Wow! I can't believe it. In my daily life I kind of just do my thing, so it was a huge surprise when a friend of mine alerted me to the fact that Wine For Normal People Radio was chosen by Apple as one of the Best New Arts Podcasts of 2011 in their annual Rewind (and yes, no one alerted me or even so much as sent me an Apple to reward me!!!). The honor was bestowed in early December, but I guess better late than never! Check it out!
Thank you so much for listening and for making us a top pick in 2011. Here's to some great stuff in 2012...including video!
December 30, 2011
December 29, 2011
Wine Traditions around the world are pretty interesting. In this episode we discuss the coolest ones.
This is a complement to the article I just wrote for Travel Belles so if you want to read and listen...
Here's the link to the article: TRAVEL BELLES
Here's the link to the podcast: Episode 35
And here is what the episode is all about
First we take a listener question from @mjgraves on Twitter about when to drink Cabernet Sauvignon. (Write in or call us and you'll be on the show! 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 I'll answer it in an upcoming episode!)
- Spanish Traditions and Cava
- Italian Traditions and Prosecco/Franciacorta
- Chilean Traditions and gold rings in the bubbles, Portuguese Traditions and Vinho Verde, Germany and Sekt, French Champagne, English speaking countries = boozing it up and fireworks. Grape of the week: Pinot Meunier
Listen and you'll get why I'll be lugging a suitcase around my block at midnight, while shoving some grapes in my mouth! Happy New Year!
If you like the podcast, please review it on iTunes, drop a comment on the Wine For Normal People blog, or join the awesome conversation on Facebook (Wine For Normal People page) and Twitter @normalwine!
December 27, 2011
Running horribly late, with a car nearly out of gas, MC Ice and I ventured from Chateau Montelena in Calistoga into the heart of the Vaca mountains on the east side of Napa Valley to our next adventure on our wine country whirlwind trip late last fall.
After 10 minutes of climbing and climbing (and the car slowly puttering and lurching forward) we got out of traditional Napa territory and happened upon a gorgeous reservoir. Through switchback after switchback we crept, noticing a striking resemblance to the road to Yosemite or some other cool National Park. Just when we were at the unfortunate juncture of lost and seriously in trouble on the gas front, we saw the sign for Pritchard Hill and for Chappellet.
We arrived to a secluded, breathtaking property nestled at the top of the hill, to none other than Molly Chappellet getting into her car. The Chappellets were having a family party that day and invited me to come tour in spite of it. Ms. Chappellet was leaving to go up the hill to her home. I apologized profusely for being late but said I wanted to at least peek my head in. She was so kind and encouraged us to go up to the tasting room, since a few others were still there. She told us that we could taste a few wines while they cleaned up from the day.
This beautiful property was made all the prettier by the unbelievable hospitality and great welcome we received by people who had worked a full day on a Saturday and still had smiles to give. I hate being "that person" who shows up late and then demands attention so I asked if I could just try one or two of the wines. Instead, Katie (you rock, BTW!) gave us the full-on tour of the picturesque property. This place has style and grace.
A quick history check -- in 1967, Molly and Donn Chappellet bought the property on Pritchard Hill to both live and work in this out-of-the-way paradise. They raised their 6 children here at 1200 feet, and had the distinctions of being some of the first to plant only at high elevation (a risk, since mountains have more volatile weather) and to be the second winery established after Prohibition (after Robert Mondavi. Yes, there was a huge lag between 1933 and 1967, but people were concentrating on drinking booze instead of wine).
Even though they are a mid-sized operation, making 35,000 cases a year (420K bottles), this place is truly a family establishment. Still run by the Chappellet family, you can see Molly and Donn's residence from the Winery and catch a glimpse of Molly's gardens, for which she is famous and on which she has published several books. A few of the kids live nearby and most are involved in the business.
There's something to be said for living on the property -- I'm guessing it makes you not want to mess it up with chemical treatments and fertilizers. And being secluded, you probably want to find resourceful ways of saving on the electric bill too. The Chappellet's have definitely made choices that would indicate a dedication to the land.
90% of their vineyards are certified organic and they have a huge solar farm that powers their whole winery. They use runoff captured in their reservoir for irrigation, have a robust recycling program, and only 16% of their property is planted to vine. And you get the distinct impression that, unlike a lot of other wineries, this isn't done for show or PR purposes, it's done because the Chappellets think it's the right thing to do. It's a source of pride for them, but not because it's great for business. I liked the genuine vibe I got from them -- so different from so many others further west in the Valley.
