Fall Cognac Crawl – SF Version

When I first began my spirit studies in earnest, I knew nothing about Cognac, save for the ancient bottle of Hennessy in my stash, inherited from one friends’ move or another.

As time went on, and as I build my cocktail catalog, I learned about the diversity and deliciousness of the amber queen.

Enter the marketing genius of the Cognac people, who worked with teams in New York and San Francisco to create a pop up cocktail tour, featuring inspired drinks made with cognac.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But first, a little lesson in Cognac.  Cognac is brandy, distilled in the Cognac region of France.  The prime grape source is Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano in Italian), but a small amount of Colombard and a smattering of lesser grape may also be used.

The most important thing to understand about Cognac is the labeling system of classification as, while it does not denote quality, it gives you a clue as to how long it has been aged.

  • V.S. (Very Special) is a blend in which the youngest brandy has been stored for at least two years
  • V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale) or Reserve is also a blend, but the youngest brandy has be aged for at least four years in a cask.
  • XO (Extra Old) or Napoléon is a blend where the youngest brandy is aged for at least 6 years.  This is changing however, because in 2018, the XO needs to be aged at least 8 years.
  • Hors d’âge (Beyond Age) really is the same as XO, but it’s a great marketing ploy to showcase the highest quality product offering, and gives the appearance of rarity and luxury.

Here in San Francisco, our crawl included 5 well known craft cocktail bars, with 5 equally crafty cocktails – all different, all delicious, and all showcasing the flexibility of cognac brandy.

First up, we met at Blackbird, a hidden gem in the no man’s land between the . Mission and the Castro, on the upper reaches of Market Street.  At Blackbird, we started our journey with the Carried Away, a refreshing concoction made with Rye Bread-Infused Cognac V.S., Cocchi Torino, Bonal, a splash of Benedictine and a dash of Peychaud’s Bitters – with just a hint of Absinthe to add something interesting.

 

 

Next, we wandered down the street to Elixir, one of my favorite whiskey bars in San Francisco.  With over 500 bottles lining the walls, it’s hard to focus on the task at hand, but owner H. has plans for us.   walking out the back door, through the pass through bathroom to what seemed like a speakeasy that never went out of style, we arrived at the Elixir classroom.  Here, H., an avid Cognac fan and educator, led us on a guided tasted of three distinct cognacs.

Once we were clear on the foundation of our drink, the mixologists at Elixir treated us to the Elixir of Cognac, a frothy tropically inspired punch with XO Cognac, Crème de Cassis, pineapple gum syrup and lemon juice.  To add the creamy froth, a bit of egg white is added in and the whole thing is shaken over ice.  Yum

 

Our next stop was Dalva, where we snuck through the back door to another, semi secret speakeasy type bar.  Here, while it was dimly lit, it was cozy with a few small tables and a well stocked and beautiful bar. This stop gave us the most pure drink so far, somewhat of a Cognac Manhattan if you will – or a Corpse Reviver #1.

At Dalva, this was The Cure For What Ails You – and it certain did!  I could have had many of these, a straight cocktail made with Cognac, Bonal, Fernet, whiskey bitters and some amazing smoked pear bitters.

 

 

Our next to last stop, and the last stop on foot, Wildhawk, was bustling and teeming with happy hour revelers.  Here, we departed the savory land for the somewhat sweet Kind of Fancy, with Cognac, Rye, Port, Yellow Chartreuse (people still use this this stuff?), and mole bitters.  I admit, this wasn’t my favorite, but I can see how enjoyable it would be on a cool fall day, particularly if you warmed it up a bit.

 

Our final stop required an Uber to meander through the hills of Bernal Heights, where we ended our tour at Holy Water.  Our last cocktail of the #congaccocktails crawl was a Stinger Royale, a minty, chocolatey wonder with cognac, Cremè de Menthe, Cremè de Cacao, Absinth (you fickle fairy you) and bitters.  It was rich and certainly served as dessert.

Sadly, I couldn’t get a good picture of this one, so be creative with your imagery.

My personal favorites were the first three stops, but there is a cocktail on this tour for everyone – and you get the added bonus of discovering some of the best craft cocktail bars the city has to fofer.  The best part?  Its only $30.  Have you ever had 5 cocktails for $30 in San Francisco – outside of a shot of well rye in a dive bar in the Tenderloin?

Cognac

The Cognac Crawl continue through October 15th, so be sure to get your cocktail on and join int he fun!  Visit Good Passports to book yours today.

In New York?  There is a Manhattan version as well!

Special thanks to Teuwen Communications for the media preview, and H. from Elixir for joining the fun and providing a great Cognac class.




