From California to Alsace!

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 the effect of foods on the wines to be tasted.
11:00am    Grand Cru Grapes, Globally interpreted
Speaker:    Evan Goldstein, MS
Taking the cue from Alsace, Evan presents a look at the four noble grapes (Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, and Muscat) with different unexpected duets per grape variety. A tasting panel will explore two different unexpected geographical interpretations of each along with the audience.

 

Grand Tasting – Feb 20th 1pm (sold out)
Meet the winemakers and taste Alsace style white wines from around the world. Enjoy foods perfectly suited for aromatic whites including prawns, pork belly, duck, handmade pizzas, assorted artisanal cheeses, and more – all included in your ticket price.

Participating wineries include (my favorites 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.

 

Open Houses – Feb 21st 11am  (no tickets required, come on up!)Meander through beautiful Anderson Valley tasting the bounty of Alsace varietals at participating wineries.  Each winery wil feature special wines as well as food pairings to tantalize your taste buds!

Participating wineries:

Balo Vineyards, Bink Wines, Elke Vineyards, Goldeneye, Greenwood Ridge, Handley Cellars, Husch Vineyards, Lazy Creek Vineyards, Lichen Estate, Lula Cellars, Navarro Vineyards, Phillips Hill Winery, Philo Ridge, Signal Ridge, Toulouse Vineyards.

I’m looking forward to some new favorites, old favorites, and delicious wines! I look forward to sharing my experience in the next few weeks.  Happy sipping!

Spell Estate – Diversity in Pinot Noir

Wandering the aisles of the annual Pinot Days in San Francisco is a combination of old friends, new discoveries, and random skee ball shooting.  This year, there was a new venue, new wineries, and new tastes abounding, of which a few really stood out.

I fully admit that I stopped by the Spell Estate table, simple for the reason that I had never tried them.  When approaching events of this size, I often target those “new to me” folks, of which I am unfamiliar.  I was happy that I had the opportunity to do so, because Spell Estate really is a special find that I have on my “must buy” list for Pinot Noir now.  After chatting with winemaker Andrew Berge, I knew that I was excited to taste the full line up.  Thanks to
General Manager Allisun Groat, I was able to taste the large variety that Spell Estate offers and here are some of my notes.

Founded in 2006, Spell Estate was inspired by Bill & Tiki Spell’s love of Pinot Noir.  Committed to delivering the best expression of Pinot Noir possible, they focus on the vineyards to create world class Pinot Noir.

Engaging winemaker Andrew Berge, who grew up in Europe and is deeply indoctrinated with the wine & food lifestyle, was a smart move for the Spells.  With a depth of experience in winemaking, Andrew is passionate about his wines.  With Spell, as well as his other label La Poutchine , Andrew can extract the expression of each microclimate and terroir as detailed as small patch of vineyard on a steep slope. With each winery comes a unique style, both created and ever evolving by Andrew Berge.

 2013 Alder Springs Pinot Noir – Located just 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean, the fruit comes from three blocks planted between 1700 and 1900 feet.  The volcanic soils here lend themselves to the earthyly old world character of this wine, will tea leaves, dried herbs, and leather, with a bright garget color.  With the earthy underlying notes, the bright red berry and cherry notes are calling attention to this age worthy example of Mendocino Pinot.
2013 Weir Vineyards – Yorkvile Highlands Pinot Noir – just southeast of Anderson Valley, Yorkville Highlands is the gateway to Pinot country.  The Weir Vineyard is planted between 850 and 1000 feet, with the cooling influences of the coastal fog, giving this wine a brilliant cherry base with macerated strawberries.  A hint of graphite and smoked meat round out the finish.  With just 43% new oak, the wine is balanced and calm with the remaining 50% one year or older.

2014 Umino Vineyard Pinot Noir – a classically bold Pinot, with strong cherry flavors and a rich and sultry mouthfeel.  With the vineyard located in the far western reaches of Sebastapol, in western Sonoma County, the foggy influence moderates the hot summer days creating beautiful acid and structure.

2011 Marimar Estate Pinot Noir – from a vineyard on the true Sonoma Coast, in Freestone, this luxurious wine is bursting with tangerine and bright berry, while the forest floor mingles with honeycomb and graham crackers in the deeper layers.  Delicious for those of us who enjoy acid.

The flagship of Spell Estates Pinot Noir lineup is the 2013 Terra de Promissio.  Just east of Petaluma, the maritime influence in the Petaluma Gap helps to maintain cooler temperatures and slows ripening.  Planted in 2002 to 777 and 115, the Terra de Promissio has a plethora of flavors, from strawberry and raspberry paired with tart cranberry, to classic cherry.  The spicy notes of star anise and cinnamon flow through the edge of toasty oak and coffee, with a finish of dark chocolate.  A truly memorable Pinot to hold on to as long as you can resist!

All wines are $48, except the Terra de Promissio, which is $58.

