Everything’s Coming up Roses! (Wine & Roses)

After a full day of exploring some of Lodi’s diverse wines and terroir, we settled in at our host hotel, Wine & Roses.  This resort style hotel has a beautifully relaxing interior courtyard, and situated on one side is the hotel’s restaurant, the Towne House.

Chef John Hitchcock, a Lark Creek Group alumnus, masterfully prepared a 7 course menu to go with the intriguing wines that Sue Tipton, owner of Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards had brought to share with us.

I had personally become acquainted with the wines of Acquiesce several years ago, and had always enjoyed the light, elegant style of Rhône style wines that owner and winemaker Sue Tipton produces.  As we were meandering through Lodi exploring “everything but Zin” I was excited to get the opportunity to taste these wines again.

IMG_0612The deck of the restaurant overlooks the interior courtyard of the hotel, and as the sun went down, the temperature had cooled off enough to be comfortable outside in the relaxing environment.  Chef John was about to amaze us with the beautiful pairings, and while I wan’t quite hungry yet due to the amazing and large lunch at Pietro’s earlier, the menu looked amazing.

IMG_0614First up, we kicked things off with these gorgeous Blue Point Oysters, served with Yuzu pearls.  Blue Points are particularly large and meaty oysters, so I wasn’t sure how they would pair with the delicate Picpoul Blanc, but they were perfect.  The salinity and minerality of the shuckers  played delightfully off the wet river rocks, crushed shells, and freshly zested citrus in the wine.  With just a hint of floral notes on the edge of this wine, it was a natural and delicious pairing.  The true test of an oyster pairing to me is if I can actually use the wine as a mignonette – pour a touch of the
wine in to the oyster and slurp it down.  In this case, it was a palate sensation, and just confirmed my earlier delight.

 

 

IMG_0618Next, Pan Seared Foie Gras (thank you California for bringing back the Foie!  Feel free to judge me now) with poached pears, pear geleè, and house made brioche – paired with the 2014 Roussanne.  With juicy pears and apricots, drenched in fresh cream dancing across my tongue, the richness of the Roussanne worked well with the creamy richness of foie.  One of my favorite things about Roussanne in particular is the acidity that sneaks up behind the juicy and rich mouthfeel.  This is no exception, and the Acquiesce was perfect with the classic foie pairing.

 

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The third course was intended to be tuna tartare, but Chef John was able to sub out salmon on the fly due to an allergy.  This was no little ask, as the pairings were tested and created well in advance, but he did a masterful job at thinking of a pairing and creating it on the fly with perfect timing.  Paired with the 2015 Grenache Blanc, and served with avocado, wakame, wasabi vinaigrette, wasabi foam and a lotus chip, one would never know that the brilliant copper of the salmon was not intended for this dish.  The Grenache Blanc is a fresh and playful white wine with bright green apple notes and the minerality of a beach that has been freshly washed with shells and stones.  The coolness of the wine cut through the wasabi and creaminess of the salmon brilliantly.

 

IMG_0622As an intermezzo, Blli Bi, a saffron infused cream soup brimming with muscles was paired with the 2015 Viognier.  While we were starting to get full, we couldn’t pass up on the savory richness of this cream soup that had more mussels than a gym on New Year’s.  The Viognier has a richness of honey soaked apricot, ripe satsumas and summer peaches with classic floral notes that played off of the saffron.

 

 

Finally, as we tried to find even a tiny spare slot IMG_0626in our very full stomachs, grilled quail with King Trumpet risotto, and porcini mushroom broth was paired with Grenache Rosé.  While you would think the richness of the game animal and mushrooms would overpower the rosé, the pairing was elegant and restrained.

All of Sue’s wines are priced at under $25, which makes them even more enjoyable, and affordable.  The next time you are looking for a refreshing white for summer, look over to Lodi’s Rhône renegade!

Thank you to Wine & Roses, Towne Hall and Chef John for creating these wonderful dishes that paired so well with the wines of Acquiesce.  Fresh seafood, fruit, and vegetables are perfect for these light and fresh wines.

 

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Rocking the Rhônes!

mineralAs a wine writer, one of the most exciting things is to taste wines from producers that  am unfamiliar with, and that I have no bias or previous information for.  Coming to a wine with a fresh perspective gives me to ability to focus on what I taste, and feel, vs what I remember or think I should expect.

Enter Domaine Montirius.  This small, family run vineyard is a relatively recent entry in to the Rhône; founded 26 years ago by Eric and Christine Saurel, it is now a true family business.  Certified bio-dynamic since 1999, the Saurels are dedicated to pursuing balance in the vineyard, and in the wines, and to find the perfect expression of the land in those wines.

In the practice of biodynamics, it’s important to “observe, feel, listen to and taste, repeatedly, and to act on different clues in the environment.  The idiosyncrasies of Mother Nature create a natural rhythm to the winemaking process.

The 2011 Montirius Mineral Vacqueyras is an unusual blend of 50% Bouboulenc, 25% Grenache Blanc, and 25% Roussane.  You might be wondering about Bouboulenc, as its one of the more obscure white Rhône varietals.  It’s a hearty grape, and tends to resist weather and pests, but s a forgotten variety for the most part until the Surels re-planted it in 1994.  A late ripener, it requires patience and tenderness, but yields a minerality and brightness.

