Bodegas Lavia – true expression of Monastrell

In the continuing saga of the Adventures of the #OleWinos, who are visiting the wineries of the luxury wine group MG Wines Group, we meandered around southern Spain to the DO of Bullas.  The Bullas DO is located in Murcia, and is known in particular for it’s young red and rose wines from the local Monastrell grape.

This time, we are headed to Bodegas Lavia, in the DO of Bullas.  This area has been producing wine since at least the 13th century, when he Christians invaded and pushed the Moors out.  The modern wine industry wasn’t developed, however, until the 1980s, when the bulk wine industry was supplanted by modern equipment and smaller winery investors.  In 1994, it officially became a Denominacian de Origin.With MG Wines’ focus on wineries that share a philosophy of coaxing the essence of Bodegas Lavia Bullasthe grape out, Lavia fits this culture perfectly with it’s dedication to the finer points of Syrah and Monastrell.

Bodegas Lavia was founded in 2003, when a a like minded group of wine lovers and winemakers became enamored of the possibility of creating a winery that produced wines from organically grown grapes, crafted in to wines with the maximum expression of the grape.  Here at Lavia, everything has a purpose and is done with great care and consideration – from the gravity flow winery, to the focus on Syrah and Monastrell, the wines are expressive and clear beacons of the Bullas DO.

Located in Venta del Pino, Bodegas Lavia is at approximately 800 meters above sea level.  With Monastrell vines averaging 40 years old or more, younger Syrah plantings are intermingled, giving Lavia it’s distinct flavor profile.  The use of native yeast further adds tot he overall terroir of the wines, and it’s slant towards lower tannin, elegant, and fresh Monastrell-Syrah based blends.  With 2,500 hectares planted to 80% Monasrell, a bit of Tempranillo, a bit of white, and the rest Syrah, the wines are an icon of the very small Bullas DO.

Bodegas Lavia Bullas

With his eye on a more Burgundian expression of the grape, winemaker Sebastien Boudon (who also makes the wines of Bodegas Sierra Salinas) strives to make fresh and elegant wines, in a different style from Sierra Salinas.  By using only 500 liter barrels instead of the standard 225 liters, oak is a very light hand and is primarily a storage vessel versus a flavoring component. Bodegas Lavia’s wines are all elegant and complex, and very different than Sierra Salinas even though the primary grape used in both houses is Monasrell.

 

2010 Lavia is 80% Monastrell, 20% Syrah.  The rocky soil produces fruit with thinner skins, helping to create a lighter colored wine with a more translucent color.  Flavors of rich red fruit, cherry and raspberry burst out of the glass, followed by floral notes, smoke and plum.  This fresh and light style of Monastrell show a bright acidity on the finish, with a touch of pink peppercorn.
2006 Lavia +this 100% Monastrell gem is a deep brick color, primarily due to the age, and was fermented 50% in wooden tanks, 50% in 500 liter neutral barrels.  The juicy red fruit, strawberries and cherries have kept it’s vibrancy, almost 10 years later.  It is a zesty and fresh wine that is still youthful and zippy.2012 Lavia + Finca Paso Malothis is the top of the line flagship is also 100% Monastrell, from a single vineyard and hand selected.  It is classic and lean, with bramble berries, wild blueberries, and campfire notes.  This special wine is only made int he best years, from a 50 year old vineyard with hard, clay soils.

 These two examples of bodegas that produce Monastrell are a spotlight on what MG Wines has at their heart – wines that express the local terroir, native varietals, and modern winemaking. Even thought they are less than 100 kilometers apart, Sierra Salinas and Lavia couldn’t be more different, unique, and expressive of the wines of this part of Spain.
Bodegas Lavia

The #olewinos

From Bullas, we traveled by train and car to get to the opposite tip of Spain, where, we explored Mencia and the charms of Bierzo with Telenus!

 

Bodegas Sierra Salinas – Discover the Magic of Monastrell!

Sierra SalinasBodegas Sierra Salinas was founded in the year 2000, by the longtime viticultural family Castano.  Here, old vineyards were revitalized, in this corner of southern Spain tucked between Alicante and Murcia.  Sierra Salinas is committed to making artistically expressive Monastrell, the classic, dark grape of this region that is bound to tradition and culture.  Castano however, is dedicated to mixing old with new, and has created a modern wonder of a winery, in this classic culture of winemaking.   In 2013, when MG Wines Group acquired the property, there were already far ahead of the game.

The vineyards of Sierra Salinas are located in the mountainout region of the same name, in the town of Villena, which is in the inland area of teh Alicante DO.  Here, with the diverse altitude that only mountain regions can bring, along with the dry, almost desert like landscape, there are a large number of microclimates playing with grape growing.  With it’s dusty lunar landscape, and high mesa and plateaus, one might think they had been transported to the Arizona desert.  In fact, this region is well known as an area where Spaghetti Westerns were filmed, with the Arizona like landscape, cold winters, and hot hot summers.  And yet, with the Meddeterrean so nearby, the climate can be Continental and Medeterranean, with a large diurinal swing helping to keep acids high and sguars in balance.

 

Sierra Salinas

 

soil at Sierra SalinasThe soils of the region are an interesting factor as well, with large, loose stones, Caliza, and soil strata at Sierra Salinaslimestone all impacting the terroir.  The 30-60 centimeters of loosly packed topsoil is high in iron content, giving it it’s distinct red color.

 

 

 

 

IMG_8760Winemaker Sebastien Boudon, French by birth and Spanish by passion, emigrated to the region because he saw new horizons in winemaking.  The state of the art winery features a gravity flow winery, to avoid unneccesary pumping, and small tanks for batch vinification to exact measures.