Cariñena of Aragon – A Queen of Spanish Wine

While most people know of Rioja, and Cava, fewer people know of the secret delights of DOP Cariñena.  Cariñena is not only just a town, it’s a varital grape, an appellation, and a region.  Located in Aragón (yes, that Aragón), it sits just about halfway between Madrid and Barcelona in Spain’s northeast tip. It’s one of the oldest DOPs in Spain, earning that distinction in 1932.

Of particular note, there is no other region that is named for it’s primary grape.  There is no Merlot, no Cabernet, and no Chardonnay region.  There isn’t even a Garnacha region, though much of Cariñena is planted with Grenache.  That is part of what makes Cariñena so special.  Another reason why wines from Cariñena are so district is the ancient vines – most averaging 40-100 years old.

2014 Corona D Aragon Special Selection – a blend of Garnacha and Cariñena, these 40 year old vines are planted between 500-700 meters.  The intensity of flavor from both the age and elevation is evident, and this rich red shows baking spice, prune, ripe blackberry, and campfire smoke.  Black cherries and dark raspberries peek through cinnamon sticks and a surprising acidity brightens the whole game.

For those of you looking for a great red wine at a fantastic price, pick up some Cariñena!  Most bottle are between $10-15, and are a fantastic value that will let you travel to Spain in your wine glass.  At once bold but bright, these wines are to be savored and go well with red meat, rich sauces, or a cool fall evening.

Enjoy!

Thank you Gregory White PR for this eye opening bottle of yum!

Riesling Revolution – Exploring Germany’s keystone grape, one bottle at a time

It’s hard to believe that September is already here, particularly with temps breaking records all over the Bay Area.

What do you do when it’s 85 at 7am in a city that rarely reaches 80 in general?  You reach for some fun white wines!  One of my favorite white wines that often gets a bad rap is Riesling.  With the diversity of styles from bone dry to sticky sweet, and price points from $10 to $100, there is a Riesling for everyone.  As we approach the holiday season, think Riesling for Thanksgiving, brunch and all of your family get togethers.

From sweet to searingly dry, spicy and intriguing, Riesling is the perfect wine for any time, given it’s wide variety of styles, regions, and – sweetness.  If you’re not sure how to pick your Riesling, check out my previous post on the German Wine Classification system here.

 

Today, I have two great examples of affordable, fun, sassy, sexy German Riesling.

Today, I bring you the Weingut Heitlinger Schellenbrunnen 2014 Riesling, from Tiefenbacher, Schellenbrunnen.  This Troken (dry) white wine is just as luscious as they come, with ripe pear, a nutty note that hides the classic diesel / petrol notes, tropical flavors of quince and guava.  The rich toasty marshmallow envelops spicy ginger and tickles your taste buds.  With a budget friendly price tag of under $15, this is perfect for fruit salad or lighter dishes.

 

Stay tuned for more Wines of Germany to come!

 

Cheers!  Thanks to the Wines of Germany and RF Binder for sharing this delightful representation of the diversity of Riesling!

 

 

The Americanization of Chardonnay

Bit by bit, over the last 25 years, the great French houses have been quietly creeping in to the Americas.  From Canada, down to California, and on in to South America, prestigious and established french houses have added extensions in the new world.


One such house is Domaine Joseph Drouhin, with it’s addition of Domaine Drouhin in Oregon.  The home estate, in the heart of Chablis is responsible for primarily Premier and Grand Crus, planted with the classic Burgundian varietals of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Domain Drouhin is also planted to these varietals, but is focused on the Oregon darling of Pinot Noir and while paying homage to it’s French roots, is very much Oregon.

To see the unique approach to winemaking at both properties, I tasted two Chablis and one Oregon Chardonnay side by side.

 

The Joseph Drouhin Domaine in France was, like many great domaines of the region, assembled bit by bit, parcel by parcel.  Todya, there are over 73 hectares (182.5 acres) of vineyards in Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Côte Chalonnaise and Chablis. 

The 2011 Joseph Drouhin Saint Véran comes from a property just north of Beaujolais, and is the newest appellation in the Mâconnais region.  With the rich limestone soil, it is a perfect place for Chardonnay.  Rich marzipan is followed by lemon curd, pineapple and ripe necterine, with a hint of mandarin orange and Golden Delicious apples.  Delightfully unoaked, this is a Chardonnay for everyone that hates Chardonnay, as it is unoaked and is aged in stainless steel for a bright freshness.  $20

 

The 2015 Joseph Drouhin Mâcon-Villages is a steal at under $15, it is similar to the Saint Véran and yet not at all the same.  Stone fruit, rich apple, and pomelo jump out of the glass.  Asian pear mixes with honeysuckle in this crisp, mineral driven wine.  Another stainless steel fermentation is a great representation at fresh, vibrant Chardonnay.

