Horizontal Tasting: Mariah Vineyards Pinot Noir from Cartograph and Waits Mast

Cartograph & Waits Mast Mariah PinotI love it when a plan comes together!  One of my favorite things about wine, is tasting the expression of the winemaker in the bottle.  Every touch, every decision, every nuance in his or her mind ends up in your glass.  Pinot Noir particularly responds to a gentle hand, and there is no better way to taste that than by tasting wine crafted by two winemakers, with fruit from the same vineyard.

In this case, I am lucky enough to know two fabulous wine makers who are using Pinot Noir fruit from Mendocino County’s Mariah Vineyard.  As a long time fan of the delicacy and brightness of Pinots from Mendocino County, I fell in love with these two wines at first sip – but each on it’s own merits.  Now, having the opportunity to taste them side by side, I can key in on the specific attributes of each wine that make my taste buds smile.

The Mariah Vineyard is located in the extreme reaches of Mendocino, and is part of the Mendocino Ridge AVA.  This is one of the most fascinating AVAs for wine, as it’s a non-contiguous region that is specifically drafted from “Islands in the Sky” – all vineyards that fit in the Mendocino Ridge AVA must be above 1,200 feet in elevation, and exist entirely within the coastal zone of Mendocino County.  The vineyards in this magical plane are blanketed in a thick layer of morning fog, helping maintain the zingy acids, and sit in small patches of usable space on the ridgeline that is often covered in heavy Douglass Fir forest.  Here in the Islands in the Sky, some of the state’s best Pinot Noir is grown.

First, the 2012 Cartograph Mariah Vineyard Pinot Noir ($48). Rich strawberry and cherry mingle with wild mint and wood smoke.  Fresh cream is present, with a slight cola note on the background.  Bright cranberry acidity plays with an herbal finish of forest floor and pine needles, with Bing cherries threading through the entire palate.  The finish is coated in ground baking spices, reminding me of a gingerbread house and Thanksgiving’s cranberry sauce.

In contrast, the 2012 Waits Mast Cellars Mariah VIneyards Pinot Noir ($42) is slightly wilder, with more black cherry and bramble berry pie.  The cedar woods are more pronounced, and the mint is hiding in the background.  A slightly richer wine, brown sugar dances on my palate.  The Waits Mast is Little Red Riding Hood, meandering the forest, darting in and out of black raspberry bushes, hinting at black cherry and voluptuous bramble berries, while enjoying a softer, more velvety mouth feel.  The finish is dusted with a pleasant pinch of white pepper.

The primary difference in these wines comes from the clonal selection of the specific blocks in the vineyard.   While the Cartograph block uses clone 115 and 777, the Waits Mast is block is 667 and Pommard.  Pommard is known to be a richer style Pinot Noir, with dark fruit and depth of flavor, while the 777 has that eartly, forest floor and herbal character that I found in the Cartograph.  The 667 in the Waits Mast brings out that dark cherry and plush tannin.   Another key difference is the use of commercial yeast (Cartograph) vs native yeast (Waits Mast).  Does yeast make a huge impact?  Sometimes.  Ocassionally.  Maybe.  These subtle but clear differences can showcase the stylistic features that each winemaker wants,  while still representing the fruit in a clear and present way.

In the end, these wines are so similar, that the primary different is so subtle, it can be hard to pick up.  Stylistically, they are on the same page; flavor wise, there are ever so subtle differences, that make them both sisters, and yet, unique.  So, vivre le difference!  Now, go forth and make your own vertical.  See what is different, and what is the same.  You won’t be sorry!

 

Alicante – Southern Spain’s Best Kept Wine Secret

Last month, I was among a small group of bloggers invited to visit some special regions in Spain by the luxury wine group MG Wines Group.  MG Wines focuses on wines of distinction from various regions in Spain, and this fam trip was all about the unique, the sublime, and the special wines that MG owns. From the far southern deserts of Bullas, and Jumilla, to the cold, wet north Bierzo, we visited three wineries that were tied together by their dedication to sustainable agriculture, wine making techniques and culture, and yet very different in style and taste.

I love Spain; each time, I come away more enamored than I was before.  I was excited to be included in this small group of wine writers, not only because they were all good friends and people whom I consider talented writers, but also because it was my first time experiencing Jumilla, Bullas, Alicante, and Bierzo.

We began our trip in the southern Costa Blanca city of Alicante.  More well known for it’s beaches, seafood, and sun seeking Brits than it’s wine, Alicante is a bustling town newly connected to Madrid with a high speed rain link that makes travel a breeze.  Nearby, there are several wine producing regions that focus on Monastrell (Mouvedre) and Alicante Bouchet (known as Garnacha Tintarero here), and are delicious alternatives to the more widely known Rioja.

As you might have guessed, Alicante gives it’s name to Alicante Bouschet, the red skinned, red fleshed grape that was so popular in Italian field blends in California’s wine history.  BUt this wine is so unique that you pre-concieved notions will go out the window.  Alicante is it’s on DO, or Spanish Demoninacion de Origen, and is currently in ti’s 75th year as a DO, even though winemaking traditions can be traced back to the Roman times.

Here, Monastrell and Alicante are king among the bold, dark red wines that are growing in popularity and elegance.  After settling in to our hotel in Alicante, the intreped Ole Winos cast out for a tapas crawl on the waterfront.  While it was still late winter / early spring, we bundled up and enjoyed some local wine, cava and delicious eats before our adventure began in earnest the next day in Jumilla, home of Bodegas Sierra Salinas.  Stay tuned for more on that one of kind experience!

