer, as any age worthy Bordeaux would. 2011 Materra Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Howell Mountain is one of my favorite areas for Cabernet because of the cooler, acid driven growing climate.  High above the hot valley floor, the inversion layer adds an intensity and brightness to Cabernet that is often lost on wines from lower in the valley.  A classic blackberry note with leather, tobacco and a pinch of black pepper round out this lush winter warmer. Materra Cunat is located on Big Ranch Road in Napa, and is available by appointment seven days a week.  The peaceful patio is a wonderful way to enjoy your afternoon so be sure to stop by next time you are in Napa. Special thanks to Neena Cunat Heitz and Fineman PR for setting up this visit at this unique piece of modern history.    

Tips from the Trenches: How to #WBC16

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Two weeks from today, the 9th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference kicks off in downtown Lodi.  I can’t believe we’ve been running this show for nine years, and that some of us who were there in the beginning, what a long, strange, trip it’s been! Like everything, the blogging and the career have changed a lot over that time period.  You may have noticed it’s been pretty quiet around here; things are working in the background, the the Wizard of Oz, changing, moving, growing. One of those things is the Wine Bloggers Conference Scholarship Fund.  This passion project takes up an inordinate amount of time, particularly the few months leading up to the conference, and tends to take over.  Add on top of the my day job (jobs really), and something suffers.  Sadly, it’s this blog. That said, I’m very much looking forward to Lodi, and as you can see from my series on Lodi wines there is a lot to look forward to.  As I do every year, I write my advice column to both veteran attendees as well as newbies.  There is so much to do, see, and learn at the conference, as well as networking opportunities and camaraderie. Each attendee has a unique perspective, but for me, as a 9 year attendees (one of only 5), Advisory Board Member, Scholarship co-founder and Director, and wine industry worker, this is mine. Practical Wear comfortable shoes.  you never know when we’ll be hiking up a hill in a vineyard Wear comfortable business casual / wine country casual clothes with layers.  This is not a lawyers convention!  It can get chilly at night with fog coming in, so bring a sweater.  Wear layers.  It is HOT in Lodi during the day, however it can cool off significantly at night due to the Delta breezes, and hotel AC can be brutal. Bring multiple devices.  There are often times when a laptop isn’t practical (in the vineyard) and your phone doesn’t have reception.  Brnig multiple devices. Bring your own power source.  Power packs, instant chargers and mini power strips are all critical.  There is often a battle to get a slot in the power wall, so bringing a strip will allow you to share the love.  I love this one as it folds, has USB ports and 4 power slots.  I also love a great power squid. If you have a MiFi bring it.  Wifi resources are taxed beyond belief and are not made for 350 people online all day, with multiple devices.   For extra points, give some karma and open your mifi up for others (your billing terms will dictate this, but if you have unlimited or the budget, be kind and share) Bring business cards.  Yes it may seem archaic, but it’s the best way to quickly introduce yourself with a memorable item.  The stacks of cards collected are reminders when we get home to follow, tweet, and read other peoples information. Hydrate.  Lodi is HOT!  There will be a lot of wine.  Water, water water.  If you have […]

There’s gold in that furrow!

