November 28, 2011
November 23, 2011
What am I drinking for Thanksgiving? My family constrained my budget, so everything is under $20. Really tough but given how much we all drink, if we wanted to get lots of variety, we needed to go for budget wines. The special ones will have to wait until Christmas, when it's a smaller group.
That said, here's the planned lineup for tomorrow. I'll report back and let you know how the pairings went...I have a feeling it's going to be a divine meal!
Wine #1: Aperitif (Starter) Wine: 2010 Les Lauzeraies, Tavel (Rosé), Rhône Valley, France
Why did I pick it? Tavel is a dry, dry, French Rosé. Made of mostly Grenache and a blending grape called Cinsault, it's refreshing and delicious but a little more serious than other Rosés, with more flavor and acid than a garden variety Rosé. I was careful when I choose this, because with Rosé the vintage has to be current (Champagne is the exception). The Les Lauzeraies is 2010, so it should still be fresh, fruity, but dry with some acid. With its raspberry juice color, Rosé is beautiful in the glass and should be a great way to begin the festivities.
Wine #2: Appetizer/Cheese Wine: Non Vintage, Willm Blanc de Blancs, Cremant d'Alsace, France
Why did I pick it? Made from 100% Pinot Blanc, this wine should be refreshing, with apple and citrus flavors, but because it's from Alsace it will be more oily and thick than bubbly from other regions. Made in the same way Champagne is made, this wine should be dry, but still a little fruity and bread-like (I've said it before -- Champagne and sparkling wine can taste like toast or a croissant because of the yeast). Should go well with the variety of starters on the menu -- cheeses (the acid should cut through the Brie like a knife), Spanakopita (feta and spinach in phyllo dough can be heavy, but the Cremant's citrus should give it a lift), and some Mediterranean-like dips that will be smokey and tangy and complemented well by the sharp, clean flavors of the bubbly.
Wine #3: 2010 Willm Riesling, Alsace, France
Why did I pick it? Like the Crémant, Riesling from Alsace is fuller, kind of oily in texture but still extremely acidic. The peachy, appley fruitiness and the mouth-filling soft texture of the wine should work with creamy mashed potatoes, baked brussel sprouts, green beans with almonds and butter, and savory turkey. Although the wine is dry, its fuller texture should make the buttery green vegetables and the turkey taste more flavorful and moist, and maybe add a little spike of fruitiness that gives the food an extra dimension. The acid in this wine will lift up the buttery dishes, making them feel lighter -- a very positive thing when the table is loaded with buttery food.
Wine #4: 2008 d'Arenberg "Footbolt" Shiraz, McLaren Vale, South Australia
Why did I pick it? Yes, Australian Shiraz can be over the top with too much fruit and alcohol, but this one is more on the herbal/spicy side, perfect for the thyme and rosemary in the stuffing and on the turkey (smells so great baking!). The licorice/anise note in the wine is going to ROCK with the broccoli and fennel soup (similar flavors), which is heavy enough to stand up to a red wine. The black pepper, leather, and plum aromas and flavors are more restrained in this wine than in a lot of other Aussie Shiraz, which should make it food-friendly but still bold enough for the folks at my dinner who like big wines (and would have hated me if I'd gone all French!).
Wine #5: Dessert Wine: 2006 Maison Nicolas, Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
Why did I pick it? I'll admit that this was kind of a risk because it's a cheap Sauternes and usually there is a correlation between price and quality with these sweet wines of Bordeaux. That said, it could be pretty good, just because it was a good vintage and even cheap Sauternes is usually worth the sip. Given that MC Ice and I will probably be the only ones drinking it, we didn't want to go too big. Apple pie, here we come. The honeyed, apricot, peach flavors of this sweety should be divine with the cinnamon spice of the pie. It shouldn't be too shabby with the pecan pie either, as it adds fruity flavors to that nutty, sweet, buttery bit of deliciousness.
So that's our experiment this year. I've said it on the podcast and I'll say it again -- Thanksgiving pairing is tough business. I tried...I'll post tomorrow on how it went for me and I hope you'll share your experiences too!
Have a GREAT holiday if you're in the United States! If not and you have a turkey dinner for another occasion, I hope this will help guide your selections.
Regardless, please let me tell you how thankful I am that you've read this and that you're interested in what I have to say. I love normal wine people! Happy Thanksgiving!
My latest article for The Travel Belles was published yesterday!
Hopefully this will be helpful if you're last minute shopping for Thanksgiving wines or if you're going to be picking out stuff for the holidays! We've talked about shopping for wine on the podcast before, but this also addresses the issue of looking for wine when you're on the road...a unique challenge for sure!
