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!

Live Blogging: Wente Riva Ranch Chardonnay

Wente was one of the first vineyards in Livermore California, and is the oldest continuously operating winery in the state of California.  It is still family owned, and the Wente Family is the first family of Chardonny.  many of the clones that are in California today are Wente or derivatives of Wente Clones.

 

The Riva Ranch Chardonnay is a single vineyard wine from the Arroyo Seco AVA in Monterey.  The deeply golden color comes from 8 months in French and American oak, and the spice of the barrels really comes out while the acidity is maintained.

Baked pears, baking spice, golden delicious apples with a rich, rounded finish.

Live Blogging: 2012 Jordan Chardonnay

Lisa Mattson is well known in the blogging community, and is an engaging and energetic Communications Director for Jordan Winery in Alexander Valley, in Northern Sonoma County.

The 2012 Chardonnay is all Russian River fruit, with a little bit of time in French Oak.  Classic Russsian River Chard, sourced from 8 vineyards.  The gravelly soil lends itself to the mineralality of the wine.  Fresh and clean, with classic RRV fruit profile.  Slight pear notes, green apple, lemon, and fresh strawberry leaves.

Paired with Jordan’s famous crustini,

 

The Estate Tour and Tasting is an amazing experience that I highly recommend.  You can read about my experience here!

Bucher Vineyards – a step back in time

When I first came to know the wines of Bucher Vineyards, it was through my love of all things Pinot.  A very specific spot in the Russian River AVA, with a true sense of terroir, I had been drinking the wines of Holdredge Winee for years before I came to know the people behind the amazing fruit from Bucher Vineyards.

As I tasted more wines from producers that were lucky enough to get a share of these babies, like Thralls Family Cellars and Siduri, I was excited to be able to taste the Bucher Vineyards wines at Pinot on the River last year.

Once I tasted them, I knew I was hooked and I had to go see the property for myself.  Fortunately, I was able to get to know John & Diane Bucher a bit, and they happily welcomed a small group of bloggers to their property for a history lesson and tasting.

Bucher Vineyards was born out of the family diary farm next door, which John’s parents, Joe & Annmarie, founded as immigrants from Switzerland int he 1950s.  Starting out in San Francisco, they elder Buchers fell in love with the farming communities of the Russian River Valley and found the property that the dairy currently sits on.

Selling to local milk processors like Clover Stornetta, the dairy was the focal point of the 11,000 White-O Ranch, dating back tot he 1930s.  With the purchase of a small 360 acre property, and a few dairy cows, the Buchers built up the herd to a prosperous 650 head. Joe & Annemarie’s son John grew up on the diary and learned the family business.

Attending UC Davis in the early 1980s, John returned after graduation to manage the operation.  His goal at that time was to make it 100% organic, which he did successfully – all while looking for ways to diversify the family business operations. In 1997, after two years of researching varietals, analyzing soils, and talking to neighboring grape growers, John planted the first Bucher Vineyard Pinot Noir blocks. starting with Pinot Noir, the plantings have grown to include Chardonnay, and now include 38 acres of planted grapes in 15 unique vineyard blocks.  Being next to an organic dairy farm has it’s benefits, and the Bucher’s practice sustainable viticulture in the vineyard. After successfully selling grapes for a number of years, John & Diane decided to start their own label.  In 2013, the first vintage of Bucher Vineyards was released and became Diane’s full time job.  I have to say, her passion and dedication pays off! The wines we tasted truly show a sense of place, and as I like to call it “The Bucher Dirt”.


2013 Russian River Chardonnay
This was a richer style Chardonnay but not at all like a classic California wine.  With beautiful balance, and bright citrus based acid, this was a creamy lemon custard, green apple, and stone fruit. Fermented in stainless steel and aged in neutral barrels, except for a single new barrel, there is just a kiss of oak.  $28

2013 Rosè of Pinot
Beautiful rose petals and floral aromas break in to blood orange and pink grapefruit, with nectarines.  Dry, with explosive fruit, this is a luscious rose.  The 667 clones of Pinot in this block are intensely floral, and created a delectable wine.  $18 (sold out)

 

2012 RRV Pinot Noir – Is classically Russian River, with pungent, beautiful blackberry flavors bursting out of the glass, followed by a hint of rose petals.  Cola and cracked black pepper follow the burst of fruit, with a nice finish of tangerine and baking spices.  A blend of three vineyard blocks, the backbone comes from a primarily Swan clone block, with Pommard and 667 making up the balance and adding complexity.  A hint of oak from 40% new French barrels rounds out this luscious Pinot Noir.  At $40, it’s well worth more, and I look forward to adding it to my collection soon!