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Holman Ranch: A step back in time

     

Holman RanchHolman Ranch was established in 1928, well before the rush of wineries started to populate the rural and bucolic Carmel Valley.  When one thinks of Carmel Valley, you might well think Carmel (by-the-Sea), but in teh short 10 miles up the narrow valley, Carmel by the Sea dissolves away in to Carmel Valley, where horse ranches and vineyards dot the rugged hillsides that once housed cattle and horse ranches.

The family owned Holman Ranch is at the northeastern end of the valley, and while only a few miles from the ocean, is a world – and a century away.  The Ranch itself sits above a small subdivision on a hillside in Carmel Valley Village, but once you enter the gates – you are transported a world away.

IMG_8404Of the original 6500 acre Spanish Land Grant, the 600 acre property that would eventually become Holman Ranch was purchased by a wealth businessman from San Francisco for use as a “gentleman’s retreat”.  With an historic Spanish Hacienda style main house built from local stone, the guest rooms were added later when the property changed hands in the mid 1940s.  The addition of the guest quarters made it an ideal retreat for Hollywood luminaries, and it quickly became the hot spot for stars from Joan Crawford to Charlie Chaplin to escape to.

Fast forward to the late 1980s, and the property was converted back to a private estate to preserve the history and tranquility. This is when the original vineyards were planted, and the stables were added.  In 2006, the Lowder family purchased the Ranch and began a restoration project that included adding 17 acres of vineyards as well as wine IMG_8412caves and event spaces.

Waking up in the peaceful mountains above the valley, it’s easy to see why the stars would want to retreat here.  The early morning hours are silent and golden, and a walk through the property reveals the rugged hillsides and steep slops of vineyard that undulate down the hillsides.  You can certainly see why the Hollywood elite escaped here.

Even though Carmel Valley is only 12 miles from the Paciifc Ocean, the temperature is much warmer; the early morning fog cools down the vineyards, and for this reason, is ideal for Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonay.  Holman Ranch specializes in Estate Pinot Noir, and offers four versions, plus 2 Pinot Gris and Chardonnay.  I loved the Pinot Gris, and the Hunter’s Hill Pinot Noir really hit the spot while admiring the rustic cowboy theme in the tasting room.

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While the Ranch itslef isn’t open to the public, it does host special events for the wine club as well as weddings, meetings and corporate retreats.  I think I might start planning my 25th birthday party!  Ok well maybe 40th.  (shush you.).

If you find yourself in the Monterey Bay region, be sure to take the detour to the narrow little valley that time forgot.  Knowing that Clint Eastwood was the mayor of Carmel by the Sea, I would expect to see him riding the range above Holman Ranch from time to time.  Stop your horse at the hitching post outside the tasting room, pull up a cowhide and sip a while.  Or have dinnner at the newly acquired historical diner Will Fargo across the street.  You won’t be sorry!

A special thanks to Holman Ranch for hosting us at the Ranch and allowing me to go back to summer camp for one night!  I’ll be back…

Rhône Road Trip

Ahhh only 2 short weeks to the fabulous long weekend that is the gateway to summer:  We call it, Memorial Day.  It’s been a long stretch since President’s Day, and I think most of us could use an extra day off.

I am looking forward to a short road trip, exploring some of the Sierra Foothills wine country.  Specifially, I will be travelling to El Dorado County, where there are several AVAs that are perfect for the delicious Rhone style wines of Grenache, Syrah, Viognier and more.

On May 24h & 25th, the Pleasant Valley Wine Trail is hosting the Rocks and Rhône festival and 5 area wineries.  Each of these wineries is known for their Rhône sytle wines, and will rolling out the stops with food pairings, music, and fun along the trail.

Here are some more tid bits to whet your appetite!  For $40 at the door (each day) you are sure to have a rocking good time.  I’m going to hang out in Placerville, and check out the history, and learn more about El Dorado wines.  Additionally, I plan to check out nearby Fair Play which also boasts some great wineries.

In historic Placerville, you can meander haunted hotels, check out old mining sites, and just wader down main street.  I’ll be touring the old town with Gold Rush Tales & Ghost Tours of Placerville, who was recently featured in AAA’s VIA Magazine!

There is plenty to do for a long weekend, and I can’t wait to explore nature, wines, history, and some old…very old…residents!

Event tickets for Rocks and Rhônes were provided by Pleasant Valley Wineries (not the one in NY either!) .   Thanks for keeping me from being thirsty!
Sleeping quarters provided by El Dorado Tourism, somewhere with ghosts I hope!  
Super cool ghost touring sponsored by Gold Rush Tales & Ghost Tours.  With any luck, I’ll meet a nice Miner Forty-Niner.  Wonder if he’s single?

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Mumm’s the word

Mother’s Day is coming up, and hopefully you are able to spend some time with your mom to celebrate her.  What better way to celebrate mom putting up with your crazy than some bubbly?

Recently, I visited Mumm Napawith Vindulge’s Mary Cressler, my partner in crime and bubble buddy who was visiting the Bay Area.  While there, we took the tour through the production facility, which includes a taste of the still wines that will become the magical sparkling wonder – made in the traditional way, Méthode Traditionnelle.

