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!

Goosecross Cellars: Transformation of a classic

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.)

Goosecross Napa Valley

Thoughtfully paired lunch!

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 Goosecross estate vineyardto 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.

 

Goosecross Cabernet FrancFinally, as we enjoyed the newly built deck behind the tasting room, we were able to enjoy the 2012 Cabernet Franc.  One of my favorite varietals, I am always excited to try a new one.  This did not disappoint!  Rose petals, raspberries, and white pepper floated out of the glass, while dark cherries, dried lavender, and chocolate coated my mouth with a burst of happiness.

 

Goosecross Napa Valley is located in Yountville, about 10 minutes north of Napa.  Hidden away on a side road just off of Yountville Crossroad, you might miss it, but this is a destination worth seeking.  Open from 10-4:30 daily, it’s a well worth a detour.
A special thank you to everyone at Goosecross for a wonderful experience, and to Lisa Klink-Shea from Creative Marketing for hosting!

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.download (3)

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 Cheesedownload (2) 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.

download (8)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!

 

 

She’s Back! Hospice du Rhone returns home

Sixteen years ago, Hospice du Rhône

was founded with a dedicated goal to education and celebrate Rhone varietals from around the world.  With 22 varieties, one gorgeous region of France, and many countries producing quality Rhône style wines, what’s not to love about a celebration of this magnitude?

After twenty years in Paso Robles, HdR migrated east to Blackberry Farm, to share the love of the grape with more Rhone lovers.  This year, however, I am ecstatic to celebrate the return of this event to California’s Paso Robles wine country.

The weekend of April 14-16, 2016, Hospice du Rhône makes a return appearance with star studded events at the Paso Robles event center.  The highlight of the weekend, for me, is the education seminar series, which dives deep in to different topics impacting producers.

This year, these seminars include a discussion of the Intricacies of Châteauneuf du Pape.   With so much diversity in a small area of southern France, I am truly excited to learn more.  Additional seminars are being developed but they are sure to be outstanding.

Throw in the always epic Rose Lunch and Grand Tasting, and that alone is worth the price of entry.  But have you ever been to a Rhône Cowboy BBQ?  Yeehaw!  Who says Rhone wines are for the dusty shelves of a wine cellar?  Come celebrate the diversity the 22 grapes have to offer.  From affordable pinks, to fun blends, to collectors loves, the Rhône are grown all over the world and produce amazingly unique, diverse and delicious wines.

Event passes for Hospice du Rhône are on sale now, and start at $100 for single events.

More details are to come, so stay tuned!

Countdown to 2016: Ferrari Trento

Next up, we celebrate Sunday, and the arrival of my dear friend from another continent, by traveling to Italy in our glass.

While many people know about Proscecco, and perhaps the magic of Franciacorta, Lombardy’s sparkling wine, Ferrarri Trento has been making sparkling wines in the Italian Alps since 1902.

At ony $25, the Brut, which is 100% Chardonnay, is a steal, and will leave your guests wondering – “Is it Champagne, or is it Ferrari!”  Unlike Prosecco, which is typically fermented in bulk, Ferrari bottle ferments (just like Champagne), and is aged for at least 24 months.

Delicate and lively, with bright citrus and apple notes, enveloping the bouquet of white flowers.  Slight hints of freshly baked bread, this is a wonderful way to end the evening, or just get it started, Ferrari Trento is one of the best values in sparkling wine outside of France.

This is the base level for Ferrari, but if you want to explore more, try this European Winery of the Year’s delicious reserve wines.  Still affordable luxury, and oh so delicious.

Thank you to my friends at Gregory White PR for this scrumptious way to ring in the New Year!

 

 

It’s closer than you think: Livermore Valley Wines


Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we live amongst several world class growing regions.  You probably have heard of Napa Valley, and maybe even Dry Creek Valley, but have you heard of Livermore Valley?

With over 130 years of vinious history, Livermore is a secret worth sharing.  The first families in the Livermore Valley are still some of the most well known – Concannon and Wente.  Arriving in 1883, they pioneered grape growing in the region, and set the stage for what would become a hotbed of innovation and trailblazing.  Today, there are over 50 wineries in Livermore, each making their stamp in the valley.