So, honestly, all this is a very nice story, but if the wines sucked, I would have hoped that I had run out of gas and never made it... Thankfully, that's not the case. Famous for making extremely powerful and delicious Cabernet, this place didn't disappoint at all.
Here's the lineup:
Smell: Peach and lemons abounded. It was simple but very bright and light smelling. I was bracing for the cilia singe from the high alcohol, but it wasn't there -- good sign!
Taste: A total surprise. I usually think of Chenin Blanc as having a wooly, wax lips quality, but this was more like peaches, dried apricots, and green grapes. It was pretty acidic and light and fresh. A lot of Chenin Blanc (like from some Vouvray in the Loire Valley of France) tends to be off-dry or lightly sweet but this was bone dry with no sugar. The soft feeling sensation from the alcohol counterbalanced the acid and slight bitterness, so the wine felt kind of lush.
Smell: The wine smelled like a garden. It was full of roses and violets. On a second sniff it was more like plums and blueberries. I didn't get any spice or earth from the aroma at all, different for a Merlot.
Taste: Wow, the nose completely misled me. This wine was very fruity! It was all black cherry, blueberry, plum, and blackberry. It had some great mouth-drying tannin to balance the fruit and decent acid to make it less heavy, but I can't say there was any noticeable flavor besides fresh, ripe, juicy fruit here and an excellent texture to make it sing.
Drink or Sink: Drink. This wine wasn't really my style, since I like some of the other non-fruit flavors in my wine, but it is such a classic Napa style that I love it for that. What a great representation of what fruit, grown in the proper place and picked at the right time, can do.
The Chappellets have been making this since the very beginning and it really shows off their style and what Cabernet can do when grown at an elevation.
Color: This was a dark, black plum color. It had a crimson rim. I expected TONS of flavor from the look of this opaque wine with super thick legs from the almost 15% alcohol.
Smell: Fruity and full! Black currant, blackberry, mulberry, and violets were all over this. It was so fragrant! There was a mellow espresso and cinnamon smell too. This smells like what I think a Napa Cab should smell like.
Taste: Whoa. This is a meal, it's so big! The wine was like blueberries, black currants, and juicy, ripe black raspberries. It tasted like coffee and had a little bit of an earthy, almost sulfur note to it. Not bad, just kind of earthy. The tannins on this wine were massively mouth-drying. I was chewing them long after the swallow.
Drink or Sink: Drink. This is a GREAT, classic California Cab. Finally! A winery that isn't trying to be something it's not. Napa has a distinct style -- fruity, lush, full, and unabashed. Too many wineries these days (fortunately none that I visited while in Napa a few months back) are trying to alter their styles to make less fruity wines. Although I don't believe in letting the grapes get overly ripe, I think a lot of wineries, in an effort to cater to trends, are not getting enough flavor from their grapes. They should take a lesson from Chappellet and stay true to what Napa can provide...fruit, tannin, and ripeness.
Wine #4: 2008 Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon (Blend: 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16%
Petit Verdot, 8% Malbec, 14.9% Alcohol)
Price: $135 (Their showpiece wine, and in high demand)
Color: Similar to the Signature Cabernet in color -- it was almost purple and the wine stained the glass when I swirled it.
Smell: It also smelled like the Signature Cabernet but even more like plums and violets. The wine had a cedar and vanilla thing going on and it smelled like cocoa powder. That said, the overwhelming notes in the glass were fruit, fruit, and more fruit!
Taste: Even more than the Signature, this wine was all fruit, oak, and tannin. If the Signature wine went to the gym, you'd have the Pritchard Hill Cab. It's a fruit bomb with blackberry and cola flavors (it tasted a little like Dr. Pepper, but good). The winemaker used 100% new French oak barrels, so the oak notes kind of clobber your palate -- I tasted a ton of vanilla, cloves, caramel, and burnt espresso. The wine had big tannin too, but because it seemed sweeter than the Signature, the tannins seemed to be less harsh.
Drink or Sink: Drink. Another typical example of Napa Cabernet. It was a great wine. This is a Napa Cab lover's wine. My only question: is it really worth $86 more than the Signature. It's better, but maybe only $30 so, not $86.
Thank you so much to Katie and the folks at Chappellet for their outstanding hospitality. I loved the property, the people, and the fact that these are true Napa wines. If you're a Napa Cab lover, look no further than this gorgeous, eco-friendly place.
December 22, 2011
Oh crap! You just remembered that you didn't buy a present for your brother-in-law/neighbor/ cousin/ (gasp!) wife.
If they're wine drinkers, you know the best way to go is wine. It's easy to get, doesn't need to be wrapped (gift bags are cheap and easy) and it's a 5-7 minute errand, if they've got good cashiers at your local store.
