October 29, 2010
Even though I kept a poker face (kind of), can you tell which wine I had a hard time keeping down? I could barely contain the contempt.
Hopefully you don't hate this one. I'm trying to convince my producer friend that we NEED to do a Wine For Normal People YouTube Channel and I'm counting on you to watch (I promise it will be less scripted!).
October 24, 2010
It was our last day to tour Sonoma, so we managed to fit in 5 places and most of them pretty great and places that I would recommend.
It rained like an MF all day and my cute Target leopard print flats were soaked (good thing they cost $10...oh how I love Target!), but we had fun. MC Ice and I never let weather stop us from having a good time and yesterday that was a fortunate attitude to have!
11:00 AM: Bella
A few years ago, a friend who has a similar passion and palate to me told me about this very cool property in the Dry Creek Valley. They were known for outstanding, big Zins and no one did it better than they did.
I saw her on Friday and told her I was heading to our mutual favorite haunt. She got a funny look in her eye and then warned me that there had been some changes that made her drop out of their wine club. She didn't elaborate, just said that she wanted to know what I thought. I had to go check it out.
Urgh. Bella is, by far, one of the cutest properties in Dry Creek. It has a two-part tasting area -- in a barn and then in a beautiful mountainside cave. The hospitality is amazing and the people are so kind...but the wine is not what it once was. It's the winery's 10 year anniversary and apparently they haven't upped production (it's around 7,500 cases), but the wines are completely different. They've added a Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley (which, honestly, was the best wine of the day -- lightly oaked, acidic, very refreshing) but their Zins hail from the same vineyards as in the past.
Sadly, these are not the same Zins. They lack the jammy fruit, the complexity, the rich spice, and the velvety texture that I loved in their Zins from years passed. They used to be like mini-Turley Zins (really famous, expensive but sinfully delicious!). I'm not sure if it's a vintage issue or if there's been a philosophical change, but the big, delicious, California-identity Zins that I knew are no longer.
I'd send people here for the hospitality and the property, but no longer for the wine. I just hope the winemaking goes back to the way it used to be someday.
12:15 PM: Michel-Schlumberger (pronounced Michelle Schlumber-JHEY)
Ok, you guys were the ones that told me to check this place out and I've got to say a BIG thank you. It rocked! The wines are 100% organically grown, mostly from the estate surrounding the property in the Dry Creek, and they are excellent. The hospitality was terrific too -- our down-to-earth, passionate, but no nonsense educator, Samantha, kicked ass and we had a great time!
Each wine was elegant, restrained, and versatile -- you could drink them alone but they'd be fabulous with food too. It's hard to pick out favorites, but the Merlot was amazing (especially for $25), their special reserve Cabernet called Deux Terres because the grapes come from two soil types was complex and delicious, and their Syrah, mixed with some Viognier in a Northern Rhone style was nothing short of stunning and left me speechless and wanting to drink more.
With a remote location and a Spanish-style winery that was pretty and welcoming, I'm a Michel-Schlumberger lover! Thanks to to readers who pointed me in that direction. Good call!
1:15 PM: Lunch at the Dry Creek General Store
Good food, expensive, owned by Gina Gallo, FYI. Although your wallet will feel much lighter, it's an awesome place to stop for eats because it keeps you local. Instead of going to Healdsburg or Santa Rosa, you stay within the vineyard area so you don't lose travel time. I recommend it highly!
2:00 PM: Sbragia
Another reader suggestion, this was a great winery. It's a family owned winery, run by a father and son. The father, Ed Sbragia, is a long-time winemaker for Beringer (but don't think ill of him, Beringer's reserve wines are off the chart delicious, FYI).
The tasting room was mobbed, but they still managed to do some hospitality for this pop-in blogger and we were in no rush, so it was just fine. It's a gorgeous property that overlooks a giant dam and if it had been a sunny day it would have been a great place to stay for a while and enjoy the amazing outdoor patio (with fun games on it) and the fabulous view. The rain prevented us, but we'll be back again to enjoy it!
Sbragia is known for Zin and Cabernet. The Zins were just what I like from the Dry Creek -- fruity, spicy, and liked a baked berry cobbler. The highlight for us was the Italo's Zin, made from 50 year old vines. We didn't taste through their whole Cab lineup, which included a lot of Napa Cabs, but we did sample the Monte Rosso Cabernet, from a really great old vineyard which I'll share more about in a longer post. It was a great wine and very well made, so I assume the rest of their Cabs would be solid too.
Thumbs up for Sbragia.
3:00 PM: J. Fritz
Another off-the-beaten-track winery, this one is way off a random road on the way to Geyserville. We found it a few years ago and were excited to go, but also nervous, given the changes that we found at Bella.
Whew! Fritz hasn't changed a bit. Around since 1979, the winery is in a giant cave built into a hillside. It's 200 feet deep and 5 stories high -- they use no air conditioning to cool their cellar and they use gravity flow to push the wines through from delivery to production. Very neat.