The grapes were hand harvested and fermented whole cluster.  Aged without oak, there is a texturally intense fresh white wine. Strong notes of ginger and grapefruit peel, with tropical mango and green apple to follow. The palate is reminiscent of a baked apple, with the spice cabinet making a bold appearance. This wine is perfect for meatier fish, chicken, and even pork.

When I first tasted this wine, I anticipated the retail at $35+.  Even at that price, I think there is excellent QPR.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to learn it is only $22!  This is a wine to run out and stock up on, as it will certainly be my summer sipper as we slip in to warmer weather.

Thank you to the Teuwen Communications team for helpng me find the undiscovered and unusual Rhône Valley wines!

 

Hospice du Rhone: A great line up is announced!

The 2016 Hospice du Rhône event schedule has been released, and it’s going to be another epic one!  This annual gathering of producers and aficionados of the many delicious Rhône grapes begins on Friday, April 15th, in Paso Robles CA.

This year there are some new events to add to the grand tastings.  The seminar series this year is sure to be a knock out.  Discovering the Intricacies of Châteauneuf du Pape, to an in depth look at Washington State Rhônes, guests will be treated to a wine education second to none.

Prefer to deep dive in to the whites?  Check out Costières de Nîmes – A Southern Rhône Exception for Whites.  Prefer to stay close to home?  A Tale of Two Treasures:  Paso Robles and Santa Barbara will take you through the various AVAs that specialize in Syrah and Grenache, visiting four produces and digging in to the soils.

Hospice du Rhône has become somewhat famous for it’s lunches, and this year, of course, includes the Rose Lunch, a fan favorite.  Sit back, relax, and drink pink from the attending producers.  It’s often quite warm this time of year, so a bit of chilled rose is the perfect refreshment before the afternoon seminars resume.

Ever been to a cowboy auction with wine?  Well you’ll love the Lunch and Live Auction on Saturday, April 16th.  This spirited affair will get everyone in the mood as rare lots are offered up in support of the 2018 HdR event.

The Farewell BBQ on Saturday night is always a bittersweet affair.  This year, the Hitching Post II is manning the pit, and the casino is open!

Of course, interspersed in all of this fun are the Tastings.  Sip wines from the 130+ producers of the 22 Rhône varietals in these interactive walk around tastings.

Have a hankering for an intimate dinner?  This year, the Rhône-Around Dinner Series takes guests to Paso Robles best dining hot spots, each with a different theme.  Saturday, you have 3 epic dinners to choose from:
CdP on Assignment, Rhône Valley Relocated, and the Rhône Exchange.

With such a selection to choose from, it will be difficult to manage which events to choose!  I can’t wait to make a return appearance, see some old friends, and make some new ones next month.

Tickets are available for each dinner, from $100-150.  Event tickets are available for the Opening & Closing Tastings, a la carte, or a full weekend pass, as well as the lunches and farewell BBQ.  But buy them early, this is sure to be a sell out!

She’s Back! Hospice du Rhone returns home

Sixteen years ago, Hospice du Rhône

was founded with a dedicated goal to education and celebrate Rhone varietals from around the world.  With 22 varieties, one gorgeous region of France, and many countries producing quality Rhône style wines, what’s not to love about a celebration of this magnitude?

After twenty years in Paso Robles, HdR migrated east to Blackberry Farm, to share the love of the grape with more Rhone lovers.  This year, however, I am ecstatic to celebrate the return of this event to California’s Paso Robles wine country.

The weekend of April 14-16, 2016, Hospice du Rhône makes a return appearance with star studded events at the Paso Robles event center.  The highlight of the weekend, for me, is the education seminar series, which dives deep in to different topics impacting producers.

This year, these seminars include a discussion of the Intricacies of Châteauneuf du Pape.   With so much diversity in a small area of southern France, I am truly excited to learn more.  Additional seminars are being developed but they are sure to be outstanding.

Throw in the always epic Rose Lunch and Grand Tasting, and that alone is worth the price of entry.  But have you ever been to a Rhône Cowboy BBQ?  Yeehaw!  Who says Rhone wines are for the dusty shelves of a wine cellar?  Come celebrate the diversity the 22 grapes have to offer.  From affordable pinks, to fun blends, to collectors loves, the Rhône are grown all over the world and produce amazingly unique, diverse and delicious wines.

Event passes for Hospice du Rhône are on sale now, and start at $100 for single events.

More details are to come, so stay tuned!

Refugio Ranch – a hideway for the stars

Refugio Ranch

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.Refugio Ranch

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

Next time we’ll sit out there!

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, with a Spanish influence, the labels are a throwback to the cattle ranch days.  I couldn’t pick a favorite since our host, Director of Sales & Marketing Jeff Butler kept pouring delicious wines, but here are some thoughts for your tasting pleasure:

2012 Viognier – 100% Viognier, fermented partially in stainless, as well as French oak.  Fresh and lively, with stone fruit and lychee, folllowed by fresh wildflower honey.  This was a beautiful example of what viognier should be, with rich fruit but bright, lively personality.