Here's the link:
A Bottle for the Holidays: 4 Tips to Conquer the “Wall of Wine” At Home or Away
November 21, 2011
Wine For Normal People Radio : Episode 32--The Urban Tribe, Food and Wine Pairing Revisited, and Thanksgiving Wines
Here's a link to the 'cast and the show notes are below!
Main topic: Thanksgiving Food & Wine Pairing
- It’s a tough holiday for wine, but great to be with Urban Tribe or family (I explain the Urban Tribe, and how it differs from being a Member of the Tribe, of which, of course I am -- urban dictionary it if you don't know what it is)
- MC Ice talks about a dessert that he'll never eat again
- Wine Pairing Horses of the Apocalypse: Why food and wine pairing is tough for Thanksgiving and why the standard recommendations work
- I wax poetic on pairing philosophy -- it's not just about the meat!
- The Brass Tacks: We discuss pairings for Thanksgiving and why certain wines should be on the menu. We discuss everything from traditional Thanksgiving food to smoked and fried turkey, to spicy glazed ham, all of which were suggested on the Facebook page.
- We offered a sample wine menu for each course from aperitifs to dessert before MC Ice and I jet off to New York, to help my mom shop for wine for our Thanksgiving feast!
Happy Thanksgiving and thanks for being part of our virtual Urban Tribe!
November 15, 2011
The first time I heard about Pride Mountain Vineyards, my first thought was that it should become THE drink of the best party in every city across the US: gay pride! It would be an ideal pairing of two great things that I love with the same name! Alas, the wine snobs with whom I was sharing the bottle thought it was a horrible idea and made fun of my insistence that it was a missed marketing opportunity, but I digress.
Because I liked the wine I tried it in better company and learned more about it. I found out that Pride is actually the last name of the dude who started the Winery. Jim Pride was a dentist who came from a farming family and even kept up a farm while working in San Francisco as a dentist until he finally traded in white teeth for purple ones.
His million dollar idea was to provide outsourced dental administrative services and when he was getting ready for retirement, in 1989 he and his wife bought what may be the most beautiful piece of land in all of Sonoma or Napa. Jim and Carolyn Pride intended to live a quiet life on this property that had cultivated vineyards since the mid 1800s (under the name Summit Ranch, which some locals still call the property). The Prides wanted to grow grapes and selling them to others. But once they tasted what they were capable of producing, they knew they had to bottle the stuff.
Fast forward to today.
Beyond the beautiful, sweeping vistas from their perch atop Spring Mountain, which straddles Napa in the East and Sonoma in the west (in fact they have to account for winemaking activities that take place along the county line so they can pay proper taxes, hence why they will put exact percentages of where the grapes derive on their labels), the tour that is offered to visitors is fabulous. We arrived at the end of our day and were so happy that we had no other place to be so we could really enjoy it!
I can't believe that my visit was my first to this stunning property. I've always liked the wine, but I had no idea that it was going to be as breathtaking. It goes into the bucket of DON'T MISS. You've got to make an appointment (it's appointment only) when in CA Wine Country.
On our tour through the ridiculously vast caves we stopped at a few stations until finally we got to taste the Cabernet Sauvignon right out of the barrel. It was a great experience and I have to extend a huge thanks to the smart and sweet Katrina who led our tour. She was so helpful, fun, and cool.
That said, I do have to bring up one thing...having had all of these wines in prior vintages, I have to say that I was a little disappointed with them this time around. Except for the Cabernet, I found everything was slightly off its game and I didn't love the wines as much as I usually do. I think a series of tough vintages is taking its toll.
Although the wines were good, I look forward to future, better years (let's keep our fingers crossed for 2012, since 2010 and 2011 were pretty rough) and a return to the amazing stuff I know Pride normally makes.
Here was the line up:
Wine #1: 2010 Viognier, Sonoma County $42
Color: The color of golden apple skin, this was a deep yellow. Viognier does tend to be darker in color, but I had a suspicion the wine saw some oak, which darkens a wine.
Smell: It was peachy, but also a tad musty. I didn't get fresh fruit nor the big, overripe honeyed flavors that I usually expect from Viognier.
Taste: My first impression was that the wine was bitter and a little astringent -- a sign of tannin. But the only oak it saw was 8 year old barrels, which wouldn't impart any tannin. I'm not sure why I sensed this, but it kind of overpowered some of the more pleasant honey, peach, and pear flavors, which was disappointing. Could have been the bottle, or the vintage (since it rained hard during harvest last year, it may have affect these high altitude vineyards).