Even better, they make great wines. A unique Sauvignon Blanc that tasted like a mango, a very typical Russian River Valley style Chardonnay (not my style because of the oak but very well made if it is your style), and then we moved on to their jewels in the crown. Fritz does red and does it WELL. Their Zin was solid, and their reserve Cabernet was sinfully delicious. I love that their wines are alive -- saturated with flavor and full of complexity.
The one thing that wasn't being poured but which I know about from being there before -- they make a small quantity of lights-out Syrah. We snagged two bottles and will hold them for a year (check out my review of the Syrah from last year -- it is amazing).
4:30 PM: The Natural Process Alliance
Ok, so to end the tour, I wound up back where we started: in a warehouse in Santa Rosa. But this time it was to see my old pen pal, now materialized friend, Hardy Wallace of Dirty South Wine fame. The man and the legend is one of the kindest, most passionate people I've met and I was honored to have him host me and MC Ice at this VERY cool winery. What is the NPA? From them...
"We believe that expressive soil is sacred, responsible farming is a requirement and natural winemaking is the only option. In the creation of wine, there are innumerable natural processes that are elegant in their simplicity and astonishing in their effectiveness. Our role is but one of these processes and is no more significant than any other. We have joined a natural alliance that has been ignored for far too long."If that doesn't make sense -- I'd say the philosophy is that they don't monkey with the wines at all. There is a head winemaker, two other full-time employees (including Hardy who helps make, market and sell the wine!), and a few interns who make wines with as little human intervention as possible. NPA wines are all white and are not bottled, but sold to people and restaurants in aluminum canteens -- which are meant to be refilled. The wines aren't sold anywhere outside of a 100 mile radius of the winery and you can expect these white wines to be cloudy and kind of orange-pink from skin contact. They are fresh, natural, and awesome. Once a week Hardy goes to San Francisco to drop off new canteens and pick up the old ones (he said he's the wine milkman -- he delivers the canteens in wooden crates that are like the old-school milk crates!). He's selling to some of the top restaurants in San Francisco, who love the wines.
The reds are bottled under the Salinia brand. We tried the Pinot Noir and a Syrah. Each were very natural and tasted like the grapes and land from which they come. This is a completely different style of wine, incomparable to anything else I've had. This is what wine tastes like before it is refined by winemakers -- very cool. I'll elaborate in a future post.
6:30 PM: Dinner at Stark's with Rick Breslin of Hello Vino.
We ended the day with a phenomenal dinner at Stark's in Santa Rosa with Rick Breslin of Hello Vino fame (if you don't know about this application -- get on it! It's a pairing and wine recommendation engine for normal people!) and his lovely wife. We had a wonderful time and were so happy that they trekked all the way from San Fran, in the rain, to be with us and share some laughs and great food!
So now we take a few days off and follow another passion -- hiking! It's off to the north for us, up to Humboldt County and Trinidad to see the redwoods. We'll be back tackling a few properties in Mendocino later in the week! Thanks for reading!
October 23, 2010
Well, yesterday was another banner day. I like Napa, but I LOVE Sonoma so it was with a light heart and a big smile that I approached our first day hanging out in this more relaxed, gentler valley.
Although vastly different in attitude and pomp and circumstance, the thing this valley had in common with Napa was that everyone was in a tizzy about the '10 harvest. One of the coldest summers on record gave way to two weeks of blistering heat at the end of August, which scorched some of the grapes and confused others. The weather cooled back down and harvest occurred weeks later than usual.
Normally, at this time most of the grapes would be sitting in fermenting tanks. This year, they are still being harvested. To add insult to injury, a giant storm has been moving in and it's pouring this morning -- a good recipe for ruining grapes (if the rain is hard it lead to bunch rot). Let's just say there were a lot of sleep deprived (they are harvesting at night too), nervous, stressed out winemakers around these parts. '10 is going to be a real hit or miss vintage...I'll be drinking mostly imported wines, I think!
But I digress...We hit four wineries again and had an outstanding time. Here's a summary (I will be writing on each of the wineries separately so stay tuned...):
Siduri Winery: 10 AM
If you are a real wine lover then you can't miss a visit to Siduri. Situated in an industrial/office park area of Santa Rosa (MC Ice kept saying that he could feel TPS reports being generated around him, for you "Office Space" fans), Siduri is in a medium-sized warehouse. It's completely no frills -- you taste in an area that's adjacent to where the winemakers are receiving the grapes and making wine. If you're looking for a romantic, architecturally stunning tasting room, go elsewhere but if you want to see how great wine is really made, look no further than Siduri. I was in wine dork heaven.