 With 70% of the property planted to Monastrell, Sierra Salinas specializes in this variety.  Another 20% if planted to the local Alicante Bouschet (known locally as Garnacha Tintorero).  This place is history ina  glass, with the oldest vines being 70 years old, and the newest babies only 15.  These ancient vines have rootsystems so deep, that they penetrate the limestone layer, some 15-20 feet thick!

 

Sierra Salinas specializes in organically grown wines that are treated with care; from hand harvesting, to custom fermentation tanks featuring adjustable, self sealing lids – everything is carefully thought out and designed.  The wines we tasted on this day clearly showed this passion for the region and for Monastrell, as they were each different expressions of the same, delicious grape with slight variations.

  Sierra Salinas
35 year old Monastrell, blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, and Garnacha Tintarero, with a hint of Syrah.
Dark purple, with strong spice notes sprinkled on top of dark cherry, ripe plum, blackberry, and tobacco.
Chewy and dense with blue fruit and cigar box.  Mo is an excellent choice for a BBQ, party, or just a good steak.  At ~$10, it’s a steal!
70% Monastrell, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Garnacha Tintarero, 5% Petite Verdot
This is a stronger, darker, sexier version of Monastrell, with a richer profile and denser fruit.  It’s inky and chewy, with chocolate covered blackberries, brown sugar, and a surprising kick of acid on the finish that Monastrell is so well known for, after feef jerky and black pepper tease your palate.   If you want to impress your friends at your next dinner party, pull this ~$15 beauty out with the main course instead of a Napa Cab!
60% Monastrell blended with Cabernet Sauvingon and Garnacha Tintarero
A chew plum with more weight than Mo or Puerto Salinas, it has a nutty note that makes it very well balanced and pleasant in the mouth.
The 1237 is the flagship blend of Sierra Salinas, so named for the vineyard that lies at 1237 meters above sea level.
45 Garnacha Tintarero, 33% Petite Verdot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Monastrell
This unique wine spends it’s fermentation in open barriques, adn is aged for 21 months in the same barrel.  Bursting with red fruit, Spanish strawberreis, and blood oranges, the finish has toffee, antise, menthol and eucalyptus.  This is truely a special bottle and while $95 is a splurge, this is worth it!

 

  
vineyards of Sierra Salinas
With most Sierra Salinas wines priced well below $20, these are worth finding.  The nuances that Monastrell can accomplish with a talented “Magician of Monastrell”, as Brix Chick Liza calls Sebastian are amazing.  Monastrell, Mataro, Mourvedre – what ever you call it, go out and find some today!
Currently, Sierra Salinas is seeking representation in the US, particularly on the WEst Coast.  If you are interested in carrying these amazing wines that are a screaing value, please contact MG Wines Group!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tastemakers: Italian Focus with a diverse history!

One of my favorite stops the last time I was in El Dorado was Miraflores, a sprawling hilltop winery with a beautiful terrace and expansive views.  On the day we next visited, it was raining, but that wouldn’t deter our delicious tasting of Italian focused winemakers here in El Dorado.  There is a long history of Italian immigrants in the area, largely due to the Gold Rush and enterprising folks who started restaurants, businesses and other ways of striking it rich supporting the miners, and maintaining cultural ties to the homeland.  Today, we tasted through some examples of modern day Italian winemakers:

MirafloresMiraflores is located on the Pleasant Valley Wine Trail, in the heart of El Dorado wine country.  Winemaker Marco Cappelli is both an artist, and a scientist, like any good winemaker, and focuses on creating wines of distinction that reflect the varying terroir of the region.  With 12 years of experience at Miraflores, Marco also has been a winemaker in Italy, France, and Australia – learning about terroir, wine styles, and the uniqueness of each region.

Mirafloras sits at 2700 feet, on granite based, well drained soils.  The 2012 Barbera is clone 4, which is lower in acid than other clones, which creates a richer, more mellow final wine.  Fermented in opt top vats, it aged 22 months in neutral oak to allow the fruit to show through.  Rich, and bold red fruit, with chewy and dense figs, leather and coffee give way to bright Bing cherry and a zippy finish.  A great example of what elevation can do!  $28

C.G. Di Arie VineyardC.G. Di Arie Vineyard and Winery was founded in 2000, when Chaim and Elisheva Gur-Arieh purchased the 209 acre property in the Shenandoah Valley.  With the rolling hills averaging about 1,700 feet, they knew that this area had the potential to create world class wines.  Today, they are able to produce up to 15,000 cases of wine, in the state of the art gravity flow facility that also houses an art gallery.  With 40 acres currently planted, they plan to put 30 more to vine by 2020.  Chaim strives to make wines that have balance and style.

The 2012 Primativo is a lighter style wine, mimicking the Zinfandel that so many immigrants to this region planted.  It’s spicy gingerbread flavors are uniquely different than the classic California Zinfandel from this region.  The bright acidity make this an excellent wine for burgers, BBQ, and general enjoyment.  $25

Nello-Olivo-175Nello Olivo is a character straight out of a Hollywood movie.  Larger than life, and full of verve, this second generation Italian-American has wine in his blood.  Born to a large brood in the Bay Area, Nello started a successful property development business in Los Angeles, where he raised his family before the real estate market crashed in the early 1980s.  Heading north to the Cameron Park area near Sacramento, which was near his beloved Lake Tahoe retirement dream, Nello and his family purchased 21 acres in 2000.  Here, he planted seven varietals, focusing on the historical Italian grapes that he is so connected to.  Initially selling most of his grapes to the newly founded El Dorado wine community, Nello kept a small amount for himself for some home winemaker experiments.  Eventually, he was enticed to begin his own winery, and in 2005, produced his first vintage of commercial wine.