Drink or sink?: I was really disappointed by this wine. I'd sink this one, but given what I know about Pride, I have to assume it was just the bottle or the year. I need to try it again sometime. That said, you can get a Viognier from Australia or even France for less that I think is better.
Wine #2: 2009 Syrah, Sonoma County, $60
Color: This was almost black or purple with a rose-colored rim. It was really concentrated in color, so I expected BIG flavor.
Smell: Oooo, now this was more of a Shiraz style than a restrained Syrah. Blackberry jam, black pepper, and eucalyptus were all over this baby. It was really lush to smell.
Taste: It tasted like it smelled, only it was a little minerally and almost like salty earth. The blackberry and pepper characters were really great.
Drink or sink? Drink. I think this is one to hold for 3 or 4 years. It was kind of tight to drink (meaning the fruit wasn't as prominent as I think it should be), but I could see where it was heading and in a few years, with an hour of time in a decanter before drinking it, it could be freaking AMAZING. Not at all subtle, but really delicious!
Wine #3: 2009 Merlot, Napa/Sonoma Counties, $58
This is the wine that I know best from Pride, and with good reason -- it's their largest production wine. Every time I've had this wine I've been blown away by how balanced it is. Lots of fruit but still great mouth-drying tannin. It's an ideal California Merlot, but this vintage just wasn't that fab. The wine is 9% Cabernet Sauvignon with a touch of Petit Verdot and Cab Franc thrown in.
Color: A bricky. medium red color with super thick legs from the 14.6% alcohol.
Smell: The wine smelled much more restrained than in previous vintages. It smelled like plums and black cherry, and a little like dried herbs and violets. I thought, like the Syrah, this was kind of tight and stingy with the aromas.
Taste: Plums and black cherry flavors dominated and it had a warm coffee, oaky flavor. On a second sip, I got a sweet bubble gum thing, which I didn't really like, and the tannins were really overpowering and could use some decanting time.
Drink or sink? I would drink this, but with the caveat that this bottle is not the Pride Mountain Vineyards Merlot I know and love. If you've never had this wine before, I'd try the '08 if you can find it. Amazing and better than 09's version.
Wines #4 & #5: Barrel Samples of 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon from different vineyards
Yup, right out of the barrel using a siphon! SO COOL! Katrina was an absolute PRO at that...it's no easy feat, either.
The first sample was from a 15-year old estate vineyard. The wine was purple, and smelled floral and a little like a green pepper (typical for Cabernet Sauvignon). The taste was amazing! It was so fruity -- bursting with black plum, blackberry, and black currant flavors. It had a vanilla character to it from the oak and it was very high in tannin and acid, but not so much that they hijacked the fruit flavor. It's going to make a great wine once it's blended with some Merlot to calm it down (I just hope the 2010 vintage of Merlot is better than the '09!).
The second was even better. It was from Carolyn's Vineyard, a 29 year old vineyard that's planted on volcanic soil. This thing was black in the center with a light colored rim. It smelled like strawberries and flowers, and also like a green pepper. I loved this wine. It was the perfect Napa (or Sonoma depending on what side of the mountain it was from) Cab. Lush plums, black cherries, and black raspberry flavors with great baking spice, and then a mineral, earth flavor that was delicious. I could drink this all day long. Wish they'd make this on it's own, but it will likely be blended.
Wine #6: 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, 67% Napa, 33% Sonoma, $66
The wine has 11% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot blended in to help the wine be a less tannic and harsh.
Color: Dark red with thick legs from the 14.8% alcohol. It was like the color of rose petals.
Smell: Like chocolate covered cherries and chocolate, the wine smelled fruity, a little sweet and very bold.
Taste: This was a blockbuster of a Cab but very balanced. The wine was dripping with black fruit -- black plums, blackberry, and black cherries. It tasted like a cup of really great coffee too. And oh, the tannins. They were an awesome balance to the rich fruit -- I needed the astringency to provide a counter balance to all the fruit and smokey coffee flavor.
Drink or Sink? Drink. I've always preferred Pride's Merlot to their Cab, but this wine was so decadent and amazing. It was delicious and everything I want out of a Napa/Sonoma Cab.
Thanks so much to Pride for a fabulous experience. Love the property, love the wines and I can't recommend a visit more.
Here's the link: Click HERE
- Thanks to listener Leslie Strolla for the topic!
- Defining what we mean: Cheap v. Bargain
- The top bargains from Europe: places where people speak Spanish, Bordeaux (yup, that's right), some Southern Italian gems
- BAD values...gotta listen to find out!
- The top bargains from English speaking countries: 1 part of California, and down under...