Jonathan, a Louisiana native and one of the coolest wine dudes I've met in wine country, took us on an incredible tour of the warehouse. We saw the grapes being pressed, soaked (that's so you can get color without fermentation occurring), and fermented (we saw the yeast working -- foam on the juice and all). It was a total up-close-and-personal look at winemaking. I did some of that stuff when I worked for the big hulking winery, but as I'll share when I do a detailed write up on Siduri, this is a unique method where you REALLY get to see what's going on. I loved it.
What else did I love? The wines. Siduri only makes Pinot Noir and they are the prototype of how to do one thing and do it well. Beautiful wines that taste like the land they are grown in -- phenomenal. Their second label, Novy, had a Viognier and a number of Syrahs -- each unique and delicious. What a way to start the day! Fun, relaxed and amazing! Yay for the little guys!
11:45 AM: Lynmar
At the recommendation of a few readers and of Jonathan at Siduri, we headed to Lynmar, which is in the Russian River Valley and only makes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (this is what the valley is known for, so it makes sense). Constructed in 2005, the winery has a beautiful, naturalistic tasting room.
The landscaping and pretty construction didn't make up for the fact that the wines were just ok for my taste. Their Estate Chardonnay was the highlight -- very delicate and light in comparison to the oaky, buttery styles that are typical of the area -- but the rest of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were too stylized for me. I don't like wines that taste chemical-like or salty (sometimes I find these wines to have a sea-salt or sea-shells aftertaste which I'm not crazy about) and that was what I found at Lynmar. MC Ice thought they tasted like oysters!
Their wines are scored well by the critics, but I just found them to be too "done," especially in contrast to the "let the grapes do the work" philosophy that we found at Siduri.
12:30: Lunch at Willi's
We had a great lunch at Willi's on Old Redwood Highway. Yummy tapas, delicious cheeses, and a terrific off-the-beaten-path location make this place a terrific bet if you're tasting in the Santa Rosa/Russian River Valley area.
2:30 PM: Woodenhead Winery.
I am thrilled to pieces that we stopped at this awesome winery. This family-owned (cousins), small (4000 cases), yet beautiful winery is a must-do in the Russian River. Pinot is their highlight, although they do Zin as well.
We tried six Pinots and each was different from and as good as the last. This is a place where serious care and craftsmanship goes into the wine and you can taste it. Hailing from the Russian River Valley up to the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County (awesome Pinot) to Humboldt County (marijuana capital of California, FYI, which is why the bottle has a green label!), the Pinots are unique and you taste the differences in place in each of the wines. Similar to Siduri, this down-to-earth, quality-focused winery is a stunner and a total hidden gem in the Russian River.
Woodenhead isn't widely distributed but they've got space in their wine club, which is completely doable (8 bottles a year), so if you like Pinot Noir or Zinfandel, get on this relatively under-the-radar producer before everyone figures it out and you can't get any of the good stuff!
4:15 PM. Simi Winery
Ok, ok, I know -- this isn't a small winery and it's a wine you can get everywhere, but I thought it was important to include because Simi is a commercial, widely available wine that you can count on when you are choosing among larger brands.
The winery is beautiful and is the longest running in Sonoma -- it ran through Prohibition, making sacramental wine so it's been around for 134 years.
The other great fact about Simi -- it was run by Isabelle Simi (yep, she's a woman) from 1904 until 1970 when she retired and sold the property. The winery was a leader in the now growing tradition (especially in Sonoma) of women in wine -- they hired the first female graduate of the winemaking program out of UC Davis. Very progressive I'd say.
We tasted 5 wines and each was a solid wine and affordable. The best was the 2007 Landslide Cabernet Sauvignon, which has just been released. It's about 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, 5% Malbec, and a few other grapes. For about $35 it's a great value and full of all the chocolately, dark fruit, cinnamon, and mocha flavors you would want in a Cab blend. A solid, reliable Cab that you can actually find where you live.
So that's the Friday run-down. We're hitting the road today -- this time to the Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valleys for Zinfandels and Cabernets. After that we're taking a few days off to hike in the Redwood Forest, but then we'll be hitting a few wineries in Mendocino on the way back to San Fran! Thanks for reading!
October 22, 2010
My tour of California wine country is in full swing! I had a great day in Napa yesterday, visiting four very distinct wineries. I took copious notes on all the wines I tried (and will let you know what I found buy-worthy!) but I'm going to save those and write up each individual winery when I get back from this whirlwind week! Now, I'll just give you the preview so you know what to expect. I'd love to hear if you've been to any of these properties and what your experience was like!
Suffice it to say, despite having 2 crap-ass rental cars (we returned the first because of potential mortal danger involving the brake system, but the second one we kept and that has no power steering. I will be turning quickly into an American Gladiator from the manual steering), MC Ice and I are having an awesome time!
Here was yesterday's run-down:
10 AM: Honig Winery.
We got to our appointment (they are open by appointment only, BTW) a little early and were happy for it. Honig is in a gorgeous setting -- very naturalistic and unpretentious. There's a small indoor tasting area and a large outdoor one, all very tastefully done but not over the top, which is really great for Napa, which sometimes goes a little overboard with the decor.