Leaning on the skills of winemaker Marco Cappelli, Nello decided to set his sights on an obscure grape of his ancestral home in Umbria – Sagrantino de Montefalco.  This unique wine is representaitve of the family history, and is a an unusual varitety to be planted in California.  Fortunately, it took, and a successful venture was born.  Sagrantino is native to Umbria, and is only grown in the Monte Falco region.  It is considered the most tannic wine in Italy, and can be sharp and bitter while young, yet ages marvelously.  The 2012 Sagrantino is full of plum, berry, cherry and cloud berry flavors, followed by tangerine and milk chocolate.  While this was a young wine, I can see the aging potential and look forward to trying a glass in 5 years.  $79

Mastroserio WineryRuggero Mastroserio has degrees in engineering, geology and music, and also trained in enology in Italy.  Phew!  After crafting wines in the area for 10 years, Ruggero founded Mastroserio Winery in 2010.  The region of Fair Play is idea for producing varied, nuanced wines, sitting in a granite bowl high atop the El Dorado Hills.

The 2010 Barbera is a bowl of dark chocolate covered cherries, rich and opulent.  With dark berry, fig and plum character, it is soft and plush on the palate, with a touch of acidity at the end, as Barbera should have.  This soft cashmere sweater warms you with dried herbs and crushed black pepper, waking up the palate and piquing your curiosity.  $77

With so many wineries and varieties in El Dorodo, I hope you will take a road trip and discover them for yourselves!  Special thanks to the El Dorado Winery Association and Solterra Strategies for arranging a varied, and complex look at the region.  There are so many wineries to choose from, I look forward to more trips and more posts soon!

 

Tastemakers: Fresh is best at The Independent

The Independent – Restaurant and BarAfter a full day of learning about the history of the El Dorado County wine culture, we headed in to Placerville for a pairing dinner at The Independent.  While I had ducked in here for dinner the last time I was in town, I was happy to experience the pairings and enthusiastic locally fresh cuisine by Chef Ryan Montgomery.

Owned by Jeff & Judy Thomas, together with their son Ben Carter, who manages the facility, The Independent is their second venture in Placerville.  The now acclaimed Heyday Café in old town Placerville, where I enjoyed a delicious lunch, inspired them to open The Independent, with an expansive outdoor space and focusing on fresh, creative American fusion.

Here are some snaps of the meal!  Paired with the local wines, it was simply delightful.  While I refrained from detailed tasting notes during dinner, the thoughtful pairings and fresh flavors were delicious.

If you’re ever in Placerville, make a beeline for The Independant!

IMG_8632

Featured wines for the first two courses, as well as the not pictured Scallops:

Skinner Vineyards & Winery – 2012 Seven Generations ($26) – 52% Grenache Blanc, 21% Roussanne, 17% Marsanne, 9% Viognier, 2% Picpoul Blanc and 2012/2013 Mourvedre ($26)

A blend of 5 classic Rhone varietals, it was fresh and lively with the salad, and scallops.

 

 

IMG_8656Holly’s Hill –  2013 Grenache Blanc ($25), which was delectable with the salmon.  I am a huge fan of Grenache Blanc in general, and this was no except.  Flinty, floral and citrus notes combined with fresh pears.

 

 

 

 

IMG_8659

With this gut busting steak, the David Girard Vineyards – 2011 Coda Rouge – 46% Mourvedre, 36% Syrah, 15% Grenache, 3% Counoise ($30).

This bold red Rhone blend was perfect for the meat course, and really gives you a wonderful idea of what syrah can do in this hills.  The Coda Rouge blend is a prime example of the Rhone focus in El Dorado County, and the elegance that some elevation can give to classic blends.  Beautiful spice notes, plums, and a hint of graphite follow bold berry and hibiscus.

 

 

When you are in Placerville, or driving up to Tahoe, make sure you stop by and stay a while at The Independent.  You won’t be sorry!

 

 

 

Tastemakers: El Dorado’s Founding Families

IMG_8625In the late 1970s, a group of upstart winemakers and like minded wine lovers, left the confines of traditional winemaking geography, and headed up to the hills.  While winemaking was just coming in to the golden era in Napa Valley during this time period, a few renegades decided that it was time to head to someplace more wild, more unknown, more…diverse.

With a long history of agriculture, El Dorado wine business started with the Gold Rush, when immigrants sought land to plant thier native grapes.  When Prohibition came, acreage shrank from some 2,300 planted acres in 1900, and vineyards made way for pears and other tree fruit.  When the fruit industry suffered from a pest infestation int he late 1950s, UC Davis moved in and used the area for experimental vineyards.  The commercial wine industry was born out of this, and in the late 1970s, the founding fathers began a tradition that is still strong today.

  • Madroña Vineyards – in 1973, Dick & LEslie Bush fell in love with the beauty and surroundings of Placerville.  Taking a huge leap of faith, as tehre were no other commerical vineyards and wineries to lean on or learn from, the Bush’s planted thier vineyard, which was – at the time – the highest in California.

With the vineyard becoming a family project, the Bush’s involved thier children and their parents, while Dick’s engineering background helped layout the vineyard and build thier future home.  Today, the winery has evolved to include Paul & Maggie Bush, who make the wines and manage the vineyards, as well as Maggie’s role managing the winery operations.  Additionally, David & Sheila Bush purchased some nearby land, the Sumu-Kaw parcel.