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Driving up a dusty dirt road, at the edge of a vineyard in Lodi, you could see the history in the vines.  These gnarled old beasts were baking in the late spring heat, and you could just feel the struggle as they worked to survive the turbulent weather. This was Rauser Vineyard, planted with old vine Carignane and Zinfandel.  Our guide, Mike Mike McCay, was enthusiastically giving us an oral history of the last 20 years, while digging in the dry, crumbling dirt of the vineyard.  Mike is an innovator, something that is more common in Lodi than you would expect.  Not satisfied to go with the status quo, he is always looking for new ways to survive the ever persistent drought, and to produce some amazing wines. His winemaking style centers around the terroir of Lodi, and specifically this patch of land.  Using Native yeasts while concentrating on Zinfandel and Rhône varietals, he has brought out the true expression of htis small AVA in the region. Tiptoeing through the high furrows of dusty red soil, Mike poured us his Clements Hills Viognier.  This mineral driven white enjoyed a long, warm growing season, which resulting in ripe pears and stone fruit, followed by rich floral aromas.  It was just the thing to whet our palates on the hot and dusty day. After learning a bit of history of this piece of land, we met up with Mike’s family at his house for a down home Lodi style BBQ.  Quite the chef, Mike McCay fired up the vine driven barrel barbeque and quickly got to work making a feast – perfectly designed to showcase his wines.   Mike pulled out all the stops, retrieving some beautiful examples of Lodi’s Rhône style wines from his cellar, plus, by special request Cabernet Franc.  One might not expect either Cab Sav or Cab Franc to be successful in what amounts to a high desert climate, however, with the varied terrain and terroir of the larger Lodi growing region, it did beautifully.     McCay Cellars specializes in Rhône varietals, and also has a beautiful Cabernet Franc and is working with old vine Zin.  Growing slowly and steadily, Mike has witness major changes in Lodi over the last 20 years.  Industrial grape production has made way for artisan, small lot producers, and the wine tourism business has seen growth in Lodi tourism and the affiliated business. The careful attention McCay pays to his vineyards and his winemaking are evident in the beautiful wines he produces.  But don’t take my word for it!  Stop by and visit when you’re in town.  McCay Cellars has a tasting room in Lodi, open no weekends (Thursday-Sunday) from 11-5. The next time you’re in Lodi, be sure to experience the Rhône varetals from McCay Cellars!  If Mike’s int he tasting room, you’re sure to get a history lesson along with your Grenache.

Dot…dot…dot

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It’s hard to tell my looking out the window these days, but it’s high summer.  Generally speaking, high summer means warm weather, sunny days, and relaxing weekend BBQs with cold, refreshing pink wine. Ellipsis Wine Company was founded in 2008 by Jonathan Neisingh, who, after growing up in the heart of Sonoma wine country (in Healdsburg) moved to San Luis Obispo to pursue his education in agribusiness (and wine!).  Completing his education and moving back to Sonoma County,  I met Ellipsis several years ago, at one of the large tastings here in SF.  At that time, I knew I loved their wine, and am thrilled to see them grow and develop over the last 8 years.  Growing up in Healdsburg, Jonathan saw first hand the industry grow and change over the last twenty years, which drives his passion to make world class wine (with the help of their consulting winemaker) that expresses each region’s unique terroir in every sip. Ignoring the seemingly endless mist outside, summer can come in a glass!  Particular this glass of Ellipsis Wine Company Rosé of Pinot Meunier.  The first thing you notice about this beautiful pink wine is the depth of color:  a pure purple toned pink, it looks gorgeous in the glass, and the first whiff gives off a lovely savory dried herb character.   The first sip reveals savory watermelon salad with lavender, juicy wild strawberries, and tropical notes.  I love the mineralality that plays off of the juicy citrus, and the medium body makes it a great wine for grilled chicken, burgers and other summer fare.  I can’t wait to visit and get more of this fantastic summer sipper!  $25 Thank you to #winestudio and Ellipsis for another great Tuesday Tasting!  

Say it ain’t Cinsault

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Cruising along on a breezy but warm spring morning in Lodi, we were off on Day 2 of our adventures of “Anything but Zin”.  Today, our first stop was Lodi’s oldest vineyard, the some 120+ year old Bechthold Vineyard. Bechthold Vineyard was planted over a century ago by Joseph Spenker.  Back in 1886, Cinsault was more commonly referred to as Black Malvoisie.  Today, many people might know that Cinsault is one of the parents of Pinotage, the other being Pinot Noir.  It is also a workhorse grape in the south of France, and is also widely planted in northern Africa. So why is Bechthold Vineyard so special?  First, having a piece of land that is planted, on the original rootstock, with the original varietals, and has been essentially untouched for over 100 years is and impressive feat.  For 130 years is damned year unheard of.  But perhaps more importantly, the Bechthold property is also family owned, and continuously operated by that family for those 130 years. These twenty-five acres of genius is still highly sought after and productive, and has pulled itself out of obscurity with a renewed interested in ancient vines and historical varietals.   As part of the larger Spenker Vineyard property, the vineyard is currently managed by Phillips Farms (part of the Michael-David Winery) and is steadfastly guarded by a strong family tradition and history.  Today, this vineyard provides fruit for Bonny Doon, Turley, and Michael-David, not to mention Onesta, and has a long waiting list. Cinsault is a special thing.  A thick skinned, ornery beast, it can form the backbone of some strong red blends.  On it’s own however, it is sneaky, and has a ridge of acid that will wake you up.  Create a rose from that wake up call, and you’ll be drinking wine at 10:30am with the best of us. As we traipsed through the soft, tall furrrows of soil on this sunny and breezy morning, we were joined by Jillian Johnson, owner and winemaker of Onesta Winery, and David Phillips of Michael-David Winery.           2014 Onesta Cinsault Rosè Released with a year of bottle age, and fermented on 20% neutral and stainless steel, the juice is 50% saignee from the red Cinsault and 50% purpose pressed.  The 80% that was aged in wood had a lot of contact with the lees resulting in a rich ruby red grapefruit flavor with hints of blood orange, coriander, lavender and dried herbs.  This wine will wake you up and make you say hello!  $22 2012 Onesta Cinsault With extended maceration and 9 months in neutral oak, this beauty is a berry pie with a topper of pomegranate juice.  A lighter style of Cinsault, the delicate wine is luscious and fruit forward, yet full of baking spice and acid.  This is the perfect wine to please both a Pinot and a Zin lover.   $29 In contrast, the 2014 Michael-David Ancient Vine Cinsault is denser and more lush than the Onesta.  Baked blue and black […]