The hospitality was great! Our guide through Honig's top 4 wines (that's a proper tasting folks -- between 4 and 6 wines -- not the 10 that I got when I went to the ick that was my local wine area, North Georgia!) was a dude named Mark from Iowa. He was a smart guy, and introduced us to Mike Honig, the owner, and Kristin Bellair, the winemaker.
We had a wonderful time and really enjoyed their flagship Sauvignon Blanc ($16 and available everywhere) and their standard Cabernet Sauvignon ($40 but really solid and not a pot of blackberry juice like many Napa Cabs). High marks for the casual and fun atmosphere AND the high quality wines!
11:30: Chateau Montelena.
I've never been to the famed property way the hell up in Calistoga (it's a trek) but they won the Judgment of Paris against the French for their amazing wines, so I thought now may be a good time to check out the goods.
The property was breathtaking -- I felt like we were approaching an English Manor or German Castle. It's nestled in the woods and no expense was spared when this building was constructed. I worried that the inside was a harbinger of wine snootiness inside, but I couldn't have been further off.
Jaime and Nyk, the young marketers for Montelena, showed us around and sampled us on 5 of Montelena's wines -- a Riesling, their flagship Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, a Zinfandel and their Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. I get it. They deserved to win. Their wines are subtle, French-style and really outstanding -- totally different from anything I've ever had in Napa. And Jaime, Nyk, and everyone else we met were down to earth, interested in the blog and in our lives in Atlanta, and just all around great people. This is a must-do in Napa. We loved Chateau Montelena and I can't wait to tell you more in an extended post!
2:00 PM: Nickel & Nickel.
Every trip needs a good story... and have I got one for you. Let me just say that the experience started out with us being locked out by the intricate gate system they have to keep visitors away who don't have appointments (but their phone system doesn't work well so even if you have an appointment you may still be out of luck). Very welcoming, no? Instead of a tasting, there was a regimented tour of the grounds, which you are required to complete before you taste.
The tour was long and although we go cool pics of people destemming grapes as they came in from the vineyard, it seems like they really wanted to show you how much money they invested in the property so then they could justify the price they charge for middling wines that try way too hard to be different. Of course, I will share all details on this very un-Wine For Normal People experience next week. Let's say I will not be making a return trip there!
3:45 PM (we got trapped in cellar of Nickel & Nickel in a dark room tasting boring Cabs so we were late!): Darioush.
What an awesome way to finish our day in Napa. Here's the deal with Darioush -- the facade of the building is a Persian themed palace and it looks a little out of place in Napa and almost comical to some people, but once you know the wines and know the story, you love it all for what it is.
Quickly, Darioush Kaledhi fled Iran in the late 70s, started over in LA by establishing a chain of value supermarkets. He made it and invested in Napa and winemaking, which had been his life-long passion. He built a facade on top of another winery in the 90s, and it reflects his culture and his dream.
If you step inside you'll want to stay a while. The winery is the most welcoming place in Napa and encourages you to hang out for a while and enjoy the wines. The staff was unbelievable, but like the few times I've been there before, I was struck again by how great the wines are. From the Viognier (really rare for Napa, this aromatic white that's native to the Rhone Valley is usually made in the Central Coast of California) to the unbelievable Merlot (my favorite) to the Cabernet Sauvignon (my dad's favorite!) we were so impressed with the consistency, quality, and depth of the wine. And our "tour guide" of the wines, Gregory, was kind, knowledgeable, and fun.
Thanks to the readers that reminded me to head back to Darioush. I can't wait to elaborate and tell you more about them. It's a special place.
So that was it for Napa. I usually like to get in 5 wineries per day, but when you have appointments, it's a little tight....that's why we only have 1 today! We're hitting Santa Rosa for Siduri (great Pinot Noir) and then we are going to take our power-steeringless Hyundai and hit the Dry Creek Valley for some fun tasting at old and new spots!
I'll update you tomorrow and on Facebook and Twitter to share how things are panning out!
October 15, 2010
Two wines that I dig for the weekend. One to say goodbye to Indian Summer (wait, is the PC version "Native American summer"?) and one to say hello to fall...both from Cali to celebrate my upcoming trip (stay tuned for the blog-a-palooza through Napa and Sonoma next week!)
Wine 1: 2009 GaGa Rosé, California
No it's not Lady GaGa's newest creation, it's a Rosé wine from California that's very fruity yet dry. The label is less Lady GaGa and more Mariah Carey, but the style is more classic than I expected from the fru fru packaging.
Before I get into the review, a word on Rosé wine...
I love Rosé and it's such a great wine for sipping on its own in warm weather. It's not a wine that's supposed to be held and aged. Traditionally it's made by removing the wine from the skins after a short period of contact with them so the juice only picks up a little bit of color and tannin (that comes from the skins). That's why the wine is pink, not red.