 

Moving across the pond to Oregon, Domaine Druhin Oregon was an early adopter in the 1980s.  The 2011 Domaine Drouhin Arthur Chardonnay comes from the Dundee Hills region of the Willamette Valley, and is 100% Dijon clones.   Hand picked and whole cluster pressed, this departs from the Chablis in that it was partially fermented in French oak barrels.  The rest is finished in stainless steel to maintain the vibrancy of the fruit, and blended with the barrel fermented lots.  With a rich, more tropical slant to the flavor profile, this is more akin to Burgundy than Chablis, and the rounded mouthfeel offers ripe apples and pear, with an intense floral note.  So if you’re looking for a New World wine with an old world twist, splurge on this $35 bottle!   (purchased at the property).

Special thanks to Jospeh Drouhin and Creative Feed PR for providing the Joseph Drouhin samples and food for thought!

Alsace Wines – Beyond the aromatic whites

Alsace is probably most well known for the aromatic whites – Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Gewertztraminer.  It is also well known for their sparkling wine, Cremant d’Alsace, amde in the classic champenoise method.  But, Alsace also produces some lovely Pinot Noir’s will excellent QPR.

Tucked away in a corner of eastern France, Alsace has long been a disputed territory.  In the confluence of Germany, France, and Switzerland, the Alsatian culture is a fitting blend of these three.  Bouncing back in forth across the arbitrary borders that conflict cause, the Alsace region has maintained an independant mentality.

 

When the AOC was created in 1962, wines were not required to be bottled in the region and there were no Grand Crus.  That quickly changed in the mid 1970s, and in 1976 the AOC of Crémant d’Alsace was created, to showcase the sparkling wines of the region, which had been produced since the 1900s.  Using the Méthode Champenoise (Champagne style, secondary fermentation in the bottle), these bubblies are made from the local aromatic whites of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Auxerrois, as well as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  The rarest of Crémants is the rosé, make entirely of Pinot Noir.

 

Sitting down to dinner on this evening, we were treated to the Jean-Baptiste Adam Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé NV.  This $20 sparkling wine comes from a producer that has been making wine for 400 years; with a 14th generation winemaker at the helm, the estate recently went biodynamic.  Aged in foudres and on the lees for 9 months, it is bursting with strawberries and bright citrus it is a delightful summer sipoper.

 

Other Crémants to enjoy:
Allimant-Laugner Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé NVthis popular producer offers another history lesson as the Allimant and Laugner families have been making wine since 1724.  Now run by 10th generation winemaker Hubert Laugner, this mineral drive rosé comes from vineyards on the granite slopes of the Vosages.  It is zesty and driven by blood orange and red fruit, and is a great option for weekend brunch!  $18

Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Rose Brut – this budget busting $12 sparkler is a house staple.  Easy to drink, easy to find, grab it while you can!

 

Moving in to more undiscovered territory, we started to explore the Pinot Noirs of the region.  With 90% of the wines produced in this region being white, and 18% being Crémant, there is only a smattering of red wine available.  The vast majority of this red wine is Pinot Noir, used both for the illusive Crémant Rosé, as well as still wines.

 

2015 Rieflé Pinot Noir Bonheur Convivial – Another historical house, the grapes for this wine are grown on the limestone loess and were fermented on native yeast.  Aged in French oak for 10 months, the result is a low alcohol (13.5%) wine with floral notes wafting out of the glass, followed by bright cherry and dusty strawberry, Jolly Rancher notes and mouthwatering herbal notes.

wines of Alsace, Alsace Wine2012 Hubert Meyer Pinot Noir Fut en Chen – Dark ruby with a muted nose, rustic and more ore savory notes are followed by black cherry, cranberry, and rhubarb flavors.

 

 


2012 Domaine Ostertag FronholzThe youngest house in my roundup, Domaine Osterag was founded in 1966.  Famous for the Muenchberg Grand Cru vineyard, but this Fronholz Pinot Noir comes from top top of the hill of Epfig.  Known for the minerality, the grapes are 100% destemmed and aged in neutral barrels for a year.  Grippy and full of limestone, the subtle cherry comes out after a bit of air.  Exuding earth and crushed minerals it’s another lower alcohol winner clocking in at 13.7%.  $45

Special thanks to Thierry Fritsch of the Vin’s d’Alsace, for his expressive humor and pure passion for Alsace, and to Teuwen Communications for the lovely event!