Make sure you stop by and taste these wines when the opportunity strikes!  Tastings can be arranged by special appointment.

Stay tuned for more on Andrew Berge’s other project, La Poutchine!

K is for Knez

Knez WineryWhen I was first introduced to Knez Winery, I knew they would be something special.  It was no special occasion, or anything memoriable, it was just a bottle of fantastic pinot noir on the table one night at dinner.  Sometimes, it’s the little things.

I re-introduced to the label at a weekly tasting event at Arlequin Wine Merchant, where I had the chance to talk with the winemaker while I tasted the ones.  Once again, I loved not just the Pinot Noir, but the Chardonnay as well.

Fast forward to earlier this Spring, when I was meandering through Anderson Valley with my friend, we were working our way back south after a delightful day at Roederer, I stopped by The Madrones in Philo, a small collection of tasting rooms.  Here, I was able to taste through the then current releases of the Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir, as well as a historical look back at two other vintages.

Knez focuses on hand crafted, single vineyard wines influenced by the extreme climate of Anderson Valley, and the combination of marine influences, damn, cold, fog, and the soils of the area.  With particular attention paid in the vineyard, winemaker Anthony Filiberti practices a more hands off winemaking approach, preferring to do as little intervention as possible.  This old world philosophy encourages a sense of place to be developed in the wine, carrying the terroir over from vineyard to bottle.

The Cerise Vineyard, where the Knez Pinot Noir is born, was planted in 1995 to ten clones.  This mixture of clones, in 15 blocks, allows for careful selection and characteristics to be hand picked for each wine.

2009 Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir

A brilliant cranberry color with a mountain strawberry nose, and bold, bright red fruit.  Strong acids with piquant notes of cranberry melt in to lightly scented vanilla flowers.  As the palate opens, Bing cherry, ripe raspberries and rose petals appear.  The mid palate reveals crushed minerals, cedar, and cardamon, cinnamon and anise, with a hint of violets.

2010 Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir

Dark and brooding, with a kiss of brown sugar, the 2010 is a deep garnet color with forest floor aromas and earthy, cedar notes.  A touch of mint and wild berries blend with black cherry, deep raspberry and bergamot while dried lavender and white pepper dot the finish.

Currently the 2013 is $34 in the tasting room.  As these are library wines, I am unable to provide current pricing.  Please contact the winery for more details.

If you find yourself in Philo, be sure to stop in an taste the terroir at Knez!

 

 

From Blogger to wine maker – Thralls scores a home run

Thralls Family Wine - Luscious LushesIt’s enough to make a make for TV movie, or at least – a great article in the Sunday food section.  You know the story, small town boy, goes to the big city to live a dream and makes it big.

In this case, this is the story of a little blogger who could.  When I first met Ed Thralls, he was part of the first handfull of bloggers that were a group, around wine country, figuring out what this social media thing was all about.  Ed was also one of the finalists for the now infamous Murphy-Goode lifestyle (which is another story – for another blogger – who also makes wine.  But more on that later).

Interning at Holdredge Wine (who, as it happens, is someone I have known for over 10 years, and also makes world class Pinot Noir) as cellar rat, Ed sucked up as much knowledge about winemaking as he could.  Realizing that he couldn’t possibly leave this wonderful world of delicious Pinot Noir and juice, he made the leap and moved to wine country full time.  While working a full time job in the wine business, he tested, crafted, experimented, and made wine.  Thus, the Thralls Family Wine label was born.

These days, Ed has created a line of four distinct, terroir driven Pinot Noirs from around Sonoma and Mendocino counties.  Each wine expresses a different piece of personality that makes Pinot Noir such an amazing wine.

Thralls Wine

Ed Thralls – Photo by Thea Dwelle

First up, the so called entry level 2012 Russian River Pinot Noir.  This juicy, balanced, and bold example is everything I love about Russian River Valley.  Not overblown like so many Russian River Pinots can be these days, the bright cherry, cranberry adn red fruit sing out with bold flavor and juicy fruit.  Using 1/3 new French oak gives this wine those beautiful hints of baking spice, without overwhelming it.  This is a fantastic everyday drinker for $32.

Next, moving in to a single vineyard showcase, the 2012 Bucher Vineyard Pinot Noir is one of my favorites.   With a deeper cherry flavor base, Bucher shows more black cherry, dark raspberry, and forest floor than the brighter Russian River.  The nuances of cedar and white pepper on the finish leave you guessing for more after the first sip.  This is a wine that gets better with time, so try it over a couple of days, and see what develops!  $40

Moving further west, the 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir takes a step away from the bolder 667 and 777 clones of the Russian River bottlings.  Bringing in some bright 115 and 114 froim the cool, foggy Sonoma Coast, this Pinot Noir has alpine strawberries, cranberry, bergamot smokiness and amazing acid.  This wine goes native, using all wild yeast with 10% whole cluster fermentation to give it a bit of a wild thing note.  Yum!  $36

Finally, for the Pinot Noir geeks in the group, the 2012 Roma’s Vineyard Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley is one for the ages.  100% Pommard clone goes in to this unfined and unfiltered gem, which looks a bit like cloudy cherry Kool-Aid but tastes like a dream.  Roma’s Vineyard sits at about 1800 feet in elevation, high above the valley floor, which creates a sunbelt in a cool climate.  This beauty is popping with mushroom, pine needles, bright cherry cider and rhubarb pie.  It’s bright and has brilliant acidity, and will pop with any mushroom dish or creamy cheese.  $42  (Editor’s Note:  Another fabulous Roma’s Pinot, make in an entirely different style, can be found in Cartograph’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir.)

