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, […]

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 […]

Spell Estate – Diversity in Pinot Noir

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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 […]

K is for Knez

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When 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!    

Horizontal Tasting: Mariah Vineyards Pinot Noir from Cartograph and Waits Mast

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I love it when a plan comes together!  One of my favorite things about wine, is tasting the expression of the winemaker in the bottle.  Every touch, every decision, every nuance in his or her mind ends up in your glass.  Pinot Noir particularly responds to a gentle hand, and there is no better way to taste that than by tasting wine crafted by two winemakers, with fruit from the same vineyard. In this case, I am lucky enough to know two fabulous wine makers who are using Pinot Noir fruit from Mendocino County’s Mariah Vineyard.  As a long time fan of the delicacy and brightness of Pinots from Mendocino County, I fell in love with these two wines at first sip – but each on it’s own merits.  Now, having the opportunity to taste them side by side, I can key in on the specific attributes of each wine that make my taste buds smile. The Mariah Vineyard is located in the extreme reaches of Mendocino, and is part of the Mendocino Ridge AVA.  This is one of the most fascinating AVAs for wine, as it’s a non-contiguous region that is specifically drafted from “Islands in the Sky” – all vineyards that fit in the Mendocino Ridge AVA must be above 1,200 feet in elevation, and exist entirely within the coastal zone of Mendocino County.  The vineyards in this magical plane are blanketed in a thick layer of morning fog, helping maintain the zingy acids, and sit in small patches of usable space on the ridgeline that is often covered in heavy Douglass Fir forest.  Here in the Islands in the Sky, some of the state’s best Pinot Noir is grown. First, the 2012 Cartograph Mariah Vineyard Pinot Noir ($48). Rich strawberry and cherry mingle with wild mint and wood smoke.  Fresh cream is present, with a slight cola note on the background.  Bright cranberry acidity plays with an herbal finish of forest floor and pine needles, with Bing cherries threading through the entire palate.  The finish is coated in ground baking spices, reminding me of a gingerbread house and Thanksgiving’s cranberry sauce. In contrast, the 2012 Waits Mast Cellars Mariah VIneyards Pinot Noir ($42) is slightly wilder, with more black cherry and bramble berry pie.  The cedar woods are more pronounced, and the mint is hiding in the background.  A slightly richer wine, brown sugar dances on my palate.  The Waits Mast is Little Red Riding Hood, meandering the forest, darting in and out of black raspberry bushes, hinting at black cherry and voluptuous bramble berries, while enjoying a softer, more velvety mouth feel.  The finish is dusted with a pleasant pinch of white pepper. The primary difference in these wines comes from the clonal selection of the specific blocks in the vineyard.   While the Cartograph block uses clone 115 and 777, the Waits Mast is block is 667 and Pommard.  Pommard is known to be a richer style Pinot Noir, with dark fruit and depth of flavor, while the 777 has that eartly, forest floor […]

Hopping up to Hopland

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It’s that time of year again!  The Easter Bunny is coming, hams will be baked and wines will be opened.  After the celebrations of food, wine, and family, why not spend a weekend away from the hustle and bustle in Mendocino’s hopping wine town of Hopland. On Saturday and Sunday, May 3-4, 17 wineries in Hopland will open their doors to celebrate spring.  Hopland, about 90 minutes north of San Francisco, is the gateway to Mendocino County and offers both the atmosphere of a small town, but the fun and elegance of any wine destination. From 11am to 5pm, these wineries will have their best wines open for tasting, including library wines, as well as live music, food pairings, and other fun things.  Even better, a shuttle service will take you from one end of of Hopland to the other, so you don’t have to worry about driving! Some of my favorite stops on the list for this event are: Campovida, with a stunning Rose that always sells out.  The Rhone style wines, located in the old Fetzer property are simply stunning.  Don’t miss this stop! McFadden Vienyard, right in town, has budget friendly yet stunning wines from Pinot Gris and Riesling to Zinfandel.  Don’t miss the bubbly here!  Saracina, a beautiful property north of town with fantastic Sauvignon Blanc Seebass Family WInes, a new kid on the Passport trail, with delicious syrah And more! Tickets are $45 including the free shuttle service, and designated drivers are always free.  Collect all the stamps in your passport and enter to win a passport for next year! Thank you to Destination Hopland for letting me attend, and saving me some yummy wines for Sunday! Google  

Masut Estate Pinot Noir – those Fetzer boys strike again!

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Jake and Ben Fetzer have a big name to live up to.  Third generation wine royalty, they grew up as members of the Mendocino powerhouse Fetzer family.  Now, they are making their own name with some great Mendocino pinot noir. The winery is located in the tranquil hills of Mendocino, in a barn that their father, Bobby Fetzer, build from recycled redwood.  Now, this barn serves as a rustic backdrop full of family memories, for their winery. Clinging to winemaking’s past, Masut makes small production pinot noir with all the benefits of the modern world.  Hand punch downs and the use of a fair bit of native yeast give the wines a different flavor profile than one might expect. Founded in 2009, the property was planted in 1997 by Jake, Ben and Bobby and has 23 acres in 13 blocks, of 777,115, and 113 clones.  With the cool coastal weather Masút Vineyard and Winery produces estate Pinot Noir from grapes grown on a hillside vineyard in Mendocino County’s coastal mountains. Brothers Ben and Jake Fetzer are the owners, growers and winemakers. The 2011 Estate Pinot Noir is a blend of all 13 blocks.  2011 was another cool growing season for pinot noir, something that I love, because I think it produces a clearer, crisper, acid laced product.  Hand sorted and destemmed, the Estate spent 11  months sleeping in 35% new French oak.  One of the signatures of Masut, the wine sat sur lie for an extended time, and was bottled unfined and filtered.  A gorgeous deep ruby, the nose is jumping out of the glass with sour cherry and spice.  Rich, but full of bright red fruit, there is an underlying note of root beer and forest floor, covered with green peppercorn and baking spice.  A baby, this wine has huge potential and I can’t wait to taste it again in 6 months.  Well balanced and integrated. I will admit, I was not the biggest fan of the first two vintages – The 2009 was full of oak (at 55% new French I am not surprised) that totally killed the fruit.  The 2010 was more integrated but just wasn’t…there yet.  I am going to go wine spelunking to see if I can find the vertical, to see how they are developing! Block 1 – is dense, bold, and full of dark cherries.  Touches of rhubarb and cherry pie filling round out this workhorse.  All clone 115, red fruit and aromatic floral delight. Block 7 – The Block 7 bright, with zesty cranberry and bright red fruit.  I love this wine!  The 115 adds complexity and acid to the bold cherry notes, and hints of root beer and white pepper are showing through, and even though it’s aged in 100% new oak, it’s well integrated and I don’t find it overpowering (which is surprising given my adversity to oak).  While you can sense the heavy oak on the nose, the palate is full of spice and orange pekoe tea.  This will only get better. The Block 11 […]