Recently, Livermore came to the city, when several wineries hosted a trade tasting and seminar.  Being able to listen to a third generation Wente, and hear the history of Concannon Vineyards from John Concannon is a treat worth traveling for, but luckily I didn’t have to.

While Wente has expanded beyond the sprawling vineyard visitors center to launch Wente’s Winemaker Studio, where you can play winemaker and blend your own wine, take classes, and hone your aroma skills.  But, while the grandfathers still stand tall, there are also smaller wineries that are making their mark in Livermore.

One of these is Page Mill Winery, which was previously located in Woodside, has been making wine since 1976.  Continuing the production of quality wines in Livermore, Dane Stark continues this tradition using grapes primarily harvested from Livermore Valley.  Today, Page Mill focuses on Livermore Valley fruit, and makes excellent Cab Franc and Syrah.

Another personal favorite is Steven Kent Winery.  As I’ve reviewed before, Steven Kent balances tradition and trailblazing, while making Bordeaux style blends, highlighting how Livermore can produce world class wines.

Vasco Urbano Wine Company sees the terroir for Rhone style wines in Livermore, and they do so beautifully.  Their mission is clear, to produce excellent Rhone style wines that express the Livermore Valley.  Using innovative farming practices and renegade winemaking techniques, the resulting Syrah, Grenache, and rosé are beautiful.

 

With over 50 wineries in Livermore, there is something for everyone.  Just over an hour from San Francisco, and easily accessible by public transit, it’s a must visit for any wine lover!

 

Pierson Meyer — from a mountain grows pinot

wine bottle labelPeirson Meyer Wines were born from a friendship that was formed in early 2001, when Lesley Warner-Peirson, her husband Alan Peirson, and Robbie & Shannon Meyer met at Peter Michael Winery.  With a shared passion, their first wine, the L’Angevin Russian River Chardonnay, was produced in 2001.

Today, Peirson Meyer crafts small lot wines sourced from Sonoma and Napa, and made to reflect the land.

Starting with the 2014 Rosé of Pinot Noir, with only 50 cases (2 barrels) produced, winemaker Robbie Meyer really enjoys the use of native yeast.  In this wine, Pinot Noir clones 777 and 828 from two Sonoma County vineyards create this pale pink princess with rose petals, ripe peaches and berry coulis.  An elegant and restrained rosé that deserves to be the centerpiece of a summer day.  $32

While Peirson Meyer is known for Pinot Noir, the 2013 Ritchie Sauvignon Blanc comes from a cooler site where the grapes ripen more slowly.  Using the native yeast and a gente pressing of whole clusters, this wine is aged in neutral oak.  Bursting with tropical melon and juicy pears, the minerality shines through with a chalky, floral finish. $30

In contrast, the 2013 Ryan’s Sauvignon Blanc comes from a much warmer site in Napa Valley’s Oak Knoll district, and produces a bolder, more tropical style of wine.  Native yeast fermentation reveals dense apricots and honey, with slight banana notes.  $30

One of the highlights of our tasting experience was the ability to taste three chardonnays side by side.  Doing so allows us to really see the differences each site makes, as well as the nuances of wine making such as barrel selection or yeast selection.

First, the 2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay.  Aged in 45% new French Oak, and fermented with native yeast (are you starting to see the pattern here?), it is a blend of three vineyards.  Robbie allows malolactic to complete naturally, and uses the native yeast to his advantage, creating a natural, and rich wine.  Viscous and replete with baked apples and nutmeg.  $38

The 2012 Sophia’s Chardonnay comes from a site in the Russian River formerly known as the Sullivan Vineyard.  With 40 year old vines located near Graton, in the west of Sonoma County, this wine is nutty and cirrus driven, with preserved lemons, caramel, vanilla and fresh cream.  $44

The 2012 Heinz Vineyard Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast appellation is physically near the Sullivan Vineyard, yet worlds apart.  Restrained and clean, with Asian pears and graphite.  This wine is clean and focused.  $55

Finally ,we were treated to a trio of Pinot Noirs, each one unique, but with some wonderful similarities.