2011 Ineseño – 57% Roussane / 43% Viognier.  Fermented in stainless and concrete eggs, with 29% new oak, and 10% neutral oak, another Rhone style gem.  Brilliant gold peaches, spice box, and fruit compote.  A perfect glass with Thai food, or sitting on your porch enjoying life.

2012 Escondrijo – a rich blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Petite Sirah, this “hideaway” is a winter warmer, with cigar box, rose petals, saddle leather, and tobacco, along with blackberry cobbler and cherry pie.  This is something I wanted more of in my glass, even on a hot day and would be amazing with Pumpkin Pie on your holiday table.

Refugio Ranch

Herb garden & insectary

Refugio Ranch

Refugio Ranch

The view from our tasting porch

All images by Thea Dwelle, all rights reserved.  But if you ask nice, I might share.  The experience was courtesty of the winery, but we all left with several bottles in our hot little hands – which should encourage you to visit.  While the ranch is closed to the public, and we felt like movie stars, the Los Olivos tasting room is open and waiting for you.
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Rhône with me!

I can’t believe it!  It’s here!  Tomorrow afternoon, I kick off my 2012 Hospiece du Rhône experience with my good friends Amy & Joe Power of Another Wine Blog.

This year is a particularly special occassion, in that it is the 20th Anniversary of HdR, and Amy’s bday.  I won’t tell you which one, since I want to live through the weekend but it will be big.

This year, Hospice du Rhône, the world’s largest gathering of Rhône variety wines and producers, will celebrate 20 years of all things Rhône.  The events are sold out, which is hardly surprising given the amazing agenda we have lined up, and I’m so excited to be headed down to Paso Robles tomorrow to participate.

Fortunately for you latecomers, if you are in Paso Robles on Saturday, there will be 100 Golden Tickets sold at the door to the Grand Tasting.  It is a bit like Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, as yo8u enter the gates to the fairgrounds, and see the throngs of people lined up.

For our experience, we are starting with dinner at Artisan, a local restaurant known for it’s wine & food pairings with local ingredients.  Amy, Joe, myself, and our friends from Pithy LIttle Wine Co. will kick off the weekend wiht a dinner fit for Rhône-heads everywhere.

Thursday, I will be wandering around Paso with stops at Ranchero Cellars and whereever else the wind blows up.  Thursday evening, a special welcome reception to jump start the event.  A lucky few will be participating in a  Châteauneuf du Pape seminar and pairing dinner, who will have the privilege to taste Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines dating as far back as 1954.  Author of The Châteauneuf-du-Pape Book, Harry Karis along with Vigneron Philippe Cambie will lead the audience through an in-depth look at this historic region of France before delighting in dinner at Paso Robles’ premier French restaurant, Bistro Laurent. Chef Laurent Grangien has carefully prepared a five-course meal for this enchanting evening.

Friday will begin with wines from four rock star winemakers hailing from the Priorat region of Spain. Eric Solomon of Eric Solomon Selections will bring to the stage Jose Maria Vicente of Casa Castillo, Daniel Jimenez-Landi of Jimenez-Landi, Bixente Ocafrain of Bodegas Mas Alta and Daphne Glorian-Solomon of Clos I Terrasses. Next, attendees will dive into the stones Walla Walla, Washington with a focused seminar by the ever spirited and knowledgeable Christophe Baron of Cayuse.  Having just hopped a plane home from Barcelona last month, I am especially looking forward to the Priorat seminar.

After we are full of Priorat, we head over to the Rosé Lunch, celebrating pink wine.  There will be a huge variety of pinks to choose from, and with the delicious nibbles from the girl & the fig, I might need a nap after!  I seem to recall the Great Pot du Creme caper of a couple of years ago when attendees could not eat enough of the three selections and may or may not have accidentally taken a pot back to their hotel room.

After lunch, and said nap, the Rhône Rendezvous has gone BIG!  This walk-around tasting for will feature 100 producers who will share their Rhône wines from large-format bottles.  Wowza!  Friday night I have a feeling we might be seen at Villa Creek or the brewery for dinner, if we can roll out of the parking lot.

After a good night’s sleep (or lackthere of knowing how things roll at the Black Oak) day two of the 2012 Seminar Series will begin with a look at the historic Northern Rhône with the wines of Les Vins de Vienne. These wines are crafted by three long-time friends of Hospice du Rhône, Francois Villard, Yves Cullieron and Pierre Gaillard. Closing out day two of the Seminar Series will be Chester Osborn of d’Arenberg, South Australia who will guide the audience through 13 wines showcasing the terroir of multiple vineyard sites and plots.

Lunch on Saturday is always a raucous and good time.  The Lunch and Live Auction gives us a glimpse in to the world of the Rhône Collector, as those with deeper pockets vie for the best lots as we eat the delicious food from Far Western Tavern.  Proceeds from this auction

As we roll out of lunch, the Rhône quest continues at the Saturday Grand Tasting with over 135 winemakers pouring tastes from around the globe for over 1000 Rhône freaks. It has been said that to duplicate this tasting, one would need a passport, many weeks off work and thousands of airline miles to taste the variety of wines showcased at the Grand Tasting. While strolling the Tasting Pavilion guests will savor bites from specialty food purveyors who will be stationed throughout the hall.