Rosé is most popular in the South of France (but made everywhere), where it's enjoyed throughout the Mediterranean spring and summer and traded for red in the cooler months. Every year a new vintage is released and it's bright, fresh, and fruity -- old Rosé is stale, tired and whatever the opposite is of fresh and fruity.
So caveat emptor when you buy Rosé. If it's two years old (like if you see a bottle from 2008 this year or 2009 next year) it better be the highest quality you can get (Tavel is the best quality from southern France), otherwise the stuff is not meant for aging. For GaGa, we're in the safe zone with it being vintage 2009 and it's still fresh and good.
The wine was shipped to me by the winery and is only in limited release so I don't have full details, but here's what I've got:
Price: Less than $15
Color: Funny enough, this wine looks like Mariah Carey's rouge! It's a much deeper Rosé than most I've had, but Rosés can run the gamut between slightly salmon/orange to a light red, like this wine. On the swirl, I noticed thick legs -- an indication of high alcohol. A little unexpected in a Rosé but given the rich color, it seemed like a bolder style wine anyway.
Smell: At first the wine smelled really standard -- most Rosés smell like strawberry and red cherry, with citrus notes. This fit the bill. I wasn't overly impressed, but with another few sniffs, I noticed a really neat hibiscus tea smell (yeah, I drink that Celestial Seasonings stuff sometimes. I'm not afraid to admit it!). Interesting.
Taste: This is a simple little wine. It tastes like ripe red berries and tangerine and is bone dry, as a Rosé should be. It's a fuller style Rosé -- almost more like a light red than a traditional Rosé.
Drink or Down the Sink? I'm mixed. It's good enough for a warm day. I prefer my Rosé a little lighter but I liked the unique hibiscus smell and the simplicity of the flavors of the GaGa. Not a show stopper, but it's a good California Rosé when you don't want red or white.
Wine 2: 2008 McManis Cabernet Sauvignon, California
I usually tell people that it's nearly impossible to get a good California Cab for less than $20. I now stand corrected...
Color: Garnet with a pinkish rim, I thought it was kind of powder puff for a Cab. Looking at it, I was thinking "you get what you pay for..." until I smelled the wine.
Smell: Opulent and rich was the first impression. There was so much going on in the glass and I was really shocked. Blackberry and black currant jam were first. There were some great earthy, dried leaf, fall-like flavors that were really interesting. Then the flavors from time spent in oak barrels came -- mocha, vanilla, tobacco, cigar, and cedar created a rich, hearty sensation. It smelled so good!
Taste: Slightly lighter than it smells but it was still weighty, dense, and had the same flavors as the nose (an attribute I like). The flavors were interesting, and I loved that there was a great balance between acid and tannin -- the wine dried out your mouth and made it water at the same time! The flavor lingered and it tickled my tongue. My only criticism -- there was a strange effervescence (or vinegar-like flavor) on the first sip that stuck around a bit. Not sure what that is, but it was a little unpleasant.
Drink or Down the Sink? Drink. A great Cab at this price -- it shows that producers can create quality products at normal prices. If you're looking for an affordable Cab, this is a great bargain and a solid choice for the coin.
Happy weekend sipping. Let me know what you think of these!
October 12, 2010
Where can you get insane value in wine right now? Anywhere Spanish is spoken -- namely, Argentina, Chile, and, the motherland, Spain. And right now, I am really smitten with Spain.
Rioja is great and Priorat is unbelievable but for ridiculous quality, Southern Spain is a major hot spot. Can some of the reds be over ripe and alcoholic to the point of being like a cordial? Yes. But is that the rule? No. Given the bounty of choice that wine retailers are presented, good shops carry the best of the best and we're all in luck.
Last night we had a wine that I've had before, but hadn't purchased for a while (gross oversight on my part!). It was the Juan Gil from Jumilla (pronounced "who-ME-yah"), Spain and it was unadulterated joy for my palate. Jumilla is an old winemaking region -- wine has been made there since Roman times -- but until recently it's never been known for its stellar quality.
The area rose to general awareness in the 1860s when the Charles Manson of the wine world, a root bug called phylloxera, came (from the U.S.) and mass murdered all the vines of France. The French had no where to get wine in their own country, so they headed over the Pyrenees to Spain, which remained untouched by the serial killing insect. The Frenchies bought wine from all over Spain, and Jumilla had lots to give so the area became a bulk wine supplier.
Unfortunately, this yolk stayed around the region's neck for more than a century. The southern, rural region is not exactly wealthy, so winemakers didn't have coin to invest in their vineyards. They did the best they could and grew grapes en masse, making crappy, highly astringent, highly alcoholic, dark purple wines.