On the way to the winery, we stopped by the demonstration vineyard and heard more about the varietals Mumm uses in their sparkling program.  While many producers focus only on the classic chardonnay and pinot noir grapes for their bubbles, Mumm adds in Pinot Muenier (“Little Miller”), a grape that I think is underused in both still wine and sparkling wines in the US.

pinot meunierPinot Meunier tends to have less sugar and a higher acidity, and is harvested earlier ,which lends a brightness and cleaness to the wines made from it.  Mumm has between 40-60 unique growers that they work with, including their own vineyards, which allows them to select from the best grapes to make the best sparkling wine.  

As we toured through the facility, we stopped to taste the still component wine, and play wit the blends.  This has to be the best part of being a sparkling winemaker.  As we had two glasses of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (white juice, no skin contact), we played with the blends that make up the largest percentage of Mumm’s production.  using the component wine, which is not at all like a finished still wine, we created our own blends and began to see how the flavor profiles develop in the sparkling.
After our blending fun, we walked through the now famous permanent collection of Ansel Adams works.  This is the largest single collection and is truly breathtaking.  In addition to the permanent collection, currently Mumm is showcasing The Golden Decade Photography at the California School of Fine Art, 1945-1955.  These works capture the post war boom and growth in California and is a wonderful way to enjoy a glass of sparkling wine.
As we emerged in to the bright sun, we were escorted to the Oak Terrace by our wonderful guide Charles.  Waiting for us was a beautiful table, ready to taste through the sparkling lineup.  We also had the artisan cheese plate to pair with our wines ($25) which I highly recommend.  Tastings on the Oak Terrace are $40 per person, and include two glasses of your favorite library wine – which is a wonderful value.  With some library selections going back several years, this is a great opportunity to taste older sparkling wines, magnums, and rare production wines which aren’t generally available.Mumm Oak Terrace
As there were three of us, we were able to taste and share just about everything.  This is also a great way to do Mumm – bring a few friends, and order something different.  The generous tasting pours make it easy to share your favorites.  There are so many options to taste, I am going to highly my favorites:
  • 2001 DVX – this library selection of the flagship tête de cuvée honors the work of Guy Devaux, who founded Mumm Napa in 1979.  This rich golden oldie is full of brioche, yellow peaches, vanilla custard and baking spice.  Made with only 11 select lots of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, this special selection had 15% barrel fermented to add richness and depth.  Sitting quietly for 13 years, this was a special treat.  $85
  • 2007 Santana – yes, it’s that Santana.  Carlos Santana and Mumm Napa have had a partnership going back several years, and every year the legendary local musician creates a new blend.  The 2007 was soft and lush, with deep red fruit and figs.  With a hint of Syrah added to the mostly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, this is a fun wine that benefits the Milagro Foundation.  $56
  • Brut Reserve Rose Magnum – there is something special about wines in large format bottles.  This non vintage bottling of a classic Pinot Noir & Chardonnay blend was my favorite, with bright cranberry, raspberry, and cherry flavors.  It was completely different than the 750 bottling, which we also tasted and was a great way to show off how wine ages differently in different size bottles.  $68
  • Sparking Pinot Noir – a rare sparkling red, this dry red wine created in the traditionally champagne style is something totally different and fun.  Ripe plums, baking spice, blackberry pie and chocolate all in one, this unique wine leaves you thinking and wanting more.  $34

Mumm Napa is open 7 days a week, and is located on the Silverado Trail in Rutherford, just north of the city of Napa.  Treat your mom to a special Mother’s Day and stop by next Sunday!  Mumm is also widely available in your favorite wine shop or retail outlet and offers excellent value in sparkling wines.

A special thank you to Charles, our tour host and conversationalist, and Kate Regan at Folsom & Associates for arranging this visit!

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Eguren Ugarte – getting lost in history

Before we finish my tour of Rioja with the ultimate wine experience in Haro, I have one last (and favorite) stops was Bodegas Eguren Ugarte, in the Paganos area.  Situated high in the hills, with the mountains looming behind it and the stunning expanse of Rioja below, the Ugarte property combines old world charm and new world hospitality with a luxury hotel, winery, and restaurants.
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Three generations of the family have made wine here since 1870, in the Basque countryside or northern Spain.  With over 120,000 hectares of grapes, it’s easy to see the influence that they have had in the region.
Eguren Ugarte is known for it’s 2 kilometers of underground caves, hand dug and sloping downwards farther in to the stone hillside.  Each side tunnel has private cages that can be purchased by wine lovers, and walking through the tunnels is walking back in time.  While my pictures didn’t come out, there nooks and crannies with private dining areas are a particularly unique experience that must be enjoyed on any visit to Rioja.
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After a tour of the caves and the hotel, we tasted through the wines before enjoying a traditional lunch in their cozy restaurant.
2010 Crianza  – a young, fresh and lively blend of 92% tempranillo and 8% garnacha.  The goal was to create a fresh experience without as much oak influence, and the big, dark red fruit comes through with a touch of coffee.  A crowd pleasing friendly wine with a touch of anise and oak influence.
2008 Reserva – classic style, 90% tempranillo and 10 graciano, with bright acidity and firm tannins.  With 14 months in new oak, and another 2 years of bottle aging ,this is Rioja at it’s best, full of smok and lavendear notes.
2004 Grand Reserva – the Queen of the dance, with 90% tempranillo and 10% mazuelo (carignane).  I love the bright red fruit, currant, raspberry and tomato notes.  The darker black fruit and firm tannins will age for years, and are especially tasty with grilled meats and cheese.
Eguren Ugarte and Jean-Charles Boisset
Eguren Ugarte
Eguren Ugarte is full of character and is as diverse in it’s wine as it is in it’s offerings.  Step back in time in the caves; enjoy a luxurious getaway at the hotel and it’s spa; dine in one of the two restaurants.  This is a must stop in the mountains of Basque Spain, even on the shortest of trips.