2012 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir is classic Russian River, with dark forest floor, cola, and cherry notes.  Holiday baking spices dance on the tongue in this rich Pinot Noir.  $44
In the small town of Graton, the Miller Vineyard turns Russian River on it’s head by offering a lighter style of Pinot Noir.  The 2012 Miller Vineyard Pinot Noir has bursting black cherry, root beer, and raspberry flavors with cracked pink peppercorn aromas.  The savory aspect of this wine with mushrooms and cedar flavors give it an enchanting profile that is sure to please.  $50
In contrast, the 2012 Bateman Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir comes from the Sonoma Coast region north of Miller Vineyard, and gives this wine brighter acid, and a more masculine, defined structure.  Savory, earthy funk in all the best ways, the Bateman wafts bergamot and tangerine, with a hint of tomato leaf from it’s cool hillside foggy lair.  This elegant wine is an instant classic.  $60
Pierson Myer also producers a lovely Merlot and and Cab Sav, but for these purposes, I’d stick to the Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs.  These are perfect for your holiday table, and gift giving!
Thank you to the good folks at Peirson Meyer for hosting us in their gorgeous vineyard house, high on top of Howell Mountain, as well as Relish Communications and Michelle Yoshinaka.  Make a point of seeking out these wines for your table, you won’t be sorry!

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!

 

 

WBC15: Historic Seneca Lake Part 2

On the second day of our pre-conference excursion around Seneca Lake, the summer day greeted us in Geneva with a sparkling view, and I wandered down to check out Opus Coffee, owned by local chef Heather Tompkins (who prepared dinner the previous evening).

Thank goodness for caffeine!  After an evening at Microclimate, a unique wine bar featuring wines from around the world as well as the Finger Lakes, coffee was much needed on the warm summer morning.

Before heading back to Corning to kick off the official conference, the second day of our Seneca Lake excursion would bring us to Anthony Road Wine Company, as well as one of the first ladies of the Finger Lakes, Fox Run Vineyards.

Anthony Road Wine Company was started in 1990 by Ann & John Martini, renovating an old farm shop and cobbling together a production winery from borrowed, used, and otherwise improvised equipment.

I particularly enjoyed the rosé (of Cabernet Franc, a dry, tannic rosé (that was perfect on this hot day), as we learned about the history of Anthony Road, and the experimental vineyards they are using to determine what varietals to plant next.  The rosé was replete with tart cherries, under ripe strawberries, Tuscan melon and dried herbs.  Refreshing!

Our last stop on the pre-conference excursion was Fox Run Vineyards.  If Dr. Frank is the President, Fox Run is the First Lady of Finger Lakes wine.  Situated on what was once the lakeshore, in a region called Torrey Ridge, Fox Run overlooks the deepest part of Seneca Lake.  Here, the microclimate is slightly different, as the deep waters offer more substantial cooling effects.

For over 100 years, Fox Run was a working dairy, and the first grapes were planted in 1984 in the old dairy.  Focusing on sustainable practices, this family owned vineyard now is looking toward the future with a stunning wine & cheese program.

 

The Food & Wine Experience at Fox Run features a pairing lunch in the barrel room, with selection of local cheeses, charcuterie, greens and fresh baked bread.  A flight of specially selected wines is paired with each bite, created to bring out the best in each wine.  Our group was treated to a special Riesling tasting afterwards, with 4 unique wines:  Riesling 11 – Hanging Delta Vineyard, Riesling 12 – Hanging Delta Vineyard, and Riesling 11 and 12 from Lake Dana Vineyard.  Essentially, each of these wines comes from a different block in their vineyards, but the winemaking goes beyond that with twists and tweaks for each vintage.  This experience alone was worth the stop at this Grand Dame of the Lake.

The Seneca Lake experience was magical, and full of history.  With a wide variety of wines and experiences, I look forward to going back and experiencing more!

In fact, in part 3 of my Lake Seneca tour, our Magical Mystery Bus (Friday Excursions at WBC) took us back to Lake Seneca a third time, with all new stops and experiences.  But you’ll have to stay tuned for that!

 

 

 

 

Montefalco Sagrantino: Umbria’s Secret Sultry Sipper

Landlocked Umbria has long been thought of as Tuscany’s little sister, a hidden treasure housing such jewels as Orvieto’s cathedral, and ancient Etruscan ruins.  Having spent several days here on my (only) trip to Italy several  years ago, I feel in love with the unique culture that Umbria’s landscape provides, with a distinct culture of wine, food, and people.  One thing I did not experience however, until now, is the sultry allure of the local red wine:  Sagrantino.