 

 




Viura – the illusive white wine of Rioja

 

Rioja wineIf you’ve like Spanish wine, you undoubtedly love Rioja.  The backbone of Rioja was build on Tempranillo, and is dominated by rich, red wines, but did you know that Riojo also has refreshing and lovely white wine?

While there actually is a Tempranillo Blanco grape, the shining star among the allowed white varietals in Rioja is Viura.  A mildly acid white grape, it is often used as a blending component, and was nearly wiped out by phylloxera.  When they replanted, much of it was replaced by Malvaia and Garnacha Blanca.  Viura is also one of the most im . portant grapes in Cava production, where it is known as Macabeo.

Viura is an excellent alternative to Chardonnay, and if you see the Lopez de Haro Blanco in your wine travels, be sure to check it out.

100% Virua, these grapes were hand harvested and spent a short 3-4 months in oak, keeping the vibrant and fresh flavor.  A low 12.5% ABV (Hallelujah!) this is a wonderful choice for brunch or lunch, wit tropical flavors, peach, fresh citrus, and a lush mouthfeel.  Yum!

 

Thanks to another great selection from Vintae and Lopez de Haro!

 

 

 

Onward Wines

When I was first introduced to Onward Wines, I was intrigued by the thought of three wines made from Malvasia Blanca, as I thought of how to approach a piece on unique wines for weekend brunching.  I love Malvasia, and there is really none to speak of in the US – save this little patch of land in Contra Costa County.

Further investigation in to Faith Armstrong Foster’s wines, however, revealed wines that are expressive of terroir in its purist form, quality, uniqueness, and a sense of place in every glass.

 

Onward 2015 Pétillant Naturel, Malvasia Bianca, Capp Inn Ranch, Suisun Valley

Beginning with the beguiling Pétillant Naturel, made from Malvasia Bianca, the Onward selections express freshness that can often get lost in the shuffle.  Pet-Nat, a fun, rustic take on sparkling wine, captures bubbles the old fashioned way.  Bottling these wines before primary fermentation occurs, without the addition of a dosage or yeast, Malvasia Blanca makes a natural muse for this style.

With nutty Marzipan, hazlenut and lychee notes, complemented with Asian pear and honey, the Pet Nat holds peaches and brioche, with ah hint of ripe tuscan melon.  There is a natural salinity coming fro the Malvasia, and a pinch of citrus zest to keep it fresh.

This Pét-Nat is floral and fruity, but refreshingly bone-dry. The opening aromatics are like sticking your nose in a fermentation vat, with yeasty brioche notes and lively youthful freshness. To follow are notes of night blooming jasmine, citrus blossom, melon rind, warm Kaffir lime scones with preserved lemon…and a refreshing hint of sea air….and did I mention soft tiny delicate bubbles!

 

Onward 2014 Malvasia Bianca, Capp Inn Ranch, Suisun Valley

Like a summer day in a bottle, Malvasia Blanca jumps out of the glass with stone fruit, fresh and floral notes and a searing acidity to refresh your hot and dusty taste buds.  The grapes were whole cluster pressed, adding much needed texture and tannin, the wine was finished in stainless steel while the lees were stirred every two weeks.  Oh so very fresh and happy, kumquats and pears dance around golden delicious apples with a splash of fresh cream.

 

The often forgotten Redwood Valley, deep in the forests of Mendocino County, is an interesting growing region.  With cooler than average temperatures, dense Redwood groves and chilly damp fog, it’s a challenging place to grow any wine – let alone pinot noir.  But grow it does, and this example is a beautiful expression of cool climate pinot noir.

Pale and clear, wild strawberries are front and center with bright hibiscus and Queen Anne cherries.  Juicy pomegranate and rhubarb are rounded out with lingering methol and forest floor notes.

 

Onward 2014 Carignane, Casa Roja Vineyard, Contra Costa County

i love Carignane.  It is one of those lost grapes of California, and was, at one point, a huge part of the old Italian field blends that helped to solidify the commercial wine industry in the state.  Often overlooked, Contra Costa is a prime growing area for Carignane as well as Zinfandel.

This inky dark wine jumps out of the glass with acid and spice notes, with rich blackberry notes.  The palate is juicy plum flesh, boysenberries, zesty hibiscus and fresh cranberry over a layer of black berry cobbler.  The rich blue and black fruit and tempered by brilliant acidity that keeps you wanting more.  You can just see the sneak attack by the field blend friends Mourvedre and Malvasia Nero hiding in there.

Onward doesn’t have a tasting room, but you can usually find Faith cruising around Napa or parts north seeking exceptional fruit.  The wines are available online and and select retailers and are priced beween $20 (Malvasia) and $40 (Pinot Noir) roughly.