Bodegas Izadi – a collective quest for Rioja

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One of my favorite stops on my tour of Rioja was Bodegas Izadi, a small group of producers established 25 years ago.
A striking 5 story winery is tucked behind the small house that holds the tasting facilities, and is the centerpoint of the gravity feed operation.
 
Bodegas Izadi, located a stone’s throw from the Basque country is Basque for nature, and the wines reflect that in the wines and properties.  While most of Rioja is widely known for the red wine made from Tempranillo, Bodegas Izadi is more famous for thier whites, which are refreshing and beautiful on a hot Rioja day.
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The calcareous soils of Rioja Alavesa look like a moonscape, with dried, cracked calcium rich soils holding strong to the bold Tempranillo vines.  Known for wines with a fuller body and higher acidly, the hard scrub soils produce vigorous vines that fight for nutrients creating some amazing wines of bold character.
First up, the 2012 Blanco F.B. is a blend of Viura and Malvasia.  This bright and clean wine has notes of flowers, specifically daisies, and a aromatic vanilla finish.  Full of peaces and musk melon, this fresh and fruity white is barrel aged for 3 months, and a steal at $20.
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The 2009 Crianza is made with fruit from 40 year old vineyards and is the flagship wine of Bodegas Izadi.  This fresh, fruity, friendly wine has dried figs, fruit compote, violets and molasses.  Yum!  A pinch of Graciano is included from the field blend, although they are unsure how much is actually planted in there as it has intermingled with the Tempranillo for so long.  The firm tnanins in this wine are great with food and will maintain it’s structure for years to come.
 
Regalo, or “The Gift”, Reserva is made from a small selection of low yield vineyards that are averaging 50 years old.  Primarily Tempranillo, there is also 1% blended in with Garnacha, Graciano, and Mazuelo (Carignane).   The rich smokey blackberry fruit, blue fruit and chewy dense red fruit really shine through in this special wine.  The finish oges on for days, and is perfect for a classic Rioja steak en plancha (meat on a stick, grilled)!
The Orben brand was started with the intention of introducing new ways of winemaking in the old world regime of Rioja.  With careful sellection of fruit and modern winemaking techniques, the Orben wines are appealing to the New World palates.  The 2008 Orben Tempranillo is made the modern style, with a selection from 72 plots around Rioja Alvesa.  These very old vines produce a single bunch of grapes each, full of bigger, bold fruit expression and personality.  This chewy and dense wine still holds a beautiful bright acidity on top of the brooding bramble berry fruit.  A declassified Rioja (green label), this gives the winemaker freedom in style and expression and this shows in the Orben.  The name Orben stems from orb, or circle, but an imperfect circle; always striving to be better, the Orben is delicious and a great expression of the region.
 
Bodegas Izadi is a must stop on any tour of Rioja Alvesa, where you can taste tradition and modern winemaking in a single stop, while exploring the gravity flow winery behind it all.  Bodegas Izadi is located in the Rioja Alvesa region, int he Basque region, in the town of Alava.  Stop by and stay a while!
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Where in the world is Rioja?

spanish wine, spanish wine regions, spainRioja is a vast region of Spain, and one of the most well known wine regions from that country.  While you can make similarities to Sonoma County, as La Rioja is also a community (or county), the wines from that area can be from Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Baja, and even the surrounding regions of Navarra and Alava.

Located in a north east pocket of Spain, Rioja can be mountainous, lush, dry, desert, or anything in between.  First recognized as a wine growing region in the middle ages, it has evolved to be a world renowned and diverse wine region.

The three regions within La Rioja are microclimates, each with specific soil types and terroirs that differ, while holding a similar continental climate.  Rioja Alta, where I spent most of my visit, is on the western edge and has the highest elevation.  Known for old world style wine, the higher elevation makes a cooler climate.  Rioja Alavesa is similar to Rioja Alta,  but tends to make bigger, bolder wines.  Poorer soil quality means that vines have to struggle more, producing stronger wines.  Finally, Rioja Baja is less of a continental climate are more of the warm, balmy, Mediterranean climate.

The most common varietal planted in Rioja is Tempranillo, though Garnacha (Grenache), Graciano, and Mazuelo (Carignane) are alos allowed and are commonly used for blending.  There are a few rebel wineries that are doing some single varietal bottlings of these grapes and are really very interesting.  While they are the same grapes as their French neighbors in the Rhone valley, they are quite different and more powerful.  The more rare and special Rioja Blancas are usually Viura (Macabeo, which is often used or Cava), Malvasia, and my favorite – Garnacha Blanca.

One of the keys to understanding Rioja, beyond the sub regions, is understanding the classification system.  Much like Bordeaux and it’s first growth Chateau, Rioja has rules around what can be a Crianza, Reserva, or Gran Rerserva.  But it’s not what you think!

Spanish wines are labeled based on how long you age the wine; while there is a newer classification that is simploy “Rioja”, or declassified wine, you can classify most wines in three categories.

  • Crianza red wines are aged for 2 years with at least 6 months in oak. Crianza whites and rosés must be aged for at least 1 year with at least 6 months in oak.
  • Reserva red wines are aged for at least 3 years with at least 1 year in oak. Reserva whites and rosés must be aged for at least 2 years with at least 6 months in oak.
  • Gran Reserva wines typically appear in above average vintages with the red wines requiring at least 5 years aging, 18 months of which in oak and a minimum of 36 months in the bottle. Gran Reserva whites and rosés must be aged for at least 4 years with at least 6 months in oak.