- White v. red -- which is a better bargain? My take
- Some info on the sausage factory (or the bait and switch business that happens in the world of cheap wine...)
- Listener question from Emir from Boston: What's the deal with wine clubs?
We want you to Call us!!! Anything wine-related is fair game!
Call 800-599-8478 (in the U.S.) or 1-415-226-9105 and dial extension 5 to leave your question for the Wine For Normal People Podcast, and we will play it on the show!
- Grape of the week: Malbec (one of the best bargains around)
November 10, 2011
This week, the question was:
I'll admit that I'm not a big shopper for clothes or tchotchkes. I prefer to spend my limited funds on (what else?) WINE. So when I went to Italy, specifically to Montalcino, with MC Ice a few years ago, I was looking for a unique bottle to snag.
My rule when shopping for wine on a trip is that the purchase has to be something I can't get at home. Since more likely than not, I'll be rolling those bottles up in clothing in my suitcase (except when I go to California when I usually come home with a few cases and just check those suckers in baggage!), I have to choose wisely and make sure the stuff is pretty special.
On that particular trip, our guide showed us the facilities that made Brunello di Montalcino for export to the US and UK. Knowing there had to be other kinds of wine made at this place, I sidled up after the tour and in my broken and very rusty Italian, asked him if the Cantine made any wines just for Italians. He said they did, but that I wouldn't be interested since the taste wasn't anything like those with which I was familiar. I insisted, batted my eyelashes a bit, and he showed me and MC Ice to their little tasting room where we popped the local stuff in our mouths and promptly purchased 2 bottles. He was so happy we loved it and we were so happy to have found this secret stash!It was the 2002 vintage (the wine ages for about 5 years before it's released) and it's now almost 2012. So in July of next year the wine should be delicious and we'll drink it to commemorate the 5 year anniversary of our trip and the 7 year anniversary of our first date.
Wine is such a great thing to buy when you're away. I mean, who could ask for more than to find an item that will allow you to transport you back to happy times in your life for the hour you spend leisurely drinking the bottle?!
In many ways, wine is about shared experiences...and to me it's better than spending my money on an awesome purse or sexy shirt. I may not be the most fashionable girl out there, but the ability to get a taste of a great time in my life a few years later certainly makes me one of the happiest!
Have something to contribute to this topic? Add your ideas on Travel Belles!
November 7, 2011
On my tour through Napa, I hit up a few newer wineries. Failla (FAY-la) on the Silverado Trail was one of them. I just had to go, since one of the nicest guys in the wine industry, Hardy Wallace (of Dirty South Wine), has been working harvest there and I needed my annual hug from him. I visited him last year when he was working at the Natural Process Alliance, and realized that anywhere he goes is bound to be a cool place, so I was excited for this visit.
An adorable, modest property that we actually drove by twice before finding (keep your eyes peeled if you go, it's hard to spot!), Failla is full of nice people, good wine, and tons of promise. There is one kind of strange thing about it though: most of their wines aren't from Napa.
Failla owns vineyards in the Sonoma Coast, close to the Pacific Ocean, and makes wines from the cooler regions that are best suited to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Hence, it was similar to a tasting in the Russian River Valley in Sonoma -- those two wine types were all we tried (in fairness, they also make Syrah and Viognier but none was available for our tasting).
For a little background, the Winery got started in 1998 by Ehren Jordan and his wife Anne-Marie Failla (hence the name). Ehren, who started working in a wine shop in DC in the early 90s, helping ABC News personalities select their nightly swill (the shop was right near ABC studios), held various jobs in the wine industry -- sommelier, cellar rat/sales and marketing for Joseph Phelps in Napa, and then really learned his trade by doing an internship in the Rhône Valley.
On his return to Napa in 1994 he helped establish Neyers Vineyards and then worked with Helen Turley on the Marcassin label (she's a big deal in Napa -- all the name droppers LOVE to mention that they know Helen, BTW). Helen then scored Jordan a job with her brother at Turley Wine Cellars (known for BIG, expensive Zinfandel with high alcohol and lots of fruit flavor), before the siblings had an all out brawl and swore hatred for each other, so lore goes. In 1996 Jordan became general manager, winemaker, and viticulturalist at Turley. With the financial security of the Turley job, Jordan and his wife were able to start Failla in 1998 (first as Failla Jordan, but a lawsuit from Jordan Winery put the kibosh on the appended name).