Everything’s Coming up Roses! (Wine & Roses)

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After a full day of exploring some of Lodi’s diverse wines and terroir, we settled in at our host hotel, Wine & Roses.  This resort style hotel has a beautifully relaxing interior courtyard, and situated on one side is the hotel’s restaurant, the Towne House. Chef John Hitchcock, a Lark Creek Group alumnus, masterfully prepared a 7 course menu to go with the intriguing wines that Sue Tipton, owner of Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards had brought to share with us. I had personally become acquainted with the wines of Acquiesce several years ago, and had always enjoyed the light, elegant style of Rhône style wines that owner and winemaker Sue Tipton produces.  As we were meandering through Lodi exploring “everything but Zin” I was excited to get the opportunity to taste these wines again. The deck of the restaurant overlooks the interior courtyard of the hotel, and as the sun went down, the temperature had cooled off enough to be comfortable outside in the relaxing environment.  Chef John was about to amaze us with the beautiful pairings, and while I wan’t quite hungry yet due to the amazing and large lunch at Pietro’s earlier, the menu looked amazing. First up, we kicked things off with these gorgeous Blue Point Oysters, served with Yuzu pearls.  Blue Points are particularly large and meaty oysters, so I wasn’t sure how they would pair with the delicate Picpoul Blanc, but they were perfect.  The salinity and minerality of the shuckers  played delightfully off the wet river rocks, crushed shells, and freshly zested citrus in the wine.  With just a hint of floral notes on the edge of this wine, it was a natural and delicious pairing.  The true test of an oyster pairing to me is if I can actually use the wine as a mignonette – pour a touch of the wine in to the oyster and slurp it down.  In this case, it was a palate sensation, and just confirmed my earlier delight.     Next, Pan Seared Foie Gras (thank you California for bringing back the Foie!  Feel free to judge me now) with poached pears, pear geleè, and house made brioche – paired with the 2014 Roussanne.  With juicy pears and apricots, drenched in fresh cream dancing across my tongue, the richness of the Roussanne worked well with the creamy richness of foie.  One of my favorite things about Roussanne in particular is the acidity that sneaks up behind the juicy and rich mouthfeel.  This is no exception, and the Acquiesce was perfect with the classic foie pairing.     The third course was intended to be tuna tartare, but Chef John was able to sub out salmon on the fly due to an allergy.  This was no little ask, as the pairings were tested and created well in advance, but he did a masterful job at thinking of a pairing and creating it on the fly with perfect timing.  Paired with the 2015 Grenache Blanc, and served with avocado, wakame, wasabi vinaigrette, wasabi foam and […]