Confused?  Yeah me too; so Crianza is what most people drink on a daily basis, and what you’d order in a bar.  Reserva is probably what you’d bring to a dinner party or to your parent’s house, while Gran Reserva is what you’d save for a special dinner.  Of course the interesting thing is, there are often Crianzas that are better quality than Reservas, as it’s simply a matter of age.

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Look for the green Rioja label if you want to try wines from the region that don’t play by the rules, and simply needs sto be from La Rioja.

Red is for Crianza.  Think fun, glass of wine at a bar.  With up to 2 years in oak, these are silky and soft, and ready to go.

Burgundy is for Reserva.  This is a food wine, can have a lot of tannin and works with food.

Purple is for Gran Reserva.  With 2 years in oak, and another 3 years of bottle age, they can be a bit over powering and benefit from a good swirl in your Soiree or Vinturi.

Of course the rules for white wine and rosado vary but these are the basics.

And now that you know, go out and find some Rioja for dinner tonight!

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Heaven in a dish – Azienda Agricola Zoff

00000829Cheese – aromatic, beautiful, pungent, stinky, delicious cheese; there is more to wine tourism than just wine!  While I could spend hours a day exploring the micro regions of Friuli, I was excited to experience more of the food aspects of the diverse region.

Azienda Agricola Zoff is a small, local dairy that specializes in regional products from traditional sources.  The Pezzata Rossa cows deliver milk that is rich in butter fat, that helps the family do their job.  The Zoffs have been making cheese for 15 years, but have been raising cows here for generations, drawing on the cultural history that brings in the German, Swiss and Austrian cultures of northern Italy.

After we had a brief tour of the dairy, where we learned that happy cows do indeed make happy cheese, we sat down to taste the cheese.00000808-2

One of the more unique offerings was the Caciotta, which is a fresh cheese that can be enhanced with flavorings.  IN this case, the flavored version had rose petals and thyme.  The creamy fresh cheese is rubbed with the flavorings after about 10 days, when the new rind is perfectly ready to bind to the flower petals and herbs.  The fresh creamy cheese is a wonderful palate cleanser and snack.

Next, we tried the Latteria.  This time, we could taste both the fresh version, only 4 days old, and an aged version, which had been resting for 2 months.  As expected, the aged version was nutty and rich.

00000807We also were able to sample a famous offering:  the yogurt!  Those of us who are used to the tangy, tart, and thick American style yogurt might be confused by the creamy fluff that was served in a small dish.  but if you’ve traveled to France, and many other parts of Europe, the style of yogurt is younger and fresher, and much thinner.  Even commercial yogurts here are different than our palates are used to.  Here at Agricola Zoff, they make yogurt in the tradition methods; here, fermentation is stopped earlier in the process, allowing some of the natural sweetness of milk to remain.  The result, is a rich, naturally slightly sweet, slice of heaven.  As health nuts are aware of, yogurt is full of amazing health benefits, and this is no exception.  Beppino, the patriarch of the Zoff family, even touted that this is paradiso, heaven!  I’d be inclined to agree.  He also let us in on his secret for long life:  A spoonful of dulce de leche in a bowl of his yogurt, and you will live forever!  I’m ok with that.

Here in the Bay Area, we are blessed with several micro dairies and creameries.  I have found that the closet product to the Zoff yogurt – which I had to replicate because it left me craving more – is the Saint Benoit natural yogurt.  Available at Whole Foods and other small markets, this French-style creamy yogurt is the closest approximation to heaven I can muster without making the yogurt myself.  A touch of homemade jam and I am set for the day.

Agricola Zoff also has a charming bed & breakfast, which includes the delicious farm fresh products.  With a bucolically quiet setting, I am ready to go back and drink it all in for a week.

Happy travels!

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Pitars – a modern winery in an ancient town

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Pitars visitor Center

       Pitars Winery comes out of the low slung houses of the town of San Marino al Taliamento, nestled in the heart of the Friuli wine region of Italy.

The Pittaro family has been making wine in Friuli since 1880, with Roman origins going back to 1510.  The passion of this family for the Fruiliano wine culture is clear, and Pitars expresses this passion beautifully.

Pitars is both near the alps and the Adriatic sea, as well as the largest river in the region, giving a rich combination of stony and alluvial soil.  The closer you get to the sea, the more limestone is present in the soil, making it the perfect location to grow the white wines of Friuli.

As many wine lovers know, the poorer the soil, often the better the wine.  Being in such a rocky and stone filled area, it’s a difficult task to grow crops, but a wonderful place to grow grapes. Here in San Marino, there was a wine revolution in the 1960s, and now they are known world wide as a source for clonal development and vines.

Pitars has 140 hectares of vineyards, and is primarily estate bottled, but they do buy some fruit as well.  While they bottle 1/2 – 1/3 of their total production, much of the fruit is sold to large producers.  

A unique point about the winery and operation is that they are one of the greenest wineries in Friuli.  With solar power providing 90% of the electricity to the tasting room, this covers the energy bill for 9 months of the year.  Additionally, they are pursuing biodynamic and organic methods, using birds and insects, as well as other sustainable practices.

