Sonoma County Vineyard

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Find me at my new home!

In case you're here looking for new information, I'm now at

I'll see you there!


Monday, July 5, 2010

B-day - Anniversary

There has been a lot of celebration in the last 10 days - my birthday, my anniversary and 4th of July. This is always a busy and fun time of year for me and I love sharing this time with friends and family.

First, my birthday brought a celebration at home to break in the new Weber BBQ. Of course, we had some great wine to go along with the BBQ.

From the left: Bedarra Vineyards Beachfront, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonay. Bella Vineyards Barrel 32 Lily Hill Zinfandel. Michel-Schlumberger Pinot Blanc. It was really hot that day, so the whites outnumbers the reds (I'm okay with that during the summertime)!

I tried my hand at slow roasted baby back ribs....
They were gobbled up pretty quick, so I think it went well.
My favorite wine of the night was the Bella Barrel 32....
This wine is (was) the top two barrels of the 2007 vintage. Top two determined by the winemaker and owner, of course. I couldn't agree more. This could very well be the best Zin I've ever had. They don't have any more, but I can only hope they make this wine again. The concentration was completely unbelievable - the wine filled my mouth like nothing I've tasted before. Yum.

My wife and I also celebrated our 10 year anniversary in the last week. We had a very nice dinner at La Salette on the plaza in Sonoma. This place is very nice, but understated. It has been recommended several times, but we've never taken the plunge before. Are we glad we did.

This was the pork tenderloin....The pork was stuffed with olive, fig and almond stuffing and served with a port wine sauce and fresh vegetables and mashed potatoes. This was so flavorful. I literally cleaned the plate! I chose a Pellegrini Zinfandel from their Eight Cousins Vineyard. It was quite good - a little hot and jammy on its own, it worked really well with all the flavors on the plate.

Every anniversary deserves a really nice bottle of bubbly....
I pulled out a bottle of Domaine Carneros Le Reve - french for the dream come true. Fitting, I think.
We also took a hike up to the top of Sonoma Mountain....
This is a good shot of Sonoma Valley looking toward the town of Sonoma. On the mountain across the way you can make out some hillside vineyards, these are the famous Monte Rosso vineyards. There are some vines up there that are almost 125 years old. The amazement to me is that they survived prohibition. The story goes something like, the hill was too steep for the police to make it up, so they were able to keep the vines alive. I'm sure there was some "sacramental" wine in that story too.

One of the things I was thinking about as we hiked was how different everything would have been 100-125 years ago. We have a tough time growing grapes with all our technology now, I can't imagine what it was like back then.
We also had a great 4th of July filled with plenty of wine, good friends and family and some great BBQ. I was enjoying myself too much to take any pictures!


Friday, June 25, 2010


Lastnight we went to one of my favorite dining spots in Sonoma: Meritage (Martini and Oyster Bar). A great place steps off the plaza with a light and airy atmosphere, excellent bar, attentive (but not intrusive staff) and varying menu. Okay, so I'm not a martini person, but I understand they make some outstanding martinis. I do, however, enjoy a Manhattan from time to time so I ordered one....
This one was made with Makers Mark, my favorite bourbon. It was a great way to start the meal.
We started with a fresh mixed green salad with a Cabernet vinegarette dressing. Chef Carlo Cavallo picks the vegetables used in the cuisine from local farms, so the menu can change on a daily basis depending on what's available. He opened Meritage over ten years ago in Sonoma because the town reminded him of his hometown in Italy and because of the availability of local produce. We only discovered Meritage two years ago, but it quickly hit the top 3 list of my favorite restaurants in Sonoma.

Just look at this meal....
The steak was perfectly done, the potatoes were rich and creamy and the medley of vegetables were bursting with good, it's not hard to believe they were picked that morning.

We brought a bottle of Bella's Two Patch Vineyard Zinfandel with us. The fruit in the wine had unbelievable concentration. You may remember it was my favorite wine from a recent visit. It's so opulent and full in the mouth that it could possibly overpower some foods. However, my steak was perfectly matched. The wine, like the food, was gone too quickly. But at least I know that we can go back and enjoy the bounty of Sonoma again.