At Madrona, wine is the family business.  There is a careful focus on artisianal winemaking, sustainable care of the land, and family.  At the winery in Camino, the elevation is perfect for growing the wide variety of grapes that make the Rhône and Bordeaux focused wines.  At 3,000 feet, there are three vineyards that make up the family business.  Madrona, Enye, and Sumu-Kaw.  Each site is unique and has distinct terroir, and with over 26 varietals planted, what might seems as “anything goes” at first, is actually carefully selected for it’s blending potential and sum of the parts.

Tasting the wines, I was particularly enthralled by the amazing Cabernet Franc. Paul Bush has a particular passion for this grape, and it shines through in the glass.  His particular verve for balance and epxression of terroir is clean in the two different expressions of Cab Franc.  In fact, he made 4 variations of Cab Franc, each one with a specific tweak and unique element.  We were able to taste the very special Grain par Grain (berry by berry) version, and if you are a Cab Franc lover, get yet to Madrona Vineyards!

– 2011 Grain par Grain Cabernet Franc – whole berry maceration for 20 days in new French oak puncheons, hand turned and then punched down twice a day.  Aged for 20 months in 3 year old French oak, with just a hint of Cab Sav (1.4%) .  With only 24 cases made, this is a rare gem indeed.  Full of dark cherry, blackberry, and spiced fig notes.  This is a rich and elegant lady, with a velvet smoking jacket on.  Coffee in one hand, chocolate in the other.  $60

  • Sierra Vista is another one of the long standing wineries here in El Dorado County.  When the McCreadys settled here in 1972, they had an eye on the soil and topography as a perfect place to plant a vineyard.  When the first plantings in 1974, as I experineced on my Pleasant Valley adventures last year, there are some lovely wines, and view, from this property located on Red Rock Ridge at an elevation of half a mile.

Today, the winery farms 28 acres of mountain side vineyards, at 2,800 feet, on varying mountain terrair.  With low yields, and high intensity of flavor, the terroir is perfect for Rhoen varietals.  WIth the first syrah plantings in 1979, John’s eye was always on the Rhone varieties.  Using syrah grapes that are descended from Cote Rotie fruit, John found that El Dorado was very similar in geography adn terrain to many parts of the northern Rhone.   Today, they produce about 5,000 cases, focusing on those rhone varieis.

2013 Fleur de Montagne is a bright and fresh rose, with wild strawberries and watermelon flavors.  The clean finish is great for a picnic or summer lunch on the deck, and the $25 price will make your wallet smile

  • Boeger Winery sits on a site that was a homestead during the gold rush, and the original house, cellar and distillery that were build then, are still in use today.  The winery itself survived Prohibition by producing wine for the local church, but the vine didn’t fare as well.  As vineyards were replanted to fruit trees, the vines didn’t return until after the pear crop failed.  That is when the Boegers purchased the property, and turned it back to vineyards.  While a small amount of vines still remain from the 1800s, most were replanted in 1972 when the Boegers purchased the property.

With 40 acres of vineyards on two sites, the winery also manages and additional 50 acres under contact in El Dorado County.  With the steep, rocky hillsides, over 30 varietals are planted and thriving.

– 2014 Sauvignon Blanc is floral and delicate, with the additional of Semillion, Chardonnay, and Flora (a blend of Gewurztraminer and Semillion) in the blend.  The old vine Savignon Blanc gives a rich mouthfeel, which has a mild acidity and juicy finish.

  • Lava Cap Winery planted thier first vines in 1981, and the winery opened it’s doors in 1986.

Lava Cap Winery The Jones family, a family of geologist, specifical sleected this site for the volcanic soils that were perfect for vineyards.  With the focus on hand crafted wines and sustainable acriculture, Lava Cap has become one of the most well known examples of El Dorado wine today.

  • 2013 Chardonnay – as the largest production in Lava Caps lineup, this unique white wine is made of 4 clones.  With 70% barrel fermentation in French oak, the wine is started with native yeast and finished with an inoculation of commercial yeast.  Bursting with Meyer lemon, this is a nice example of a chardonnay that can be barrel aged but is not overly oaked.  It is refreshing, with a strong mineral finish.

Throughout this visit, we tasted more wines from these producers.  Next up, pairing some delicious wines with the innovative food of The Independant!

 

These are just a few of the wines and wineries visited in my exploration of El Dorado County.  A special thank you to Solterra Strategies and the El Dorado WINery Association for extending their lvoely hospitaltiy and opening doors to these unique wineries!

 

 

El Dorado: More than glitters

If you are from California, the first thing that pops in your mind when you say El Dorado County is probably the gold rush.  True, this is what placed a good many of the small towns on the map, but these days, there is precious little gold left in the rivers, creeks, and hillsides of El Dorado County.  Instead, agriculture is the new gold:  from apple orchards to vineyards, El Dorado COunty is booming with green gold; just over an hour from Sacramento, it is teetering on the edge of becoming a new kind of Napa.

Last month, I got to spend a long weekend exploring the wines of El Dorado county.  From exploring the founding fathers, to wine pairing dinners, there si so much to offer in this diverse region in the foothills of the Sierras.  With Tahoe a short drive away, and Sacramento nearby, it is a great place for a quick getaway or stop over during on a longer trip.

El Dorado might be mistaken as a zinfandel king.  Rather, it’s neighbor, Amador County, is more well known fo powerful zins that leap out of the glass with spice notes.  In El Dorado, almost anything goes.  One of the key features of the wineries if El Dorado is their ability to be El dorado CAflexible and experimental.  Most wineries make 5 or more varietals, and make them well.  Some go over the top and make over 20 unique wines, and yet – still manage to do them well.  That is a hard task for the best winemakers in the world!