Finally, on Saturday evening, we bid a bittersweet farewell to HdR with casino themed Farewell BBQ.  The beer will flow, the bottles will be emptied, and weekend is topped off by some pretty serious silliness.

To follow all of the phone, the Third Edition of the app was launched.  This app is available for your iPhone & iPad, as well as Android.  Forget the paper!  Go iRhône!  This all inclusive app allows you to find, track, tweet and takes notes on your favorite wines from the event.  Those with the app will never be at a loss for Rhône wine information when at the annual event or at home. This is the digital guide to all things Rhône.

A special thanks to HdR for this unique opportunity to participate again this year.  I can’t wait!  Stay tuned to @luscious_lushes for all event updates!

Something in the way you Rhone

Attracts me like, no other lady!

True story.  I am slightly addicted to Rhone wines, particularly Rhone reds.  I’ve been on a Monastrell/Mouvedre/Mataro kick lately, but my first love really is Grenache.  Of the 22 Rhone varietals, these are my go to babies.  Luckily for me, I’ve been having fantastic luck lately at Whole Foods (not to mention The Spanish Table) at finding some great wine at even better prices.

But really, this post is about the mother of all Rhone gatherings:  Hospices du Rhône .  The annual Rhône celebration in Paso Robles will be celebrating her 20th anniversary next year!

April 26th through 28th, Rhône lovers and producers from all over the world will converge on the Paso Robles Fairgrounds.  Over the last 20 years, HdR has hosted diverse personalities, from Charles Smith (aka AC/DC with Grower Bubbles) to Australian producers, to heritage growers from Châteauneuf-du-Pape

This year, HdR is pleased to announce that there will be an exclusive  Conversations with Châteauneuf-du-Pape event, led by author Harry Karis, vigneron Philippe Cambie and Sommelier Kelly McAuliffe.  After the seminar, which is sure to sell out well in advance, dinner will be served at Bisto Laurentin.  These limited tickets are available a la carte at www.hospicedurhone.org.  Sadly the dinner is sold out at this time.

This year, the seminars will focus on highlighting the last 20 years of Hospice-Du-Châteauneuf producers who have been center stage.  I am especially looking forward to Why Spain (continues to) Rock – which will focus on what is happening today in Priorat and beyond.

Another fantastic seminar will highlight Walla Walla once again, with The Return of the Bionic Frog (say wha?), where Christophe Baron of Cayuse will make his debut at HdR.

On Saturday, France will be showcased with A Collective Quest, highlighting Les Vins de Vienne.

Finally, the seminars round out the day with Research, Revelations and the Art of Being Different.  Here, Chester Osbourn of Australia’s d’Arenderg will explore how recent studies in geology and sub regions have changed his winemaking and growing practices since his last HdR appearance in 1999.

Phew!  But that’s not all kids.  Like a Ginsu knife commercial, the weekend is jam packed with more tastings.

The Rhône Rendezvous is back, where over 100 producers from near and far will share their Rhône wines from large-format bottles. To complement this BIG evening of BIG bottles highly-acclaimed chefs from Blackberry Farm in Tennessee will serve up a taste of the South in a BIG way.

But before that you need sustinance, right?   If you’re not entirely dead by this point, don’t forget to participate in the Rosé Lunch, which is always a treat.  This year, our friends from The Girl & Fig will fill us up with deliciousness once again!  Remember the pot de creme from years past? Um yeah.  MORE PLEASE!  I had to taste all three flavors, and I almost left with some in my purse.  The rosés for this delecitble feast will be provided by the attending producers, which is a departure (and a welcome one for variety’s sake).

If you are sufficiently recovered from Friday and still have steam after the final two seminars, the Saturday Grand Tasting will feature over 130 winemakers pouring tastes from around the globe. It has been said that to duplicate this tasting, one would need a passport, many weeks off work and thousands of airline miles to taste the variety of wines showcased at the Grand Tasting.  Many producers who poured at the Rhône Rendezvous will also pour here but they will be featuring different wines.

On Saturday, the Live Auction wil lleave you tingling as lots of sought after wine are hard won and wine washes down the lunch provided by Guadalupe.

If you’re still upright at the end of the day, the Farewell BBQ promises a lot of beer, dancing, and casino action to wrap up your weekend.

After that, you can explore the other wines that Paso has to offer on Sunday!  Or if you’re like me, sleep in, eat a lot of carbs (and bacon naturally) and then head back home with a belly full of delish Rhône and a weekend of memories.

A full weekend pass (highly recomended) is $795 but now is the time to save up!  It’s so worth it.  You can also opt to purchase events a la carte, but by the time you add up a couple of seminars ($155 each) and tasting events ($100-125 each), lunch and dinner, you might as well get the pass.

Hope to see you there!  This year promises to be bigger and better, so if you do only one Rhône event, do this one! 

KEEEEEEEEEEEVINNNNNNNNNNNNNN!

Kevin Hamel

Sorry, I just had to get that one in there.  you remember, when Mom FINALLY realizes that she left the kid at home halfway through Home Alone?  Yeah.