Monday, June 21, 2010

Sojourn Cellars

Recently, I had a chance to visit Sojourn Cellars just off the plaza in Sonoma. The tasting salon has only been open for about 18 months, but is quite successful already. They specialize in small lot Pinot Noir and Cabernet. When I heard that, I was very curious because those two wines are usually made in very different ways. More on that in a moment, but first some pictures...

The outside of the salon....

What a cool little "house" wonder it's so comfortable.

We were met with quite a spread....

Oh, how I love cheese, especially when paired well with wines!

Okay, let's get back to the wine.

I was greeted with the Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. In case I need to remind you, I'm a hard sell on Pinot. This one was good, not great, but good. It takes a lot for me to really enjoy a Pinot Noir and while I wouldn't kick any of these wines out of bed, I liked a couple of the other ones better.

Next I had the Rodgers Creek Pinot and I thought this one had a little more complexity and thought immediately that it would be a perfect Pinot for a lot of different food pairings. Dishes with mushrooms came to mind.

Then came the Gap's Crown Vineyard and the Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinots. These two blew me away. Seriously. This is what Pinot is all about. The winemaker was there to talk all about the differences in the vineyards and the locations. Maybe there was just more of a story to tell about these two places, but I think that these two vineyards are just more expressive. I would drink a glass (bottle) of either of these wines in a heartbeat. Their velvety smooth texture and abundance of aromas and flavors were just amazing.

Now on to the Cabernet Sauvignons. Unlike Pinot, I generally like most Cabernets. Of course, there are many styles and I can't say that I like them all. It was interesting to learn that the Cabernet wines were made in the exact same way as the Pinot Noir - open top fermenters (very rare for Cab) and basket pressing, one of the oldest ways to crush grapes. Sojourn is also small enough that they can do a lot of sorting. They sort clusters in the vineyards and then again back at the winery and they also sort berries. Yes, berries. Now that is meticulous. All of this extra work leads to higher price wines, but generally better quality and flavor. Pretty important, if you ask me.

Like the Pinot Noir, the Cabernet differences were based on vineyards (soil, heat, vine management, etc...). They currently have three different releases: 2006 Sonoma Valley, 2006 "Reserve" Mountain Terraces Vineyard and 2007 Home Ranch. All three were good, solid wines. The standout, for me, was the reserve. And before you jump to conclusions about reserve being better, you should know that the term / word "reserve" on a label is not controlled by the government. A winery or winemaker can use it on any of their wines. In this case, I really thought it was the best of these particular wines. I will let you know that these Cabernets were lighter than the typical Cabs, due in part to the way the grapes are handled. It was a nice change though because the wines were ready to drink now - you wouldn't have to wait!

The setting: relaxed, home-like. The service: outstanding. The wines: very good - great. Will I go again? Yes. And I recommend you visit the tasting salon on your next trip to Sonoma.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

An afternoon in Healdsburg

Yesterday was a special afternoon. The kids were at my in-laws house and my wife and I headed up to Healdsburg for a couple of wine events. Time alone (even with groups present) is precious and rare, so we took full advantage.

The first event we went to was a release party for Bedarra Vineyards. Bedarra is a small (very small) winery producing about 500 cases a year and is not open to the public, so it was an experience just to be there. They specialize in white wines - Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grapes from Dry Creek Valley.

Normally, Chardonnay grapes aren't found in this area because it's too warm, but Jeff and Brigid Harris are out to prove that wrong. The biggest issue with growing Chardonnay in warm to hot climates is that it can have lower acid when picked, compared to cooler areas. Lower acid can lead to fatter, more buttery Chardonnays. I don't know exactly how this couple manages to create high acid Chard with tons of complexity and a creamy texture (no butter), but they need to keep it up. In addition, this outstanding product - found almost exclusively on their website - is sold at very reasonable prices. This is their vineyard. The palm trees are very fitting with their "story".
Check them out and you won't be disappointed. I highly recommend the Beachfront - a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, but thought all the wines would fit nicely into my cellar.

Our second stop was Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves, a small, though not as small as the above winery, family owned winery in Dry Creek Valley. We were invited to a special library / vertical tasting held after hours. Library refers to anything older than the current vintage being offered and a vertical is the same wine from different vintages.