Within El Dorado County, vineyards are planted between 1,200 and 3,500 feet, which gives it a unique distinction amongst California AVAs.  With a variety of soils dominated by volcanic magma and grantite.  Within the larger El Dorado AVA lies the smaller nested Fair Play AVA, and here in the land that so many dreams were made, and broken, during the Gold Rush, the possibilities are endless!

Join me as I explore the county, one wine at a time.  First up:  We experience the founding fathers of El Dorado wine, and how they broke new ground.

Thank you to the El Dorado Winery Association and Solterra Strategies for this wonderful experience!

On the Road to Spain!

It’s hard to believe, but in three short days, I will be on a plane, headed to Spain, where maybe it will rain.  I am excited to be returned to one of my favorite places to explore, and to reach out to new areas of wine production and geography.

On this adventure, I will exploring three wine producing regions in Spain, to experience some world class wines, hospitality, and food.

First up, Bullas, a DO in the wine region of Murcia, which is in the southeaster corner of Spain.  This southern gem kisses the Mediterranean sea, and the town itself is an ancient one with evidence of Roman occupation, including wine production dating from that time.  Now, it is known for it’s bold and powerful Monastrell (Mouvedre) based red wines.  In Bullas, we will visit Sierra Salinas, and Bodegas Lavina, soaking up the delicious Monastrell and jamon as as explore the sustainable agriculture and stewardshp of the region.

El BierzoAfter our southern adventure, it’s off to the norther DO of Bierzo, located in the northwest corner of Spain.  Here, we will experience Mencia, Alicante Bouchet, and a smattering of white wines at Tilenus Winery.  Here, it’s xpereincing the hearty chickpea stew of the northern part of Spain to keep us warm and ready to go.

A short but sweet whirlwind through Spain, and then i’m off to France on vacation for a week!  Wish me luck and delicious wine, and check for updates from the road.  There will be plenty of pictures of jamon Iberico as I plan to eat my weight in Pata Negra, as well as delicious tapas, and other delights.  France will include a trip to the Champagne region, where I will taste the stars in a glass, and gain a smile ear to ear.

¡Salud!

 

 

 

 

Please pass the Claret Carson!

If you’re a fan of the period piece Downtown Abbey as I am, you are no doubt experiencing withdrawal symptoms now that they are on hiatus for the rest of the year.  Yet, I am always enthralled at the ritual involved when the wine is selected by Carson and Lord Grantham, and the elaborate pouring rituals begin.

This ritual is, of course, part and parcel for the Bordeaux wine trade in years past.  British “Claret” increased in popularity in Britain when Eleanor of Aquitaine married in to the royal family, paving the way for Bordeaux exports.  At that time, most wine was from Graves, and was called “clariet”, which is why the name still sticks today.  Until relatively recently, the English would buy barrels of wine, import them across the channel, and bottle them themselves, translating the somewhat confusing French labeling system in to a more English friendly naming convention.

Today, we don’t have to go to such great lengths to get the delicious wines from the Bordeaux region.  We are able to purchase, and taste, wines of wide variety and price point; In fact, we don’t have to go through quite the elaborate decanting rituals that Carson the Butler does in Downton Abbey, in thanks to modern bottling techniques and cleaner process.

This month, as I study for my CSW, we are meandering through France.  I’ve already talked a bit about the Loire Valley region, but now we are delving in to serious, hard core, confusing, amazing, enthralling, Bordeaux.  Bordeaux is located roughly halfway down the western coast of France, where the Girdone river meets the Atlantic Ocean, and moves inland to the southeast where there Gironde and the Dordogne meet to form the Garrone River.

 

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

 

Bordeaux is a challenge for me, with over 30 distinct subregions, Left Bank, Right Bank, middle bank (Entre-deux-Mars) and the uniqueness that comes with each of these.  After tasting a beautiful array of Bordeaux a the Union des Grand Crus last month, I have come to discover that my heart lies on the Right Bank, with the silken elegance of the Merlot based wines, but there are several areas of the Cabernet driven Left Bank that call to me as well.  The myth of Bordeaux as an old man’s luxury has been dispelled, and today, it is an accessible option to even the most budget friendly wine drinker.

First, some 411 on the basics.  Yes, I know this is overly simplifying the details quite a bit, but going in to detail on the 37 distinct regions is just too overwhelming for most wine lovers, unless you are a Francophile.  For a long time, I didn’t like the tannic, seemingly thin, overly astringent flavors in the Bordeaux that I had experienced.  Fortunately, there is such a wide array of wine available, that there really is a wine for everyone, at every budget.

The primary regions of the Left Bank are Graves, Medoc, and Pauillac, and are Cabernet based blends.  The Right Bank includes my favorite Saint Emilion and Pomerol, which are Merlot based.  Smack dab in the middle of them both is the no man’s land of Entre Deux Mers, the No Man’s Land of Bordeaux.  Thanks to the good folks at Planet Bordeaux, I have some great examples to share with you.

2005 Barons de Rothschild Reserve Special – Pauillac – A Left Bank powerhouse (this beauty was hiding in my cellar.  At the time of purchase, it was $18, current vintage is about $30).  This middle aged gentleman deserves some decanting, as he is a bit rough around the edges.

2010 Chateau de Landiras – Graves another Left Bank powerhouse, Graves.  So named due tot he intensely gravelly soil, this cabernet based wine is minerally with a graphite nose, rose petals, dried flowers, and a kiss of Brett.  This is a wine that needs a steak, and an hour int he decanter but a lovely example of how complex Bordeaux can be, even at the $20 price point.