A very special thank yuo to Charles Communications and Onward Wines for a wonder lives tasting, and these amazing wines!  I will definitely be adding these to my regular rotation of enjoyment.

For more of Faith’s wines, check out Farmstrong, hand crafted blends.

 

 




Achaval-Ferrer – wines of distinction from Argentina

When you think of a classic wine from Argentina, you probably think of Malbec.  But would you also think of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and yes – even Merlot?  What exactly is Cabernet’s role in Argentina anyway?

Enter the upstart minds of Achaval-Ferrer.  In 1995, the first twinkle in the eyes of the winery partners appeared, with their minds set to the gestalt of creating the best wines possible.  In 1998, the first property was purchased, Diamonte Vineyard and the winery was founded.

So, last month on #winestudio, we explored the wines of Achaval-Ferrer, from Malbec to Cab Franc, and what a journey it was!  Wine Studio is an ongoing educational project that seeks to bring writers, wineries, and consumers together on Tuesday evenings on Twitter. For the month of April, we explored the wines of Achaval-Ferrer.  My favorites of this series are outlined below.

One Tuesday in April, which happened to be #worldmalbecday, we tasted two wines blind.  Naturally we knew that they were 100%, or at least, significantly, malbec based, but what no one anticipated was that we were actually tasting two vintages of the same wine, with very different results.

These wines were the 2012 & 2013 Quimera, named for the top of the line blend that is made, lke all good wine, in the vineyard.  More than simply the sum of it’s parts, the blend varies ever so slightly every year but is always predominately Malbec.  To showcase the other varietals that Achaval-Ferrer focuses on, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon is blended in.

2012 Quimera

Earthy forest floor erupting n eucalyptus and menthol.  Tobacco and dark chocolate mingling with blueberry and blackberry, with old fashioned black licorice on the finish. Astute and developed but can be cellared for years to come.   $30

 

2013 Quimera (pre-release)

Bursting with fruit, classic Malbec.  Fresh plums, baking spice, hint of dried lavender and herbs de Provence.

What we didn’t know at the time of tasting s that this was the same wine, same blend, but with vintage variation.  According to the winemakers, 2013 was actually a clear year at the site, however, the fruit was showing more, undoubtedly due to it youth.

So what is the point?  The point is that wine is a living thing; wine changes in the bottle, but it changes in the vineyard.  The same wine can be impacted by climate, localized weather, harvest conditions and so much more.

Also, there is more to Argentina than fruit bomb Malbecs.  While they are fun, and great for a party, there is more and more of a Bordeaux influence creeping in; this is natural given the origins of Malbec in Cahors (just south of Bordeaux) and it’s use in many Bordeaux blends.  Stylistically, Malbec from France is quite different, but as time goes on and Argentinian wine grows up, you can see the development of these restrained and austere styles.

So go out and taste some Argentinian blends!  They are relatively inexpensive, and while not cheap (compared to many mass marketed Malbecs) and can offer an eye opening look at what Argentina can produce

Achaval-Ferrer also makes a stunning Cabernet Franc which we also tasted and I highly reccomend!

 

 

Rosé Colored Glasses: Sidebar Cellars

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!

 




Rosé Colored Glasses – Rodney Strong Rosé of Pinot Noir

There is something about this time of year that is magical; cool foggy mornings and evenings are tempered with the mild warmth of daylight.  The days are a touch longer, and we can be languid in the sunshine of the late afternoon.

This is rosé season.  Frankly, it’s always rosé season, but right now, in the promising first days of Spring, the wide rainbow of pale salmon, vibrant raspberry, and deep rose deliver a transitional beverage that is simply divine.

Rose can be made from any varietal, but perhaps the most common is Pinot Noir.  In 2016, Sonoma County’s Rodney Strnog Vineyards, which has been going strong for over 25 yeras, released their first rosé, expressly made from Pinot Noir grapes (no saignée here!).

While Russian River Valley can produce Pinot Nori that is a bit too bold for my liking, this rosé is, simply said, perfect.  Harvested at ~20 brix, the grapes kissed the skins for a mere nine hours as the whle clusters were pressed gently.  Slowly fermented in a temperature controlled cellar, the pale salmon pink has hints of orange hues and golden rays of sunlight.

Unlike many rosés of Pinot Noir, the first note is not strawberry or raspberry, but rather a savory one.  Fresh green herbs meet jasmine and grilled peaches, while wild mountain strawberry dances on the tongue at the finish.

An excellent late afternoon tipple on a warm day, especially sweet for the price of $25.

Thanks to the cru at Rodney Strong for making this lovely wine, and sending me a sample!




Winesense, nonsense, Riesling sense!