Bella was founded in the mid-1990's by a couple who loved wine and wanted to pursue their passion. If you're not aware, getting into the wine business from a grower / winemaking standpoint is a losing proposition. If you start from scratch it's at least a 3-5 year process before you even get grapes. Once the vines produce grapes that can be harvested, it's another 1-3 year process before that wine can be bottled and sold. That's a long time before you start to see any return. So, for a couple to jump right in and produce the results that these two have, it's an amazing story.

The entrance looks rustic, but don't be fooled these guys are producing some phenomenal wines and are definitely not low tech. We started with the 2007 and 2008 Two Patch Zinfandel from Alexander Valley. This wine is absolutely amazing and the 08 was one of my favorite wines from the entire tasting.
A toast to the two hours ahead.... Shortly after arrival we jumped into this....
What is it? It's called a Pinzgauer and it's a 6 wheel drive go anywhere Swiss Army vehicle from Austria. In addition to wine, I'm a total car nut and this thing is awesome! The estate's driver, Ross, took us up to the top of the 42 acre property. If you visit, definitely take the tour.

Some pictures from our Pinzgauer tour of Lily Hill Vineyard....
In addition to Zinfandel, the winery produces very small amounts of Syrah and Granache. They also have a fresh and lively Rose. One thing you won't find at Bella? White wines.
The obligatory dog (not associated with the winery). His name is Otis....
An amazing view from the top....
One of the things I love about wine events is you get to meet local people that own local businesses. Like Jeff Mall, owner of Zin restaurant in downtown Healdsburg.
He's holding his book, a cookbook collaboration with another Restaurant (Syrah) in Santa Rosa called Down home, downtown. Jeff was very much down home - what a nice guy!

There were several food pairings, including this lamb kabob....
And my favorite pairing of the evening: Late Harvest Zinfandel with chocolate mousse cake.
We had a fabulous afternoon / evening out. I'm sure it won't soon be forgotten. The wines were oustanding, the people were wonderful and the two properies we visited were just amazing. I love wine country!


Friday, June 4, 2010

Wines under $15 (and $5)

I'm pretty lucky. It's not bragging, and it's not snobbery, but working in the wine business means I get some pretty great wine. Most nights we get to take home some "leftovers" to enjoy. There are some other perks too, including discounts at most wineries in the area which means I'm able to acquire some other great wines at reasonable prices. In fact, I can't remember the last time I bought a bottle of wine at a grocery store or retailer. With one exception. I occasionally buy a Cava (Spanish Sparkling wine) from Trader Joe's. It good and under $6. Again, I'm not trying to be a snob, but felt I needed to preface the posting below with this information.

Carneros Highway (Highway 12 Winery) sells this Chardonnay for about $14 a bottle... This wine was quite good. The grapes in the wine came from the Los Carneros region and it spent 10 months on oak. My only criticisms would be that maybe there was a little too much oak for me, but it came through in some nice nutty and creme brulee notes and it was just a little on the buttery side. This characteristic is not uncommon in wines that cost two and three times more than this, so I wouldn't consider it a flaw at all. In general, it's still what the American public seems to enjoy the most.

We also opened this bottle....
This wine is a blend of 60% Shiraz (in California we call this grape Syrah) and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. Surprisingly, this wine had a real cork. Australia is known for embracing the screw cap revolution and I thought it was interesting that this wine didn't have one. My experience with Australian wines is pretty limited, but mostly they are known for fruit forward, big (giant in some cases), bold wines. This wine followed suit: tons of fruit on the nose and it continued in the mouth. It was rich and full, but had a relatively short finish. My only complaint was that until the wine got enough air, it had a medicinal quality that was underneath the fruit and not that appealing. Overall, I'd try it again. Plus the regular retail price is $10, but a local store had it for under $5. A steal, in my opinion.