2010 Chateau La Grangere – Saint Emilion Grand Cru – this plush and velvety Right Bank beauty oozes dark chocolate and espresso, with ripe black plums and tobacco leaf and dried fig.  This blend of 75% Merlot, 20% Cab Sav, and 5% Cab Franc speaks to all those Merlot haters and calls out, drink me!  Love me!  $25

Laffittte de Laujac – Medoc – the Medoc is at the very northern tip of the Left Bank, inching closer to the Atlantic Ocean.  Full of savory herbal notes and stewed fruit, this elegant olive toned wine is bursting with blackberries, currents, and fig.  Reminiscant of a class Napa Cab from teh 70s, there is great potential here for duck, Cassoulet, and other hearty dishes.  $30

I could go on for days at the variety of Bordeaux available, but these are just some value priced examples of what you can find.  There are so many options out there, from so many smaller regions in the Bordeaux area, at all price points.  So what are you waiting for?  Go out and experiment!  And remember, Lefty Loosy (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc), Righty Tighty (Merlot).  I love the velvety softness of the Right Bank, but if you let the Left sit and stew for a while in a decanter, it is the perfect accompaniment for heartier meals.Enjoy!

Special thanks to Planet Bordeaux for sending me these wines to experiement with.

Baconlicous is St. Supery!

When you tIMG_8383hink of wine tasting, I am going to guess that you don’t typically think of line up like this.  Think of your comparative literature class from college, toss in some bacon, and you have St. Supery’s Bacon and Bordeaux tasting experience summed up.

Having tasted the wines at this Napa Valley stalwart several times, I knew that at the very least, I was going to enjoy my tasting experience, but this special tasting brings it to a new level.  Conducted upstairs, in the newly remodeled private tasting lounge, these special tastings are a world apart from the hustle and bustle of the normal rush in the tasting room.

For our tasting, we paired each of the Bordeaux style wines with a bacon-licious dish, each specifically made by the winery chef to play off of the wines.

IMG_83892012 Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon paired with a Quesedilla with smoked mozzarella and…bacon with green salsa verde.  Both the Rutherford estate fruit as well as my favorite Dollarhide go in to this blend which has fresh loganberry, pink peppercorn, ripe plums and ginger notes.  The quesedilla brought out dark spices and blue fruit, as well a ground black pepper.

Next, the 2010 Napa Vallely Estate Elu, which is 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 4% Petite Verdot, 2% Malbec, and 1% Bacon (well, really 1% Cabernet Franc.  This is St. Supery’s signature red wine, and has a beautiful Bergemot nose with savory herbal qualities.  Dark cherries, dried lavender, and blackberries in cassis syrup were paired with a classic BLT.
IMG_8390

Next, the 2010 Rutherford Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, which is 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot and a touch of Cab Franc and Petite Verdot, all from Rutherford.  This unctuous red wine was full of coffee and chocolate, with cracked black pepper.  Paired with a Toma Grilled Cheese with applewood Smoked Bacon, the earthy and herbal notes really sang out.

FiIMG_8391nally, the 2010 Dollarhide Elevation is 93% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7%  Malbec.  Dense and deep blackberry notes emerge from this “accidental” blend.  While it is always a blend, it’s typically over 90% Cab to soften the punch.  The Malbec adds in a dense blue fruit, with young & lively notes of dark chocolate and espresso.  As this was our dessert course, it was paired with the “Happy Childhood” – An almond butter & estate fig jam sandwich, with cassis candied bacon.

Yum!While this special tasting experience isn’t always on the menu, be sure to call ahead and make reservations for any of St. Supery’s special tastings.  Experiences start at only $35 per person (group of 4 minimum) and are an event to remember.  I can’t wait to go back and experience another version of this event as the estate garden grows through the seasons!

A special thank you to St. Supery and Scott Tracy, Guest Experience Manager for a truly spectacular tasting experience.

 

The wine and bacon were provided by St. Supery, but all of the sound effects and accolades are purely mine!

IMG_8401

 

Viva Vouvray!

Vouvray.  Just the name elicits a curling of the tongue and imaginary French wine drinkings, enjoy a glass at a sidewalk cafe.  Located in the Central Loire region of Touraine, Vouvray comes in many styles:  From fully sweet to dry; from still to brightly sparkling (Crémant de Loire).  But one thing is true of all of these wine:  they are all 100% Chenin Blanc.

If you’re like me, when you hear Chenin Blanc you think of one of two things:

1.  South Africa

2.  Old School California jug wine, sister to “Chablis”, in the handy gallon contains, now served on the bottom shelf of the grocery store wine aisle.

This ain’t your Mama’s Chenin Blanc!

loire wines

 

 

With just over half of the production being sparkling, the chalmy soils of the region lend themselves to crisp and fresh white wines.  Vovray is lively, and vibrant, with floral aromas, and flavors of stone fruit, candied orange and honeycomb.

The next time you are looking for an interesting white or a sparkler to celebrate Tuesday with, check these out:
2012 Les Chancelieres Vouvray – Clean and dry, with bright citrus and spice drops.  Overripe apricots and Golden Delicious apples covered in nutmeg and white flowers.  Fantastic with Thai curry!  $12

2013 Guy Saget “Marie de Beauregard” Vouvray – Ginger ale and toasted brioche with fig jam, nutty finish with a buttery edge.  A great bubbly with rich, creamy cheeses.  $20

 

Chinon: The Lady of the Lake

Chinon might well be best known for it’s Chateau, and it’s central role in Joan of Arc’s story.  But in this case, Chinon is known for it’s Cabernet Franc, and it’s other wines.

 

Chinon is located in the region of Touraine, which is located in the central Loire Valley, in northwestern France.  Chinon is especially known for it’s Cabernet Franc, although up to 10% of Cabernet Sauvignon can be blended in.  There is also some Chenin Blanc planted in the region.  Cabernet Franc from Chinon is quite varied and can be bold and grippy, or light and minerally, but both aqre quite affordable and great alternatves to some of the more expensvie regions in France.