So that’s exactly how I feel about this wine.  My friend Kevin Hamel, who makes Hamel Wines and has had a rather illustrious career as a winemaker, make some spectacular syrah.  And pinot noir.  Recently, I was able to attend a private tasting where Kevin poured some damn fine wines.  A few months later, I headed up to Winemaker Wednesday at Scopa, hands down the BEST restaurant in Healdsburg.  Ok I’m biased, but…no wait, it’s true!

At Winemaker Wednesday, a monthly event that Scopa has in the Spring and Fall, Kevin poured some library wines which really blew my mind.  But alas, I didn’t have any in my cellar (not yet anyway.  Kevin, we need to talk about this little problem I have!) so I opted to enjoy the 2002 Sonoma County Syrah, Westside Hills that I did have in my cellar, in honor of Wine Blogging Wednesday #71.

Wine Blogging Wednesday, our monthly blog around a theme, was created by Lenn Thompson of the New York Cork Report (formerly LENNDEVOURS), and has a new theme every month.  This month, we were asked by Tim Elliot of Winecast.net to talk about wines that are in the style of, but not from, the Rhône.  Well, since I happen to adore Syrah and most other things Rhone, I hopped on this theme of  “Rhones Not From The Rhône.”

Tim asked us to choose a wine from a Rhône variety that we all know and love – but not made in France.  Since Syrah is one of the biggest (in production not style I hope) wines made in California, and since I really enjoyed Kevin’s wines, ba-da-bing, ba-de-boom.

At the private tasting, we enjoyed the 2001 and 2002 Sonoma County Syrah, Westside Hills.  These two wines were absolutely stellar, and yet so different.  The 2001 showed much older, and it was difficult to fathom that it was juts one year before the ssecond wine.  At the tasting event, we went back and forth over which one we liked the most.  Of course, I couldn’t decide because – they were both awesome.  The 2001 could certainly count counter any Rhône out there.  It was austere adn acidic (in a good way) and would be AMAZING with food.

The 2002, while bigger, was certainly no fruit bomb in my estimation.  It was elegant and silky, and had a lot of plum and red fruit.  This was the crowd favorite, but it took several tastes to confirm which one I liked the most.  I refuse to make a distinction because they were THAT good.

Moving on to the Winemaker Dinner at Scopa, Kevin pulled out all the stops with the 1998 Sonoma County “Vitis Allobrogica?” Syrah.  1998?  Yeah 1998.  This Syrah was off the hook with my pork pasta, and as much as I tried not to order a bottle, I pretty much did.  For myself.  It was THAT good.

The moral of this story?  There is some really really good wine out there; Syrah doesn’t have to be over extracted and syrupy.  It can be juicy, acidic, balanced, restrained, and blow your mid.  You just need to explore some new regions and new wineries.  There is a ton of Syrah on the market out there, from Australia, California, Washington, and of course France.  California Syrah can be big. bold and jammy.  However, if you hunt around, you can find these juicy gems.

Another personal fave?  2007 Olson Ogdon Stagecoach.

Want to try the wines?  YOu can go eat at Scopa, and I highly recommend it.  But you can also ask Kevin where the wines are, and if he’ll share.  Please reach out to kevin on TWITTER!

All day, all night it's…

Mary Ann, Marsanne!  Down by the seaside with a drink in her hand…all the little wine bloggers love Mary Ann!

Here in the Bay Area, we’re experiencing an odd sort of Summer in Winter.  The Giants won the series, and it was 76 in San Francisco on November 2nd.  This summer weather has be drinking more white wines again, so I thought it would be a great time to finsih this post from earlier this year.

Marsanne is one of my favorite white wines these days.  While I do occasionally like a Chardonnay, it has be a particular style, so I tend to lean towards alternative white wines, or more steely, less oaked Chardonnay (think some delicious Pouilly-Fuissé).  Marsanne is one of the 22 Rhône grapes, and is most often blended with another beauty – Rousanne.  It’s increasing popularity in the U.S. makes me smile!

This great example comes from one of my favorite small wineries in northern Calfiornia, Olson Ogden, who make limited production wines that really suit my style.  I am a particular fan of the syrah, though I am almost through the case I had squirreled away last year.

This Marsanne tasted of marzipan, lemon, grapefruit and orange pith – you know, that slight bitterness from the white part (though not in a bad way).  I also found loads of pear, and creamy stone fruit complimented with a nicely balanced acidity and a touch of honeysuckle on the nose.  The 17 months in stainless steel and 28% new French oak give it a nice touch of oak without overpowering it.  It’s creamy and rich but not an oak monster.

It’s a bit pricy for an everyday white at $35, but this is a MUST BUY if you like whites and wantt o venture out of the Chard / Sav Blanc superhighway.  But don’t just take MY word for it!  My friends at NectarWine, WinePost and NorCal wine also enjoyed this wine immensely.  Give it a try, and for those winter lovers, this wine goes amazingly well with all things butternut as well as a nicely herb rubbed roasted chicken.

Happy drinking!

THis wine was graciously provided by Olson Ogden.  Probably because I keep gusying about thier syrah.  BUt who cares!  IT’s good!