Hopping along

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Ah the lazy days of summer seem long gone this week, as the cold weather settles in.  Warm hazy days made room for crisp, clear winter days.  Somehow, fall managed to escape us this year.  On one of those last balmy weekends, I headed up to Hopland to do a little winetasting.  Hopland is about 1 1/2 hours north of San Francisco, past Healdsburg and over the next set of hills in to Mendocino County. There are about a dozen wineries in the town of Hopland itself, with many more just outside the tiny town limits.  Having a main street that is 90% wine tasting rooms has its benefits!  Park the car once, and stroll down the street experiencing the local wine. I started my weekend off at Rack & Riddle, a custom crush sparkling wine house, that also produces its own label sparkling and still wines.  I skipped right to the sparkling table, and enjoyed three different sparkling wines.  I really like what they do here, and I wasn’t spitting ANY of these wines!  If you get the chance, stop by and say hi.  It’s worth it! Next up, I headed in to town and started off at Cesar Toxqui Cellars.  It was a bit hard to taste big reds on a day that was over 80, but my favorites here were definitely the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir (because I’m a pinot freak) and the Heirloom.  Heirloom is a luscious blend that is primarily Bordeaux varietals, with a dash of Hopland zin thrown in.  You’ll see a theme about that zin soon, as I start to explore the Coro series of wines. Across the street from Toxqui, there are 6 tasting rooms in a row.  Rough!  First, McFadden Vineyards where my fellow blogger and tasting room mad scientist John was holding court.  The mastermind behind the blogger tour of Hopland, John introduced me to Hopland’s crown jewels, the whites.  Pouring two Rieslings, the current release, which was fresh and full of stone fruit, it was the antithesis of the library selection 2006 Riesling which was all petrol and spice.  This is a classic Riesling, and an exceptional wine.  For a little fun, McFadden also produces a sparkling, which is a great way to have a picnic on the porch! Right next to McFadden are McNab Ridge Winery and Weibel Family Vineyards.  I didn’t get to pop in there on Saturday because the crowd was a bit…crazy, but I will tell you that at dinner, the McNab Ridge Coro stole my heart. What is this Coro I keep talking about you ask?  Coro Mendocinio is a wine project that incorporates the best of Mendocino County wine, with a distinct voice by each winery.  In Italian, Coro means chorus, and these wines reflect the collaborative sprit of Mendocino winemakers.  Each participating winery has their own version, and I was fortunate to be in Hopland the weekend when most of the current vintages were open. Coro Mendocino is made exclusively from Mendocino Country fruit, and must adhere to a particular standard.  Since […]

All day, all night it's…

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Mary Ann, Marsanne!  Down by the seaside with a drink in her hand…all the little wine bloggers love Mary Ann! Here in the Bay Area, we’re experiencing an odd sort of Summer in Winter.  The Giants won the series, and it was 76 in San Francisco on November 2nd.  This summer weather has be drinking more white wines again, so I thought it would be a great time to finsih this post from earlier this year. Marsanne is one of my favorite white wines these days.  While I do occasionally like a Chardonnay, it has be a particular style, so I tend to lean towards alternative white wines, or more steely, less oaked Chardonnay (think some delicious Pouilly-Fuissé).  Marsanne is one of the 22 Rhône grapes, and is most often blended with another beauty – Rousanne.  It’s increasing popularity in the U.S. makes me smile! This great example comes from one of my favorite small wineries in northern Calfiornia, Olson Ogden, who make limited production wines that really suit my style.  I am a particular fan of the syrah, though I am almost through the case I had squirreled away last year. This Marsanne tasted of marzipan, lemon, grapefruit and orange pith – you know, that slight bitterness from the white part (though not in a bad way).  I also found loads of pear, and creamy stone fruit complimented with a nicely balanced acidity and a touch of honeysuckle on the nose.  The 17 months in stainless steel and 28% new French oak give it a nice touch of oak without overpowering it.  It’s creamy and rich but not an oak monster. It’s a bit pricy for an everyday white at $35, but this is a MUST BUY if you like whites and wantt o venture out of the Chard / Sav Blanc superhighway.  But don’t just take MY word for it!  My friends at NectarWine, WinePost and NorCal wine also enjoyed this wine immensely.  Give it a try, and for those winter lovers, this wine goes amazingly well with all things butternut as well as a nicely herb rubbed roasted chicken. Happy drinking! THis wine was graciously provided by Olson Ogden.  Probably because I keep gusying about thier syrah.  BUt who cares!  IT’s good!