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!

 

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.
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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!

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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

 

Quinticentually Quintessa

_MG_0049Earlier this year, before I embarked on a somewhat fool-hearty mission of getting my CSW credential, I visited the Napa Valley estate of Quintessa.  Tucked away, hidden from the Silverado Trail in Rutherford, the unique gravity flow moistly underground winery pokes out from the hillside.  When the Huneeus family took ownership of the land in 1990, the land was wild and pristine – and had never been used, or abused by other vines or crops.  Having never been planted to vine, the land had none of the after effects of the post-phylloxera recovery efforts, and mandatory replanting that some older, established Napa vineyards did.  It was virgin territory, and this prime real estate was ready to plant some amazing Bordeaux varietals.  With further research done on what naturally defended against the root louse that destroyed the industry in the past, new rootstock and innovative techniques were put in to place to create an amazing site.

In 2002, the estate winery opened, it was built with a vision of a building that blended in to the natural elements.  In addition to the aesthetic beauty, careful consideration was given to the environmental impact as well as functional design for a working winery.  The result is a stunning gravity-flow winery that beginnings on the top of the hill where the crushpad is located, and continues through chutes in the floor of the crushpad that transport the juice directly to the fermentation tanks with a minimal of intervention.  With all the modern, yet mostly non-intervention techniques, you can bet there will be some great juice coming out of there!

When you visit Quintessa, you have a wealth of tasting experiences to choose from.  The Estate Tasting Experience gives guests a comprehensive visit to the facility as well as the vineyard, and a seated tasting paired with local artisan products.  But the penultimate experience is what we enjoyed, the Quintessential Quintessa.  Here, you start at the winery where you see the operation, and then take a meandering walk up the hill to the ridge where tasting pavillions have been built.  These glass gazebos offer the ability to have a fully indoor / outdoor experience, while overlooking the vineyard property below.

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Up on the ridgeline, you leave the winery and the hustle bustle of the busy Napa Valley behind.  You are truly alone, and have the time to relax, and enjoy the details of the geology of the soils, a full tasting, and a great conversation about what makes teh property so special.  And oh, the cheese!  The cheese…

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With a tasting comparison of the current releases as well as library wine, this experience is a rare and special treat in the valley.  Trying to impress out of town guests?  This is the way to do it.  I especially enjoyed comparing the fresh, young current release, with the vibrancy and fruit forward notes of blackberry and earth, as compared to the library wine, showing dense and chewy notes of tobacco, baking spice and black pepper.  Having the luxury to taste the different blends and different vintages really shows a wine lover how wines can develop over time, but also how particular vineyard sites, soil, and blending decisions impact the final result — which make no mistake — was yummy.

The Quintessential Quintessa is $125 per person, and advanced reservations are required.  I promise, it’s worth every penny!  I look forward to going back and experiencing it again soon!  Alternately, you can book an Estate Tasting, which will also be delicious and informative.

**There are no tasting notes on this post on purpose, because I encourage you to form your own opinions about the wine.  However, if I was forced to choose, I’d highly recommend the unctuous and delicious Cabernet based blends, particularly the 2010 and the older vintages that have surpassed their awkward teenage years.  The discussion of the different vineyard blocks and types of soil ties directly in to each vintage, blending decisions and final results, which is part of the fascinating study of wine.  Go forth and taste them for yourself!**

Special thanks to Fineman PR for arranging this visit.

 

Change is in the air – Stepping Stone by Cornerstone

When Cornerstone Cellars burst on the scene with their sister label, Stepping Stone, it was an existing time for wine lovers.  The quiet powerhouse of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon had the opportunity to move in to some fun and interesting varietals, such as Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and a beautiful rose of Syrah.

Recently, with the leadership of General Manager Craig Camp and winemaker Jeff Keene, the Stepping Stone label has grown up:  Now, Stepping Stone by Cornerstone (Cornerstone Black Label) represents the best in class of the support cast of characters that make Cabernet Sauvignon, and Bordeaux, so sexy.

Cornerstone Stepping Stone Cabernet FrancWith the new labels, Stepping Stone by Cornerstone slides seamlessly in to the Cornerstone lineup.  The elegant white on black label mirrors the black on white labels of the Cornerstone Cabernet lineup and makes a bold statement about where these wines lie on the quality and flavor spectrum.

My favorites (well ok they really are ALL favorites but…) is the 2011 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Napa Valley Cabernet Franc.  When I stopped by the see the gang at Cornerstone earlier this year, I tasted through the lineup and once again, the Cab Franc stand out.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Cab Franc in general, and Cornerstone’s in particular.  The 2011 has all of the savory herbaciouness that makes Cab Franc so unique, with a pop of raspberry and plum.  Hiding in the back of the mouth, I get dried herbs, French lavelddar, and tobacco along with some dark chocolate dancing on my tounge.

This is a silky, rich, unctuous wine, but it’s also bright.  With the herbal backbone it’s a great pairing for herbed chicken, pepper steak or pretty much anything.  For $45 this is an affordable luxury that you can share with your friends to warm up on a chilly late spring evening.