 

If you’d like to visit Bucher Vineyards for yourself, join their mailing list here.  Tours & Tastings are available by appointment only, and Diane would love to see you!

Jordan Royalty


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Sitting on the mountaintop overlooking Alexander Valley, Dry Creek and Geyserville, you might feel like doing your best Leonardo DiCaprio impression from Titanic.  I’m the king queen of the world!

Jordan Vineyards & Winery was founded in 1976, with a passion for world class Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, made in the heart of Sonoma.  Today, that vision has grown to include a showcase for the local terroir, as well as a focus on sustainability and stewardship of the land that the vineyards are planted on.  From solar panels to water treatment facilities, Jordan strives to maintain the land that produces these beautiful wines.

On a gorgeous late summer day, I joined a group of fellow bloggers to preview the newest tour & tasting offering, the Estate Tour & Tasting.  This 3 hour tour will make you feel like you are Gilligan, lost in the rolling hills of oak trees and back acreage, but you will soon be found in your glass of wine and several stops along the way.

Meanding down from the main chateau and tasting area, the first stop is in the gardens, where the produce for Chef Todd Knoll’s culinary program.  Having had several meals at

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Jordan, I know first hand what amazing vegetables can do for a meal.  Wandering through the rows of raspberries, roses, and veg, we had a mini feast of summer tomatos and fruit before boarding the newly christened (and air conditioned) Jordan shuttle for our next stop on the tour.

Next up, Seven Oaks is a stand of oak trees surrounding a new tasting bar, with sweeping views of the lake and olive orchards.  Here at Seven Oaks, we tasted two vintages of Chardonnay, paired with bento boxes of fresh vegetable sushi.  My favorite was the 2011, with beautiful crisp green apple and citrus fruit, with a healthy dose of white necterine.  The 2010 was equally beuatiful if not differnt.  The 2010 was a classic California Chardonnay, but more restrained, with creamy golden delicious apple, pear, vanilla, and baking spice.  Two yin and yang experiences, refreshingly chilled on a hot day.

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At Creekside Landing, on next stop, we strolled through the vines heavy with Malbec and Petite Verdot grapes, and tasted the componant grapes that go in the Jordan’s Cabernet program.  If you haven’t tasted fruit off the vine, this is a once in a lifetime opportuinty to taste the tannic Malbec skins, and the rich ripe flesh of Petite Verdot!

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At our final stop on the tour, with the time going all too fast, we reach the crest of the hill at Vista Point.  This open air gazebo has 360 degree views of Alexander Valley, Geyserville, and peeps of Dry Creek and Chalk Hill and is an amazing viewpoint for sunset.  There wasn’t a bad seat in the house, as we sat down to enjoy our tasting of Cabernet and nibbles.

IMG_2947Starting with local cheeses, artisan bread and Jordan’s olive oil, we moved on to Sonoma miso beef, served with mushrooms and endive.  Both courses were paired with the 2002 and 2009 Cabernets, two amazing examples of what can be achieved here in Alexander Valley.  The amazingly fresh 2002 tasted as if it were just bottled, and was well integrated with earthy black pepper notes and blue fruit jumping out of the glass.  The 2009, by comparison, was fresh, lively and young – and still delicious – with blackberry, lavender, and herbs de provence.  As we sat chatting and tasting, it was easy to see our glasses emptied and refilled as we sighed away the afternoon on the mountain top.IMG_2951

From the wine lover to the wine geek, the Jordan Estate Tour & Tasting is the perfect experience for any one who wants to learn more about the proprey and the products produced here.  For $120 per person, you have an amazing experience to remember.IMG_2942IMG_2941

The bloggers on this preview tour were guests of Jordan Winery

 

Judgement at Okanagan

On our last day in the Okanagan, we were greeted by gloomy skies and chilly temperature.  That didn’t deter from the sweeping views from the top of the valley floor, where we arrived at Tantalus Winery

for a tasting and lunch.  At the winery, we were joined by Rhys Pender, Master of Wine, from the B.C. Wine Institute, who led us through a head to head blind tasting, pairing B.C. wines with those from Napa, Sonoma, Australia, and France.

During this taste-off, I really had a chance to taste the red wines of the region and get a better sense of place.  More often than not, the BC wines showed the depth of character and old world charm of those from France and Italy, landing somewhere between the New World and Old Worlds.  The value is on par with the comparable wines, and there are some excellent examples being produced.