 While this small province in central Italy is dwarfed in wine production by Tuscany, Umbria offers a unique wine culture.  While Tuscany prides itself on wines based on the Sangiovese grape, Umbria in general, and Montefalco and it’s environs in particular, focus on the indigenous Sagrantino grape.  Sangrantino is purely Umbrian, ancient, smoky, sultry, tannic, and entirely unique.  With only 250 acres planted, the hill towns of this area are the geographical center of the Umbrian Valley, and you can see the hill of Montefalco from nearly anywhere.  This is one of the few locations where wine was made inside the city walls, and there is still evidence of that to this day.

Here in the heart of Umbria, the Montefalco production area is tiny, approximately 250 acres of rolling hillsides, and only 25 or so producers.  While it’s origins are still unclear, it is clear that it has been cultivated in Umbria since at least the Middle Ages.  Here in Italy, where the laws are strict, the yield must not be over 8,000kg per hectare, and the vilification must be done within the specific towns in the production area.  Since this area is so small, that doesn’t lead to a large production.  These rules can be tricky to adhere to, but the results are pure magic, and wines that can be aged for as long, if not longer than Sangiovese due to the high tannin and strong fruit characters.

After enduring a quiet period in history, where winemaking was largely forgotten, Sagrantino di Montefalco finally claimed DOC status in 1979, and was promoted to DOCG in the early 90s, piquing the interest of Italians and the export market alike.  Now, I am excited to explore two wines of the region, after having my appetite whet by Nello Olivio Wines in El Dorado County earlier this year.

Sagrantino grapes

The DOCG Montefalco Sagrantino must be 100% Sagrantino, and the specific yield limits make it a challenge to grow and produce.  In the 2010 Perticaia Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG, they have achieved this with balance and elegance.  Azienda Agraria Perticaia prides itself on maintaining the traditions of the past, and is careful to be a thoughtful steward of the land and the ancient grapes.

Today, Perticaia holds over 7 hectares of Sagrantino, which makes them one of the largest single growers in the area.  Because the Montefalco DOCG must be 100% Sagrantino, this is a labor of love.  Grapes are hand harvested, and fermented with native yeast, after a long maceration (3 weeks).  Aging continues for at least 30 months, as per the DOCG rules, and in the case of the Perticaia, small French oak barrels for 12 months, followed by 12 months in stainless steel, and 12 months in bottle for a total of 36 months prior to release.  The intensely floral aromas have strong tannins that are made more silky by the additional bottle aging, and can age for at least another 10 years.  Rich plum notes and smoky leather work well with hard cheese and rich meat dishes, and the spice box has been opened for this beautiful wine.

2011 Colpetrone Rosso di Montefalco DOC – In contrast to the 100% Sagrantino in the Montefalco Sagrantino, the Rosso di Montefalco is required to have at least 60% of Sangiovese, as well at least 10% Sagrantino.  Colpetrone, one of the most important wine producers in the Montefalcto DOCG, also hopes to maintain history, and showcase the power and finesse of the Sagrantino grape.

The Colpetrone Rosso di Montefalco is a blend of Sangiovese (at least 60%), Sagrantion (at least 10%) and Merlot, which rounds out the edges with a softness.  This was fermented in stainless steel and then aged in stainless steel (60%) as well as French Oak tonneaux and barriques (40%), and blended before bottle aging for four months.  Brilliant notes of anise, cracked black pepper and chocolate shine through dark berries and hard spices.  The rich black fig flavors make this a natural pairing for hard cheeses as well as blue cheese, and the medium tannins work well with sausages, and red meat.  This is a more casual wine, but still holds the essence of the Sagrantino grape and tipicity.  The Rosso is a wine that can be enjoyed ina more causal environment, but is well poised for aging for another five years.

While difficult to find, these wines are a true taste of Umbria, and are great with hearty pasta dishes, meats, and convivial meetings in the piazza.  While I haven’t’ visited this particular area of Italy (yet), I hope to explore more of this unique grape and taste the flavors that it can offer.

 

Special thanks to the Consorzio Montefalco for providing these two examples of Umbria’s signature grape, a Rosso (blend) and Sagrantino (stand alone).