You can't blame the dudes. Without money or new training, you go with tradition and with what mother nature gives you. Jumilla, nestled between the great plain of Castille-La Mancha and the Mediterranean area of Levante, has a sunny, dry climate with feverish summers and bone chilling winters. The area barely gets rain and when it does, it's irregular and can be intense. The soils hold water so the vines can make it through the long drought. In this kind of environment, with so much heat, the grapes can bake, making wines that can be flaccid, alcoholic, and lack nuance. That may be good for bulk wine, but not for wine lovers.
That's how Jumilla rolled up until 1989. In this really bad but really great year, phylloxera finally came to town and killed 60% of all the vines in the region over the next 5 years (like Charles Manson, no?). The growers were devastated, but the door opened to new and better things for them. In the 1990s, instead of replanting in the same way and using the same facilities, growers sought investment and started modernizing their vineyards and wineries. Jumilla has seen a big resurgence and quality wine is the order of the day.
Currently 44 Bodegas (wineries) operate in Jumilla. Most of them make wine for export and most of that wine is red, made from their traditional Monastrell grape, also known as Mourvedre in France. Monastrell is known to be high in tannin (astringency), high in alcohol, and to have a kind of gamey, leather, animal flavor with lots of black fruit to boot.
Because prices are still low for wines from this very rural area, imports represent the best of the best and any wine shop worth its salt carries at least one if not two wines from the area. Probably the most common is Juan Gil, the one I had last night. It's a rich wine and it kicks ass for the price. Here's the rundown:
The Wine: Juan Gil Monastrell
Where It's From: Jumilla, Spain
The Grapes: 100% Monastrell
Color: Looks alone had me flashing back to the Passover table at my grandparents' house. Manischewitz-like in color, the wine is purple with a ruby/brownish rim and it's kind of thick and cloudy. Much like it's doppelganger, it stained the glass and the legs were so thick (indication of high alcohol, FYI) the wine had cankles.
Smell: The wine notes from the producer say that they have really low yields for the grapes used for this wine. That usually means very high concentration of flavor, and it is oh-so-apparent in the smell of the dark raspberries wafting from the glass. Also apparent: lots of barrel aging. Those wood-induced smells of coffee, leather, chocolate, and mocha hit me first. There was a little bit of church altar -- like myrrh or frankincense in the background of the wine too but overall, the smell reminded me of a dark chocolate/raspberry cake -- with alcohol. There was so much alcohol in this wine that I sneezed when I took the first sniff. That said the overall impression left my mouth watering for this apparent chocolate dessert.
Taste: If you don't like high alcohol wines, this may not be for you because my first impression was of the burn. At 15% alcohol, it's understandable (most wines are between 12% - 14%), But if you have patience and the alcohol doesn't bug you, the payoff for this wine is scrumptious! It really did taste like a rich chocolate dessert with black raspberry, chocolate, and mocha flavors. What made the wine interesting -- there were leather (like chewing on a belt) notes and a flavor of sweet chewing tobacco too (not that I've had it...). The wine is super full in your mouth and it sticks around for ages. This would not be classified as a shrinking violet!
Food: Rich wine needs rich food. Stews, mushrooms, game, smoked fish, blue cheese, or, as the winery recommends OX, can hold up well to something this big. Next time you have some ox lying around, get a bottle of this stuff...
Drink or Down the Sink?: What a value at $11.99. If you don't like big wines, this isn't for you. But for a cold winter night (if we ever get them, it's still 85 in Atlanta!) with a hearty soup or stew, a big sweater and the heat cranked up, this is a great wine to have. Had it been around in my Boston years, I would have made it a staple -- high alcohol, inexpensive, and hearty to warm your bones! Who could ask for more?
How to Shop For a Wine Similar To This One: I mentioned this earlier, but any wine shop that has a decent selection should carry at least one wine from Jumilla. Look for it in the Spanish section. Most of the wines from Jumilla are 100% Monastrell, but I'd read the fine print to make sure of that as well -- blends may be good too, but they will have different flavors from what I described. Don't forget -- it's pronounced "who-ME-yah." Say it and know how to spell it before you go into the store so you get it right if you have to ask!
October 7, 2010
In preparing for my trip to Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino later this month, I'm priming my palate for the bigger wines that I'm bound to encounter. So last night M.C. Ice and I cracked a bottle of 2002 Hall Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley. It was a gift given to us last year by a friend who was trying to get rid of some of his wines (he was downsizing), truth be told, and I'm not sure why we hadn't opened it until now. It was a good thing we did.
Alexander Valley is way up North in Sonoma County (teal color on the map). There ain't much doin' there, except a Native American casino (did NOT go over well with the wine folk, BTW) and prodigious amounts of vineyard land owned by such famous (or infamous, as the case may be) names as Chateau Souverain, Jordan, Simi, Kendall-Jackson, and the Gallo Family. If you drive up 101, the main artery through Sonoma, as it veers northeast of the esteemed area of the Russian River Valley, you'll slice through the western tip of the Alex and see it in all its glory.