2012 Domaine de noiré soif de tendresse chinon – $16.00

When I first opened this, it was very dusty, closed and full force potpourri.  But now, after an hour, it’s coming around to lusciousness.  On the nose, violets, rosepetals and grassy notes.  The palate opens up to reveal a medium bodied grippy red with prune, cherry, wild strawberry, coffee, and smoke notes.

 

 

2011 Les pensees de Pallus – $20

Smokey with perfume notes, pencil lead, and bright raspberreis, the peppery notes open up to sour cherry, blackberry, and chewy stewed meat

 

School Daze – Further Adventures in Wine

Society of Wine educators logoAs you may have read, here on le blog, last fall I was studying for my CSW certification (Certified Specialist of Wine) through SF Wine School.  Recently, I learned that I didn’t make the cut; unsurprisingly, with only 65% of first time test takers passing, I narrowly missed my pass rate.  After my initial fury at myself for missing 9 itty questions for the required 75% passing rate, I realized that this was a great learning experience, and an opportunity for me to share what I learned here.

Studying your passion isn’t always easy.  It can turn in to a job, which, in my personal opinion, makes passion die.  A little of my passion did indeed die, as I was struggling to understand some regions that I was ill equipped to understand properly, along with work obligations, and family life.  Yep, didn’t I say it was my own fault?  I lost focus.  But I’m back!  And I’m going to share my week by week re-examination of the material as I follow along with the official Certified Wine Educators online prep course.10580071_10152495237266482_5417861720379461881_n

My downfall?  By far, Germany.  Perhaps if I put some Falco on in the background, along with Nena and The Scorpions, the Pradikat levels will soak in to my brain more thoroughly.  Rock me Amadeus in the Rhine with the Riesling!

While some weeks (namely the chemistry portion) aren’t as fascinating, there is a wine tasting component that is going to not only be really interesting and eye opening, but also help me drill in my head where each region is and what it’s terroir is.  I will be the first one to admit, 5 years ago, I was not convinced that French wine was going to be my new love; but here I am, enthralled with Burgundy and the Rhone, and enamored of Languedoc and the Loire.

So here goes:  Week 1:  Wine Composition & Wine Faults

 

I won’t bore you with the details of the winemaking process (unless you really want to know…) but the pairing is Chinon, red Chinon.  This Cabernet Franc based wine from the Touraine region of the Central Loire Valley (France) is one that I am less than familiar with, so I look forward to exploring it more, both on my own and with my study buddies.

Stay tuned on January 26th for my Chinon tasting exploration!

And in February, winemaking, sparkling wine, and then…yes, France!

 

 

Holman Ranch: A step back in time

     

Holman RanchHolman Ranch was established in 1928, well before the rush of wineries started to populate the rural and bucolic Carmel Valley.  When one thinks of Carmel Valley, you might well think Carmel (by-the-Sea), but in teh short 10 miles up the narrow valley, Carmel by the Sea dissolves away in to Carmel Valley, where horse ranches and vineyards dot the rugged hillsides that once housed cattle and horse ranches.

The family owned Holman Ranch is at the northeastern end of the valley, and while only a few miles from the ocean, is a world – and a century away.  The Ranch itself sits above a small subdivision on a hillside in Carmel Valley Village, but once you enter the gates – you are transported a world away.

IMG_8404Of the original 6500 acre Spanish Land Grant, the 600 acre property that would eventually become Holman Ranch was purchased by a wealth businessman from San Francisco for use as a “gentleman’s retreat”.  With an historic Spanish Hacienda style main house built from local stone, the guest rooms were added later when the property changed hands in the mid 1940s.  The addition of the guest quarters made it an ideal retreat for Hollywood luminaries, and it quickly became the hot spot for stars from Joan Crawford to Charlie Chaplin to escape to.

Fast forward to the late 1980s, and the property was converted back to a private estate to preserve the history and tranquility. This is when the original vineyards were planted, and the stables were added.  In 2006, the Lowder family purchased the Ranch and began a restoration project that included adding 17 acres of vineyards as well as wine IMG_8412caves and event spaces.

Waking up in the peaceful mountains above the valley, it’s easy to see why the stars would want to retreat here.  The early morning hours are silent and golden, and a walk through the property reveals the rugged hillsides and steep slops of vineyard that undulate down the hillsides.  You can certainly see why the Hollywood elite escaped here.

Even though Carmel Valley is only 12 miles from the Paciifc Ocean, the temperature is much warmer; the early morning fog cools down the vineyards, and for this reason, is ideal for Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonay.  Holman Ranch specializes in Estate Pinot Noir, and offers four versions, plus 2 Pinot Gris and Chardonnay.  I loved the Pinot Gris, and the Hunter’s Hill Pinot Noir really hit the spot while admiring the rustic cowboy theme in the tasting room.

    IMG_8419 IMG_8422         IMG_8416  

 

While the Ranch itslef isn’t open to the public, it does host special events for the wine club as well as weddings, meetings and corporate retreats.  I think I might start planning my 25th birthday party!  Ok well maybe 40th.  (shush you.).

If you find yourself in the Monterey Bay region, be sure to take the detour to the narrow little valley that time forgot.  Knowing that Clint Eastwood was the mayor of Carmel by the Sea, I would expect to see him riding the range above Holman Ranch from time to time.  Stop your horse at the hitching post outside the tasting room, pull up a cowhide and sip a while.  Or have dinnner at the newly acquired historical diner Will Fargo across the street.  You won’t be sorry!