It could be even easier if you have something great in your cellar, but beware: MC Ice's co-worker is a self-professed wine snob (evidence: I've been out to dinner with him before and he won't let me look at the wine list. He always orders expensive, oaky California Chardonnay and Cabernet that don't pair with the food. The same brands, every time. Needless to say, I don't go out to dinner with him, ever). He "bought" a "special" bottle this year, which he claimed was an outstanding new vintage (again, perplexed as to how he can give this to MC Ice and not know that I know what's up).
Wouldn't you know? We received the same wine in the same vintage last year from him, and when MC Ice showed it to me I showed him last year's bottle. Yeah, it's a $60 bottle, but it really cheapens the gift if you're clearly trying to rid yourself of a case you don't like and are found out. Be careful.
Enough on that -- you're in a rush, so I won't pussyfoot around. I am not going to list brands (unless I know they're national) because distribution varies, but I'll link to posts where I've reviewed specific wines if available.
Here are 5 wine categories you can get for someone special (or not so special):
Category I: The Big Red Lover
1. For $40+
- Chateauneuf-du-Pape from the southern Rhône Valley, which tastes like strawberry/raspberry compote sometimes with tobacco, pepper, and earthy flavors.
- Cabernet Sauvignon-based Bordeaux (look for something from Pauilliac, St-Julien, or Margaux). Check out this post for details on different styles.
- Napa Cabernet Sauvignon -- so many styles and I've reviewed a ton.
- Brunello di Montalcino, which is a little more medium in style but ages very well so it's a great gift. Here's a long post on this super versatile wine.
- Amarone or Barolo from Italy are also amazing.
- Vacqueryas from the southern Rhône Valley is a good approximation of Chateauneuf-du-Pape but cheaper!
- You can still get a Bordeaux in this price range -- look for the '05, or '09 vintages for surefire hits that won't kill your wallet.
- Australian Shiraz is unbelievable bang for the buck at this price.
- Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon is similar to a Napa Cabernet but for a lot less.
- If you get one for more than $15, it will seem like a $25 bottle! Look for one from Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina.
- Wines from the south of Spain like Jumilla or Yecla are full and rich, and affordable!
Category II: The White Lover
1. For $40+
- A white Burgundy is amazing and can age. These can cost bucks. If you want to splurge, Montrachet, Corton, and Corton-Charlemagne are three exceptional places for Chardonnay.
- Grand Cru Chablis (from Grenouilles or Valmur are my favorites) is great for someone who loves acidic wines (these are great with food too).
- Similar to a Burgundy but from California, Chateau Montelena's Chardonnay is phenomenal at $50.
- You can get a Burgundy from a larger area like Chassagne-Montrachet and it will be like minerals, and green apples and it will rock.
- Fuller-bodied Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley of Sonoma is slightly oaky, and creamy, with tropical fruit flavors.
- New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has grassy, grapefruit flavors, and great acidity.
- For a peachy, green apple wine with good acid and some different petrol and slate flavors, try dry Riesling from the Mosel in Germany.
- Alsace Pinot Gris is oily, soft, floral, and spicy and great with food.
- Verdejo from northern Spain or Albariño are both light and great starter or seafood wines.
- Torrontés from Argentina is a lush, fruity, yet acidic wine that is great with cheese and terrific for friends and family who like aromatic stuff.
Category III: Lighter- or medium- style reds
1. For $40+
- You can't beat a bottle of Burgundy for a Pinot Noir lover. There is enormous range in style and price...and especially vintage so read up before putting down lots of money.
- Oregon Pinot Noir at this price is amazing as well (although at lower price points, not so much).
- A California Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley or from Mendocino in this price point will be excellent.
- Lighter style Italian reds are great too -- a Chianti Classico, a Dolcetto, or a Barbera can be very high quality and still refreshing.
- A Cru Beaujolais (NOT nouveau) is a fruity, easy to drink wine that people who like lighter reds will be sure to love.
- New Zealand Pinot Noir, even under $20, is outstanding -- a little earthy, a little fruity, and all delicious.
- Right Bank Merlot from St-Emilion doesn't have to be expensive to be great. Plenty of great stuff for below $20 and it tends to be on the lighter side at this price point.
- Some of the best lighter reds for under $20 are kind of out of the box -- Zweigelt from Austria, and Mencia from Bierzo in Northern Spain are great picks.
Category IV: Champagne and other bubbles
1. For $40
- If you're going to spring for Champagne, go for Dom Ruinart Blanc. Yeah it's $160, but it's so worth it if you're going big time.