Among the wines we tasted, here are my notes, and my first guess below the actual wine.
Flight 1 – Chardonnay

  • Kendall Jackson Grand Reserve – Santa Barbara, California

oaky and bold, California

  • Chartron et Trebuchet Pouilly Fuisee – Burgundy, France

bright citrus, minerals, France


  • acidic with lots of citrus, B.C.
    Tantaslus Chardonnay – Okanagan Valley, B.C.

Yay I guessed right!

 

Flight 2 – Syrah/Shiraz
  • Cave de Tain Esprit de Granit Saint-Joseph – Rhone Valley, France

Oaky, with smoke and bold berry plum flavors.  thinner, tannic.  B.C.

  • Nk’Mid Cellars Qwam Qwmt Syrah – Okanagan Valley, B.C. (It’s interesting to note that Nk’Mid is the first winery in North America to be owned & operated by First Nation native peoples)

Juicier, ripe plum, bold berry bright fruit.  France.

  • Layer Cake Shiraz – McLaren Vale, Australia

Huge, brambly and chewy.  Tell take Aussie shiraz with dense spice and chocolate.

Hey, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad!

 

Flight 3 – Cabernet Blends
  • Chateau Branaire-Ducru Saint Julien – Bordeaux, France

Funky earth, dry and bitter.  France

  • Mission Hill Family Estate winery Oculus – Okanagan Valley, B.C.

Bold and jammy with deep coffee notes,  B.C.

  • Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon – Napa Valley, California
Flabby, with floral notes, violets.  Sweeter and dense.  Napa.
This flight was hard but I got them all right too!

 

Now I was really guessing on the first two because it could go either way, but the Napa example was such a departure from the first tow, it was obvious.  It’s amazing what side by side tastings can do for your palate exposure!
After our blind tasting, we enjoyed lunch and some of the Tantalus wines.  I particularly enjoyed both the Riesling and the pinot noir, which was juicy and full of ripe strawberries and cherries.   This wine was going down a a treat, and I sipped it during lunch much to my pleasure.

 

While it can be challenging to find BC wines outside of the local area, and certainly outside of Canada, it’s a worthwhile destination for all that the Okanagan offers.  From water sports, to snow sports, to wine sports, I am looking forward to a repeat visit before WBC 2013!

 

This is going to be a treat, when we are there in June, to enjoy the summer weather and great wines.  I can’t wait to go back!

 

Speed tasting 12: Chilean Chard

Maycas Limari 2008 Chardonnay is grown 300 miles north of Santiago and 8 miles in from the coast.

It’s 100% chardonnay and sells for $20.

It’s nice that there isn’t too much oak on the front, but it has an interesting flavor that i’ve found in most Chilean wines.

I’m not so much of a chardonay person, and this is a miss for me.

Speed tasting!

How do you taste 10 wines in 5 minutes?  Or something like that.  It’s the annual wine bloggers conference, and we’re kicking off speed tasting with

Rodney Strong 2009 Reserve Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley

sandlewood

hazlenut

a touch of apricot

toast

nutty

lemon drop

We didn't go for the almonds but…

Jordan Winery is a hidden gem in Alexander Valley.  Up a winding driveway, through the woods, and yes – even over a creek, you meander up to the upper vineyard of the winery, where the French inspired chateau winery sits.  It was founded in 1972, coincidentally the same year both I and our host john jordan, were born – based on the dream of creating world class Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay in Sonoma.  I’d say that they have accomplished that dream quite nicely.

John Jordan, CEO

Tom Jordan began the winery in 1972, when he signed the deed the day John, his son, was born; the first blocks in the lower vineyard were purchased then, and in 1974 the property was expanded to incorporate the upper ranch of the vineyards.  Construction began on the winery in 1976, and the first Cabernet Sauvignon was released in 1980.  Fast forward 25 years, and John, the prodigal son returned to the home ranch where he grew up, to take over.  John Jordan, the current CEO, took over operations in 2005 after a successful career in law.  In fact, he STILL works in law, which is rather amazing considering what it takes to run a place like Jordan well.  When he took over, John strived to find the best of old world techniques and new world know how, including sustainable farming techniques and a unique focus on a welcoming hospitality center which includes a private library tasting room as well as Michelin star worthy dining experience.