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After touring the property, we sat down to taste through the wines.  First off, we had a side by side of sparkling wines.  The Ribolla Gialla Spumante Blanc was bursting with green apple and bright citrus, and was a refreshing departure.  Comparatively, the classic Prosecco was light and crisp, with a touch of sweetness on the finish.  While I enjoyed them both,  I actually kept a glass of the sparkling Ribolla as a palate cleanser on hand as we sipped away the afternoon.

IMG_0379-2Next up, the Tureis IGT, is a blend of the classic Friulano, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.  Pitars names it’s flagship wines after stars, and Tureis is the Arabic name for a binary star system.  The symbol of the star system and a white blend is beautiful to me.  This wine was vinified separately, with the Chardonnay being barrel aged for 16 months.   The deep golden color had caramel and honeysuckle notes, with tropical fruit and a richness.  It was quite and interesting blend, and would be IMG_0396great with a richer fish dish.

IMG_0397Named after another star, the Naos is a brilliant ruby red blend, made of  Refosco, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.  (Did I say Cabernet Franc?  YUM!)  The process for this wine is unique in that the grapes are actually dried slightly before vilification, creating an intensity of flavor that you don’t normally expect.  This dark brooding wine had lots of espresso flavors followed by black pepper, dark plum, leather, and blackberry.  

As luck would have it, our gracious host also opened several other wines for us to try.  Most notably, the Cabernet Franc, which aside from being a personal favorite of mine was simply delicious.

IMG_0334Be sure to make time for a visit to Pitars if you are in the Friuli area, as you will not be disappointed!

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Trapan Wine – an Istrian modern classic

Trapan Wine

One of the highlights of any culinary adventure is finding a special place, that is unlike any other in the local region.  Trapan Wine is one such place, in the heart of Istria, one of the most culturally diverse and historic wine cultures in central Europe.

Driving in to the winery, the sun was setting and the views were stunning.  The gentle rolling slopes of the hills, some under vine, most not, glistening in the late winter sunlight.

Bruno Trapan, a young urban winemaker drawn to the region as he studied enology at the local university in Poreč, was inspired by the land and his education to a creative and dynamic art in his vineyard and cellar, undertaking a task that was challenging at best, arduous at least.  Bucking the trend, he was looking to unlock the secret to the red soils of Istria, and uncover new secrets in winemaking.

While Trapan Wine does produce the classic wines of Istria – Malvasia and Teran – they are also looking to internationally known varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah to create new traditions in winemaking.  These varietals fit nicely in to the landscape naturally, but are new flavors in the local wine culture and are breaking new bounds of tradition.

These wines are unique, filled with traditoinally flavors with modern twists and are a must top on your enotourism checklist of Croatia.

2012 Trapan Malvasia – Rich Meyer lemon, citrus, stone fruit.  Fermented in stainless steel tanks, the flavor profile is unique, with a very different terrori than northern Istria.  The northern areas are rich in limestone, lending a minerality and stone finish, while in Pula, where Trapan Wine is located, the average temperature is 3 degrees (Celsius) warmer.  This brings forward the aromatics in the Malvazia, with less fruit forward, and bright acid notes.

Ever the rebel, Trapan Wine uses both wild, natural yeast, as well as commercial yeast.  Each lot is fermented separately, but the final bottling is a blend, and not all wines in a lot are bottled at once.  Some wine is kept on yeast longer which gives a more complex creamy wine.  

2010 Trapan Teran – Teran (Terrano in Italy) is one of those grapes that had been used for rough and ready, work-a-day wine.  At first taste, Teran reminded me of Touriga Nacional, a rough, but loveable worker.  However, refined and elegant, this Teran changes the status quo.  This bold and dense wine is similar to a Merlot, but rough and tumble, with lots of spice, and huge tannins that allow it to be aged for years to come.  Earthy dust, muddy dirt, big brambly berries, this is the Teran I fell in love with.

2011 Trapan Nigra Virgo Revolution is a red blend, with 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 20% Syrah, and 10% Teran.  This is like a Bordeaux on steroids!  Teran is a strong grape, and so you have to be cautious when creating blends that it doesn’t overpower the blend.  Teran, being native to Istria for thousands of years, is a great way to put a local spin on an international style wine like the Nigra Virgo.  This wine had big bold flavors of black cherry, fig, and bark with a baking spice kit dusted on top.  Hints of pine pitch came out in the long finish.

Finally, we had a secret taste of not even disgorged yet (ok well Bruno disgorged it in the kitchen of the winery), sparking Teran.  I am always curious about sparkling red wine, from Shiraz to Lambrusco, and this was gorgeous.  Blood orange, wild strawberries, cherries, pomegranate, and ripe red fruit were popping through this bubbling beauty.  I can’t wait to go back and buy some!

Trapan Wines are available in a few select locations in the US.  With your help, let’s get them in more places!  In 2014, Bruno hopes to increase production to 85,000 bottles.  I think that’s enough to distribute here don’t you?You can learn more at the Trapan Wines website.Special thanks to the Istrian Tourist Board and Bruno Trapan for a wonderful visit. 

Trapan Wines

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Bloggers are irrellevant? Really?

How did we get here AGAIN.  I feel like we’ve had this conversation every year, since the year I began blogging.  Initially, it was a question of bloggers, online writers, whatever you want to call us, being irrelevant because we were the unknown factor.  Then it was an issue of credibility.  Now, it would appear, that a few people have taken it to the opposite extreme, and make a leap to the assumption that we are irrelevant because no one is reading us due to overload.

While it may be true that people don’t read wine blogs the way they “used to”, it’s also true that there are a lot more of them out there.  Many of those are noise, and not as impactful as the handful of those who have been writing for more than a year and are a known entity in the blogosphere.