The next night, I thought I would try this one....
I was not overwhelmed by this Shiraz from Barefoot. In fact, I was quite underwhelmed. I couldn't even finish half a glass. I think I equated it to rot gut. It was totally void of fruit, oak or even one single character. This wine sells for under $5, but I've had plenty of 2-Buck Chuck over my drinking years that was far and above this one. Sorry, it's true.
The lesson? There are plenty of great wines out there at reasonable prices. But I think in the under $10 range, you have to search with more diligence. I also think in the under $5 range, it's like finding a needle in a haystack - it takes some serious effort to find good to great wine.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day 2010

Today was Memorial Day. Though not everyone has the day off, many people do. And my family was lucky enough to not work today. Naturally, we took advantage of this 'extra' day off work, but not without a few thoughts about the men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice to keep us safe and give us freedom. One of my daughters is obsessed with flags right now and I'm sure that we saw (and heard) about every American flag between Sonoma, Kenwood, Calistoga, St. Helena, Napa and back to Sonoma. It's always a patriotic drive with her in the car.

The real reason for the drive was to get out of the house and enjoy this nice weather we've had for only a few days. Unfortunately, today was not as nice as previous, but it was still a good day.

From Sonoma, we drove North to Santa Rosa and headed over Calistoga Road to the northern part of the Napa Valley. We stopped along the way and took some pictures, like this...

This vineyard caught my attention because it appeared to be all one block - vineyards are broken up into blocks with larger row spacing between the blocks making them easier to manage - with no row spacing. I imagine they would harvest (and manage) this vineyard very differently on the bottom than the top because of the slope as well as the sun exposure. Cool stuff. Next time you're driving by a vineyard think about it.

Some small clusters about to bloom....
We're getting close to bloom. This is when the buds begin to flower and pollinate. It can be a very dangerous time in the vineyard. Without proper pollination and set, the grape clusters will contain both grapes that are growing and grapes that never started. Not a good thing.

We also found some pretty flowers today....
I'm not a horticulturist, but I think this is a type of poppy.

I love vineyard pictures with old barns, particularly red ones....
And for some reason, I have a fascination with wind machines....

We stopped in Calistoga and walked around. I found these two shops next to each other....
Who knew I would find two of my favorite things in Calistoga? - wine tasting and candy. Maybe I should think about making a spot in my cellar for candy.

We drove into Castello di Amorosa. We didn't get out, but I thought the girls would like to see a castle. They had some pretty flowers and some flags, of course.
Just looked like a pretty spot up on the hill....
After a quick refresh back at home, we headed over to my in-laws house for a swim and a BBQ dinner. Of course, I brought along some wine.

Unfortunately, the Deerfield Ranch was corked. Corked refers to a bacteria that can live in cork closures and can ruin the wine very quickly. You can read more about it here. It is very easy for humans to detect this taint and once you know the smell, it's something that will generally be easily detectable. The question came up, "what can you do with a corked wine"? I wasn't sure, so a quick search on the web turned up this website. Not sure if it works, but it's worth a shot.
Luckily, my in-laws have a well stocked cellar and pulled out this 2000 Arrowood Chardonnay.
It was quite amazing for a 10 year old Chardonnay. There are plenty of red wines that don't hold up that long, so it was a real treat to have a white that was still full of life at that age.

A foodie shot of the ribs on the BBQ!

Full menu: BBQ pork ribs, corn, rosemary red potatoes, Syrah and flag napkins!
Syrah and BBQ or grilled foods go together like meat and potatoes. This Syrah came from Zaca Mesa Winery in Santa Ynez Valley near Santa Barbara, CA. It had good structure and aromas and flavors of blackberry, raspberry, clove and licorice. The latter coming through on the long finish. The back label said to drink now or within the next 8-10 years. It was a 2003 and I think we hit a sweet spot. A very nice wine, especially when considering the price of about $20.

Of course, no meal is complete with out dessert. On tonight's list was this Mudd Pie from Trader Joe's. It was very tasty.
Sure, we had a great time today. Sure, we ate (and drank) like true Americans. But let's not forget why we received this extra day off. Someone, scratch that, thousands of someones gave their lives so we can continue to enjoy the finer things in life. Time with family.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Old(er) wine

As I sit here tonight drinking a wine from the mid 90's, I wonder how many people out there enjoy older wine. Older is a relative term, of course, and it can depend on where you're from or what style of wine you are used to drinking.

For Americans, in general, they enjoy wines that are younger. There is only a small percentage of the population that "collects" wine and consumes it when it is older. Some don't ever consume it and just collect it. I've never understood that and I think the winemakers out there would be disappointed to see their product go to waste - but that is another story.