The 2012’s are Thralls’ third time out of the gate, with the 2008 Syrah being his first attempt at going it on his own.  Beginning with the 2011 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Ed fed a passion for pinot, and intends on continuing this tradition of small lot, hand crafted premium pinot noirs while also sourcing chardonnay for his next release.

I can’t wait to see what comes next for the Navy Brat from Atlanta, who came to  Sonoma County to pursue a dream!

Hats off to you Wine Tonight, and cheers!

 

Sparkling Stars on a budget

It’s that time of the month again!  Time for Wine Blogging Wednesday, when a particular theme is used to inspire bloggers to post on a single subject all over the blogging world.

This month, in honor of Valentine’s Day (hurl), Tim Elliot of WineCast asks us to think about sparkling wines on a budget.  In this case, budget means anything under US$25.  Well I can do that!  There are literally dozens of sparkling wines from all over the world that match this price point.  I am spoiled living here int he Bay Area, as I have access to many local wineries – at least 10 sparkling houses among them, as well as excellent retail locations that offer wines of all types and cost levels.

Sparkling wine is used to celebrate all around the world.  Sparkling wine is known for toasting at weddings, or romantic dinners.  Well, I’m having none of it I tell you!  Sparkling wine is for every day!  It’s for potato chips and picnics.  Why save something so delightful for a few times a year?  With a few budget selections, you can make it an everyday wine.

I have been hard at work … um…researching this for you.  What did I discover?  There are so many to choose from, it’s difficult to walk down the wine isle at the grocery store and not find an excellent wine under US$25.  For my picks, I am going to go for three

specific wines:

 

1.  A house “genertic” from Trader Joes.  TJ’s has realy upped the game from Two Buck Chuck.  Trader Joe’s North Coast NV Sparkling Wine.  For $10, you really can’t go wrong.  TJ’s has been consistantly improving thier house labels over the years; this wine is no exception.  It was very well balanced, and had a roundness of body that I particularly enjoy.  Lots of pear, Asian pear, and apple flaors, with a touch of brioche.  This north coast fruit is 60% Chard, 40% Pinot Noir, from somewhere in the vast North Coast catch all AVA.  It’s hard to tell where it’s really from,but given the cooler growing climate up there, it’s prime for bubby.

This will make a frequent appearance at my house!

2.  A favorite of mine, is the Roederer Estate NV.  Typically under $20, and often much lower (like at Safeway, when it’s on sale for $16.99) this is an outstanding example of a domestic sparkler, and one I never get tired of.  Roederer Estate, located in the cooler climate of Anderson Valley, is the US arm of the French house Louis Roederer.   Surprisingly, the NV is a low alcohol wine, so yes, at 12% ABV by all means!  Drink more!  I love the bright green apple, pear, and creamy flavors in this wine.  Bight with citrus, it tastes like it cost a lot more than it does.

For a splurge, try the L’hermitage!

3.  A surprise guest appearance of a NEw Zealand sparkling wine, Quartz Reef Method Traditionalle NV, from Central Otago.  Quartz Reef is known as “The House of Pinot Noir”, and this bubbly kicked off our #nzwineday celebration wonderfully.  A slightly fuller bodied bubbly, there was wonderful stone fruit and lemon curd.  At $22 (JJ Buckley) this is another one to seek out if you can find it locally.  I haven’t had much sparkling wine from New Zealand and was really pleased with this.  I plan to harass my friends at JJ Buckley to ensure I can get some of this!

Other honorable mentions:

  • Mumm – the value tier of wine is generally ~$15 at retail and there are several good picks.
  • Gruett – an oddball hailing from New Mexico, actually offers a great Rose and Brut.
  • Gloria Ferrer – The Brut and Carneros Cuvee are personal faves, and are best enjoyed from tehir terrace in Carneros!

Happy Sparking Wine Blogging Wednesday!  And remember, bubbles are for every day, a celebration, a consolation, or just because.  Why hide them away when they are so affordable?

There were many more wines that I tried, and some of them are still in my fridge.  Never fear, I will post about them all, just over time as I continue my…research!  I have tasted sparklers from South Africa, Burgundy, and Spain and I vow to continue my quest as long as my champagne stopper keeps working!

Happy drinking!