Focus on Finger Lakes: Cabernet Franc Five Ways

IMG_9070It’s no secret that the Finger Lakes region of New York has long been known for it’s Riesling and aromatic white wines.  Often compared to wine growing regions along Germany’s Rhine river, the region has been making wine well over 100 years.  Initially famous for sparking wines the 1860s, the Finger Lakes won numerous international awards, spawing a boom in vineyards.  In fact, by the turn of the century, there were some 25,000 acres planted to vine.

Unfortunately, like much of the United States at the time, phyloxerra devastated the area in the early 20th century, leading to a gradual decline in the industry.  In 1951, Dr. Konstantin Frank emigrated to the region to work at Cornell University, which ran the Geneva Experiment Station.  Here, Frank and his team experimented wit Vinifera varieties grafted to hearty rootstock.  In 1962, the modern wine industry was born, when Dr. Frank founded Vinifera Wine Cellars

Today, the Finger Lakes have moved beyond it’s initial roots in Riesling, and is now producing high quality, low alcohol red wines.  In this batch, I tasted five Cabernet Francs from the Finger Lakes, 4 from 2012 and one from 2013.  All of these wines vary from 12.5 to 13.9% ABV, which for the US is exceedingly low. This refreshing difference brings back the earthy, herbal, aromatic qualities of one of my favorite grapes.

2012 Damiani Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc – earthy and dusty on the nose, with muted plums and bramble berry.  Rich black berry and smoke on the palate, with blueberry, cedar and campfire completing the voluptuous sip.  Velvety but with bright red fruit and acidity, it’s a lovely, balanced wine.  $22

2013 Hector Wine Company Seneca Lake Cabernet Franc – This is the first vintage of Cabernet Franc for Hector Wine Company, and is is fermented with 100% native yeast, with no fining.  Dark black and blue fruit on the nose, slight floral notes, the palate is rich and elegant, with juicy loganberry, milk chocolate and coffee notes.  Bright acid and juicy red cranberry round out the finish.  $22 (sold out)

2012 McGregor  Vineyard Finger Lakes Reserve Cabernet Franc – earthy and brooding, with forest floor and cedar on first sniff.  A lighter more restrained style of Cabernet Franc that reminds me of a young Bordeaux, dried cherries, dried herbs, cedar chips, and smooth tannins show early on.  More earthy and subtle than the Hector Wine Company or Damiani, the finish lends itself to wintergreen on a cool winter morning.  $22

2012 Chateau Layfaette Reneau Cabernet Franc herbaceous sachets meandering out of the glass,  with dusty ripe fruit on the palate, and dark tea flavors.  Dark chocolate, dried plums, blackberries, and current sprinkled with cracked pepper give way to firm tannins which linger, but the overall impression is suave.  $19

2012 Lakewood Vineyards Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc – the brightest in the bunch, with garnet / ruby coloring, and a nose full of grass and green herbs.  Stewed fruit, campfire smoke and dutch cocoa finish it off.  $16

Overall, these are clear expressions of Cabernet Franc that are ripe for the drinking.  The price point (under $25) and the lower alcohol are refreshing, and while they might be “hipster” today, they are the classic model from Europe, and old school wine-making in other parts of the New World.  Over time, they open up to reveal more personality, a deeply earthy core, and a sparkle of fruit on top.  I look forward to enjoying these over the next few days!  My personal favorites were the Hector Wine Company and the Damiani Wine Cellars, but I’d love to know what you think!

I am very much looking forward to visiting some of these wineries sand more while in the Finger Lakes in August for the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference! Special thanks to the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance and the wineries for providing these samples for review.

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

Cartograph & Waits Mast Mariah PinotI 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 and herbal character that I found in the Cartograph.  The 667 in the Waits Mast brings out that dark cherry and plush tannin.   Another key difference is the use of commercial yeast (Cartograph) vs native yeast (Waits Mast).  Does yeast make a huge impact?  Sometimes.  Ocassionally.  Maybe.  These subtle but clear differences can showcase the stylistic features that each winemaker wants,  while still representing the fruit in a clear and present way.

In the end, these wines are so similar, that the primary different is so subtle, it can be hard to pick up.  Stylistically, they are on the same page; flavor wise, there are ever so subtle differences, that make them both sisters, and yet, unique.  So, vivre le difference!  Now, go forth and make your own vertical.  See what is different, and what is the same.  You won’t be sorry!