The temperature in the Alexander Valley is great for making the sexy, fleshy, mouthfilling wines that so many people are crazy about. There are huge variations in temperature from day to night so grapes develop sugars while luxuriating in the sun, and then develop acid in the coolness of the night. A great combo for making voluptuous, enjoy-now wines!
Right now, the hot grapes for the region are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (although a ton of other stuff from Chardonnay to Cabernet Franc is also grown there). There seems to be some consensus that this may change with time to Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc...if the bottle we had is any indication, I'd advise them to explore that...
Hall is a great winery. It's been around for about 30 years and mainly makes Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The winery is family owned, completely green -- LEED Certified, which means its buildings sap as little from the environment as possible, and organically farmed, which means farmers don't add chemicals to the land and use methods like composting -- and generally makes solid Napa Cabs. But the wine I had was from the T Bar T Ranch Vineyard and, true to form for so many Alexander Valley Cabs, the wine should have been chugged about 3 years ago -- it's not one for aging.
Here's the rundown:
The Wine: Hall Cabernet Sauvignon, T Bar T Ranch
Where It's From: Alexander Valley, Sonoma County
The Grapes: I can't find the wine notes. In the US wine is only required to be 75% of what's on the label for them to label it with a single grape (85% in Europe, FYI, 90% for Oregon Pinot Noir). So all I can say is that it's at least 75% Cabernet Sauvignon.
Color: If there is a descriptor I would rarely use to describe the color of Cabernet Sauvignon it would be "light." And yet this wine just looked totally pansy. It was a pale garnet with a light brown edge and looked like a Pinot Noir, not like a Cabernet from a hot winegrowing region. I was instantly concerned, but since sight can tell you little about a wine, I persevered (I knew it was going to be a horror show, I'm going on record here).
Smell: Ok, now we're talking. There was some action on the nose. Black currant (like preserves), blackberry jam, some black pepper, leather, and cedar chips were hanging around. You know those wet walnuts on a sundae bar? Smelled like those too. Nothing too pungent, so I assumed it was probably a balanced, refined wine instead of a fruit bomb. Unusual to have an Alexander Valley wine that ISN'T bursting with fruit, but I digress.
Taste: I think it must be 75% Cab and 25% water. This wine was such a wimp. It tasted like flat Dr. Pepper -- faint black cherry, some cinnamon, a little lemon, some black pepper, and a touch of cola. It was a little tangy, mouth-drying, and tannic but just lightly so. There were some very vague mocha notes but this wine was boring, one-dimensional, and flat.
Food: Without food it was like a cheap Pinot Noir, with food it was completely drowned out by M.C. Ice's steak (I tasted the juice and the seasoning since I don't do red meat).
Drink or Down the Sink?: Ultimately, this is a cautionary tale about saving wine for too long or receiving it as a gift from someone else's collection. Alexander Valley wines are not known to have stellar aging ability. They're best if you drink them before 5 years is out. That means when we received the wine last year, it was probably past its prime. The wine tasted tired and old. Time fades bright flavors, fruit, and things like tannin and acid. In some wines, this creates a highly positive new group of flavors, but in this wine, not so much.
Hypothetically, if the wine wasn't past it's prime, there's another consideration -- how the wine was stored or transported. Our friend warned us that the wine had made a trip cross-country in a moving truck. Without proper temperature control, packaging to minimize vibration, and gentle handling, wines can kind of fall apart and taste bad. They usually are pretty distinctive in their badness when this happens. I don't think this was the case with the Hall, but for future reference, when you get a gift from someone else's cellar, caveat emptor (do YOU know where that bottle's been???).
I've got my lineup for Napa set, but if you have suggestions of places you want me to check out while I'm in Sonoma, please write on my Facebook page or send me an email!
October 1, 2010
This Friday lineup is wholly based on my Wines of Italy tasting from Wednesday night. I've kind of been giving Italians the cold shoulder for a while, since I feel like most of the wine is either delicious but too expensive or affordable and total crap.
...Enter the rebirth of a wine that has a terrible reputation from outside of Venice, non-fancy wine from the Piedmont (where Barolo and Barbaresco, the uber famous wine regions reside), and the bounty that is Southern Italy. Long story short -- get on these. Italy is a lot more than Chianti and Pinot Grigio (which I did NOT serve at the tasting because they're a yawn!).
Wine 1: 2008 Inama Soave Classico, Italy
Soave? To answer your first question, although pronounced the same, it has no relation to 90s sensation, Rico (if you have no idea what I'm talking about, click the link). With that summarily dismissed, I can tell you that Soave is a region (in Europe most wines are named for region) that makes white wine from the Garganega [gar-GAHN-ega] grape with a few other grapes blended in sometimes. If it's grown on hillsides and the vineyard is trimmed back appropriately the stuff is unreal. If it's grown in valleys and overcropped, it tastes bitter, bland, and acidic. Bad Soave (which has been imported in droves to the US and has ruined this wine's reputation) is horrid. Good Soave is a rich white wine that is like no other white you've had.