As I listened to this history from Geoff, our mild-mannered, kind host, I had some trepidation about the style of these wines. Turley is known for so much flavor and such a lack of restraint -- factors that are essential in making good Pinot Noir and Chardonnay -- that I had a hard time believing its winemaker could do right by these Burgundy natives. In the hands of the wrong winemaker, the style of these wines could be something I would really despise -- flabby juice with no subtle flavors that smack of alcohol, oak, and too much fruit.
Fortunately, my Facebook fans who suggested I go here did right by me. I was happy to discover that Ehren Jordan is a chameleon and a talented guy. It's not an everyday winemaker that can spend days making huge Zin and nights making subtle, unique, and excellent Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I was impressed.
So to the wines!
If you want to visit Failla, just remember that this is a popular place and it only makes 4,000 cases a year, so check to make sure they have wine to pour! Right now the only wines they presented us were Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It was an appointment only, group tasting where we tried 4 wines. The Winery is small, homey and super cute. Since the weather was great, we drank up in a little grove between the small tasting room and the stone winery -- an excellent setting, especially because they were crushing grapes and that was very cool to see.
Here's the recap:
Wine #1: 2010 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, $34
A little golden and rich looking, the wine seemed to have been sitting in an oak barrel for a while, which darkens a wine. That said, when I smelled it, the impression wasn't really of oak -- it was more like lemon, green apple, and minerals. Although the wine was pretty simple, it smelled clean and had tart, citrusy fruit scents. It was a great tasting wine too -- lemony, mineral-like, with lots of acid. It's food friendly and very refreshing.
Wine #2: 2010 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, $34
A darker red, almost ruby color, this looked like it was going to be a fruitier, riper, richer Pinot. When I swirled it, the wine smelled like raspberries and cherry -- juicy and fresh. I expected more from the taste but this wine was pretty simple. It was like strawberries, cherries, and raspberries and it was light with a small touch of acidity and tannin. It was pleasant. A good wine, but not too complex.
Wine #3: 2009 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Hirsch Vineyard, $65 Light ruby in color, this was pale and transparent -- it was the color I think Pinot Noir should be. I was kind of taken with the smell. I can't describe it any other way than fresh. It was like newly cut strawberries tossed with sweet herbs and mint. I could smell this all day long. It tasted just like it smelled, but it had some strong mouth-drying tannins to balance out the raspberry/strawberry/fresh mint goodness. The wine hung around in my mouth for a long time. It was awesome. My favorite of the day.
Wine #4: 2008 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Occidental Ridge Vineyard, $65
Just like the previous wine, this was light ruby -- a perfect Pinot Noir color. This wine was so fragrant -- like raspberry, cherry, rose, and then like Chai tea and other Indian spices. It was herbal and fresh like the Hirsch Pinot but had spicy notes that made it more brooding than bright.The Occidental Ridge was bursting with fruit -- like black raspberries and cherries. There was a good amount of mouth-drying tannin and mouth-watering acid too. The wine was a little woodsy and earthy, but it was more about fruit then anything else. A good, well-made wine.
The subtlety and balance in these wines make them total home runs. It's clear that Ehren Jordan is a real talent. The best part is that he's just getting started at Failla. If he keeps it up...and keeps employing hardworking, smart, and dynamic guys like Hardy, whom I saw for approximately 45 seconds when the grape sorting table had a lull -- I think Ehren Jordan will soon be the go-to Pinot Noir producer from Sonoma.
Have you had Failla's wines? Drop a comment here or on Facebook and let me know what you thought!
November 6, 2011
This week I sit down with Jim Morris of Michel-Schlumberger in the Dry Creek Valley. We had such a fabulous time. We've known each other for a while but this was our first chance to just chat and dork out on wine.
A blog post on their wines is forthcoming...as are some videos I shot on their gorgeous property!
Here's a link to the podcast: Click Here
And here are the high level show notes:
- Jim gives some background on Michel-Schlumberger -- its European roots, its winemaking philosophy, and why it's such a unique place (hint: they are really normal and focus on education -- totally up WFNP's alley!). Jim posits it's his lederhosen that make the wine so great.
- We drill down on organic farming in practice. We got our hands dirty, dishing on honey bees, cover crops, and dog on the big wineries, talking about why sustainability should be called sustain-BULL-ity.
- Jim talks about the challenges of the 2010 and 2011 vintages.
- I put Jim on the spot and get him to tell a wild story about a cross-dresser, and what NOT to do in a tasting room. We discuss the ins and outs of the "lush rush" and why you don't want any part of that
- We hug, cheers, and drink some great glasses of Michel-Schlumberger.
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November 3, 2011
At the suggestion of a Facebook friend who seems to have a similar palate (thanks to John P of CO!), I booked an appointment at Sullivan Vineyards, a small, appointment-only winery in the Rutherford district of Napa that makes between 2,500 and 3,500 cases per year.