- I also love Henriot, if you're looking beyond the ubiquitous Veuve Clicquot yellow label.
- If you want to do American sparkling wine, Iron Horse makes terrific wines -- the Wedding Cuvee is the most widely available.
- Although you normally can't get Champagne for this price, there are some great sparkling wines (especially from California) in this price that will fit the bill for you. Roederer Estate from California makes terrific bubbly and is owned by the Champagne House in France. Go for the rosé for something special. J from Sonoma in California makes a great sparkling wine that's more affordable and available.
- Cava is where it's at -- go to Spain and don't look back for the best stuff below $20.
- France also has delicious, inexpensive sparklers -- Cremant from Limoux or Alsace are both solid. I just had a bottle of Francois Montaud Rosé, a sparkling wine from France and it was delicious for $10.
- Graham Beck sparkling from Australia is also a great wine for less than $20.
- Although a totally different (more fruity, bigger bubbles) style, Prosecco is always a fun wine to bring as a present.
Category V: For something different (prices vary depending on quality)
Whites: Grüner Veltliner from Austria, Verdejo from Spain, Chenin Blanc from South Africa, or Viognier from California are each interesting and unique. Or try a southern Italian white like Fiano di Avellino -- honeyed and minerally but still dry, this wine is a knockout.
Reds: Nero d'Avola from Sicily, Chinon (Cabernet Franc) from the Loire Valley in France, Petite Sirah from California, Priorat from Spain, or Shiraz from South Africa are each special for your red wine lover. - the most versatile white there is and a great present.
And don't forget dessert -- for a chocolate lover, go for Port or, for a cool treat, Banyuls from Southern France. For a special treat Tokaji from Hungary or Sauternes from Bordeaux in France are amazing treats.
Hopefully that helps you select something fabulous for that wine lover you may have overlooked! Happy Festivus (for the rest of us). I know you'll get something great!
December 16, 2011
I'm coming to a close on the recap of my Napa/Sonoma trip (5 or 6 more posts after this) and then I've got a bunch of VERY cool things to talk about. Hopefully you're liking this series and aren't bored. If you are, hold tight...international variety is en route.
If you're having Napa ennui from me, let me try my best to spruce it up now and tell you something you rarely hear from my overly honest and, at times, cynical mouth -- sometimes the hype is actually worth it.
After another year and countless more wines tasted, I returned to Chateau Montelena in Calistoga (northern Napa), to see if my opinion had changed from the last vintage. I have to admit that I wondered if my enthusiasm was attributable to my outstanding experience there (although I drink their wines throughout the year and still think they rock so I'm not sure where my self-doubt came from -- if you're a therapist, feel free to analyze). But happily, one taste of these wines and my insecurity faded. I think I may be even MORE into them than I was last year. And if you're bored of California, here's some good news for you -- these wines are closer to European wine styles than any that I've tried from the US (and if you think I'm crazy, consider that about three years ago, the very esteemed Bordeaux Second Growth Chateau, Cos d'Estournel tried to buy Montelena...they saw something here).
Due to an over-scheduled trip, I could only fit the visit in on a Saturday, during the prime visiting hours (and the lush rush, it appeared -- if you don't know what that's in reference to, listen to the podcast with Jim Morris of Michel-Schlumberger), but a crowded room of marginally drunk people looking to taste the famous wines of the Chateau doesn't change the stuff in the bottle. It still kicked ass.
I wrote about the Winery last year, so I'll take excerpts from that post for convenience and then review the newest vintage of the wines after. Here goes...
If you're unfamiliar with Chateau Montelena and why it's kind of a big deal, I'm happy to share! Montelena is famous because its wine won top honors in a 1976 competition between legendary French white Burgundies (Chardonnay) and California Chardonnay (the competition also pitted Cabernets against each other, but that's not part of this particular story). Montelena's wine, tasted blind by French judges, was so wonderful and so close to the historic wines of Burgundy that the competition stunned the wine world and gave California serious street cred.
After this fete, called "The Judgment of Paris," no one could deny that California was capable of making exceptional wine. That's Montelena's unbelievably positive and wonderful legacy -- making California a viable, serious wine region on a global scale.
As an aside, the Winery may also known by some as the basis for the horrific 2008 movie (and I'm sorry if you liked it), Bottleshock, made about that competition. Although the foundation of the story is factual, the movie makes the Winery seem silly, the owners inane, and worst of all, it spreads misinformation about winemaking that I'm sure a lot of people believed. I could barely sit through the whole film but I have managed to Zen it out and separate my dislike of the movie from the Chateau. Just thought I'd mention the flick though, in case you've seen it or were thinking about doing so.
