When I first tasted the Sidebar Cellars Kerner, from the Mokelumne Glen vineyard in Lodi, I thought to myself, “wow this is a fun little white”, as I sat in the heat of Lodi in April. At that time, we were exploring the Mokelumne River AVA, and I didn’t make the connection to David Ramey of Ramey Cellars. Fast forward to 2016, and as I get my rosés ready to rumble, a little birdie told me that Sidebar Cellars did a rosé. Knowing how much I love pink wine around this time of year, I made sure I got my hands on one and I was glad I did! Sidebar Cellars was born out of Ramey’s desire to play around a bit, and presents a departure from the Ramey Wine Cellars more austere lineup of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon; hence, Sidebar. The 2016 Sidebar Cellars Russian River Valley Rosé comes from an old-vine Syrah vineyard, and represents a refreshing change of pace from the more common place saignée (bleed off) Pinot Noir rosés, which while delicious, can get a little boring. Bursting with strawberry and peach on the nose, herbal rose hips and hibiscus came through on the palate. Tart plum skins and tannin give this wine some oomph, while ruby red grapefruit hides at the back f the palate, offering a refreshing finish. The zesty green apple and lime lingers on your palate with a hint of pickled watermelon rind, and keeps you going back for another sip. This is a great summer sipper and pairs surprisingly well with sriracha potato chips! It would also be an excellent match to your Easter Ham or a roast chicken. Special thanks to Alexandra O’Gorman, Communications Director at Ramey Wine Cellars for this delightful sample!
Two weeks from today, the 9th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference kicks off in downtown Lodi. I can’t believe we’ve been running this show for nine years, and that some of us who were there in the beginning, what a long, strange, trip it’s been! Like everything, the blogging and the career have changed a lot over that time period. You may have noticed it’s been pretty quiet around here; things are working in the background, the the Wizard of Oz, changing, moving, growing. One of those things is the Wine Bloggers Conference Scholarship Fund. This passion project takes up an inordinate amount of time, particularly the few months leading up to the conference, and tends to take over. Add on top of the my day job (jobs really), and something suffers. Sadly, it’s this blog. That said, I’m very much looking forward to Lodi, and as you can see from my series on Lodi wines there is a lot to look forward to. As I do every year, I write my advice column to both veteran attendees as well as newbies. There is so much to do, see, and learn at the conference, as well as networking opportunities and camaraderie. Each attendee has a unique perspective, but for me, as a 9 year attendees (one of only 5), Advisory Board Member, Scholarship co-founder and Director, and wine industry worker, this is mine. Practical Wear comfortable shoes. you never know when we’ll be hiking up a hill in a vineyard Wear comfortable business casual / wine country casual clothes with layers. This is not a lawyers convention! It can get chilly at night with fog coming in, so bring a sweater. Wear layers. It is HOT in Lodi during the day, however it can cool off significantly at night due to the Delta breezes, and hotel AC can be brutal. Bring multiple devices. There are often times when a laptop isn’t practical (in the vineyard) and your phone doesn’t have reception. Brnig multiple devices. Bring your own power source. Power packs, instant chargers and mini power strips are all critical. There is often a battle to get a slot in the power wall, so bringing a strip will allow you to share the love. I love this one as it folds, has USB ports and 4 power slots. I also love a great power squid. If you have a MiFi bring it. Wifi resources are taxed beyond belief and are not made for 350 people online all day, with multiple devices. For extra points, give some karma and open your mifi up for others (your billing terms will dictate this, but if you have unlimited or the budget, be kind and share) Bring business cards. Yes it may seem archaic, but it’s the best way to quickly introduce yourself with a memorable item. The stacks of cards collected are reminders when we get home to follow, tweet, and read other peoples information. Hydrate. Lodi is HOT! There will be a lot of wine. Water, water water. If you have […]
