The spark within – WBW 73

Ahh, Wine Blogging Wednesday.  Once upon a time, WBW was a monthly spark for wine bloggers to collective think about a particular topic, and form the gestalt of the blog.

The sum of the many is the one.

Sadly, WBW all but disappeared over the past few years.  Formed in 2004, WBW is having a resurgence thanks to a new committee and new life behind it. I for one, am grateful to have a guided post every month, as I struggle to be inspired and write posts that are both thoughtful, but also interesting to my readers.  This month, as we kick off a new year, January’s theme reminds us to think about what make us start blogging int he first place.  The Corkdork asks us what sparked our interest in wine, but more why we decided we needed to write about it.

For me, I actually have to thank my wine loving friend, and fellow blogger Liza Swift of the Brix Chicks for challenging me to put my money where my mouth was.  There was never one wine, or a specific experience that made me put pen to paper.  I had always been involved int he wine community one way or another.  But Liza, whom I encouraged to blog before I even started my own, asked me why I wasn’t writing when she was.

Good point!  Wine fascinates me.  the fact that it is alive, and forever changing, inspires me.  I have been drinking wine since before I was 21, and I have been entrenched in wine, while maintaining a techie career, for the better part of (*gasp*) 17 years.  I felt compelled to share my favorite wine discoveries with friends via word of mouth, but then in a newsletter.  That newsletter, which was filled with wines that I had consumed and fallen in love with, as well as tips on events that were up and coming in the Bay Area, and stories of my adventures in wine, are what sparked this blog.

Why do I write?  To write puts thoughts on paper – or on the internet – and shares them with your audience, however selective that might be.  To share the joy that I have experienced drives me.  My tastes have changed from zinfandel to pinot, and further more to the complex wines of the Rhone.  Starting out with my so called newsletter, I had the overwhelming feeling that to keep such knowledge to myself would be indulgent and selfish.  Beyond that, writing is cathartic, regardless of whether it’s in a personal journal or in a public format.  This blog, Facebook, and Twitter act as a life coach, therapist and best friend.

Wine is alive.  Wine changes.  Both time and place can turn the same wine in to very different beasts.  What happens when you taste a wine 5 years after the initial release?  Is it better?  Is ti worse?  Is my taste just different?  All of these are true, all of these are not.  Wine also changes in the glass.  What other tangible and consumable object has this much life to it.  It sound like I am quoting Maya from Sideways, but it’s true.  Wine lives, and wine is alive.

What sparked me?   My gateway wine was definitely zin.  Having worked for and with ZAP for over 10 years, I was exposed to over 200 wineries that had a wide variety of zinfandel to offer.  Is it the brambly jammy blackberry from Dry Creek?  Or perhpas the spicy mincemeat raisin from Sierra Foothills?  Dig a little deeper and try the rose petals and somewhat lighter style from Russian River.  I still love zin, and while my everyday tastes have changed somewhat, there is nothing better on a cold rainy night.

Today, my passion is for learning about and discovering pinot.  Why are pinots so fickle?  What are they so different?  How can I possibly love a pinot from Willamette Valley but also love one from the vast and strange Sonoma Coast?  While keeping my love affair with pinot alive, I am ever the explorer.  My latest quest.  Grenache!  Where fort art thou!  One of the essentially Rhone grapes, you can get Grenache for days in the Rhone Valley and also in somewhat rougher, inexpensive Spanish Garnacha.  But what about in the New World?  Where can I find that meaty, spicy, unique in a way that only Grenache can produce, flavor here int he new world?  Apart from a few favorites that I can’t seem to keep in my cellar, I am always on a quest to meet the winemaker who has taken on the bold new world of the Rhone, Spanish, interesting varietal.  Beyond the Grenache, what of the misunderstood, misplaced, lost and lonely Mouvedre/Monastrell/Mataro?

It’s a bold new world out there, and wine is waiting.

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!

I've been Vintaed!


Remember Wine Blogging Wednesday?