Young and younger wines are great for many reasons. For starters, young wines tend to be fruit forward. If you smell wine from a barrel after fermentation, it tends to have very strong fruit flavors. Unfortunately, like many things in wine production, young is not the only factor for fruit forward - hotter climates will produce wines with more fruit aromas as well.

Young red wines also have higher levels of tannin (an astringency that comes from the skins and seeds). This can be great with certain food pairings. For instance, if I'm grilling up a Rib-Eye steak, I want a wine with a high tannin level to counterbalance the fattiness of the steak. A young Malbec works really well.

But most importantly, young wines are what we are used to. Rarely do we order an older wine off a wine list - likely because it's too expensive. But also because it's not often available and we don't like to stray away from the "norm".

So for the few that are patient and able to put a wine away for many years, what are the benefits?

Well, let's begin with what you'll encounter first - the aromas. Smells can change dramatically with age in the bottle. What was once a bright red cherry flavor could become dark cherry or cooked cherries or something completely different from cherries, like licorice. One never knows how wine is going to change and develop, but to me that's the interesting part.

One of my favorite things about older wines is their texture. Once in the mouth, these wines can take on some of the best textures my tongue has ever run across. The tannins have generally faded away and what's left is a velvety smoothness that coats the mouth. Now, let's take that same young Malbec that was paired with the Rib-Eye above. Pair it with an aged wine and the steak will overpower the wine. But, cook a Fillet-Mignon and match it up with an older Malbec and you'll likely have a winning combination. Interesting. As the wine ages, the foods it goes with will change too.

Another factor (an overlooked one, I think), is that an aged wine is understated. It takes a lot more concentration to identify flavors and aromas in an older wine than it does in a younger one. Maybe we're more familiar with the fruit flavors of a younger wine, so they're easier to notice. But I think that most wine is consumed without much thought. Really understanding wine is like stopping to smell the roses - it sounds like a good idea, but most people don't take the time to really do it.

Don't take that last statement the wrong way - it sounds kind-of snobby, I know. But I'm okay with "I like this wine" or "I don't like this wine". In most cases, that's good enough. But if you have taken the time to age a wine (or purchased one that was aged properly for you), you should sit down and really think about it. If you're from the area the wine is from, think about what the weather was like that year - if you can remember. Think about the area and what the terrain is like and how that might affect the wine. But most of all, think about what's in the glass. Smell it. Stick your nose in the glass and really smell it. Taste it. What do the aromas and flavors remind you of? You might be surprised how much you know about wine.

Just a quick aside....not all wine has age-able qualities. How do you know? Well, the best thing to do is to ask the source how long to age the wine, if at all. The top three things that allow for a wine to be aged are acid, tannin and sugar. A wine with high amounts of any of these can usually be aged for longer than one that doesn't have them.

So what am I drinking?

A 1996 Zinfandel from Teldeschi Vineyards in Dry Creek Valley. I bought it a couple of years ago (so it was already aged). It's rare to find a Zin that has age-able qualities, but I think this one shows really nicely. For me, the acid that's still apparent in the wine is the staying quality that worked for this particular one.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Alcohol Part II

We had some visitors to the winery this week from another country and the question came up again about alcohol (as it does on many occasions). The question was, of course, about high alcohol levels. My answer was the same as it has been for a while - we have high alcohol levels because we can.

There are many reasons for high(er) alcohol in California wines, some of which you can find in my first posting on alcohol here.

"Because we can" sounds like a really egotistical reason. And like true Americans, we have a big ego. Not just in Sonoma, but in California, Washington, Texas, New York and all the other wine growing regions in America. Maybe egotistical is a bad word or the wrong word, maybe we're just proud - is that a bad thing?

But there is some truth behind "because we can". There are other parts of the world that only dream about being able to get their grapes to full ripeness and not have to add sugar (yes, this happens) to raise the alcohol levels to decent levels. Decent enough to create wines that taste good enough anyway.

Generally, we don't have to worry about many of the weather problems, including rain at the end of the season. which in turn means we can get our grapes to full ripeness. As a result, we end up with higher alcohol levels.