A special thanks to Holman Ranch for hosting us at the Ranch and allowing me to go back to summer camp for one night!  I’ll be back…

Experience America’s Heritage Grape!


It’s that time of year again, time for the annual Zinfandel Experience!  Attracting Zin lovers from around the world, Zinfandel Experience is celebrating its 24th anniversary with three days of wine tasting events with zins from all over California, as well as unique corners of the world!

A classically American wine, Zinfandel is one of the oldest grapes grown in California.  From the old school Italian field blends of the Central Valley to the bold expressions of Dry Creek, there is a zin for everyone!

January 29-31st the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers association presents 4 days of spectacular events showcasing zinfandel.

Epicuria – formerly known as Good Eats and Zin, you get the idea.  Each producers selected wine is paired with a fabulous restaurant for this information walk around wine & food pairing.  VIPs can sip in the special lounge where you can relax and chat about the delicious tidbits.
Some of the pairings you can look forward to:
  • Bella Vineyards and Presideo Social Club
  • Ravenswood with Central Market
  • Saddleback Cellars with Rosamunde Sausage Grill
Flights! Forums of Flavors – Friday, January 30th
Flights features a professional tasting seminar with a focus on highly allocated, limited production Zinfandels. Learn insights from the experts and experience the range, depth and character of the wines. ZAP will once again partner with the Historic Vineyard Society to present wines from exceptional old Zinfandel vineyards.

Presentaion of 3 Historic Regions, moderated by Joel Peterson, featuring Contra Costa County, Amador County, and Dry Creek Valley

 

 

Winemakers Reception, Dinner & Auction – Zin State of Mind – A Benefit with Taste, Friday January 30th

Go glamorous! Mad Men, the popular TV show, is our inspiration for this year’s dinner and auction. The stylish, sleek, and jazzy atmosphere will captivate you as the city lights of San Francisco dazzle. Our reception will feature winemakers ‘pouring it big’ with magnums and reserve offerings. You’ll experience an intimate dinner hosted by celebrities of the wine world and a customized menu that boasts the best in farm-to-table cuisine. The live and silent auctions will feature one-of-a-kind lots, rare bottles, winery experiences and so much more, with proceeds benefiting ZAP’s programming, education and Heritage Projects. It will be an evening full of personality—fashionable, yet slightly provocative—what else—a Zin state of mind!

The Tasting – Saturday, January 31st

The centerpiece of the 2015 Zinfandel Experience is The Tasting, where wine lovers engage in personal conversations with winemakers while exploring the flavors of Zinfandel blends, single vineyards and old vine Zinfandels or discover the distinctive dialects of Zinfandel growing regions. Experience Zinfandel from the perspective of sommeliers, with all due respect to terroir, at the complimentary Sommelier & Winemaker Terroir Workshops located at the Golden Gate Club.

Reserve and Barrel Tasting with VIP and All Day Ticket Purchase

Winemakers and principals will pour samples at their tables during this exclusive tasting for VIPs and all-day ticket holders. From 11am to 1pm, you will enjoy a “sneak peek” tasting of upcoming vintages and special Zinfandels that have earned the title of “Reserve.” This walk-around experience offers an special foray into the wineries most prized Zinfandel treasures.

Tickets are available HERE and be sure to get them early!  Events sell out!

Celebrate with Franciacorta!

During the holidays, more often than not, we celebrate with something sparkling.  For some it might be the old classic Champagne; others, California Sparkling.  But have you tried Franciacorta?

Franciacorta, the DOCG region in Lombardy, Italy, is known for it’s excellent sparkling wines made in the traditionally method – meaning, the secondary fermentation occurs int bottle and not by, shall we say, the soda stream for wine or a bulk method.  Lombardy is perfect for sparkling wine, where the Alps meet the Lago d’Iseo, moderating temperatures and making the traditional grapes for sparkling wines grow so well.  Since Franciacorta was the first Italian sparkling wine to have the secondary fermentation int he bottle, and since the producing region is the first traditional method sparkling wine in Italy to reach DOCG status, they really are a treat.

Since becoming a DOCG (the highest level of regional wine designations in Italy) in 1995, Franciacorta has set strict rules governing the production of it’s sparkling wines.  Using the same Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc (Bianco) and Pinot Noir grapes that are traditionally used in France, Franciacorta requires lengthy aging and hand harvesting, to maintain in increase quality.

With five distinct styles, there is something for everyone!

Some of my favorite products that I have been enjoing this season are reviewed below.  So this holiday, go out and say Cin Cin to Franciacorta!

Berlucchi Franciacorta Brut – 90% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Nero (Noir).  Yeasty, buttered toast, crisp lemon curd.  Beautiful bright acidity with the richness of cream and ripe pears.  This would be fantastic with oysters or brunch, and at $30, an affortable alternative to Champagne.  With only 12.9% ABV, this is a sipper you can enjoy all day!

Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Brut – 80% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Nero (Noir), 10% Pinot Bianco (Blanc) –  a field of flowers, with rich  yellow and green hues, Tuscan melon and lime jump out of the glass along with stone fruit and a slight green herbal note.  $23 for this beauty rivals some of the better Proseccos and would be lovely in a Spritz or other cocktail.

If you would like to check out some of the other styles of Franciacorta, they range from dry to sweet, and have a host of other style elements such as the typically 100% Chardonnay Saten.  A Millesimato is vintage sparkler that is aged at least 30 months.

So, the next time you are having a party, consider stocking up on some Franciacorta, and wow your party guests with Italy’s fastest growing sparkling wine category!

 

These bottles of deliciousness were provided as PR samples, but all sips and tips are mine!

 

 

 

 

1 2 3 4 5 15