On our arrival to the winery, we were greeted by John, Lisa Mattson (@jordanwinery) – my friend and Jordon’s Communications Director, as well as a great video blogger-, Brent Young – the viticulturist, and hors d’oeuvres by Chef Todd Knoll who was tucked away in the kitchen preparing our nosh.  The 2008 Russian River Chardonnay that was paired with the tidbids was not at all what I was expecting and absolutely delightful.  I found lively citrus, stone fruit and a creamy mineral finish, while being subtle and not at all over oaked or overly full of buttery malolactic fermentation.  The lemonade flavors gave way to baking spices, green apples, and Asian pears.  this wine is treated with only 55% new French Oak, while the rest is in 1-2 year old barres; a full 25% is stainless steel fermented, which allows the fruit to shine through.  The 75% of barrel fermented wine balances out the stainless steel and the 28% malolactic fermentation rounds out the wine while retaining the crisp refreshing chard that even this ABC curmudgeon would love.  This wine was literally just released (May 1st) and at $29 I would recommend it for summer sipping.

After our chardonnay, we stepped in tot he dining room which is in the end of one wing of the tank room.  And by tank room, I don’t mean large steel drums.  I mean beautiful, hand built oak tanks, which look as if they should sing to you.  In the dining room, our tables were set with beautifully hand calligraphered corks with our names, as well as a menu card (which clearly I could not see well as it’s blurry here).

We began lunch with 3 chardonnays – the 2005, 2007, and some more of the 2008 we tasted outside.  The 2005 Chardonnay had a bit of age on it, which I found to show a touch of petrol, with creamy lemon curd and richer earthy bold profile.  37% was fermented in new french oak, with extended sur lie contact to round out the palate.  Again, the malolactic fermentation was limited to 76%, which preserved the green apple and lime zest flavors.  For me, this was my least favorite of the three whites – but if you enjoy a creamier chardonnay do try it.  the 2007 Chardonnay showed more grapefruit than the 2008, and 48% was fermented in new French Oak.  This year had more ofa spiced pear favor to it, and I can imagine it going quite well with fish dishes and apple pie.  All in all, I really identify with Jordan’s style of chardonnay, and I am still learning to love new wines that are made in the Burgundian tradition, with less oak and subtle maloactic fermention which lets the fruit speak for itself.
Next, we moved on the to Cabs.  We were treated to a lineup that is jealousy inducing, with a 1999, 2005, and 2006 cabernet Sauvgnon.  The 1999 was soft and supple, and simple a luxuriously plush wine.  The velvety black and dark red fruit showed plums, blackberries, and juicy raspberries with a touch of chocolate cherry on top.  1999 was the first harvest from the newly acquired upper vineyard, and the wine has 23.2% merlot, which adds to the soft fruti flavors.    It was aged for a year in oak barrels, but also for an additional 6 months in American Oak tanks, which produce less contact with the wine and therefore more subtle oak flavors.  Yum!  I adored this wine, and found that it went with my duck quite well (everyone else had lamb).  The 2005 has 5% of Petite Verdot bleed in, and I could really taste even that small addition.  It was earthy and robust, and much more of a masculine wine than the 1999.  I found smokey tobacco leaf, coffee and cola, with black walnuts and figs followed by a touch of anise.  With a year in oak (64% French) , it was tasty but I think it would be better over time.  The 2006 is a baby, and really needs to lay down for a while.  It was just released, and has 4.5% Petite Verdot as well as 19.5% Merlot.  It is a young wine, full of cherries and cassis, but just isn’t ready yet.
After lunch we took a little hike in the vineyard and then had dessert on the terrace with a sip of the very rare Jordan Sauterne style late harvest Sauvignon Blanc.  But, I can’t tell you about that, or I’d have to kill you.  And, given the caliber of wines being poured, and the fact that I had a sutie at the guest house fit for a queen, I did my Thirsty Girl best to NOT spit the good s*!t, and enjoyed most of my sips.
Please take a moment to stop by, by appointment only, and taste for yourself.  If you can’t make it up to the winery, check out the terrific blog!
Special thanks to everyone at Jordan for such a great day, which yes FCC folks, was gratis, and to all my blogger buddies for making the trip out!

On top of the world, looking down on…

Silicon Valley?  Yes Virginia, there is wine in the South Bay, high above the muck of Cupertino, on Monte Bello ridge.  Long before the computer chip was invented, the Monte Bello winery was started on this ridge.  At 2600 feet, the winery is located at the apex of the hill, where the upper most vineyards are.  Winding our way past the gravel trucks and up the mountain, there were precarious hairpin turns and road closures, but nothing was goign to stop me from getting to the good stuff at the top of that hill.