Driving up a dusty dirt road, at the edge of a vineyard in Lodi, you could see the history in the vines. These gnarled old beasts were baking in the late spring heat, and you could just feel the struggle as they worked to survive the turbulent weather. This was Rauser Vineyard, planted with old vine Carignane and Zinfandel. Our guide, Mike Mike McCay, was enthusiastically giving us an oral history of the last 20 years, while digging in the dry, crumbling dirt of the vineyard. Mike is an innovator, something that is more common in Lodi than you would expect. Not satisfied to go with the status quo, he is always looking for new ways to survive the ever persistent drought, and to produce some amazing wines. His winemaking style centers around the terroir of Lodi, and specifically this patch of land. Using Native yeasts while concentrating on Zinfandel and Rhône varietals, he has brought out the true expression of htis small AVA in the region. Tiptoeing through the high furrows of dusty red soil, Mike poured us his Clements Hills Viognier. This mineral driven white enjoyed a long, warm growing season, which resulting in ripe pears and stone fruit, followed by rich floral aromas. It was just the thing to whet our palates on the hot and dusty day. After learning a bit of history of this piece of land, we met up with Mike’s family at his house for a down home Lodi style BBQ. Quite the chef, Mike McCay fired up the vine driven barrel barbeque and quickly got to work making a feast – perfectly designed to showcase his wines. Mike pulled out all the stops, retrieving some beautiful examples of Lodi’s Rhône style wines from his cellar, plus, by special request Cabernet Franc. One might not expect either Cab Sav or Cab Franc to be successful in what amounts to a high desert climate, however, with the varied terrain and terroir of the larger Lodi growing region, it did beautifully. McCay Cellars specializes in Rhône varietals, and also has a beautiful Cabernet Franc and is working with old vine Zin. Growing slowly and steadily, Mike has witness major changes in Lodi over the last 20 years. Industrial grape production has made way for artisan, small lot producers, and the wine tourism business has seen growth in Lodi tourism and the affiliated business. The careful attention McCay pays to his vineyards and his winemaking are evident in the beautiful wines he produces. But don’t take my word for it! Stop by and visit when you’re in town. McCay Cellars has a tasting room in Lodi, open no weekends (Thursday-Sunday) from 11-5. The next time you’re in Lodi, be sure to experience the Rhône varetals from McCay Cellars! If Mike’s int he tasting room, you’re sure to get a history lesson along with your Grenache.
It’s hard to tell my looking out the window these days, but it’s high summer. Generally speaking, high summer means warm weather, sunny days, and relaxing weekend BBQs with cold, refreshing pink wine. Ellipsis Wine Company was founded in 2008 by Jonathan Neisingh, who, after growing up in the heart of Sonoma wine country (in Healdsburg) moved to San Luis Obispo to pursue his education in agribusiness (and wine!). Completing his education and moving back to Sonoma County, I met Ellipsis several years ago, at one of the large tastings here in SF. At that time, I knew I loved their wine, and am thrilled to see them grow and develop over the last 8 years. Growing up in Healdsburg, Jonathan saw first hand the industry grow and change over the last twenty years, which drives his passion to make world class wine (with the help of their consulting winemaker) that expresses each region’s unique terroir in every sip. Ignoring the seemingly endless mist outside, summer can come in a glass! Particular this glass of Ellipsis Wine Company Rosé of Pinot Meunier. The first thing you notice about this beautiful pink wine is the depth of color: a pure purple toned pink, it looks gorgeous in the glass, and the first whiff gives off a lovely savory dried herb character. The first sip reveals savory watermelon salad with lavender, juicy wild strawberries, and tropical notes. I love the mineralality that plays off of the juicy citrus, and the medium body makes it a great wine for grilled chicken, burgers and other summer fare. I can’t wait to visit and get more of this fantastic summer sipper! $25 Thank you to #winestudio and Ellipsis for another great Tuesday Tasting!