Rhône – The Next Generation

Where no WineBrat has gone before…I am the first one to admit that I am uneducated about most wines outside my sphere of influence; yes I drink them, yes I occasionally enjoy them, but I don’t know much about them.  When I was invited to attend Hospice du Rhône this year as a media guest, I jumped at the chance to attend the world’s penultimate tasting event of Rhone varietals.  I was jumping up and down for months, and then I got the cold from hell.  Suffice to say, Bratty was not amused. As I drove through the endless row of wines between Salinas and King City, and then past the oil derricks and in to Paso Robles, I was more excited about taking a nap and some Nyquil than the bowling event that would ensue later that evening.  fortunately, I was domiciled in the hotel that was across the street from the event center, and I arrived early enough in the day, that I crashed out instead of taking in a few tasting rooms.

As I rallied with a combination of Rhone medicine and bowling silliness, I was looking forward to the next day’s educational seminars. I am sorry to say that I missed the South African seminar early on Friday morning, but I rallied enough to attend the Côte-Rôtie seminar later in the morning.  Côte-Rôtie is located in the northern Rhône, where the vineyards are distinguished by their vertical slop and stone calls.  The wine is primarily red Rhône, focusing on Syrah, many co-fermented withViognier.  This area has a very different style than the southern Rhone, and winters are wet with a cold wind, as well as fog that can make ripening the grapes a challenge. Wines from Côte-Rôtie share a lot of similarities tot hose of South Africa, and are earthly, gamey and rich.

The presenting producer, Domaine Michel et Ogier, is founded on land where seven generations farmed grapes.  In 1997, the latest generation arrived after studying in Burgundy to grow Rhône grapes; prior to his arrival, the grapes were sold to a negociant, but that soon began to change.  1982 wasn’t a particularly good year in the Rhone, and the negociant didnt’ want the grapes so the family made their own wine.  Soon, the negoicant came back wanting the finished wine, and the winery was born.

2008 viognier de Rosine Vin de Pays showed lemons, necterines, peaches, apricots and honey with crisp lemon rind and peach nectar.  The vineyard was planted in 2000, with the first vintage being 2004, and marked a change or the producer.  Prior to 1997, when the next generation arrived, only red wines were produced, so the viognier (as opposed to syrah co fermented with viognier) was a departure.  It was a cold summer and a difficult year, but this has made the viognier fresh and crisp, with a nice minerality and grapefruit zing.  Ogier doesn’t believe is performing battonage, or the stirring of the lees, as this adds a certain fatness to the wine.  Viognier possesses its own fatness and structure, and he refrains from battonage to allow the wine to show it’s natural light.

2008 Viognier Condrieu shows the appellation distinctions that occur in Cote Rotie.  This example was a much darker golden yellow color, but I  had trouble finding the nose (granted I had trouble findnig MY nose but I was hopiung for more obvious aromas in the wine0.  The Condrieu is farmed in an area of 6-7 villages, where farms are on steep slopes of old granite based soil; this vineyard i 15 years old, and shows creamier slightly sweeter stone fruit, Meyer lemon, orange blossom, a hint of jasmine, green apple and pink grapefruit.  Again, in this example, new oak was avoided to show fresh clean flavors from the wine.  Aging in neutral oak with no battonage allows fresh clean wines that are very Alsatian in nature.

The rest of the wines, which were red) were lost on my cold, but it was interesting to taste the wines of the area, to compare with my baesline of New World syrah.

I attended Hospieces du Rhone as a Media guest; however, I paid my own travel expenses and lodging, as well as for most of the local supply of kleenex.

Rhône if you want to!

Rhône around the world.  in 11 short days, the penultimate Rhône wine event will commence in Paso Robles.  This year, I am jumping up and down on my sofa like Tom Cruise, because I get to attend, along with some of my best blogger friends as well as several hundred Rhone wine lovers from around the world.

At this annual Rhone-a-thon, Hospice du Rhône shows off its wares with a 3 day extravaganza attendees play wine Jeopardy with the 22 Rhône varieties, while taking time to talk to the winemakers, attend seminars, and enjoy special wine paring meals.

In the jam packed three days, we’ll have a history lesson on South African Syrah, a Rose Lunch, two grand tastings, and an exploration of the Washington State Terroir.  This will be of particular interest to us bloggers who are attending this years Wine Bloggers Conference, which will be held in Walla walla, Washington.  For those of us who are incapable of saying no to an event invitation, there is even a bowling session, where my friends at Mutineer Magazine is challenging us to bowl our best game while drinking some delicious Rhoen.  For those of you who have known me for a while, you realize that the only way I bowl (or play pool, or sing karaoke) is when I’ve had multiple shot  I don’t drink shots anymore, but with free flowing Rhône , this could get ugly.  I promise to hold a magnate to my video card if things get too out of hand.

Given my love of the Syrah and my summertime affair with Rosé, I am very much looking forward to spending the weekend with my other best friends, Grenache and Mourvedre, as well as learning more about the other 19 Rhône varietals.  To gear up for HdR, they are presenting 22 Days of Rhône, to help educate the wine community about the 22 Rhône varietals.  Hey kids at home!  That means you can play alnog.  Together with TasteLive, you can taste along online.  This week, the featured grape is Grenache, so grab a bottle, taste it, and tweet along with the hashtag #HdR2010.

