Sonoma County Vineyard

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.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Paso Robles Zin

Admittedly, I don't know much about Paso Robles and their winemaking and growing region. I've only had a few wines from there, but so far from what I've tasted I'd like to try more.

Paso AVA has one of the largest temperature swings of all the AVA's in California. In other words, it's really cool / cold in the morning and overnight and very hot during the day. This, of course, depends on how close the vineyards are to the ocean, but the swing is there none the less.

What does this mean? Well, they can grow a lot of different grapes. In fact, over 40 different types of grapes grow in this one area. Everything from Chardonnay to Cabernet, Syrah and Zinfandel.

This bottle of Zin call 'biker' hails from Four Vines Winery in Templeton, CA....This wine is huge! Once the cork was popped, the wines aromas were jumping out of the glass. Tons of blackberry and raspberry along with white black pepper and lots of spices are on the nose. The smell was actually a little overwhelming at first, but after we let it breathe for a moment it calmed down a bit.

In the mouth, it was liquid pleasure. Well balanced, fruity, spicy and a good finish of decent length. There was almost a hint of sweetness like there was a small amount of residual sugar. With only 15% alcohol I would be surprised if that was really the case.

The back label was totally uninformative, but quite entertaining. One thing I've learned about the Paso Robles region is they like to have fun down there. And this back label is a good example....I love the part about this isn't the wine to bring home to your mother. So, I brought it to my mother-in-law instead! About 4500 cases of this wine were produced, so I would expect you would be able to locate it on some wine lists and stores.

I think this wine really got better when we sat down at the dinner table and paired it with the peppercorn / balsamic grilled pork. Amazingly, it went well with the asparagus too - one of the harder food items to pair with. Almost a little too powerful on its own, the wine became an integral part of the meal.

The great thing about wine is that you don't have to travel to taste different areas. I can easily close my eyes and imagine myself in the central coast drinking this wine. It's always fun to explore other areas through wine, but mostly I enjoy coming home.