Between the main drags in Napa -- 29 and the Silverado Trail, lies this beautiful oasis. As we drove into the parking lot, we saw the hustle and bustle of grapes coming in to the crushpad. A stroll around the corner and there was a gorgeous picnic area between a Frank Lloyd Wright style home and the tasting room/winery (actually John Marsh Davis, who built Chateau Souverain and Joseph Phelps designed it). It's a secluded, serene area and was such a tranquil getaway spot in the middle of Napa.
I was greeted by Sean Sullivan himself, who oversees winemaking and viticulture at the Winery. He was a modest, soft-spoken guy, but was excited to speak about his wines and family. His mother, JoAnna, and his father, Jim, a graphic designer to various music, TV, and book publishers, moved the family from Southern California in 1972 to the Rutherford property to do the wine thing. They have been making wine here since around 1981 and received tons of accolades over the years.
Sean was the lone man holding down the fort when I arrived and he was a bit overwhelmed with guests, so I got only a brief time with him. He told me a bit about his family and Sullivan's winemaking style, which focuses on more restrained, earthy, and less fruity flavors. I learned from the web site that the grapes are and always have been farmed organically and that Sean is making the move to become Biodynamic as well (you can listen to the podcast or read the post on this topic if you want to know more). Very cool.
After I finished the tasting, I got a fabulous tour around the crushpad by Sean's brother, Ross, who is also a winemaker as well. I've got to say, for a small shop, Sullivan is a technologically advanced operation and I was psyched to get a view of the valley from high atop the tanks. Ross even gave us a barrel sample of un-fermented Rosé, which tasted a lot like raspberry beer but was delicious nonetheless. I really appreciated the hospitality, and the impromptu tour and tasting. The people are cool, the property is beautiful and I'd recommend a visit any time.
Here's the lineup:
Wine #1: Red Ink, 2007 $25
This wine is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot. It was a dark red color with a light pink rim. It smelled minerally and light with just a little bit of cherry and blackberry fruit. This is a super light wine for a Cabernet/Merlot blend -- lots of red cherry flavor with some medium mouthdrying tannins, but not a showstopper. It's their best seller, most likely because of the competitive price.
Wine #2: 2008 Estate Merlot, $50
This wine is made with a little bit of Cabernet Franc. It was light in color -- like a rose petal. This was a super aromatic Merlot. It really filled my nose with red cherries and was floral, like fresh violets. The wine was a little more complex to taste. It had a strong red cherry flavor, but also an earthy, tobacco note. On a second sip I tasted a lot of thyme and dried herb flavors. It had medium mouth-drying tannin and mouthwatering acid. By far, my favorite wine at Sullivan...I'm a sucker for a well-made Merlot.
Wine #3: 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, $55
Super dark in color, this was a rich crimson and stained the legs when I swirled it around the glass. The nose was pretty -- like black currant and then like a flowery perfume. There was a slightly medicinal or salty note to it, though, that I didn't love. The wine tasted better than it smelled. It was really restrained on the fruit -- juicy black currant and black plums were balanced by good acid and really strong (in a good way) tannin. There was no green pepper flavor to it at all, something I think is rare in a Napa Cabernet. Sean let me try one that was opened the day before and one that was opened that day -- I would definitely say this wine benefits from breathing! The day-old bottle was much more delicious.
Wine #4: 2008 Coeur de Vigne Bordeaux Blend, $90
The wine is 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. Rutherford is known for it's "Rutherford dust" or earthy, dusty flavors. I've got to admit that until I smelled and tasted this wine, I wasn't finding Sullivan's lineup to display this unique character. It presented itself in force here and that was a good thing.
The wine was crimson, had thick, stained legs. The smell wasn't strong -- I had to dig to find some character. It was kind of like black cherry, cola, cinnamon, and a bit like a floral soap. To taste, it was extremely dusty and earthy with a cherry flavor in the background. I liked the medium weight of the wine and soft tannins. This was a food wine. I had it with a bit of cheese and thought it shone with that.
Wine #5: James O'Neil Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008, $125 (Special Edition)
Named after Sean's dad, and founder of the winery, James O'Neil Sullivan, this wine was the big wine of the day. It was nearly purple with a pink rim and completely saturated in color. The aroma was earthy, and lightly fruity, but restrained, just like the others. Ah, the Rutherford dust made itself known immediately on the taste. The dust almost stuck in my throat and the strong black currant notes were delicious. There was a bit of green pepper flavor and the wine had massive, super mouth-drying tannins. I think this one could use a bit more time in the bottle before drinking -- it was a little rough on the boca to drink. It needs to mellow a bit before it will reach it's full potential, but with the earth, fruit, and great tannin -- it's a bright future at that.
