Focus on Finger Lakes: Cabernet Franc Five Ways

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It’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 […]

Tilenus – Excellence in the lost art of Mencia

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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.   Bodegas 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 […]

Bodegas Sierra Salinas – Discover the Magic of Monastrell!

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Bodegas 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.     The soils of the region are an interesting factor as well, with large, loose stones, Caliza, and limestone all impacting the terroir.  The 30-60 centimeters of loosly packed topsoil is high in iron content, giving it it’s distinct red color.         Winemaker 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.    2012 MO – Monastrell 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 […]

Alicante – Southern Spain’s Best Kept Wine Secret

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Last month, I was among a small group of bloggers invited to visit some special regions in Spain by the luxury wine group MG Wines Group.  MG Wines focuses on wines of distinction from various regions in Spain, and this fam trip was all about the unique, the sublime, and the special wines that MG owns. From the far southern deserts of Bullas, and Jumilla, to the cold, wet north Bierzo, we visited three wineries that were tied together by their dedication to sustainable agriculture, wine making techniques and culture, and yet very different in style and taste. I love Spain; each time, I come away more enamored than I was before.  I was excited to be included in this small group of wine writers, not only because they were all good friends and people whom I consider talented writers, but also because it was my first time experiencing Jumilla, Bullas, Alicante, and Bierzo. We began our trip in the southern Costa Blanca city of Alicante.  More well known for it’s beaches, seafood, and sun seeking Brits than it’s wine, Alicante is a bustling town newly connected to Madrid with a high speed rain link that makes travel a breeze.  Nearby, there are several wine producing regions that focus on Monastrell (Mouvedre) and Alicante Bouchet (known as Garnacha Tintarero here), and are delicious alternatives to the more widely known Rioja. As you might have guessed, Alicante gives it’s name to Alicante Bouschet, the red skinned, red fleshed grape that was so popular in Italian field blends in California’s wine history.  BUt this wine is so unique that you pre-concieved notions will go out the window.  Alicante is it’s on DO, or Spanish Demoninacion de Origen, and is currently in ti’s 75th year as a DO, even though winemaking traditions can be traced back to the Roman times. Here, Monastrell and Alicante are king among the bold, dark red wines that are growing in popularity and elegance.  After settling in to our hotel in Alicante, the intreped Ole Winos cast out for a tapas crawl on the waterfront.  While it was still late winter / early spring, we bundled up and enjoyed some local wine, cava and delicious eats before our adventure began in earnest the next day in Jumilla, home of Bodegas Sierra Salinas.  Stay tuned for more on that one of kind experience!        

Tastemakers: Italian Focus with a diverse history!

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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: Miraflores 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 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 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 […]

Tastemakers: El Dorado’s Founding Families

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In 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 their 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 there were no other commercial vineyards and wineries to lean on or learn from, the Bush’s planted their vineyard, which was – at the time – the highest in California. With the vineyard becoming a family project, the Bush’s involved their children and their parents, while Dick’s engineering background helped layout the vineyard and build their 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 artisanal 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 expression 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 […]

On the Road to Spain!

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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. After 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!        

Baconlicous is St. Supery!

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When you think 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. 2012 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. 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. Finally, 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!  

Chinon: The Lady of the Lake

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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  

Truchard Vineyards

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  When you step out of your car, in the small makeshift parking lot that is really the vineyard, you are immediately transported to a rural setting a scant 10 minutes from downtown Napa.  The iconic redwood barn and farmhouse stand proudly as sirens to Truchard Vineyards, straddling the Carneros region close to San Pablo Bay. Arriving in California in the late 1960s, Jo Ann and Tony Truchard were Texas transplants that were enchanted by wine country as they went on a road trip exploring their newly adopted state.  Ever the adventurer, Tony thought it would be fun to plant a vineyard in the then relatively unknown Napa Valley, paying homage to his family roots from Lyon, France.  There had always been wine in Tony’s blood, including a pre-Prohibition winery in South Texas.  On one of these meandering road trips through Northern California, the Truchards came across the abandoned orchard in Carneros that would become Truchard Vineyards. Today, Truchard is known for it’s pioneering creativity, fighting back the brackish waters in Carneros to produce some delicious wines, but it started out as a labor of love.  Serving as a doctor in the army, Tony soon started practicing in nearby Reno.  But every weekend, they would drive down to Carneros to work the vineyard and camp out in the orchards.  Slowly, the estate was expanded to include 400 adjacent acres, with plenty of open space and unplanted hillsides to maintain the bucolic feel of southern Napa.  The estate also prides itself on being environmentally responsible, with approximately 80% sustainably grown and  20% organically grown grapes. While we were there, the memory of the Napa earthquake of 2014 was still fresh.  With the epicenter being less than 5 miles away, one might expect cracks in the caves, broken bottles, and ore of a mess.  But aside from some cracks in the dried earth of the vineyards on top of the cave, and a few cracks that were structurally insignificant, Truchard was amazingly lucky; the farmhouse where the Truchards live was not as lucky as most of the contents were smashed, but the house itself?  Looks like a Queen sitting in state.  Nature really is amazing. Well known for Pinot Noir, given the ideal grown area in Carneros, Truchard also produces some lovely Chardonnay, but my personal favorite is the Syrah.  The smokey funk on the end of this medium bodied Syrah, made as an homage to Cote Rotie and the Truchard family legacy, compliments the dark blackberry and plum notes perfectly.  The finish of cracked pepper and spices leaves you wanting another sip, and while funky, it’s funk in the best possible way. Truchard is open by appointment only, and a visit includes a tour as well as a tasting.  This is a must do for any visit to Napa Valley!  For another take on Truchard, please visit my blogging buddy Tom Riley’s post on American Winery Guide.   A special thank you to Toby at Fineman PR for arranging this visit, and […]

Holman Ranch: A step back in time

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      Holman 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. Of 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 caves 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.                   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 […]

Celebrate with Franciacorta!