Cruising along on a breezy but warm spring morning in Lodi, we were off on Day 2 of our adventures of “Anything but Zin”. Today, our first stop was Lodi’s oldest vineyard, the some 120+ year old Bechthold Vineyard. Bechthold Vineyard was planted over a century ago by Joseph Spenker. Back in 1886, Cinsault was more commonly referred to as Black Malvoisie. Today, many people might know that Cinsault is one of the parents of Pinotage, the other being Pinot Noir. It is also a workhorse grape in the south of France, and is also widely planted in northern Africa. So why is Bechthold Vineyard so special? First, having a piece of land that is planted, on the original rootstock, with the original varietals, and has been essentially untouched for over 100 years is and impressive feat. For 130 years is damned year unheard of. But perhaps more importantly, the Bechthold property is also family owned, and continuously operated by that family for those 130 years. These twenty-five acres of genius is still highly sought after and productive, and has pulled itself out of obscurity with a renewed interested in ancient vines and historical varietals. As part of the larger Spenker Vineyard property, the vineyard is currently managed by Phillips Farms (part of the Michael-David Winery) and is steadfastly guarded by a strong family tradition and history. Today, this vineyard provides fruit for Bonny Doon, Turley, and Michael-David, not to mention Onesta, and has a long waiting list. Cinsault is a special thing. A thick skinned, ornery beast, it can form the backbone of some strong red blends. On it’s own however, it is sneaky, and has a ridge of acid that will wake you up. Create a rose from that wake up call, and you’ll be drinking wine at 10:30am with the best of us. As we traipsed through the soft, tall furrrows of soil on this sunny and breezy morning, we were joined by Jillian Johnson, owner and winemaker of Onesta Winery, and David Phillips of Michael-David Winery. 2014 Onesta Cinsault Rosè Released with a year of bottle age, and fermented on 20% neutral and stainless steel, the juice is 50% saignee from the red Cinsault and 50% purpose pressed. The 80% that was aged in wood had a lot of contact with the lees resulting in a rich ruby red grapefruit flavor with hints of blood orange, coriander, lavender and dried herbs. This wine will wake you up and make you say hello! $22 2012 Onesta Cinsault With extended maceration and 9 months in neutral oak, this beauty is a berry pie with a topper of pomegranate juice. A lighter style of Cinsault, the delicate wine is luscious and fruit forward, yet full of baking spice and acid. This is the perfect wine to please both a Pinot and a Zin lover. $29 In contrast, the 2014 Michael-David Ancient Vine Cinsault is denser and more lush than the Onesta. Baked blue and black […]
After a full day of exploring some of Lodi’s diverse wines and terroir, we settled in at our host hotel, Wine & Roses. This resort style hotel has a beautifully relaxing interior courtyard, and situated on one side is the hotel’s restaurant, the Towne House. Chef John Hitchcock, a Lark Creek Group alumnus, masterfully prepared a 7 course menu to go with the intriguing wines that Sue Tipton, owner of Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards had brought to share with us. I had personally become acquainted with the wines of Acquiesce several years ago, and had always enjoyed the light, elegant style of Rhône style wines that owner and winemaker Sue Tipton produces. As we were meandering through Lodi exploring “everything but Zin” I was excited to get the opportunity to taste these wines again. The deck of the restaurant overlooks the interior courtyard of the hotel, and as the sun went down, the temperature had cooled off enough to be comfortable outside in the relaxing environment. Chef John was about to amaze us with the beautiful pairings, and while I wan’t quite hungry yet due to the amazing and large lunch at Pietro’s earlier, the menu looked amazing. First up, we kicked things off with these gorgeous Blue Point Oysters, served with Yuzu pearls. Blue Points are particularly large and meaty oysters, so I wasn’t sure how they would pair with the delicate Picpoul Blanc, but they were perfect. The salinity and minerality of the shuckers played delightfully off the wet river rocks, crushed shells, and freshly zested citrus in the wine. With just a hint of floral notes on the edge of this wine, it was a natural and delicious pairing. The true test of an oyster pairing to me is if I can actually use the wine as a mignonette – pour a touch of the wine in to the oyster and slurp it down. In this case, it was a palate