The one day a month where we all gathered our collective consciousness and blogged about the same topic?  Well the same theme anyway.  Well it’s BACK!  And I’m pleased to be participating because it’s a really great way to give me a shove in the right direction in my blogging efforts.  With my day job, life, travels, and wine stuff taking over and an alarming rate, it’s nice to have a topic that I don’t have to come up with.

Gabriella Opaz of Catavino, who was with me in Porto

This month, Catavino’s Ryan & Gabriella encourage us to blog about Spanish wines.  Fresh off the big ole jet airline from a trip to Iberia, where I spent some wonderful time with Gabriella, I am able to supply oodles of info on this topic!  Specifically, Catavino is asking us to look at Spanish wines we’ve never tried before, or something unusual for the area.  Since I recently blogged about Miguel Merino, my new favorite place in Rioja, I thought I’d use this opportunity to write about my new friends at Vintae.

is mixing it up in Spain, and starting a wine revolution of sorts.  They are a young company which focuses on 6 specific regions in Spain, but in a different way.  Vintae represents innovation and change in a wine region that has been very rigid in its ways, much like France, for years.  The avant-garde marketing and approach have shaken up the industry in Spain, and spawned the Spanish Guerrilla wine movement!

In Spain, wine suffers from a bit of a bad reputation.  There is some of a connotation that is is an old man’s drink, or an object ot mix with 7-up or other such items.  Although, when we were out in Logroño doing a tapas bar crawl, plenty of young folks were drinking wine – but it appears that might be a bit of the exception.  Since I have no real experience with the Spanish wine industry, you will need to take this with a grain of salt.

The company started with 5 wines, made in La Rioja, from grapes that are non-traditional to the region. Given that the wine laws in Europe are much stricter and somewhat archaic by western standards, they had a bit of a time introducing these wines to the market. They were, in fact, the first winery that was allowed to produce these varietals in La Rioja, and are guerrillas in the wine business here – stirring up the old ways of thinking, and trying to make wine fun. This is why their new brand is called "Spanish Guerilla". Kinda catchy don’t you think?

On this day, we visited the two different Vintae production facilities, starting wtih the white wine facility, Castillo de Maetierra, where the illustrious Spanish White Guerrilla wines are made.  Castillo de Maetierra is the only winery in La Rioja which specializes in making white wines.  The Castillo has been an upstart, focuses on unusual (for Rioja) wines such as Muscat and Malvasia, and introducing Spain to foreign varieties such as Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer.  Currently, Castillo de Maetierra works with eight different white varietals, including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer or Viognier.  Because these are so unusual in the area, the branding became the “Spanish White Guerrilla”.  Each of the fun labels makes a play on a character from the region – so the Gewertz has beer wench, the Sav Blanc looks a Little bit like Fidel Castro, etc.

Carmelo, our smiling host!

Because there really is a sense of terroir and micro climates in Rioja, the production facilities are separate and distinct to maintain this.  The white wines produced here are so delicate and fickle, that anything more than 30 minutes from field to crushpad would destroy some of the characteristics that make them unique, which is what the winemakers want to avoid.  This is somewhat difficult to grasp as a New World wino since we so often see grapes trucked long distances to production facilities. That said, it makes total sense – treat the wine like your first born child, and she will treat you like the king of the world.

The white wines are made here at Castillo de Maetierra, where approximately 500,000 bottles are produced. YOW!  Just a little bit of wine there folks.  Our hosts, Ana of Vintae and Carmelo Santos, the winemaker, showed us around and gave us a peek at the 2010 barrel samples as well as the current 2009 releases.  The Castillo is located in southern Rioja, where it is a high desert – think Reno folks, and it can get up to 35c in the summer. That’s about 110! Phew. Hot. Because of this, they harvest in August at night. This is crucial for the whites because the whites can begin fermentation spontaneously in that heat.

I must admit, I did a poor job at taking notes of what I was tasting, but you really want to know more about the story right?  Suffice it to say, they were surprising and delicious, and even though it was FREEZING cold outsidede, they were highly enjoyable.  The Guerrilla wines, coming in at about 5 Euro, are an absolute STEAL for budget minded quaffers.

Happy reading, and you should be able to find these wines near you soon!