Speaking of hashtags, have you seen the new HdR iphone app? It’s a slick new interface which greets you with a play on Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover, ” with Hospice du Rhone Rhonely Hearts Club. with this handy iphone app, I can see all of the producers that will be pouring at the event, what varietals they are pouring, and when they are pouring it.  Further more, you can narrow the producers down by geographic region, which is helpful if you are trying to explore a new area like South Africa or Washington state.  My favorite part of the app has to be the twitter integration however.   You can click on the feed, but you can also send a twitter report out from the winery’s producer page directly.  That means if you are walking around tasting, there is no need to pull out your notebook – simply click the name of the winery, click tweet it out – and a tweet with the name of the winery and the hashtag is pre-filled for you.  Maybe next year, we can click through on the variety details page? I’m not the most geeky iphone user but i LOVE this tool.

So thanks Hospice du Rhone, for taking on the mission of educating us about these 22 grapes.  I’m excited at the opportunity to mix, mingle and learn with the best of them.

If you’d like to try to win tickets to HdR, my friend William over at Simple Hedonisms has a contest going – the Question of the week Contest.  The generous HdR2010 team is sponsoring ‘Question of the Week, with  tickets to the Friday and Saturday  tastings ($100 value!).  We will combine this with our usual “Question of the Week” with a Rhone theme. (updated) Please post the question on the Simple Hedonisms Facebook Fan site , and a question will be selected for a free ticket, and answered in a blog article.  There is ONE MORE CHANCE to win, on April 22nd at the April Sonoma Facebook Wine Meetup April 22nd at Artiste Winery in Healdsburg.

Good luck and look for twitter reports from the field!

Moo! Ved! Rah!

Trio Vintners is a partnership between three Walla Walla winemakers; Tim Boushey, Denise Slattery and Steve Michener.   Each member of the triad has a unique perspective, and so together they do a bang up job created amazing wines and sharing their love of wine & food.  They are part of the incubator wineries that have cropped up near the Walla Walla airport, where small wineries can foster entrepreneurship and help each other grow, using shared resources.  In this case, each of three incubator wineries can produce 1000 cases of wine collectively, and wade through the legalese that the Federal government has graciously given the wine busienss.

I first became aware of TRIO Vinteners through my friend and wine supplier Catie, of the Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman.  Through the magic of all things twitter, I then began a conversation with Denise Slattery, who, in my estimation is almost as irreverent, funny, and amazing as I am!  Ok well, I’m modest too.  As we got to talking, i mentioned that I really wanted to get to know more Washington, and specifically Walla Walla wines, before the WBC.  I turn around, there is a box of Trio’s current releases for me to examine.  thanks Denise!

Since Washington has some unique growing regions, trio has chosen to focus on these unique attributes.  The wines represented celebrate a special sense of place, and really focus on the local terroir.  In the case of the first wine i’m trying, the 2006 Yakima Valley Mouvedre.  The Yakima valley AVA was the first AVA established in Washington, and is now part of the much larger Columbia Valley AVA.  

This Mouvedre is a funny & charming wine, with black pepper, smoky meat, cedar, and blueberry flavors.  I also found a lot of s’more flavors, with some prune &b molasses thrown in for godo measure, followed by cardamon.  It was almost as if I was drinking a good cup of Chai with a s’more on the side.  This is not a bad thing in my estimation – and 4% of Syrah rounds out the masculine shoulders.

Since it’s  becoming more common to see a single varital Mouvedre on the market, it’s great to see this single vineyard example from Washington where the den Hood Vineyard sits at 1300 feet above  the Yakima Valley floor.  Here, the grapes ripe slowly, adn and were aged in Hungarian, American, and French Oak for 20 months before being released to the public.  The resulting wine is chewy, dense and powerful, and perfect for a big steak or BBQ.  the spicy finish on the wine makes it an interesting choice for almost anything, and I hop you’ll give it a shot!  At $26, it’s well worth it, and it just gets better on the 2nd day of being open.  Go BUY some and support your local winemaker.  With less than 150 cases made, this wine will not last long.

This Veddy (or maybe it’s Mourie?) was graciously provided by Denise Slattery at Trio, but you should get some of your own.  Because I’m not sharing!  please follow Denise and Trio Vitners on Twitter.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you certainly won’t be sorry!

Rhône Around the World!

You’re the Rhone that I want!  That’s the theme for this year’s Hospices du Rhône event, and it’s a great one.  To tie in with this annual extravaganza, Twitter Taste Live is doing a multi-national, multi-coastal, multi time zone tasting event that you can be a part of!
It all kicks off at 7pm local time, on Friday – April 17th.

The first stop is 7pm GMT where in the UK where Robert McIntosh from wineconversation.com will be tasting along with some bloggers and tweeps.

Then we move across the pond to the East Coast, where Joe Roberts, the ONE the ONLY 1winedude, will host live from Wine Riot in Boston at 7pm EDT.  They will be tasting:

Then we move out West.  Out here the cowboys of the wine industry will be in multiple locations, at 7pm Best Coast Time!  Oops sorry, I mean PDT.

  • A tweet-up will be happening at ESATE Restaurant in Sonoma.  For the bargain price of $12 and a bottle of Rhone wine, you too can join the crowd and tweet live from Sonoma!
  • If you can’t make it to one of the live event, you can host your own!  If you can’t host your own, you can taste alone.  Pick one, pick a few but pick something!