When I was studying for my Certified Specialist of Wine credential, one of the most challenging regions for me was Germany.  Not because of the wines specifically, as while there are some unusual varietals, most German wines are fairly well known, but for the simple reason that deciphering a German wine labels is an exercise in linguistics, frustration, and a pyramid that  would make Giza look simple.

The Rise of Riesling

One of the most classic German wines is Riesling.  Riesling is one of the most complex, diverse, and wondrous wines in the world, and I often want to say “taste the rainbow” when I think of Riesling.

 

From bone dry, to sticky sweet, oily and petrol driven, to chalk and shale, Riesling is produced in a wide variety of styles.  Understanding how to find the specific style you are looking for is part of the mystery and fascination of German wine.

 

Cracking the Code


Varietal

The grape variety is clearly marked, so that’s easy.  We have Riesling

Must Weight

Next, to determine the level of ripeness – or more technically the must weight of the harvested grapes (which really does not have any impact no sweetness of the finished wine), we look at the Prädikat level.  For example, a Riesling picked at it’s fullest potential ripeness, or just a hare’s breath past late harvest, is known as Spätlese.  If you’re looking for something that is picked below full ripeness, go for a Kabinett.  For the sweet sticky beauty of a dessert wine, you want a wine that is at least Auslese, which is late harvest, but true stickies are Beerenauslese or Trokenbeerenauslese.  Confusingly, Troken is also the word for “dry”.

For this wine, it’s marked Spätlese, next to Riesling.

Are you with me?

How Sweet It Is

Here we get to the tricky part.  Since you need to determine the level of sweetness separately from the must weight, you need to classify the taste of the sugar content, using Troken (dry) or Feinherb (off-dry).

This wine is dry, or Trocken.

The relatively new Riesling Scale can help us Americans with these things.  While some people disparage the International Riesling Foundation’s dumbing down of Riesling, at a simple level, it’s helpful.

That said, remember that Riesling is a high acid grape.  Acid balances sweetness, so that even a Medium Sweet Riesling may not play that tune when you are drinking it with maple smoked salmon.

Are You A Good Witch, or a Bad Witch?

Now that we understand what the flavor profile might be in the glass, we need to look at where it is from.  The Qualitätswein (QbA) and Prädikatswein (QmP) designations denote quality wine and quality wine from a specific region, and table wine (Taflewein) and bulk wine (Landwein) are the lower brow everyday wines.

This wine is Prädikatswein, a quality wine from a specific region

The Mosel

Right.  So really, there are many layers of classification but once you understand the basis for categorization, you can generally interpret what to expect from the wine.  So, for January’s Wine Studio Project, we embarked on a tour of the Mosel with Massanois Imports.

The Mosel River winds it’s way through Germany, Luxombourg and France, and the water moderate the frigid temperatures of the region making the steep banks of the river a prime growing region.

The Wines

I won’t bore you with the tasting notes here, but suffice it to say these are some pretty splendid wines.  They serve to show you that the variety of Riesling is wide, and there is something for everyone.

Don’t be afraid of a sweet Riesling!  The searing acidity balances the sweetness out and while it may be shocking when looking at the residual sugar, the balance is magical.  Paired with creamy Indian curries, spicy Thai noodles, and even Ethiopan food, Riesling is an adaptive, changing, developing wine.

 




A star rises in Amador County

 Bella Grace Vineyards

This past summer,

after the mayhem that is the Wine Bloggers Conference, I was delighted to be invited to visit Bella Grace Vineyards in Amador County.
Just under an hour from Lodi, the Bella Grace Vineyards tasting cave  is tucked away in a hidden cave on 20 acres of vines in Plymouth, with an additional tasting room in the small town of Sutter Creek.

Bella Grace Vineyards

Bella Grace’s Stephen Havill

Our driver, guide, host, and 2nd generation owner, Steven Havill, showed off his family’s property, planted with a wide variety of grapes, with a particular focus on Rhone varietals as well as the classic Amador offering, Zinfandel.

 

Sustainable Quality

With an emphasis on sustainability, it is particular important to the Havills that the highest quality grapes come out of their vineyard, establishing Bella Grace as a force to experience for yourself.

Perfect Pairings

On our visit, Robert Havill, prepared delicious food pairings with the wines.  What happens when you put 10 wine bloggers in a cave and make Frank Morgan get in the car?  Magic!

 

Cutom made t-shirts really throw the message home: Frank Morgan! GET IN THE CAR (if it’s going to Bella Grace)

Variety

Bella Grace has many wines to chose from, including a sparkling brut that is bottled at Anderson Valley’s Roederer Estate facility.   This kicked off the afternoon, as we tasting through the meandering menu of delicious nuggets.  While Zinfandel typically dominates in this region, the rolling foothills also offer some delicious Rhone inspired wines.  Additionally, the Havills source grapes to add variety to their portfolio.