 

Clif Family Bruschetteria – A Revolution in Napa Valley dining options!

There’s a big green truck rolling in to town, and it’s not the kind that picks up your trash cans!  If you haent’ heard by now, Clif Family Winery has expanded their St. Helena operation to include the Clif Family Bruschetteria Food Truck, replete with northern Italian menu options that are magically created to pair with the wines.

Clif Family Wines began with a spark of inspirtaion, when founders Gary Erickson & Kit Crawford, both avid cyclists, enjoyed the laid back lifestyle where a leisurely meal and bottle of wine were always on the agenda after a full day.  It stands to reason that the health-minded founders of the Clif Bar Company would also want to complete their lifestyle portfolio with wine.  After a long bike ride, with some tasty energy booting Clif Bars, who doesn’t need a glass of yummy wine?

 

And so, here we are in St. Helena, at the Vino Volo tasting room and salon, where the winery tasting room has expanded to include a beautiful outdoor seating area and the Bruschetteria, offering bites, snacks, and full meals.  Keeping things local, Executive Chef John McConnell takes advantage of the Clif Family Farm in nearby Pope Valley, as well as various other local suppliers, to maintain the freshest of flavors.

 

On the day we visited, BrixChick Liza and I were greeting by General Manager Linzi Gay, who joined Clif Family in 2007.  With a curated menu of options that were paired wtih the day’s food options, we were off on a culinary adventure, while enjoying the peaceful setting on the back patio.

 


Evernote Snapshot 20150508 124726Porchetta Bruschetta paired with 2012 Oak Knoll Chardonnay
.  The juicy porchetta was perfectly rich for the Chardonnay, which was aged in 50% new French Oak for a delicate creaminess while still maintaining the fruit.  I loved the fresh, clean citrus notes that were followed by a mineral, flinty finish which paired perfectly with the fattiness of the pork.

 

 


Evernote Snapshot 20150508 124726 (1)Pomodoro Bruschetta paired with 2011 Kit’s Killer Cabernet – c
oming from the slopes of Howell Mountain, Kit’s Killer Cab is bursting her green herbs, as well as bright red fruit and, chewy fig, and tobacco leaf.  This combination of a higher acid wine was perfect for the tomato based Pomodoro Bruschetta, which was oozing with garlic and goat cheese.

Evernote Snapshot 20150508 124727Finally, the Funghi Bruscetta with 2011 Gary’s Improv Zinfandel.  As someone who has kind of a thing for mushrooms, the aromas wafted over to my nose even before they served it, and I couldn’t wait to dive in.  Seasonal mushrooms are slathered with Fontina cheese and fresh herbs, and perfectly toasted.  The Gary’s Improv Zinfandel, also from Howell Mountain, is a lovely example of high elevation fruit that shows both the brambleberry, dark blue and black fruit notes that are the hallmark of Zinfandel, but also the spice rack and acid pop that are classic Howell Mountain.  The earthy hard spices were a perfect match for the funghi!

With only 4,000 cases produced, winemaker Laura Barrett, who just joined in  2014 after a stint at Casey Flat Ranch, is able to focus on specific fruit sources that are both Estate and sourced fruit.  Picking just the right vineyard, she is able to craft small lot wines of distinction, and serve them with the perfect companion bites.

The Bruchetteria has been open since 2014, and is normally parked outside the Clif Family Vino Velo tasting room on Highway 29 in St. Helena; but don’t’ be surprised if you see the big green truck roaming the valley!  The food truck is open Tuesday-Sunday, 11:30-4:00, and is a perfect stop for lunch or a mid afternoon snack anytime you are in Napa Valley.  Dishes range from snack sized salads and bruscetta, to larger lunch portioned roticceria dishes, and are perfect for sharing.

Evernote Snapshot 20150508 124358

Stop by and stay a while!
Special thanks to Clif Family and The Barn Group for hosting us for this perfect lunch hour escape.

Tilenus – Excellence in the lost art of Mencia

From one end of Spain to the other, the #OleWinos continuing adventures took us across the country – by trains, planes, and automobiles.  OK, there were no planes, but at times the high speed train from Alicante to Madrid certainly felt like one!