My favorite reason though, and this is a relatively new one, is this:
Every region has their own style. In my opinion, it's what makes wine interesting. If the juice tasted the same no matter where it was from, then what would be the point? So, my new theory/reasoning goes like this - we have higher alcohol levels creating big, bold wines because it's our style. It's what we're known for. If we did it any other way it just wouldn't be the same.

So, be proud of our high(er) alcohol wines, it's still relatively low compared to many other alcoholic drinks. And please, please stop saying we make wines in a "French" style. I can't tell you how many times I've heard this in a tasting room. It's impossible to re-create the conditions of any place other than where you are. We have our own style, let's be proud.


Sunday, May 9, 2010

The rain

I love the rain. Well, I love it during the late fall and winter, which is when we expect to see it here in Northern California. Of course, my concern for grapes has biased my opinion a little.

So here's the big question - does rain in May cause complications with the grapes?

It depends. Like everything else in growing grapes and making wine, it depends. I know it sounds like a cop out, but it's true. Here's why.

You see, we got a late start to bud break this year because of an extended cool and rainy season. As a result, bloom hasn't happened yet. If we were in the middle of bloom, this rain today could be disastrous. If rain, especially heavy rain or hail, happens during bloom it can seriously effect the number of grapes on the clusters and create what we call shatter.

Shatter is when clusters have grapes that are both pollinated and unpollinated. In most cases, these clusters will later be cut off. If the vineyard workers have to cut off too many of the clusters this can put the vine out of balance or in the worst case, not produce enough tonnage. These are all things that could have happened today, if it hadn't been so cool and rainy this year.

So, the good news is that we are in the clear, so far. There's always a chance for more rain later, but we're pretty lucky here in California. Unlike other regions of the world, like the famed Bordeaux and Burgundy, California rarely has catastrophic rain and hail events. For the most part, it's tough to make bad wine here. In case I mislead you with the last statement, it's also tough to make excellent wine as well - so don't be fooled.

We'll keep crossing our fingers and doing our "no rain" dances from here until we have picked the grapes and they are resting safely (relatively) in their tanks and barrels. Until then, there will be many worried and stressed individuals in the wine industry. Good thing we all have wine in our glasses to de-stress at the end of the day.


Thursday, April 29, 2010

3 Kinds of Lasagna (and wine too)!

Well, it's not the first time (and I'm sure it won't be the last), but tonight I'm in culinary overload, again. We were invited to the in-law's house tonight for three kinds of lasagna! My mother-in-law got this cool new cooking dish that allows her to bake three different lasagnas at one time. Of course, we thought of many other things that could be baked in there as well - including some yummy desserts! Hopefully, more on that in future posts.

Of course, we also had quite the line up of wines as well....From left to right: Matanzas Creek Bennett Valley Estate Chardonnay, A. Rafanelli Zinfandel and Freemark Abbey late harvest White Riesling.

Naturally, we started with the Chardonnay. This one is really interesting. At only 200 cases it represents a top bottling from the winery. The nose was packed full of vanilla, toasted nuts and pears. In the mouth, it had great acid followed by a rich creaminess and a super long finish. Priced at $40, it's a bargain for high-end Chardonnay. It served as an excellent aperitif on it's own - although I can think of some cheeses that would work quite well with it.
Then we opened the A. Rafanelli Zin to pair with the dinner.... Back to front: Meat lasagna, spinach/Alfredo lasagna and spinach/wine sauce lasagna. I had some of all three, then went back to the meat one for seconds. This is a pan for those who can't decide what to have. Or for those who have to have it all, which is so common these days!

The Zin was very nice. It didn't have much of a nose to start, but opened up nicely. It smelled of raspberries, spices and cloves. But once on the palate, the wine did not disappoint. I think it paired best with the spinach / wine sauce lasagna, but surprisingly worked with all three.

As if all of that is not enough, my wife made this killer dessert.... It's called Noir bars (probably should have tried it with Pinot Noir) and it's made with cream cheese, dark chocolate and more dark chocolate. Outstanding! It was rich, creamy and super tasty. With three different textures it went perfectly with our "3" theme for the night.

In case you didn't notice, we had 3 wines, 3 lasagnas and 3 textures with the dessert.