 

 

Olive Oils

Bella Grace also produces a wide variety of olive oils, both natural and with essential flavor components.  I particularly enjoyed the grapefruit and lemon oils!

My wine picks

With so many to choose from, and a long after noon of tasting, it was hard to narrow it down, but my favorites were:

Bella Grace Vineyards

Vermintino – While there is some Vermitino in the 3 Graces Blanc, this is new release and is a great alternative to Sauvignon Blanc.  This Italian varietal does well in Lodi and the foothills, where the hot days yield to cooler evenings, giving this white it’s characteristic acid.

This Spring, Bella Grace is featured in the Wine Bloggers Conference scholarship Wine Club, which was founded by yours truly and Worlds Best Wine Clubs features some unique wineries as well as benefit the scholarship that I work so hard on.

Today, at 6pm, we are featuring the Vermintino from Bella Grace on a live tasting.  Curious in checking out the wine club?  Join us on Facebook Live and hear more about this wine and the club!

Grenache Blanc – one of my go to varietals, this is no exception.  A rich white with creamy acid shows golden delicious apples, lime zest, a hint of oily petrol, and crumbled shale minreatlity.

Grenache – another favorite varietal, which has a wide swatch of expression.  Here, the bold garnet red color shows it’s young nature, with rose petals and ripe cherries.  With earthy leather and tobacco buried in the mid-palate, it finishes with figs and chocolate.  Delicious!

3 Graces Noir – Bella Grace’s GSM blend shows off the Mourvedre base with cracked spices and forest notes.  The fruitiness of the Grenache softens the bones of the Mourvedre, while the Syrah rounds everything out and smooths over the cracks.

Reserve Barbera – Perhaps one of my faovirte domestic Barberas that I have tasted, this luscious and acid forward wine didn’t last the tasting!  This is the oen one I kept going back to with our food pairings.  Inky dark and rich but repleate with red fruit and bitter plum skin, I can’t wait to taste it again and see how more age has mellowed her out.

Melanie, the Dallas Wine Chick, is clearly enjoying her wine!

If you are visiting Amador wine country, it is approximately 2 hours from the San Francisco Bay Area.  Plymouth, where Bella Grace is located, is another 20 minutes on country roads which are a beautiful way to experience the region in good weather.  A second tasting room is located in the historic town of Sutter Creek.

 




AA Badenhorst – Swartland history in a glass

If you ask the average person about South Africa, typically you will hear Nelson Mandela, Apartheid, and Pinotage.  If you ask a wine persona about South Africa, you are likely to hear Pinotage and Chenin Blanc.

Chenin Blanc is a unique white wine, with origins in teh Loire Valley of France and is made is a wide variety of styles.  In the South African wine growing regions, Chenin is king.

With 60ish official appellations, and nearly 100,000 hectares plated to vine, wines range from average to exceptional.

The Swartland region of the Western Cape winelands in South Africa, is one of the youngest wine regions in the country, and rapidly growing.  The decomposing granite soils tumble off the low mountains in to a fertile valley that is prime for grapes.

Planted in the 1950s and 1960s with Chenin Blanc, Cinsault, and Grenache, the Badenhorst is located in the  Swartland region of the Western Cape, which is a younger wine region but growing.  The decomposing granite and shale soils tumble off the low mountains in to a fertile valley that is prime for grapes.

Co-owner Adi Badenhorst is a bit of rebel, taking the time to make even the smallest decision such as picking for peak freshness and blending choices.  Raised in a farming community with his cousin Hein, they purchased the Kalmoesfontein farm in 2007 and set about restoring the badly neglected property.

Modeling it on the farms they grew up on with an eye towards making natural wines, the Badenhorts maintain the old techniques of dry farming and hand foot crushing whole clusters.  Using concrete tanks and large wooden vats for fermentation, these wines have a taste of yesterday, with earthy back to the earth flavors and mouthfeel.

With his blends co-fermenting in a bit of a mish mash, Adi doesn’t using rules or classic winemaking by numbers to make his wine.  Instead he relies on what nature has done n the field.


2012 AA Badenhorst Red Blend

This complex blend of Cinsault, Grenache, Shriaz, Mouvedre and Tinta Barocca is a lovely representation of how Rhône varietals do well in many climates.  You might know that Cinsault is one of the parent grapes of Pinotage, but here, it is an earthy backbone to this lush red wine and I love the flavors it imparts.  Cinsault here, is an old school country grape, and was often used to make bulk or table wine.  Today, is once again a premium grape.