Here in Northern California, we aren’t sure what season it is yet.  We had about 3 days of high summer, followed by a day of winter.  It’s now calmed back in to Spring, so I say open a bottle of Cornerstone tonight and make it choose your season for you!

Corenrstone Cellars is located in yountville, just north of the town of Napa.  If you’re making a trip to Napa, make sure you stop in.  You won’t be sorry!

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Tinhorn Creek

TinhornOn another gorgeous early Summer day in the Okanagan, in the general direction of Covert Farms, I made a beeline for Tinhorn Creek Vineyards.  Founded in 1993, Tinhorn Creek has been growing grapes and making wine for 20 years in the south Okanagan.  A driving force behind the beauty of the Okanagan, Sandra Oldfield, has been an active member of the social media community of wine writers for several years and wasn’t exaggerating when she said it was one of the greatest places on earth.  Built on a strong friendship, the winery has become a destination.

Tinhorn Creek tasting room

A refugee defector from the Sonoma County wine industry, Sandra headed north in 1995 and landed in Oliver after studying winemaking and Canadian history at UC Davis (ok well that’s an interesting combination!).  Slogging away at producer Rodney Strong in Sonoma County, she is now part owner at Tinhorn Creek.  While we miss her talent and energy here in California, Sandra is part of an exciting future for the Okanagan wine industry and I can’t wait to go back and visit more.

Tinhorn Creek sits on a unique hillside, rising steeply above the river valley, where you have rock, gravel, sandy loam an alluvial fan soil beds all mixing together to create a fantastic terroir for wine.  Tinhorn Creek owns two distinct tracts of land, in an area of the south Okanagan called the Golden Mile; with 50 acres of estate vineyards and 100 acres of additional land on the Black Sage Bench, Tinhorn Creek has the perfect growing climate for some amazing Bordeaux style wines as well as aromatic whites.

In addition to expressing the best of the region, Tinhorn Creek focuses on sustainability and being ecologically responsible.  With programs that includes recycling, composting, and making smarter

View from Tinhorn Creek terrace

choices, they maintain stewardship of the land and local people to maintain their livlihood and safety while reducing carbon production and water use, keeping the area clean and pristine for generations to come.

But what abou tthe wine?  Not that I’m biased or anything, but Tinhorn Creek would be one of my favorite wineieres in the Okanagan.  I was told about the Cab Franc from my friend Marcy, who had previously travelled tot he region on a scounting mission while I was on the northern end in 2012.  Her depiction of the wine and the winery made me crave my own visit.  As kismet would have it, I walked in the door of the winery, and randomly walked straight in to Marcy – who was also in Penticton a day early for WBC13.  Well!  An expert guide to the wine was just what I needed.

Cab Franc vineyard at Tinhorn Creek

And now, the wine!  The Oldfield Series 2 Bench White blend is a unique wine, with a blend of a Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion that were co-fermented  in addition to a co-fermented Semillion and Viognier that was blended in.  The result is a rich, barely off dry white with beautiful aromatics that are perfect for porch sipping.  I love the use of Semillion in Sauvignion Blanc, because it rounds out any rough edges that Sav Blanc can have, and while the acidity is maintained, the Semillion brings some firmness and body.  

A crowd favorite, the Oldfield Series 2 Bench Rose is a rose of Cabernet Franc, something that is hard to find as there is so little Cab Franc in general.  Typically Cab Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon blased roses are bolder, darker, deepr and sometimes cloying, but this rose is light as a feather, refreshing, full of red fruit and simply divine.  A purpose made rose, the grapes kiss the skins for just 4 hours, resulting in a deep salmon color, but just a beautiful touch of that Cab Franc flavor.  i drank my one and only bottle that customs let me come home with, so I hope to get back up to Oliver soon!  Or maybe Sandra can bring some to Santa Barbara (hint hint) for the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference.  I opened this recently with some friends in California, who were card carrying “I hate rose” people, and they were impressed at the delicate, refreshing wine without a hint of residual sugar.

Now in to the reds, the Oldfield Series 2 Bench Red Blend follows it’s white counterpart, and is a Bordeaux style blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petite Verdot.  It’s a big wine, but not over the top and it has some delicious black fruit and spice notes that make it perfect for a steak or a hamburger.

The Oldfield Series Syrah is a rich and dark syrah, full of dark blackberries and tobacco.  Beef jerkey covered with white pepper round out this cool climate example with juicy notes.

And now, the Cabernet Franc!  While the Oldfield Series Cab Franc was sold out, much to my chagrin, I was able to taste the Cabernet Franc and it was delicious.  Black raspberries, leather, tobacco, cigar box, and herbal notes blend together to create a pop of flavor in your mouth.  This is a party in a glass and should be enjoyed on it’s own or with a rich beef stew.  I loved this wine!

Tinhorn Creek is a must on any Okanagan itinerary, and it’s worth an afternoon over a leisurely lunch at their adjoining restaurant, Miradoro.  I look forward to a return visit, or many!

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