All in all a very positive experience. If you want to visit an elegant, understated, and beautiful property with good wine, I'd recommend Sullivan. Truth be told, the wines didn't blow me away, but they were well made and better than a lot of the big guys. The opportunity to speak to the winemaker/viticulturist/owner/family member isn't common everywhere and when you get ones as nice as Sean and Ross Sullivan, it's a great thing and creates a personal, unique experience.
Have you been to Sullivan? Let me know what you thought!
November 1, 2011
I never thought in a million years that I'd encounter a place like Lava Vine on the Silverado Trail in Napa. I mean, this is the place of tastings that cost $45 and home of some of the brands that wine snobs LOVE to tell you they have cellars full of (Quintessa, Silver Oak, Joseph Phelps, to name a few). But when a very trustworthy friend from business school posted on the Wine For Normal People Facebook page that this was his favorite place, I knew I had to go (thanks again, Chuck!).
As it turns out, this was one of the best experiences I've ever had in Napa. If you want the formal grand tasting room, with staff hovering and mahogany bars, this isn't for you. But if you want to see how an up-and-coming winery with a great product and a down-to-earth vibe is getting started (and I assume you do, since you're reading this blog!), Lava Vine is it. This place embodies Wine For Normal People -- it's not snobby or pretentious, just a place to have fun, drink well, and learn a thing or two.
I should have known it was going to be a very cool and normal experience. The guy at Ladera, who was super corporate and seemed to look down his nose a bit at "Wine For Normal People" was shocked when I told him our next stop was Lava Vine. He boasted that he knew the winemaker well because their kids played soccer together, but when I asked him if he'd ever visited the winery or had the wines, he said no. I got the distinct impression that this place may be a little too indie for him...and man, was I right!
If you head north on the Silverado Trail and hang a left after the (industrial looking) water plant, you'll see a little house that looks more like a general store than a winery. About the only thing that says "Napa" on this property is the gorgeous view of the mountains, and the lovely logo'd sign at the entrance. But once you drive around the back, there's an awesome barn, a pretty veranda, and a vintage Lava Vine mascot truck that makes you realize that un-Napa is a good thing.
Everything had personal touches -- this was clearly someone's place, not a corporate mega-conglomerate.
I was so excited to be there. As we walked up I saw two guys using a hand press to crush grapes. This is a site you never see except in pictures from the 1930s! I peered into the left side of the barn, where there were plastic vats with crushed grapes fermenting. MC Ice and I rolled into the tasting room and were warmly welcomed by Jon, who told us that they don't usually host writers, but that I sounded normal enough to make the cut...what a compliment!
Lava Vine is a tiny operation. It's run by Joe Cabral, a former real estate builder/contractor who got into wine for the same exact reasons I did -- he loved the stuff, and he loved the promise of perpetual learning it offered. I felt a real kinship with him as he told me his background (as did MC Ice, who is in real estate!).
Joe and his family got the opportunity to buy a super-steep 4 acre vineyard in the Franz Valley of Calistoga in Napa in 2000. Although it was a hot mess that needed a ton of work (that could only be done by hand, given the 45% slope), Joe perservered. He became a home winemaker and made wine from the Portuguese grapes growing in his vineyard...as you can probably guess, he started with a Port-style wine.
By 2004, Joe teamed up with another winemaker and started the Lava Vine label. In 2008 he and his wife bought the property on the Silverado Trail and opened the tasting room in October of that year.
Three years later, the place has a ton of fans and sells everything it makes. It's a small shop that focuses on quality, hospitality, and love of wine. I felt like I was hanging out with friends the whole time I was there. Everyone seems to like each other and to be so happy -- what a great work environment!
Joe and his assistant/partner Burroughs took some time out of manually pressing the grapes to talk to us and share the Lava Vine story. Jon, in the tasting room, was so sweet and his passion for wine and food pairings was evident (he gave us some real treats, which I'll share below).
It's rare that you go anywhere in wine country and feel this welcomed and such a part of the experience. I was happy to be there, but I was even happier that the product kicked ass. It would have been a shame if they were nice people making crap wine, but I'm here to tell you -- that's not the case.
Here's the lineup...
Wine #1: 2009 Lava Vine Napa Valley Viognier, $29
Color: This was a light, almost platinum color. A bit unexpected for a Napa Viognier, which I usually expect to be dark since a lot of winemakers like to make use of oak (drowning out the delicious natural flavors, in my opinion).