A trip to Iberia within reach

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              Markus Bokisch was raised in California, but has a long history of ties to Spain.  As a child, Markus spent his summers there, and as is the norm in European tradition, water & wine were served at meals. With this pre-disposition to love the rich wines of Spain, Markus moved to Spain with his wife Lisa and worked his way up in the Spanish wine industry.  With endeavors in Raimat and Penedes, he became and expert at the cultivation of these special varietals.  When he moved back to California, he knew that Lodi had something special – hidden behind 100 years of old Italian field blends and Zinfandel, and that it was the perfect location to begin his endeavor with Iberian varietals. The Terra Alta Vineyard in Clements Hills was the first property they purchased, wherethey imported Spanish budwood to firmly root Bokisch as the go to resource for these plantings.  In 1999, they planted Las Cerezas Vineyard, which is the motherblock, planted to Tempranillo, Albarino, and Graciano – classic Spanish grapes.  Two years later, the first vintage of Bokisch Vineyards wine was released. Today, Bokisch grows over 2500 acres under vine, and works with wineries all over California in addition to producing their own wine.  With a careful consideration for the environment and sustainability, they are making a mark on how viticulture can be beneficial for the land as well as the economy. I first tasted Bokisch wine shortly after that initial release, when I was part of the now (sadly) defunct Wine Q wine service.  I knew immediately, even though my palate was still developing in those early years of my wine career, that I would love what was to come. Here we are, 8 years later, and I am lucky enough to taste the current releases of Bokisch frequently through a variety of tastings.  On this day, we enjoyed two different Albarinios – the first being from the Terra Alta Vineyard, where the tasting room is located, and the second from Las Cerezas, that motherblock planted in 1999.  While they were both welcome refreshers on this warm day, the Las Cerezas edged out the Terra Alta, with intensely tropical notes, and juicy fruit with lime zest and firm minerality on the finish. Next, the Garnacha Blanca – a personal passion of mine – was a clear expression of how terroir impacts the finished product.  The medium body was full of fresh stone fruit, oranges, and pungent green herbs.  The creamy finish is perfect for cheese, hearty fish dishes, and just plain summer sipping.  Stylistically, Garnacha Blanca tends to be bolder than it’s cousin Grenache Blanc, and I appreciate the weight and texture. The last of the whites, the age old question of Verdelho vs. Verdejo.  Often confused as the same grape, Verdelho has roots in Portugal and is used widely in Madeira.   In contrast, Verdejo is a Spanish white grape, which has been traced back to North Africa, and is now widely […]

Oh Lord, stuck in Lodi again

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   Just about a year ago I set out on the road Seekin’ my fame and fortune Lookin’ for a pot of gold Thing got bad and things got worse I guess you know the tune Oh Lord, stuck in Lodi again Credence Clearwater Revival made the song, and the town, famous in 1969.  At the time, the small town of Lodi was a bit of backwater, located somewhere between Stockton and Sacramento, and was a thriving farming community. Fast forward 50 years, and it is still a thriving farming community, but today, most of the agricultural pursuits center around wine.  In the 70s and 80s, and to some extent today, large production facilitates that focused on both bulk wine and zinfandel made the wine of the region famous.  Lodi is still the self-proclaimed capital of Zinfandel, and over 40% of premium Zin from California is produced here. In addition to a strong heritage of Zinfandel, Lodi has also been home to many other varietals. With the 4th and 5th generation wine families, you can find Iberian, Rhone, Austrian and German grape varietals all thriving. This year, the annual Wine Bloggers Conference is headed to Lodi in August.  Ahead of the storm, I was invited by the Lodi Wine Commission to a whirlwind tour of Lodi – focusing on “anything but zin” – my specific request to showcase the lesser known grapes that thrive in this region. A short 90 minute (just don’t leave at rush hour!) drive from the Bay Area, Lodi is a hidden goldmine of delicious and living history.  One such vineyard is Mokelumne Glen Vineyard, which specializes in German and Austrian varietals. With strong ties to Germany, the Koth family has over 40 varietals of both obscure and more common grapes planted here, in a hidden spot where the river dips and a natural “glen” is formed. Originally planted to Zinfandel vines, as so much of Lodi was, Bob Koth (right) had a natural curiosity about viticulture and started researching what other grapes would do well there.  Today, that has culminated in the German Collection Vineyard, an experimental block next to their house, where 35 of the 41 varietals are planted.  With just a row or two of most, it is a true experimental vineyard.  If you’re lucky enough to get a bit of this fruit, it is true gold. After touring the property, we went in to town and sat down for lunch at Pietro’s, where we tasted some lovely wines from Bob’s fruit. Sidebar Kerner – This aromatic white is a cross between Trollinger and Riesling, and is common in Germany, but unsual outside oft hat region.  This was a nice refreshing white, with a medium body and delicious saline and mineral finish, with rich apricot notes. Markus Wine Co Nativo white blend – The Markus Wine Company is a coop between winemaker Markus Niggli and Borra vineyards, where Swiss born Niggli can play a bit with styles and structure.  The Nativo is a fresh and fun […]

From California to Alsace!