sensation, and just confirmed my earlier delight. Next, Pan Seared Foie Gras (thank you California for bringing back the Foie! Feel free to judge me now) with poached pears, pear geleè, and house made brioche – paired with the 2014 Roussanne. With juicy pears and apricots, drenched in fresh cream dancing across my tongue, the richness of the Roussanne worked well with the creamy richness of foie. One of my favorite things about Roussanne in particular is the acidity that sneaks up behind the juicy and rich mouthfeel. This is no exception, and the Acquiesce was perfect with the classic foie pairing. The third course was intended to be tuna tartare, but Chef John was able to sub out salmon on the fly due to an allergy. This was no little ask, as the pairings were tested and created well in advance, but he did a masterful job at thinking of a pairing and creating it on the fly with perfect timing. Paired with the 2015 Grenache Blanc, and served with avocado, wakame, wasabi vinaigrette, wasabi foam and […]
Markus Bokisch was raised in California, but has a long history of ties to Spain. As a child, Markus spent his summers there, and as is the norm in European tradition, water & wine were served at meals. With this pre-disposition to love the rich wines of Spain, Markus moved to Spain with his wife Lisa and worked his way up in the Spanish wine industry. With endeavors in Raimat and Penedes, he became and expert at the cultivation of these special varietals. When he moved back to California, he knew that Lodi had something special – hidden behind 100 years of old Italian field blends and Zinfandel, and that it was the perfect location to begin his endeavor with Iberian varietals. The Terra Alta Vineyard in Clements Hills was the first property they purchased, wherethey imported Spanish budwood to firmly root Bokisch as the go to resource for these plantings. In 1999, they planted Las Cerezas Vineyard, which is the motherblock, planted to Tempranillo, Albarino, and Graciano – classic Spanish grapes. Two years later, the first vintage of Bokisch Vineyards wine was released. Today, Bokisch grows over 2500 acres under vine, and works with wineries all over California in addition to producing their own wine. With a careful consideration for the environment and sustainability, they are making a mark on how viticulture can be beneficial for the land as well as the economy. I first tasted Bokisch wine shortly after that initial release, when I was part of the now (sadly) defunct Wine Q wine service. I knew immediately, even though my palate was still developing in those early years of my wine career, that I would love what was to come. Here we are, 8 years later, and I am lucky enough to taste the current releases of Bokisch frequently through a variety of tastings. On this day, we enjoyed two different Albarinios – the first being from the Terra Alta Vineyard, where the tasting room is located, and the second from Las Cerezas, that motherblock planted in 1999. While they were both welcome refreshers on this warm day, the Las Cerezas edged out the Terra Alta, with intensely tropical notes, and juicy fruit with lime zest and firm minerality on the finish. Next, the Garnacha Blanca – a personal passion of mine – was a clear expression of how terroir impacts the finished product. The medium body was full of fresh stone fruit, oranges, and pungent green herbs. The creamy finish is perfect for cheese, hearty fish dishes, and just plain summer sipping. Stylistically, Garnacha Blanca tends to be bolder than it’s cousin Grenache Blanc, and I appreciate the weight and texture. The last of the whites, the age old question of Verdelho vs. Verdejo. Often confused as the same grape, Verdelho has roots in Portugal and is used widely in Madeira. In contrast, Verdejo is a Spanish white grape, which has been traced back to North Africa, and is now widely […]
When I was first introduced to Knez Winery, I knew they would be something special. It was no special occasion, or anything memoriable, it was just a bottle of fantastic pinot noir on the table one night at dinner. Sometimes, it’s the little things. I re-introduced to the label at a weekly tasting event at Arlequin Wine Merchant, where I had the chance to talk with the winemaker while I tasted the ones. Once again, I loved not just the Pinot Noir, but the Chardonnay as well. Fast forward to earlier this Spring, when I was meandering through Anderson Valley with my friend, we were working our way back south after a delightful day at Roederer, I stopped by The Madrones in Philo, a small collection of tasting rooms. Here, I was able to taste through the then current releases of the Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir, as well as a historical look back at two other vintages. Knez focuses on hand crafted, single vineyard wines influenced by the extreme climate of Anderson Valley, and the combination of marine influences, damn, cold, fog, and the soils of the area. With particular attention paid in the vineyard, winemaker Anthony Filiberti practices a more hands off winemaking approach, preferring to do as little intervention as possible. This old world philosophy encourages a sense of place to be developed in the wine, carrying the terroir over from vineyard to bottle. The Cerise Vineyard, where the Knez Pinot Noir is born, was planted in 1995 to ten clones. This mixture of clones, in 15 blocks, allows for careful selection and characteristics to be hand picked for each wine. 2009 Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir A brilliant cranberry color with a mountain strawberry nose, and bold, bright red fruit. Strong acids with piquant notes of cranberry melt in to lightly scented vanilla flowers. As the palate opens, Bing cherry, ripe raspberries and rose petals appear. The mid palate reveals crushed minerals, cedar, and cardamon, cinnamon and anise, with a hint of violets. 2010 Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir Dark and brooding, with a kiss of brown sugar, the 2010 is a deep garnet color with forest floor aromas and earthy, cedar notes. A touch of mint and wild berries blend with black cherry, deep raspberry and bergamot while dried lavender and white pepper dot the finish. Currently the 2013 is $34 in the tasting room. As these are library wines, I am unable to provide current pricing. Please contact the winery for more details. If you find yourself in Philo, be sure to stop in an taste the terroir at Knez!
Belle Glos Pinot Noir are wines made for Cabernet lovers. While each of the three vineyards used to make these wines is coastal, they all produce very different wines. The Wagner family is well known for their contributions to thee wine industry in Napa, through their efforts at Caymus Vineyards. Going back to the 1800s, the family has deep California roots. The family has been making wine in California since 1972, when Caymus was founded. Now, while the family seat is at Caymus in Napa, the additions of Mer Soleil Chardonnay, run by son Charlie Wagner, Belle Glos run by son Joseph Wagner, and Conundrum, a blend mastered by longtime employee, and new places for daughters Jenny and Erin to learn the business, the family of wine has grown. There is a history of experimentation and creativity, which led Belle Glos to break the traditional mold of California Pinot Noir. Joseph’s passion for farming and viticulture is well known. His early experiences with this Italian Grandmother helps guide his future as he expanding the success of the Belle Glos line, that he has managed since 2002. Belle Glos, featuring single-vineyard Pinot Noirs from Sonoma, Monterey, and Santa Barbara counties was named for Joseph’s grandmother, he has selected three of the coolest growing regions for the Pinot Noir. farmed in small lots, the grapes are left to hang longer than normal, to create intense and complex flavors. In this manner, they are creating bold, flavor packed Pinots that are setting Belle Glos apart from more traditional styles. There are three single vineyard Pinots from Belle Glos: Clark & Telephone, Taylor Lane and Las Alturas. Each one is slightly different, but all three are made in a big, bold style. A Pinot meant for a Cabernet lover! Clark & Telephone Vineyard is located in the Santa Maria Valley, which is cooled by the wind and fog blowing in from the Pacific Ocean along the Santa Maria River inland. Planted on its own roostock, the vineyard is planted to 100% Martini clone, something that is rarely seen today. This wine was a mix of sweet ripe red fruit and spicy notes, with a nice acid balance. It was my favorite of the three, and had a lot of cinnamon, baking spice, and ripe blackberry notes. The Taylor Lane Vineyard Pinot from the Sonoma Coast, is less than 6 miles from the ocean. Known for the heavy fog, it’s a particularly good place for classic Pinot due to the cool climate, but harder if you are trying to ripen the fruti for a stylistic change. The Dijon clones in this vineyard held a lot of cedar and cola, with Bing cherries and a hefty 60% new French oak treatment. This would have been my pick but because of the oak it was just too overblown for me. Finally, the Las Alturas Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Located in a world famous Pinot Noir growing region in the Central Coast area, each slope of the vineyard was planted […]