On one particularly gorgeous day recently, I was invited to attend a private tasting at Ridge’s Monte Bello property.  Although I adore Ridge wines, I often find myself avoiding the mayhem on holiday and special event weekends as it can get to be quite crowded.  It’s a long drive up the mountain, but the reward at the top is a sweeping view of the Bay Area, including a hazy glimpse of San Francisco in the distance.  Upon arriving at the tasting room, we were greeted by our host Christopher Watkins, the tasting room manager.  Here, we started with a glass of the Santa Cruz Mountains chardonnay as we wandering the garden, waiting for the rest of our crew to arrive.

Once we were assembled, we started our journey with the 2008 Jimsomore Chardonnay.   Not being a huge chard drinker, I really didn’t have that many expectation of the starter, but  this vineyard is dry farmed and head trained, and the wine undergoes full malolactic fermentation with native years.  I found it quite floral, with note of honey tangerine and cream caramel.  It was rich and viscous, with a hint of lemon curd.  this limited release only has 200 cases, and the vineyard lies below the fog line with hot summer days and cool nights, making for some great chard.

Next up the 2008 Santa Cruz Mountain Chardonnay.  this is a parcel selection, and is intended for longevity and complexity.  It is more vibrant than the Jimsomore, and has a bright acidity and is refreshingly ful of stone fruit and Meyer lemons, with some tropical influences.

Now we delve in to the zin, which is how I fell in love with Ridge.  First the 2008 East Bench Zinfandel, which is the youngest area designated benchland between Dry Creek and Alexander valleys.  The cuttings here are 120 years old, and this pre-release wine was spicy cherries with black pepper, soft berry jam, figs, beef jerky and a mellow soft medium bodied zin that is perfect with food.  We also tried the 2006 East Bench, which I found to have more fruit forward flavors of strawberry, cherry, smoke and tobacco.  This was a very cool year in Sonoma County, which made for a leaner wine.  It was a bright zin, and was the first vintage from the then 8 year old vines.  This was a terrific example of a complex zin that would pair well with food without being overpowering and jam packed with berries.

The 2008 Geyserville is a blend of 72% zinfandel, 20% Carignane, 6% Petite Sirah, and 2% Mataro (Mouvedre).  it had a sweeter edge of big blackberries with a smoky backbone that I attribute to the Mataro, with flavors of raspberries and figs blended in a brambly pie with a faint hint of cedear.  The 2007 vintage, which is the current release, is 58% Zinfandel, 22% Carignane, 18% Petite Sirah and 2% Mataro, which made for a chocolate blackberry pie with brandied blackberries and coffee, followed by molasses and bittersweet cocoa over stewed fruit.  Each one of these blends is hand selected from a field blend, parcel by parcel, and depending on the best of the crop for a given vintage, the blend can change significantly.  Wine after all is half science, half dream, and half magic.

Lytton Springs, which is next door to Geyserville, showed less fruit and more structure in the 2008 blend of 74% Zinfandel, 21% Petite Sirah, 5% Carignane.  It was quite spicy with raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries.  The 2007 was much jammier, with black fruit, dried figs, and earth.  I found it a touch hot, but that soon blew off.  The 2007 blend was 71% Zin, 22% Petite Sirah, and 7% Carignane.

After meandering through the zinfandel country, it was time to get to the big boys of cab, which started it all for Monte Bello.  First, the 2007 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Cab, which is a blend of 58% Cabernet Sauvignon and 42% Merlot.  It is not yet released, and was quite chewy and dense with scents of lavender and leather.  The 2006 is 56% Cabernet, 42% Merlot, and 2% Petite Verdot, and had coffee notes adn an herbaceousness that the 2007 did not.

Finally we worked through several of the Monte Bello Cabs.  Two of my favorites were the 2006, wtih 68% Cabernet Sauvigon, 20% Merlot, 10% Petite Verdot, and 2% Cab Franc.  I found chocolate coverted cherreis, bright fruit, and dusty cocoa and really enjoyed it.  The 2005 was also a favorite, with 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 6% Petite Verdot, and 2% Cab Franc.  It had a dusty earth cover, with blueberreis and blackberries, covered with instant coffee.  It was a very low yield in 2005, and this wine was muscular and lean.