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Spring has sprung, at least temporarily, in Northern California.  The trees are blooming, the mustard blankets the resting vineyards, and our gratefully recieve El Nino rains have made the hills green with life. Every year, the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association shows off one of it’s two claims to fame:  Alsatian varietals.  These beautiful, nuanced, elegant, varied aromtaic white wines are a cetnerpirce of teh AVAs culture, and production. Next weekend, the 2016 International Alsace Varietals Festival kicks off with educational seminars and grand tastings.  While many events are sold out (because I am late on the ball), there are still tickets available to many.  Even if you cannot make it this year, make a point of visiting Anderson Valley anytime, to taste the splendor of these delicious whites. The Festival schedule is as follows: Grand Tasting (Sold Out) – Saturday, Feb 20th 1-4pm Taste Alsace style white wines from around the world with delicious bites to match.   Participating wineries include (my faves are in bold): Balo Vineyards, Barra of Mendocino, Bink Wines, Brooks, Cartograph, Claiborne & Churchill, Copain Wines, Discover the East, Dry River Wines, Dutton-Goldfield Winery, Elke Vineyards, FEL Wines, Foris Vineyards, Goldeneye, Graziano Family Wines, Greenwood Ridge Vineyards, Handley Cellars, Husch Vineyards, Lazy Creek, Long Meadow Ranch, Lula Cellars, Maidenstoen, Maritime Wines, Navarro Vineyards, New Zealand Winegrowers,  Panthea Winery & Vineyard, Pacific Rim Wines, Phillips Hill Winery, Philo Ridge Vineyards, REIN Winery, Robert Sinskey Vineyards, Domaines Schlumberger, Stirm, Stony Hill Vineyard, Tatomer, Thomas Fogarty, and Toulouse Vineyards.   Winemaker Dinner at Scharffenberger Cellars – Feb 20, 6:30pm Dine with one of 6 winemakers in the private dining room at Scharffenberger Cellars to learn why these aromatic whites are the darlings of the wine world. Participating wineries include Scharffenberger Cellars, REIN Winery, Maidenstoen Wines, Philo Ridge Vineyards, Stirm Wine Company and Husch Vineyards.   Educational Session – Feb 20th, 8:30am (sold out) Learn, engage, and interact with winemakers from around the globe as they discuss winemaking and grape growing specifically for Alsace varietals.   This year’s deep dive is all about Riesling.  Riesling  is the world’s seventh most-planted white wine grape variety and among the fastest growing over the past twenty years. It is a personal favorite of many sommeliers, chefs, and other food and wine professionals for its appealing aromatics, finesse, and minerality; for its uncanny ability to reflect terroir; and for its impressive versatility with cuisines of all types. This discussion and panel tasting will look at the present state of dry Riesling on the west coast: where it is grown and made, what models and objectives vintners have in mind, and what parameters of grape growing and winemaking are essential when the goal is a delicious dry wine. Panelists: Chris Williams – Brooks Winery, Oregon Nicolas Quille – Pacific Rim, Washington Graham Tatomer – Tatomer Wines, Central Coast, CA Alex Crangle –  Balo Vineyards, Anderson Valley, CA 10:00am    Food and Wine Pairing  Speaker:    Francois de Melogue, Chef and Author This session will explore pairing a selection of Alsace Varietals with food. Francois will serve delectable samples to showcase […]