Aging in 4000 liter casks for 16 months, the oak is a very subtle note and not at all influential in this easy to drink red.

The savory, smoke meat mingles with old leather and black tea while ripe blackberries layer with dried herbs for a pleasing, masculine blend.  There is fruit here, but the key notes are savory and herbal which is a nice departure from a bold and bombastic Shiraz or Southern Rhone blend.  The silky tannins finish with a minty fresh dusting of black pepper.

The $30 price tag shouldn’t deter you from this wine, and it should be enjoyed with a juicy burger, a steak, or any BBQ.

Special thanks to Colangelo & Partners and Wines of South Africa for providing samples and images!

 




How Green was my Valley

Driving along highway 116 in western Sonoma County, you may have driven by the former River Road Vineyards, now the Rubin Family Wines complex – a sprawling, aging wood complex including a restaurant and bar patio, as you head towards Forestville.

This area of the Russian River Valley has been home to some of the world’s best pint Nor producers for decades, and while River Road Vineyards had been experiencing somewhat of an identify crisis in the mid 2000s,  in 2011, the Rubin Family of Wines tok over the property.

A particularly ideal place to grow Pinot Noir, the fog often lingers here beyond other area of Russian River, cooling down the vineyards and adding an earthy, acid driven profile to the wines.

The Rubin Family of Wines is committed to producing exceptional wines. Sourced from both the River Road estate and other local sources, the Ron Rubin brand includes a Pinot Blanc and two Pinot Noirs, as well as a Chardonnay and Syrah.

With specific attention paid to the vineyards and resulting wine, the dedicated winemaking team focuses on passion and precision.

2015 Ron Rubin Green Valley of Russian River Pinot Blanc

Stainless steel fermented with a touch of neutral barrel blended in, this is a classic Pinot Blanc in style and weight.  Ripe pear, juicy peach, crisp golden apples bathing in honeysuckle fields.  Finishes with tart lime and bright acidity.  A refreshingly low alcohol wine, it comes in at only 13.5% abv.  The early harvest of 2015 came from Dutton Ranch’s Shop Block a mere 1.5 miles from the Rubin Estate, and since Pinot Blanc is unusual for Sonoma County, this was a rare treat (only 3.5 acres are planted in Green Valley).

$30
2013 Ron Rubin Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

A bold Russian River Pinot Noir with brown sugar, black cherry, and Dr. Pepper notes layering on top of chocolate mocha.  Rich but still fresh with earth and wet leaves.  I really wanted this wine to have more acid, but this is a crowd pleaser to be sure and would be popular at any gathering.  Also low in alcohol, and unusually so given the region and the flavors, this clocks in at 13.7%.  With a long and slow ripening season in Green Valley, the estate Pinot Noir is a mix of hand harvested clone 667, 115, 777 and Pommard.  The Pommard adds a richness to the wine, with a soft and round body with the 9 months of French Oak give it the spice and vanilla backbone.

$40

Special thanks to Jo Diaz of Diaz Communications for the hookup!




Black Magnolia is no dark flower

When my friend and marketing guru approached me about trying a new Oregon wine, I, unsurprisingly, leap at the chance.  After all, Oregon, and Pinot Noir, are some of my favorite things.

When I learned that it was partially sourced from Hyland Vineyard, which provides fruit to some of Oregon’s most prestigious brands, and is also one of the oldest vineyards in the area, I was even more intrigued. I know that Hyland Vineyard produces fruit that goes in to some of my favorite wines.  Along with the Olsen Vineyard & Domaine Loubejac Vineyard, Black Magnolia has a significant pedigree.

With the goal to make an outstanding Oregon Pinot Noir that has a friendly price point, and that is representative of the highest quality wines from the region, the Black Magnolia Wines team delivers on target and on budget.

Widely believed to be an exceptional vintage throughout Oregon, the 2015 Black Magnolia Willamette Valley Pinot Noir holds up its end of the bargain.

With classic, yet muted cherry notes, telltale glimpses of cedar and fresh floor show through the black raspberry on the surface.  A hint of spearmint plays with the juicy orange and rose hips, while young and firm tannins highlight pipe tobacco and cracked whole spices.  A bright and shiny acidity is indicative of the Willamette, and with the 2015, one would expect it as odd numbered years tend to be the critics darlings.

One might expect this wine to be $30-45, as many Oregon Pinots are, but the stunning $22 price tag makes this a case worthy selection.

Well done Black Magnolia!  I can’t wait to see what else these cats come up with.  With a combined experience from Burgundy to New Zealand, anything is possible.

Special thanks to April Yap-Henning for spreading the love about this wine and arranging for this yummy samples!

 

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