As you can see, we did some serious damage to the Monte Bello libarry and I would like to thank Christopher for his hospitality and humor as we tasted some of these amazing wines!  Next up…who knows?

Under the Madrone tree…

Shana!

One scorching hot Saturday, I was invited to take a Napa mountain adventure, up past St. Helena, past Spring Mountain’s Falcon Crest set, to Smith-Madrone Winery high atop Spring Mountain road.  As I drove, and drove, and drove, and worried that my car was overheating (or just plain flipping out in protest) as I climbed the hill, Shana pulled up behind me to ask where the heck we were.

We arrived, after a couple of wrong turns and iPhone reception-less, at Smith-Madrone Winery, high atop Spring Mountain.  Smith-Madrone was founded in 1971 by Stuart Smith, the enologist, and is run by Stuart and Charles Smith, the winemaker.  All of the wine is made from estate fruit, which is planted between 1300 and 2000 feet.  The mountain soil is on steep hillsides, on the highest point in the Spring Mountain AVA, with different exposures for each varietal. this interesting geography and (hrmm what is the science of exposure called anyway?) creates some distinctly delicious wines and they treated us to a lovely tour and tasting on the property.

The property was 100% dry farmed until they had to replant, at which point they irrigated to make sure the new vines too hold.  Up here on Spring Mountain, it’s unusual to have chardonnay, so it was nice to find people doing it their own way.  Smith-Madrone is not organically farmed, but they strive to be as sustainable as possible while still being successful.  The land on this estate has been farmed for somewhere around 500 years, so clearly someone is doing it right.  Along with the chardonnay, Smith-Madrone was actually the first California winery to be awarded a European award for their Riesling.  This is pretty big stuff considering they were up against some of the German big boys.

After a dusty tour of the 200 acre estate vineyard, including the big Madrone tree, we came back down to the winery to taste.33

Stuart Smith

2007 Chardonnay – the first wine we had was full of scents of vanilla and sandlewood.  The flavors were quite citrusy, with lemon curd and meyer lemon.  For a French Oak aged Chard, this was still crisp and refreshing with vanilla bean and green apple flavors that I really enjoyed.  I also had a touch of Asian pear and ginger ale.  I was really surprised I liked this so much, since I prefer an unoaked chard, but I give this a STRONG BUY at $30 for it’s unique sense of place and wonderful flavors.

2008 Chardonnay – This new release had tons of vanilla and custard, followed by egg nog.  Not just the nutmeg, but the eggs and the nog!  I tasted ginger spiced pears, and while this was interesting I wasn’t thrilled.  $30

2004 Cabernet Sauvignon – Overwhelming aromas and flavors of olives, wood, and dried cherries, figs and chocolate.  Quite tannic and woody.  I didn’t like this one as much because it represents what I don’t enjoy in cab and was too funky for my taste.  $45

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon -Coffee, chocolate, tobacco.  This was soft and round with bright blackberry.  BUY this for a nice steak.

2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (pre-release) – I loved this wine.  Even though it was a baby, it had green pepper, black peppercorn, lots of baking spice and black cherry, and blackberry juice.  STRONG BUY at $45

A rare treat was a 1979 Cabernet Sauvignon.  We actually didn’t know it was a 79 until after it was poured, and I never would have guessed that it was as old as it was.  This wine still had all of its color and most of its fruit, and had aromas of orange rind, tasted of spice and earth with candied orange slices, with amazing balance and acidity.  Please go out and SPLURGE on this wine for a special occasion.  you will no be disappointed (if you can find it!)

Next up we tried the 2008 Riesling.  this is an off dry example with grapefruit and spice on the nose, and just a touch of sweetness that would be perfect with Thai or Indian foods.  For your homemade curry, BUY this for $27.

Stuart and Charles were welcoming characters in a mosaic of a wine quilt, and these two are why I love wine.  It’s the story, and how you get there that makes all the different.  Anyone can make 100,000 cases in a warehouse.  It take soul to make 1000 cases by hand on a mountain top.

These grapes were safe from bloggers on this day…but I will see you in 7 years!

Many thanks to Russ Beebe for arranging this, and Smith-Madrone Winery for the wine and tour!

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A smattering of tastings – WBC Day 1

Where does the time go?  The Second Annual Winebloggers Conference has already come and gone, and I am left wondering “what the heck was that bus that rolled over me  “.As one of the voices behind the curtain of the WBC Scholarship, and as a huge cheerleader, proponent and fan of the WBC, I am pleased, shocked, elated, bummed, and catching my breath after the weekend.