We paired this with a Freemark Abbey (I know, it's Napa) Late Harvest White Riesling. Is there a "Red Riesling"? No, but the official name of Riesling is White Riesling and certain producers like to be official.This wine smelled amazing and tasted even better. That's me tasting it! Pears, peaches, creme brulee on the nose led to a viscous, sugary mouthfeel of similar flavors. It was really yummy and was a great contrast to the super dark chocolaty dessert. With almost 14% residual sugar, this one was sweet, but not overly sweet.

So, what's tonight's lesson? I'm not sure there is one other than just enjoy what is on your plate and if there are three things, enjoy them even more!


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Pinot Noir

Generally speaking, I don't enjoy Pinot Noir. There, I said it. Ridicule me if you must, but it's a wine that for many reasons I have issues with. I will explain those in greater detail below. But every once in a while, I come across one that I think is outstanding. Today, I was introduced to one of those.
First, my complaints / issues with Pinot Noir.

The Sideways Effect
Americans, as a whole, are lemmings and the movie Sideways is an excellent example. This movie single-handedly moved Pinot Noir up a couple of notches on the national consumption list. But it goes much deeper than that. Following the movie, the grape's demand shot way up leading many grape growers to rethink what they were planting and growing. The movie also beat the Merlot grape to a pulp (literally). As a result, a good part of those grape growers grafted their vines from Merlot to Pinot Noir. The problem with that? Pinot Noir and Merlot don't usually thrive in the same climates and soils. This lead to many acres of Pinot Noir currently planted in areas and regions that just don't create good wine. Bummer.

Pinot Noir is finicky
Plant Pinot in a climate that is perfect for it (cool, foggy and even windy) and it will grow extremely well. Sure, you have to worry about mold, bunch rot and mildew like most other grapes, but in the right climate it works. Where Pinot is finicky is mostly on the way to the winery and in the cellar. It's a thin skin grape and can be damaged easily during the transportation process. So, the closer the winery is to the vineyard the better. In addition, the cellar is a place where many things can go wrong. Generally, Pinot Noir is handled differently in the crushing, pressing and fermentation process.

Many winemakers will de-stem the grapes and drop them whole berry into stainless steel tanks. The pressure of the grapes on top of each other cracks their skins and allows the juice to be extracted. Then a cold soak happens. This is extra time on the skin and can be anywhere between a few days to a couple of weeks. The thinner the skin, the shorter the time because it takes less time to extract the colors and flavors you're looking for.

Ok, so now that I've gotten too technical, here's the problem. Because demand has increased so much, the proper time and care isn't being taken in the cellar. It's quite sad because no wine should be treated that way.

BUT, everyonce in a while there's a Pinot that I taste that is truly amazing. It has all the right qualities I'm looking for in Pinot: Cool Climate, good winemaking techniques and all these amazing flavors.

This one was opened by a friend today and I immediately enjoyed it. It only got better with more time in the glass....

And the back....At $42 a bottle, it's not cheap, but it's certainly not expensive for Pinot either. It's really easy to get above $50 and not uncommon to see $75 for bottles of this grape. There is a lot of inconsistency though. With some grape varieties there's a decent scale of more expensive, better qualities. But there seems to be an exception with this type of wine.

This wine had a killer nose of black cherry, blackberry along with some forest floor and mushrooms. In the mouth, the wine coated my tongue like cream cheese on a bagel. It was intense - I had to sit down. Then it followed with this amazingly long finish, uncommon for most of the Pinot's I've tasted.

All in all, I haven't given up hope. But Pinot remains to be a tough grape for me to get behind. I do think the food pairing opportunities with it are quite broad and chef's and wine buyers for restaurants definitely use that to their advantage. I can't say that's a bad thing. I will continue to look far and wide (in and out of Sonoma County) for good producers of this grape. I know they're out there.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Direct wine shipping

I'm in the direct sales business and along with customers taking wine out of our retail shop, they also can ship it home, sometimes. The reason it is only sometimes is because we can only ship direct to some states. Currently, there are about 18 states that we can't ship to. Doesn't sound like a lot, but we run into shipping issues all the time.

It's been worse since the airlines stopped allowing passengers to take wine on board. I totally understand the reasoning, but it still has affected our business.