According to a post by The Hosemaster of Wine (take this with a grain of salt people, regardless of where it was published), no one reads wine blogs.  No one?  That’s a curious statistic given my analytics and inquiries from interested parties who clearly read my content and ask questions, inquire about engagement, or ask me for ideas or speaking proposals.  The industry is interested and reading wine blogs, because they are seeking ways on how to engage with bloggers; the proof of this is all around us:  at the International Wine Toursim Conference in 2011, I discussed engaging bloggers, and this year at the Wine Tourism Conference, I will again be discussing who wine bloggers are, and how to work with them.

I think the key takeaways here are that you need to ensure that your blog and posts are relevant, engaging, and frankly – interesting.  Clearly, people are tuning out copy cat tasting notes, badly done videos, and the like.

However, the accusation that wine blogs have turned in to online diaries of what I ate this week is missing the mark.  Wine, in the context of a person’s life, is relevant when paired with life activities.   Which would you rather read?  This Cabernet was tasty.  I had it alone, while sitting at my desk.  Or, this cab went deliciously well with my steak Diane as it brought out the flavors of x, y, and z.

Clearly, people DO love a good story and are seeking that information on these blogs.  Which brings me to a great segway — this year at the Wine Bloggers Conference, one of the sessions will be focusing on creating compelling content.  This is a critical skill to have, and if you are finding yourself losing traffic, or not engaging your audience, then you need to be at this conference.

For me, I am all about engagement.  I speak at wine related conferences regarding engagement.  I tell people about engagement.  I will also be speaking at the Wine Bloggers Conference about Positioning Your Blog.  This is a great time to rethink what you are writing about and why, and think about how you might be tuning out your audience.  Do you even know who your audience is?

I engage with people every day as a part of my job.  They might be strangers, but I am required to network to be successful.  Blogging is no different.  I might not tell every winery that i visit that I am wine writer, but when I talk to people about wine, if the conversation comes up, yes I will mention it.  I am connecting with them, and they are engaging with me.  The vast majority of my readers are not wine bloggers.  Most of my readers are first time visitors, who were searching for specific information.

Yes, there is wine blog fatigue.  So don’t be boring!  Make the story take center stage.  Engage your audience in the story of the wine, and how you found the wine.  I say throw caution to the wind and talk about the weather that day, if you were in the Alps, or in Dry Creek Valley.  All of these factors contribute to the story, which is the central point of the blog.

Even those blogs that are purely tasting notes can still be engaging and interesting.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  Search.  Connect.  Engage.  Search for content that is meaningful to you and your target audience, in keeping with your blog’s theme or goals.  Connect with your audience, whether that is on social media or directly from your blog.  Engage with that audience by being an interactive part of their wine world.

 

 

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Does Zagreb have Open Table?

Bistro Karlo, was an elegant restaurant in an old house just off the main square of Zagreb.  Marcy had engaged her social media workforce to find a great place for us to eat on our free day in Zagreb, and @Visit Croatia had slyly indicated that it was, indeed, Zagreb Restaurant week.  What a find!  While Liza and I were getting post flight massages (yes, you can hate us now), Marcy went to work finding a great locale.

Our first choice was either closed, or booked, so our next option – Bisto Karlo, seemed liked a terrific choice.  The owner, a sommelier as well as chef, and his staff were top notch and greeted even my own sneakered feet with pleasure.  We were the only people in the restaurant, which wasn’t that surprising for a Sunday night, for a while and had all of their attention . This wasn’t really that much of a shock, since you have three American’s who are clearly wineaux.  The head waiter dabbled in acting, and was a charmer and a comedian.  All of the staff were absolutely enchanting, and we let our dinner linger as long as we could.

As it was restaurant week, we had our choice of two set menus.  I chose the Fish Menu, as did Marcy, and Liza chose the pork option (which she tells us about here).  Once our orders were in, we set about thinking about the wine.  One of the reasons Marcy chose this place was the extensive Croatian wine list, most of which were available by the glass.  Since I am a newbie to the wines of the region, I told Karlo to pick his favorite pairings, and I am epically glad I did.  Since Marcy and I ordered the same menu, Karlo made sure we had some unique wines between the two of us, and there was a riotous game of pass the wine glass between the three of us.

The first course was a pannacotta of cod fish, with freeze dried strawberries and beet sprouts.  Now, this is clearly not a pairing I would make myself, and I was not sure about the flavor of panncotta flavored with – dare I say it – my favorite <dripping sarcasm> bacalao (salt cod).  However, when it arrived, the creamy pannacotta only had a hint of the sea, and while creamy, was not sweet.  The strawberries were that unusual European variety that grows in the south of Spain, and while fresh and delicious, is not terribly sweet.  Coupled with the bitterness of the beet sprouts, it was a stunning dish.  This was paired with Karlo’s own Pink Elephant Posip.

Next up, a fresh salad of spinach leaves, with fresh sardines, lightly fried.  Now I am NOT a fan of the sardines we get here, but these little fishes – crispy and melt in your mouth delicious – were something to remember.  With this dish, Karlo served the  KrauthakerSyrah, which was so good I had to have another glass with the salmon!  Who says you can’t have red with fish?

Finally, the salmon.  This was most likely the best salmon I’ve had to date, and was cooked just to the point of setting; Liza described it as having a custard like consistency, and while I’d go a bit firmer, it was just perfect.  Paired with an odd sauce of white chocolate, the pairing was surprisingly delicious and playful on the palate.  The Syrah was perfect for this as well.