A two hour blur later, we piled in the rented van and took off for Bierzo, a small DO located in the northwest region of León.  Located in a lush, green, and hilly area of the north, there are many small valleys and wide, flat plains that are perfect for cultivating Mencia, the area’s grape.

Making our homebase the university town of Ponferrada, the castle loomed large over the walled old town where our hotel was.  With a viticultural history dating back to Roman times, the phylloxera plague nearly wiped out the industry in the 19th century.  With modern advanced in vine grafting, the vineyard economy slowly recovered, and producing grew to be a significant influence on the region’s economy.  In 1989, the DO was created.

With the heavy quartz and slate soils, vineyards are planted on moist, rich soil.  Here in Bierzo, only a handful of grape varietals are allowed:

  • Mencia, Alicante Bouschet, and a few experimental grapes for red
  • Godello, Palomino and Dona Blanca (and a few more experimental grapes) for white.
  • With these “experimental” varietals only allowed in Crianza (young) wines, the Riserva and Grand Riserva wines must only contain the classic varietals to carry the DO lable.

On this trip, we were exploring MG Wines‘ property Bodegas Estefania, which was founded in 1999.  Keeping in line with MG Wines mission of sustainalbe, unique, and local wines, “Tilenus”, as Estefania is commonly known as, meets and exceeds those expectations.

Bierzo

James the Wine Guy and the Dallas WIne Chick clowning around!

 

IMG_8944Bodegas Estefanía, much like the other MG Wines Group properties, prides itself of being sustainable, modern, and true to the native habitat of the region.  While they focus primarily on the indigenous Mencia group, they also make a Godella (white).  Our host, winemaker Carlos Garcia, led us on a bit of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride – as we explored the rugged countryside where the vineyard are located.  On this particular day, it was drizzly and cold, so we scrapped our plans to explore the hilltop plot, and instead explored the oldest vineyard.

Here, in what was formerly the land of bulk wine and large coop wineries, Bodegas Esefania was founded in 1999, it was influential as the start of the Bierzo revolution.  Once an old creamery, it was acquired by bin 2014.  It’s primary brand, and what most people refer to the winery as, Tilenus, pays tribute to the Roman era of Bierzo; today, this history is on the wine labels, with the image ofa Roman coin, signifying the period of history when the Roman’s mined the area for gold.

The red earth undulated like a fault line, revealing many microclimates of peaks and valleys.  In these vineyards, 80% of the fruit is grown, with the additional 20% sourced from small, local vineyards.  Tilenus carefully maintains separate vinification of each vineyard, and each of the five Mencia based wines comes from a different area.  This gives each wine a distinct sense of terroir, and no two are exactly the same.

Keeping in the theme of MG Wines holdings, Tilenus uses the best tools available to them; in this case, the careful use of native yeast increasing the character of the Mencia based wines, and brings out the true local flavor of this little-known grape.  With the minimal use of oak so as to not overpower the delicate wines, the true expression can shine through beautifully.

IMG_8940

 

The wines of Tilenus reveal the nuances of the mineral driven Mencia grape; each one bringing out another layer of excellence and unique flavors.  Mencia is one of the most tannic wines in the world, and mastering the balance of structure is something that is difficult.  Tilenus seems to have done that just fine.

2014 Vendimia – at only $14, this entry level wine is a bit rough, but shows violets and forest floor, with limestone, plums, and bay leaves.  A great introduction to Mencia.
2008 La Florida s- dense rose petals and floral notes, hard spices and smoke masking purple fruit, dried plums, tobacco, and holiday spices.  $20
2006 Pagos de Posada – this top of the line example comes from small berries in a vineyard that has a lot of wind, keeping them dry.  Full of coffee, dark chocolate, and ripe purple fruit, with a dusting of peppercorn and mint.  Very elegant and balanced, with silky tannins.  $50
2007 Piesa – Hailing from the oldest parcel of land, it is an inky dark color with black fruit, chewy dried figs, and chocolate.  From a vineyard at 1800 feet, and only 1000 bottles produced, the dried sage and white pepper compliment the dense, dark fruit.

This whirldwind tour of Spain exposes us to some of the lesser known areas and varietals that should be better explored for anyone that loves wine.  MG Wines Group represents the best of these up and coming regions, with an emphasis on terroir, history, modern technology, and sustainable winemaking.  Three cheers to MG Wines for an outstanding portfolio, and experience!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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