Smell: The smell was all Viognier, all the time -- peach, honey comb, honeysuckle, and a fresh out of the oven lemon sugar cookie jumped out of the glass.
Taste: Again really unexpected. This wine had some great acid to balance the honeysuckle/lemon cookie thing. It was a very dry, light style but super fruity. I was surprised when Jon said that 10% of the wine was aged in oak to give it more body -- it definitely didn't taste like it, which is a good thing, I think.
Drink or Sink?: Drink...all day long. The wine was a little austere from the acid and I loved it. The contrast of acid and fruit made it tasty and refreshing and one of the best Napa Viogniers I've had.
Wine #2: 2010 Lava Vine Russian River Valley Chardonnay, $35
Color: This was a rich golden color and it scared me. Most Russian River Chardonnays tend to have very ripe fruit flavors and lots and lots of (out of balance) oak flavors. From the darker color I expected an oaky wine.
Smell: The wine had a very typical Russian River Chardonnay smell -- lots of green apple, some pineapple, and then a huge hit of caramel from the oak. Again, I felt trepidation, since I have to admit, although I appreciate the style, I'm not a personal fan of Russian River Chardonnay because I find it a little too much in the big fruit, butter, and oak stuff.
Taste: Damn! This was a great wine. It was so balanced -- it had great tart apple notes, just a touch of oak, and super acid. Jon let us in on a few secrets to their success.
- First, the grapes come from DuMOL, a very small production, highly esteemed producer in the Russian River Valley. The raw materials that Joe had to work with were awesome.
- Second, the wine didn't go through malolactic fermentation, which makes a wine creamy and buttery and can accentuate tropical flavors. That makes for a crisper, more acidic style.
Drink or sink?: In Joe's hands the grapes made a great wine. If everyone did Russian River Chardonnay this way, I'd be a convert.
Wine #3: 2009 Lava Vine Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, $54
Color: A faded garnet color, this was lighter than some of the blood red Cabs that are common in Napa and can taste like prune juice because they are so fruity.
Smell: This is everything a Napa Cab should be -- bursting with red and black cherry and blackberry aromas, with a little bit of tobacco and dried dirt to boot. Apparently a very prestigious producer (who Jon didn't reveal) who owns a vineyard on a Calistoga hillside (it could be a lot of different wineries so I won't speculate) sold Joe the fruit for this wine. Hillsides produce grapes that have great balance between fruit and earth, so it's no surprise that the source is on a slope!
Taste: It was earthy but had great blackberry and black plum flavors. The wine had a meaty quality too -- it was smokey, rich, and full. Even with all that flavor, though, it was a great balance of fruit, mouth drying tannin, and acidity.
Drink or Sink?: Drink. This is a multi-faceted wine where the flavors just keep on coming, but it's not so heavy that one flavor or texture awkwardly stands out over the others. Perfectly balanced and an amazing price compared to other less impressive Cabs in the Valley.
Wine #4 (the one that started it all...) Lava Vine Dessert Wine (Port style)
Like the original, this Port-style wine is made of a blend of different grapes and vintages. It's got some of the Port faves: Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo), Touriga Nacional, Tinta Cao and then (a little off the menu for Port) Mourvédre and Petit Verdot. The grapes are from the '04 - '08 vintages.
Color: Right on par for a Port, this was a light brownish brick color. It wasn't dark like a ruby Port, but transparent.
Smell: I could tell this was going to be great. It had ripe plum, raisin, and floral smells to it -- an ideal combo. It smelled a little brandied and alcoholic, but in a warm, fruity way. Fortunately the wine didn't smell sugary sweet or artificial, a great sign for a Port-style.
Taste: This kicked serious ass. It was bursting with ripe black plum flavors, but was also a little pruney. It was full, smokey, and mouth filling but then it had such great acid that my mouth felt clean and ready for another sip after it went down. This is what Port is supposed to taste like.
Special Tasting: Jon had a really special treat for us on this one. He broke out unsweetened chocolate, poured on some olive oil and a pinch of sea salt and had us try it with the wine. Holy s*&t. The combo transformed into something like a dark chocolate, plum-filled truffle. It was creamy, fruity, salty, and warm. I could have sworn I was eating a box of Godiva. Heaven. You have to try this!
Drink or sink?: Needless to say, this is a drink.
What else can I say about Lava Vine ? I think this may be the most exciting place in all of Napa right now. If you're heading to California Wine Country, this is a MUST DO. If not, get in their wine club now because I bet it won't be possible in a few years. This is truly a place for normal people who like wine!