Hope you can join us and and I look forward to Friday!

The west coast posse will be tasting:

For all the details and to RSVP. please head over to Twiter Taste Live.  You don’t need to be a wine blogger, or a wine snob, you just need a Twitter account and a Hospices du Rhone wine!  See you in the Twittersphere at 7pm YOUR time on Friday, April 17th.

 

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Up and Coming producers you should know about

I have long been an advocate of shopping locally, while thinking globally, and I think the same can be applied to wine.  I have always thought that I would rather spend $30 on a bottle that was produced by a small time operator that was locally owned, then $15 on a corporate wine that will get lost in the economies of scale.

Particularly in this time of economic distress, I think it’s more important than ever to support the little guy.  I am in a unique position to be able to afford the luxury of wine, and I do what i can to support the small retailers and producers.

This past weekend, my social media and wine friend Shana (@sharayray) and I took off for parts well known, but wineries not as well known, for Weekend 1 of Russian River Barrel Tasting.  Along the way, while I admit we ducked in to old favorites, we also discovered new favorites among the list of somebarrel-tasting 100+ wineries pouring their wares for this annual event.  Here are some of our favorites from the first weekend, with more to come next weekend!

  • Truett Hurst (@truetthurst) yes ok old fave but have to plug it!) Who is making amazing Petite Sirah as well as Pinot and several zins on their bio-dynamic property on Dry Creek Road.
  • Mounts Family Winery (@mountsfamwinery) – While I have been going to Mounts for several years, their hidden location off of West Dry Creek Rd. makes them a gem that is just starting to be discovered.  The family atmosphere and the delicious Rhone focused wine is worth a visit even on your most hurried trip.  I really love their Syrah and Zin, and we got to taste their 2nd ever Malbec, which will be released in another year or two.
  • Michel-Schlumberger (@m_schlumberger), an historic winery but well off the beaten path, next to Mounts.  Boy what a visit we had!  After meandering through the cellar to taste some barrels, we tasted current releases which were being offered for a great deal.  Furthermore, they were having their annual Stash Sale, and Shana and I scored a case of 2001 Pinot for a song.  YES, I know we were in Dry Creek, but the 2005 & 2001 pinots were exquisite!  The property is up against the ridgeline, and the cool fog and Russian River influence provide a morsel of pinot passion here.  Oh did I mention their Cabs were phenomenal too?  Judd, the President and Chief Blogger Ambassador, kept us entertained with the libations and we were hard pressed to leave.  We’ll be back next weekend!
  • Copain Wine Cellars (@copain) – This was my first visit to Copain, but I have been hearing about it from my friends in the wine community for several months.  With expansive views of the Russian River valley from it’s perch above Eastside Road, the wine and the views will keep me coming back for more.  Their Rhone varietals were representative of the region and I fell in love with their GSM.  I will certainly be back for more.
  • Hawkes Wine -(@hawkeswine) Located next to the Jimtown store in Alexander Valley, this small tasting room ha some yummy cab to go with the chocolate pudding we had for lunch.  YUM!
  • Stuhlmuller Vineyards – another new discovery, this family property is up a long isolated road, off of Healdsburg Avenue north of town, where Alexander Valley meets the suburbs.  We were really in the country here and they had Coq au Vin that hit the spot.
  • Hudson Street Wineries, a new collective next to the Front Street Five collective on the south end of Healdsburg, gives you a one stop shop for tasting some of the smallest wineries in town.  If you make a day out of the Front Street Five, Davis Family and the nearby Longboard Cellars, you don’t need to leave!  Hudson Street Wineries, which literally opened the day before we got there, will feature:
    • Bluenose
    • Willowbrook / Owl Ridge
    • TEIRA Wines – which holds a fond place in my heart, since it used to be THEA Wines 😉
    • Grove Street Winery
    • Sadler-Wells Winery
    • Shippey Vineyards

    I didn’t get to taste that much here since it was the end of the day, but it’s a great location and I will certainly be back.

  • Route 128 Winery – is in an storefront in Geyserville.  The teensy winery offers several different wines as well as speciality meats & olives to go with your tastes.  Stop in and stay a while, you never know what you might taste!

These are just a few of the new discoveries we made this weekend which are, in my opinion, worth going to.  You of course should explore and make your own decisions, but with the number of small wineries and the multiplication of coop tasting rooms enabling small wineries to show their wares easily, you have no excuse for not being creative!

Further adventures in urban winery exploration will include a visit t the new coop tasting room off of Ghiradelli Square in San Francisco, Winery Collective.  Winery Collective will feature several urban wineries, as well as some that are far afield, in order to offer a tasting experience closer to home.

 

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Wine Blogging Wednesday #46, Rhone Whites

Be sure to stop by Vinquire and take a look at our Wine Blogging Wednesday efforst.

For those of you who don’t know, once a month we get togheter a group, and taste in a particular theme.

This month, that theme was Rhone varital white wines. We were a little madcap, and tasting 6, from both France and abroad.

You can see the results here:

http://www.vinquire.com/blog/2008/jun/10/wbw-46-rhone-whites/

 

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