On our first day, the rag tag Twisted Crew (@sonadora, @thebeerwench, @winehiker, @eljefetwisted, @ryanopaz, @gabriellaopaz, @houstonwino, @winewonkette) and I pulled up to the Flamingo after fighting what seemed to be an eternity in Central Valley and Infinion drag racing traffic followed by the usual Friday flow in to Santa Rosa.  Arriving at 12:30 or so, I didn’t spend much time with the sponsors, something which I regret doing.  Partially because many of them were familiar to me, partially because I was just plain exhausted due to unfortunate events the day before, I found my fellow people and sat down to eat some lunch.

I was excited to see so many of my friends, both those that I know in person and those that I knew only online, as new recruits tot he WBC posse.  After catching up, albeit breifly, with some regulars, I was circulating the room trying to spy new faces while inspecting their name tags without looking like I was completely crazy.  Fortunately, I caught up with a few new regulars.

After lunch, we attempted to do the speed tasting sessions, but well for reasons so many have discussed, it failed.  Miserably.  Like died on the operating table failed.  In its stead, we heard about the Wine Blogger Awards.  Unfortunately, I had purposely planned to skip this male dominated prom king style popularity contest, and moving it up unfortunately resulting in people not being there to accept thier awards.  Eventually the wireless supposedly turned back on but as I tried to tweet my tasting notes, the wireless only stayed up for 10 seconds at a time, I gave up and just enjoyed the wines.  Sorry folks, no tasting notes from me.

After the speed tasting, we beat a hasty retreat to our short but sweet annual Anti-Conference BYOB session in the small space at the front of the hotel.  We did get to enjoy a large plethora of wines from attendees, and I really look forward to this time to meet new folks, try new wines, and just have a good time in an unstructured way.

Not wanting to miss a beat, we then made our way out to the pool for a very crowded very crazy Sonoma Grand Tasting.  Not wanting to get crushed in the milee I pretty much avoided this, and found a spot at a table with Wine Biz Radio’s Randy Hall, his wife Jen and her amazing goat cheese, as well as some fellow bloggers.  There, we shared some wine, I opened some wine,

Showing off my Zinpatico with Jen's goat cheese!

Chritophe (@cork_dork) from Titus opened some wine, and we made our own tasting.  PS for next year, PLEASE do no try to squeeze 250 people in to a space meant for 50, it just doesn’t’ work.  I am sorry I missed many great wines, but I count myself lucky that I have tasted many before so didn’t really feel like I was losing out.  It was just too much of a mosh pit to really enjoy your self and so instead, I opted to find an empty poolside table and sit with my buds catching up.  Jen, Randy Hall’s wife, had brought some of her homemade goat cheese to share and with some wine to sip on, we snacked and chatted the afternoon away.

Oh – I forgot to mention.  During all portions of the Speed Tasting and Sonoma Grand, I was readily accosted for my unusual jewelry of Wie BLogger Bling.  It looks like my ribbons and charms were a hit, yet again!  Yes, t

his was the idea, and I am pleased that so many of you enjoyed the camradierie of being a Naughty Wine Minx or saying tot he world Screw It!  More WIne!  That was the intention behind the blogger bling, as there were so many people I didn’t know and knew I wouldn’t get a chance to meet; I was pleased that it afforded me the opportunity to have random strangers become aquaintances via a common love of all thing wine and silly.

After the Grand Tasting, we made our way in to the dinner session, where I had a tizzy of a time finding not only a seat, but a seat at a table where I at least recognized one face.  I know i know, I was going to mingle,  but even this cowgirl gets the “I’m shy” blues and wanted a friendly face.  I sat down with my favorite Cellar Rat Alan Baker, and we had a great time trying our wines and catching up, while I went table hopping to poach different wines.  The table layout was that most tables were hosted by a winery, and we had a few of their wines plus others on our tables.  Since I wanted a variety, I found Brad Cooper’s table (@bradinator) and poured a nice big taste of his Black Cloud Pinot Noir.  WOW!  Who knew such beauty came out of of British Columbia in a bottle! (Hey, @winebard stop throwing things at me).

Even though I was operating at 45% sanity, both physically and mentally, after dinner I wandered in tot he after hours tasting hosted by Russian River Winegrowers.  I was please to see many wineries I knew here, and was able to taste some more treats, and chat with the locals on what was new.  In there, I met up with Julie from Windsor Oaks, whom I’ve written about before here.  Julie is a pioneer in the industry and is working hard to make sure that she is in tune with not only bloggers, but with what her customers want and need.  I was so pleased to get a gift of their Unoaked Chard, which is just a lovely treat.  Anyone in the area, MUST stop by and try their wines!  They will welcome you as one of their own, and the wine is pretty good too ;-).