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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!        

Quinticentually Quintessa

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Earlier 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. 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… 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 […]

Refugio Ranch – a hideway for the stars

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After the mayhem of the Wine Bloggers Conference had subsided a bit, the #QBP (and token Joe) decided to stick around a bit longer an enjoy the relative peace of Los Olivos on a Sunday afternoon. As luck would have it, fearless leader Melanie had arranged for a visit to Refugio Ranch Winery for some tasting and tweeting.  As we gathered in Los Olivos to relax in the Montana style hunting lodge tasting room, I could tell it was going to be a great visit.  But the tasting room was only the beginning… In 2005, owner Kevin and Niki Gleason found the 415 estate property, which they planted to 26 acres of vines.  Intending to maintain the property, tucked behind the town and well hidden form any view or civilization, the estate ranch is a piece of history that is truly stunning to enjoy.  Our group was whisked away from the tasting room and taken through the winding roads of the Santa Ynez hills, stepping back in time as we drove farther out of time. Approaching the retreat house, you can see the prime acreage planted to Rhone grapes, and the careful maintenance of the land is evident by the sprawling gardens, oak trees, and agriculture use.  There is no monoculture here. The Grape Whisperer, aka vineyard manager Ruben Solorzano, carefully selected blocks and varieties that he thought would best suit the property.  Winemaker Ryan Deovlet began producing these amazing wines in 2011, and together with the Gleasons, they have created a small slice of heaven. Tucked away on the ranch, the guest house is a rustic reminder that this is still a weekend retreat for the family.  Sitting on the porch, overlooking the ranch, you might think you were an extra in Little House on the Prairie – except the wine in your hand will make you forget about everything modern, sit back, and relax.  It’s no coincidence that you feel your inner cowgirl / cowboy coming out on this property, much like a back lot at Universal Studios, as Refugio Ranch was an untouched cattle ranch that had been in operation for centuries.  The transition to vineyards was a natural one, but the owners are carefully maintaining the native habitats and ecosystems, while using the best pieces for vineyards – maintaining a clear balance between past, present, nature, and man. Refugio Ranch is the only vineyard on this side of the Santa Ynez River, and gently rolls up from teh river to the ridge.  With only 26 acres planted, it’s hard to spot the vines, but easy to taste the terroir that makes this property unique.  The prime area is only 6 miles from the ocean, and is planted in salty, ancient sandy loam – the result of ancient sea beds, and long term drought.  This area of Santa Ynez gets very little fog in the morning, but a lot in the evening, lending a cooling influence perfect for those Rhones. Keeping in tune with the cowboy theme, […]

Ballard Canyon – Syrah Incubator

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Wrapping up my week in Buellton at the Wine Bloggers Conference, the focal tasting seminar on Ballard Canyon and its Syrah was the highlight of the conference for me.  One of the newest AVAs, Ballard Canyon was established within the Santa Ynez Valley in 2013.  Long known as an excellent source for Grenache and Syrah, the area is a long, thin canyon running north to south in a curving line.  This orientation shelters it from much of the wind and cooling breezes that the rest of Santa Ynez experiences making it an excellent location for the richer, bolder Rhone red grapes. Ballard Canyon has come in to it’s own, now with a brand identity as “The Syrah AVA”.  The panel discussion that we attended at WBC included a tasting of 6 Syrahs from the area, as well as an in depth look at the AVA and those wines.  We were able to taste along with some rock star winemakers and growers from Beckmen, Harrison-Clarke, Jonata, Kimsey, Larner, Rusack, Saarloos & Sons, and Stolpman. Syrah is coming of age today, and has been called one of the most electrifying wines in the US.  With an AVA that hsa ideal conditions to grow it, Ballard Canyon has become the Syrah AVA.   Syrah can be vastly different depending on cool vs warmer climate growing regions, and Ballard Canyon creates some of the best cool climate Syrah in California.  With approximately half of the AVAs vines planted to Syrah, vintners are able to focus of the microclimates within the canyon, and create excellence in style. The wines coming out of this region are cool climate wines, which are moderated by the warmer climates surrounding it;  with the wind, weather, and sandy soils dominating Ballard Canyon, Syrahs from this area are broad and distinctive, with a mix of characteristics that you can only find here. Some quick notes of the wines we tasted: Rusack Wines – Lighter and fresh, with wonderful acid and deep red and blue fruit. Kimsey – Rocking in the glass with chocolate dried fig, and espresso Harrison-Clarke Wine  – Bursting with ripe bosenberry, blueberry and espresso notes, followed by a black raspberry finish  Jonata – co-fermented with 5% of Viognier, blackberry, dark chewy beef jerky, tobacco lead, aromatic and dense.   The over whelming these of these wines are that you have deep complexity, richness, as well as acid which balances the wine.  The large diurnal shift in temperatures allows for both ripe bold flavors, as well as maintaining the acidity levels, which produces wines with more structure and interest than a warmer climate Syrah. Ballard Canyon is the place to be, and I can’t wait to taste more wines from this region!