But now there is a new bill that was introduced this week that could make that 18 number shoot way up. The bill is called HR 5034 and you can find the bill here. Wine Spectator did a story on it, you can find that here.

This bill could seriously hamper direct shipping as well as the consumer based lawsuits fighting already existing laws restricting this type of shipping.

So what does all this mean?

Well, if you live here in California probably not much (if anything) will change. But if you live in other parts of the country this bill could make it so you can't get your favorite wine anymore.

The great thing about direct shipping is you can go and visit a winery and send a piece of it home to yourself. Or better yet, join a wine club and get a present delivered to you a few times a year.

Sure, there are still distributors that can deliver some wines to local retailers, restaurants and state run wine shops. In fact, this legislation largely benefits distributors because they will be the only way consumers can get wine. The problem is that many of the wines that are shipped direct from the wineries are not in distribution. This is what can make a trip to wine country so special - getting something you can't normally get at home.

I believe that direct shipping actually helps the distributors. Receiving wines directly from a winery enhances the brand image of that winery. As a result, those consumers will more often pick a wine off a list (or in a retail shop) from that winery because of their connection to it. That sounds like a good thing.

In addition, isn't all the wine from one producer important? In other words, when a winery makes a particular wine, their goal would be to sell all of it. Sometimes that takes both direct sales and distribution sales to sell a wine completely. So aren't we all (direct and distributors) working for the same goal? Aren't we on the same team? I think so.

For some reason there has been this perceived battle between direct sales and distribution networks. I really want to believe that it doesn't exist, but something keeps telling me it does. And that, I think, is our real problem. Until everyone decides that we're all trying to achieve the same thing, we'll never get anywhere.

So, I'll close with this one last thought. When did we move away from being the United States?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Another great dinner at home....

We do enjoy going out and tasting culinary delights from local area restaurants, but we really enjoy staying at home - especially when we want to relax and open several bottles of wine....

Last night we had some newer friends over for the first time. It's always craziness at our house - two kids, two dogs, two cats and a bird will do that! So, it is with caution that we invite new friends over for dinner because you never know what's going to happen.

But when friends (new or long-time) come over, it's always an excuse to go digging in the cellar. Tonight I grabbed a 2007 Quivira Sauvignon Blanc to have with some cheese and sourdough before dinner. This particular one is very small production and was barrel fermented and aged in French Oak. That is rare with Sauvignon Blanc. Most of the time it's fermented in stainless steel tanks and then filtered and bottled with no oak ageing at all.The qualities of the wine were awesome with the Bellwether Farms Carmody cheese. The cheese was creamy and light with good acid and was a great pairing with the wine and its rich qualities and weighty mouthfeel. I think the 'thumbs up' says it all.

The second bottle we opened up was a 2004 Louis Martini Lot 1. I received this wine from the assistant winemaker a couple of years ago. He told me to hang onto it for a little while. I did, but not as long as I could have. Lot 1 represents the best barrels from the mountain vineyards around Napa. It's not often that I rave about a Napa wine, but this 100% Cabernet was outstanding. The aromas coming out of the glass were so complex it was hard to identify just one. Then, when the wine hit my mouth it was like the smells were intensified. The concentration of fruit with hints of oak (not overpowering at all) were just downright amazing.

We paired it with this hearty meal....

Chicken Parmesan, garlic mashed potatoes, pasta, and salad with cranberries and Pt. Reyes Blue Cheese. It was perfectly balanced.

This would probably be enough for most people. But there was more. My lovely wife makes killer creme brulee. And her milk chocolate variation is my favorite....Our guests brought over a Jodar port from El Dorado County (in the Sierra Foothills). We're not sure exactly what was in it, but likely there was Syrah, Zinfandel, Grenache, Petite Sirah or all of the above. Whatever it was the fruit was sweet without being overly so and the flavors from the barrel (think cocoa and cinnamon), along with the palate coating texture were matched flawlessly with the creme brulee. The conversation continued after all the food had been consumed (and most of the wine). And I think this is the most important part. The food was great on its own. The wine would have been as well. But it's not until the food, wine and company came together that there is a true sense of how these particular components join together to create a nearly perfect evening.