Look for "Classico" on the label to ensure it's been grown in the best region where the quality revolution has taken place and where most of the best producers play.
Color: A golden hay color, and very reflective, this wine looks rich in the glass. It's not yellow like a Cali Chard, but kind of light gold. It happily looked like it would not be a horrible, wimpy Soave...
Smell: Unlike lots of other European wine, this wine was fruit-first. Pineapple and tropical fruit scents -- kind of like a pineapple Lifesaver-- dominated, with lemon, some light floral smells and a little almond to boot. Not too mineral-like, but a little touch of chalkiness from the soil. The wine also had a light spiciness -- like fresh herbs taken off the plant. Thyme or marjoram come to mind (go to your spice rack if you think I'm nuts, BTW).
Taste: OOOOO-eeee. Delicious. The overwhelming sensation for me was chamomile. I felt like I was drinking alcoholic tea! A squeeze of lemon, a little bit of minerality and almond flavor, high acid, and then a lingering creaminess. Those pineapple/tropical fruit notes went well with the floral flavor and the sensation was flavorful and harmonious.
Drink or Down the Sink? Drink. For $16 this could be your new favorite white. I love finding good, safe Soave producers. This and Roberto Anselmi are my go-tos for Soave now!
Wine 2: 2007 Borgogno Dolcetto, Piedmont
Dolcetto, as in Dolce? Doesn't that mean sweet? Actually it means "little sweet one" but historians argue that it could be named for the hill it grew on, cause lord knows it's not for this really tannic, dark colored grape that is full of flavor. Unlike the Soave, this wine is always named for the grape (I don't know why), but usually has the name of the place it's from "attached." The three most common areas :
Dolcetto d'Alba (from Alba, the best town)
Dolcetto d'Asti (from Asti)
Dolcetto Dogliani (you get the drift)
Color: Dolcetto has thick skin with lots of dark pigment and tannins (the stuff that feels astringent and dries out your mouth). The wine was true to form -- it was dark ruby, almost purple with a watery edge. Although usually I would expect a giant wine, I know Dolcetto, so I was hoping for more delicacy than brute force.
Smell: The wine smelled like wet leaves and rose petals. It had lots of dark notes -- I visualized a forest or a bunch of maroon or purple fruits sitting on a table when I closed my eyes! Black raspberry, black plum, and a kick of alcohol all came through. Interesting and bolder than many softer Dolcettos I've known.
Taste: It didn't taste like what it smelled like but this Dolcetto was great. My first impression was black licorice. Then baked blueberry pie with cinnamon and nutmeg on top. The wine smelled even more like dark flowers as I lifted it to my mouth, and there was a lingering perception of it after I drank it. The Borgogno did have some punchy tannins -- I know the winemakers tried to temper them (they did a short fermentation to keep the skins away from the juice!) but they were still powerful.
Drink or Down the Sink? Drink. For this price, it's a more complex alternative to most Chiantis. I like this producer because this was much fuller than most Dolcettos, but I usually love the wine across the board. It's affordable, it can be gentle and taste like flowers, and it goes well with mushroom dishes!
Wine 3: 2008 Terredora DiPaolo, Aglianico
What is that?: Terredora DiPaolo is the producer of this wine made from the Aglianico (ah-LYAN-iko) grape in southern Italy. Aglianico is a dark-skinned grape and it thrives in the hot climates and volcanic soils outside of Pompeii (remember 79 AD, when Mount Etna blew and mummified a civilization?). If Nebbiolo is the monster red of the north of Italy, Aglianico rules the south. It's a blockbuster of a wine that tastes like plums and dark chocolate, has low acidity, and moderate tannins. One of my favorite reds, Taurasi, is made in this region from the Aglianico grape. It's pricey, but worth a try!
Color: A nice rich ruby color, but with a little bit of brown, this wine was saturated and not to much different looking from the Dolcetto...except here I expected the color to be indicative of the fullness of the wine.
Smell: Blackberry, tobacco, cedar, and chocolate were prominent with a fabulous backbone of black pepper. It was strong but kind of elegant at the same time.
Taste: Just like it smelled. Blackberry pie, with some smokiness and a definite sensation of black pepper. This was a big wine, but not too jammy or overdone. It felt more creamy than astringent, and had a super-long finish of blackberries and spice.
Drink or Down the Sink? Drink. You know, Trader Joe's has an Aglianico for $5.99 that I drink on a Wednesday from time to time and this wine put in sharp relief how flabby and overly fruity that wine is! Terredoro DiPaolo makes great wines that are always a good contrast of flavor and texture and this wine is no different. This is a good one to serve at dinner and impress your friends when you tell them it was only $16!
That's the lineup. Write and let me know what you're having this weekend!