Goosecross Cellars: Transformation of a classic

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Goosecross Winery is one that has along history in Napa Valley, beginning in the 1970s as grape growers and evolving in the 1980s as winemakers. Today, a new Goosecross has emerged, carrying on the tradition in a modern style.  In 2013, the winery was purchased by Christi Coors Ficeli, who, ironically, comes from a beer family.  (Yes, that Coors.) On a particularly magical fall day, I was invited to experience the new face of the winery.  Driven to making wines with a sense of place and style, the current winemaker, Bill Nancarrow, honed his skills at both Paraduxx and Duckhorn before spreading his wings.  From a Duck to a Goose, Nancarrow specializes in Bordeaux style wines, with a smattering of other offerings. The evolution of the style of wine at Goosecross was a slow one.  It’s history is long, and before the change in ownership, it was a bit of an odd duck, with a rustic barn, hidden treasures, and decaying reputation. Trying to avoid a revolution, but rather encourage evolution, much of the original equipment (and the juice contained in it) was transitioned to Ficeli in 2013.  Even with a slow change, some things have been revolutionary; the best example is the use of concrete eggs to make Riesling. Being creative with the concrete and stainless steel, Nancarrow has created something unique, and unlikely to be found outside of these four walls.  We were fortunate enough to taste two versions of this wine in tank, as well as the not quite final blend.  From 46 year old Riesling vines, which are completely dry farmed, and fermented with native yeast, a concrete egg and a stainless steel version were crafted as base components for the the finished wine.  I can’t wait to try it in bottle! As we sat down to lunch, we were greeted by the 2013 Chardonnay.  With no malolactic fermentation, this is a rare treat.  Procured from the Curato Vineyard in Carneros, this floral and citrus driven wine had touches of apricots and honey. The lack of battonage played nicely against the 40% French Oak, to add caramel and texture.   Next the 2011 State Lane Merlot, which is Estate Grown.  Even in a difficult year, this Merlot is everything I love about the varietal, and none of the sad, woody, bitter Merlot that made me run from it so many years ago.  Gorgeous rich banking spices, cracked peppercorn, and a hint of cigar box match the lean body with blue and black berries, plums, and leather.  The cooler influence of the vintage kept this wine lively, and only 30% French Oak barrels kept the wood from being too pronounced.   Lastly, (not entirely, but lastly with lunch) the 2011 State Lane Cabernet Sauvignon.  With an enticing chili pepper spice note, the full aroma encompassed my senses with wood smoke, blackberry, and ripe red currents.  The hint of mineral on the finish was a clean refreshing sensation in a very enjoyable wine.   Finally, as we enjoyed the newly built deck […]

Cuvaison – a hidden treasure in Carneros

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    Just off of Highway 121, in Carneros’ rolling hills, Cuvaison sits, hidden away from traffic on top of a hill.  Here, the team at Cuvaison uses green methods and old farming techniques to produce world class wines for over 30 years. The first time I visited Cuvaison was in the early 2000s, and I had always enjoyed the experience.  Things have changed a bit, and on my return at the 2009 Wine Bloggers Conference, we learned how sustainable practices were being employed and new techniques were being developed to have a minimal impact on the nature around them. Today, the vineyards are certified sustainable, and they are dedicated to a philosophy of producing vineyard-driven wines, that express the unique terroir of Carneros. With the cooling influence of the fog blowing off of San Pablo Bay, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are right at home here.  Selecting fruit block by block, and vinified these separately, winemaker Steven Rogstad can maintain the vineyard’s terroir, and express the uniqueness of this region. On this visit, we explored the newest addition to the tasting room hospitality:  the Wine & Cheese Experience.  This experience explores three classic Cuvaison wines, each paired with cheeses specifically selected for their own terroir, set to match the wines. First, the whole cluster fermented 2012 Estate Chardonnay was paired with Redwood Hill Farm Bucharet.  The wine, which underwent partial malolactic fermentation, had rich lemon curd and vanilla notes, bright citrus and a flinty undertone.  Paired with the goat’s milk Bucheret, which ripens from tthe outside in, it was a gorgeous creamy wonder! Next, the 2013 Estate Pinot Noir.  Carneros is known for it’s Pinot Noir, and there is a distinct terroir in this wine.  With hibiscus, bright red fruit, fresh cherries, baking spices and an herbaceous finish, this wine did not disappoint.  A hint of green peppercorn and cured meats played off of the Matos Cheese Factory St. George, a personal favorite.  This savory, nearly cream cheese like wonder also went very well with the Chardonnay. Finally, the 2012 Brandlin Mouunt Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon, which was paired with Vella Cheese Comapny’s Dry Jack.  The pungency of the Dry Jack was perfect with the rich plum notes of the Cab, which was a rich cup of coffee, full of cocoa, black berries and dried spices. If you are in the region, the Wine & Cheese Experience is by reservation, and is $35.  That’ sa pretty great deal considering that many tastings alone can run that much in the Napa valley.  With a total case production of just under 50,000 cases, this mid size winery is still a hidden gem, just slightly off the beaten path.  With two estates and 20 wines to choose from, it’s an expereicne not to be missed!