I tried and tried to stay up for the after after after party but I just couldn’t do it.  My body and my brain gave out.  I’m sure I missed out on a lot and I’m bummed, but well, Saturday was another day!

(How long til WBC 10?)

Playing with balls…

 

Second labels are hot right now.  They are one way for a winery, who might be struggling with the economy, to use some of their juice and develop a lower price point wine.  or they might just be a way for the winemakers to have a little fun with their wine.

Pétanque wines are made by Michel-Schlumberger, a leader in California premium wines, specifically for enjoying BBQ season, picnics, and Pétanque, the French game of lawn bowling.  recently, I had the chance to attend their opening party at Michel-Schlumberger, where the wines were being poured, the balls were being thrown, and band was swinging.  for $25, we got to eat the yummy food, dance with the Brother Cat Band, and drink all the wine we could!  In fact, Judd kept coming around to refill our glasses.  Probably to keep us, the riff-raff out of the rest of the crowd  😉

At the party, I was able to taste the line up of affordable, easy drinking quaffers that are value priced between $12.95 and $16.95  At these prices, you can enjoy a bottle every night!  part of the fun of these wines, is that we were outside in the garden, drinking from tumblers instead of glasses, and playing with balls as we drank and danced all afternoon long.  What a fun day!

First, I tasted the 2007 Sav Blanc.  On a warm spring day in Dry Creek, this hit the spot.  The grapes for this citrus driven white were from Paso Robles, and it was aged in stainless steel  It’s a nicely balanced low alcohol wine at 13.^%.

Next, even though I generally run screaming from Chardonnay, I had to give this one a try.  Most because my friend Judd was pouring it, but hey, what the hell  this is actually an unoaked chard, which made me smile.  I am not a huge chardy fan, and this was was decent, even if it wasn’t my favorite.

My favorite of the lineup, and the one I drank all afternoon over and over, was the 2006 Syrah.  It was a big soft syrah, that came from right there in Dry Creek Valley.  It was very easy to drink and I did.  A lot!  I wasn’t really taking notes, but I just remember this was a fantastic BBQ wine.

Next, came the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.  This came from the Sierra Foothills, and I was surprised about that since I don’t generally associated that area with Cab.  It was ok, but not really my cup of tea.  I found it too woody.

The moral of this story is, if you find a winery that makes a second label, and you really enjoy their first, give it a shot!  There are great values out there and you might just have some fun trying them!  I’m big on the budget wines, and while I appreciate a special bottle and drink lots of that too, I love that there are tasting treats out there that are prime priced for a party.

 

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Just say no to OAK!

WOW!  What a day.  The mercury has reached 90 degrees, in SAN FRANCISCO.  IN APRIL!  Mother Nature is sure ticked off.  The saving grace to this terrible heat wave is that I have been enjoying some very nice white wines of late.  Now, you probably know that I am a red girl through and through, and have been known to drink Pinot with my fish, but there is something so relaxing about a cold white on a red hot day.

When I got home from work, my house was an oven, and the last thing I could think of doing was opening a red.  So I made
myself some cold chicken salad, and cracked open a bottle of Kim Crawford Unoaked Chardonnay that I have had stashed in my fridge for a while.  The unoaked version of the classic white is my cup of tea.  I have long held the belief that we have destroyed a perfectly lovely white wine varietal by turning it the color of pee and adding oak essence to it.  I personally prefer the minerally citrus inspired dry and crisp light whites from France.  While this was by no means a light white, it was a refreshing change of pace.

While it goes through 100% malolactic fermentation, which gives it a rich and creamy mouthfeel.  Then, this wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks and never sees oak barrels, hence the unoaked label.   I tasted butterscotch, vanilla pudding, and tropical fruits as well as crisper citrus notes.  This was like eating a juicy green apple, and it was very refreshing on a hot hot day.

I know i’ll be buying it again if i can find it!  The Kim Cracford Unoaked Chardonnay retails for around $15-18, and can be found at BevMo and Wine.com among other places.  Examples of Chardonnay of this quality and style are why i have permanently cancelled my membership int eh ABC Club (Anything But Chardonnay).  I hope too will give some of these a try!

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