Just another fabulous day in Zagreb!  Oh and the cost of this epic 4 course dinner plus the free entertainment?  Less than US$50 each.

 

Hum – smallest little city in the world

00000042Hum is a tiny little hamlet, still surrounded by it’s hilltop walls, in the middle of Istria.  A small remnant of medieval life clinging to it’s roots, it has entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the smallest town in the world.  While it might not be the smalled in size, it’s officially a town and has it’s own government.

Getting to Hum can be a challenge, and we found ourselves backtracking the highway on local roads with signs pointing in every direction.  There is no GPS out here, so we just threw caution to the wind – and maybe said a small prayer to the rakija gods – to find this hidden treasure.

Seventeen turns, 3 misguided dead ends, and one near miss with a local, and we were on the right road to rakija!

How’s that for the little guy!  But there is more to Hum than meets the eye.  This castle (really, that’s what it is, a castle and the court around it), is a center point for the now lost Glagolitic script, which is considered to be the earliest form of the written Croatian language – and be the forefather to modern Cyrillic.

But…since this is a post about wine tourism, what about the wine?  All around the steep and sloping hillsides, you can see the vineyards that roll on to the coastal borders of Istria.  Here in Hum however, they are more known for Rakija.  Rakija is the Croatian word for Grappa, and is typically made from distilling the alcohol that is produced from the leftovers of wine making, like grape skins.  Here in Croatia, Rakija can also be made from a base alcohol of brandy, applejack, or other forms of fruit liquor.

As we meandered around Hum, Mladen – our intrepid Funky Zagreb driver, tour guide, comic relief, and all around Mad Max replicant, pointed out the Rakjia museum & shop.  Yipee!  What a way to break up a long drive!hum - mladen

Here, we tasted many of the flavors, including Biska, the most famous – made from mistletoe, or Medcina, made from honey, red wine, apple, pear, and so many more.  In Croatia as well as other parts of this region, everyone makes their own Rakjia.  It is a point of pride as to who makes the best, and the secret recipes are a much guarded treasure.  Try as we might, we just couldn’t get the secret out, although Mladen did give us a sample of his famous walnut upon our return to Zagreb.

After imbibing in several flavors, we all left, happy, warm and well stocked.  And, according to legend, rakjia cures cancer, and can be used as liniment for sore muscles.  I think I’ll try it!

And, if you’re in the mood for a real treat, Hum hosts an annual Rakija festival every October.  Bring your best attempt and share in the fun!

After Hum, we were back on the road to Rovinj, and the coast.  Stay tuned for the continued adventures of the Bourne Wine-Premacy!

What exactly is this wine tourism thing?

As we leap in to 2013, I am gearing up for a year of possibilities; a year of trips; a year of experiences; a year of wine!  I am excited to be participating in the 2013 Internatinoal Wine Tourism Confernece, this year in Zagreb, Croatia.  As i prepare for that adventure, I am reflecting back on what I have learned about wine tourism over the past 2 years, since I was in Portuagal at the 2011 Wine Tourism Conference.

Wine tourism is an ever evolving thing.  At it’s core, it is the travel and tourism of people that are seeking destinations orbiting wine and food.  But, it is an evolving industry.  There is a boom in growth in wine culture, in the US, and internationally.

Those who define themselves as wine tourists tend to be more affluent, with a higher level of education and also tend to spread the word about their experiences when they return home.  With over 90% of wine tourism happening as an adjunct to visiting friends & family, there is an untapped market that is ripe for the picking.

Given that, in my small area, there are over 1000 wineries, with more than 2000 in the state of California, how do you stand out?  How do you identify your target audience, and attract them to your business?  As a wine tourist myself, I am often overwhelmed by the sheer number of offerings in a small wine region.  Selecting which establishments will benefit from my business is always a taxing exercise.  When I am alone, I target places I have never been.  However, how do I select destinations when I am in a group?  What makes you stand out?  Being unique and being intriguing is a key factor in this over saturated market.

As I plan my trip to Croatia, the state of wine tourism in the US and beyond is in the forefront of my mind.  After being piqued by the conversations that occurred at the 2012 Wine tourism Conference in Santa Rosa, I am excited to explore this topic more.  While I had already set my discussion topic (with my fellow blogger and co-presenter Liza Swift of BrixChicks) I am infinitely curious about what other people do to attract wine tourists to their regions.  I spontaneously broke in to lengthy (geek) discussions while in Portland recently about how their evolving urban wine scene is unique to the area, and different from the Willamette Valley (more on that later).

In California, there is so much more to wine tourism than the well known grape producing regions of Napa & Sonoma.  There is an entire culture of wine and food that is a large economic part of the state’s bottom line.  But, outside of those primary tourism destinations, and perhaps some of the regions made famous in Sideways or Bottle Shock, do you know about the smaller, alternative destinations?  Creating a brand identity for an international tourism audience is paramount to success.  You don’t want to be foreever known as the winery where Miles drank from the spit bucket, or one that produces (gasp!) Merlot, if you can’t express why your Merlot is out of this world.  This is true for any wine region that wishes to enhance their wine tourism audience.

So, as I get ready to pack my bags, and investigate wine tourism around the world, I task you to think about these two things:
1.  If you are wine tourism business, what are you doing to create a unique message to attract visitors?

2.  If you are a wine tourist, what attracts you to a new (to you) business?  What keeps bringing you back to your favorites?
Happy wining!

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