When you drive up to this Chateau (and it is a chateau), way the hell north of Napa in Calistoga, it is imposing and a little intimidating. Bought in 1882 and built up for several years after by a rich San Francisco entrepreneur, Alfred L. Tubbs (BTW, even in the 1880s the story of Napa is the same -- rich dude from San Francisco has dream of setting up winery, spends exorbitant sums, makes it happen...), this place is a class act.
The Chateau made wine in the 1880s, paused for the hell that was Prohibition and started up again afterward. Montelena, named as a contraction of Mount Saint Helena, at whose base it lies, changed hands in 1958 and the owners built a gorgeous Asian-style lake outside the Chateau. Although a little eclectic, it's beautiful and was a good contribution to the property. The current owners (on whom Bottleshock was based) acquired the Winery and made their first vintage in 1972. They weren't at it long before they found success: the second vintage won the Judgment of Paris (1973).
This is an historic and interesting place but the coolest thing about it is the people: Down-to-earth, knowledgeable, super nice, and NORMAL. The first time I came here, I expected stodgy, old, and formal, and I got the exact opposite. It's so refreshing. The people who work here are fun and you'll want to carve out some time to kick it with them if you visit. This is a really different, special place.
And OH the wines. Amazing stuff. Seriously. My mouth was just happy to be there! Here's the lineup:
Wine #1: 2010 Potter Valley Riesling, $25
Color: This was a golden color -- kind of like pear juice. It looked a little richer than a dry German Riesling, for example.
I don't know whether it was the later harvest (the vintage was tough but the grapes hung out on the vine to reach full maturity), the fact that they bought some grapes from a different grower, or some other X factor, but this year the wine was outrageously good and I hope they keep doing what they're doing, since, as you know, I'm a HUGE Riesling advocate.
Wine #2: 2009 Napa Valley Chardonnay, $50
This is Chateau Montelena's "thing." You want to know why they won that competition in 1976? Try this wine and you'll understand. When you taste other Chardonnay in Napa it's hard to imagine that this style is even possible. Montelena does things with this grape that very few can -- and most of those few live in Burgundy.
Color: Light, platinum, and pale, there wasn't any apparent signs of excessive oak or over-ripe grapes here (you can usually spot this by the dark color of the wine).
Smell: The smell could have tricked me in a blind tasting. I would surely have called this French. It smelled like minerals, lemon, lime, and white flowers. I didn't smell much oak at all -- just a light hint of spice but nothing overbearing. It had a sharp, crisp smell.
Taste: And this delivered on the smell. It was dry, sharp, steely, and very clean. Great lemon and lime flavors and a sweet green pea note went well with the minerals and acid in this wine. I didn't sense the oak because it was so well integrated with the fruit and acid.
Drink or Sink: Drink. This wine is awesome. It's a Chablis style -- dry, acidic, clean, and restrained. I love it. Why more people in California don't do this style is beyond me. This Napa Chardonnay is proof that something special happens when grapes are in the hands of the right people...and they all seem to be at Montelena!
My only gripe -- they have some description about how this is a "classic California Chardonnay." Couldn't disagree more. If only everyone did Chard this way in California! Most of the stuff I have is more fruity or more oaky or less acidic, but not balanced like this. There are a few others, but I'll agree with the 1976 French judges...this is something different. More expensive than what I normally drink but worth every penny.
Wine #3: 2007 Napa Valley Chardonnay, $60
Smell: It was a little more mature -- baked apple, sweet lemon, and white flowers jumped out of the glass. There was just a little bit of oakiness to the smell, but it wasn't overpowering at all.
Taste: This was so different from the '09 -- much fuller and richer, as the vintage was a little more consistent and with time the wine had changed to take on different notes. It tasted like ripe apples, sweet lemon, and had some tropical fruit notes (pineapple) to it. The wine tasted a bit like caramel from the oak, but it was all integrated and not out of place at all.
Like most of the top Cabernet producers in Napa, this wine is not 100% Cabernet. Merlot and Cab Franc are used to soften the bold flavors of the Cab. 2008 was a tough vintage because of poor weather. Montelena lost a lot of its grapes, but as a result, the ones that were left made FANTASTIC wine.
The Blend: 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc
The Alcohol: 14.2%
Color: A little brownish with a beautiful ruby rim, the wine had lots of pigment but didn't look like blackberry juice. I wouldn't expect Montelena to make a super-dark wine, which usually, in a Cabernet blend, hints to me that there will be too much fruit and not much else (not always the case, but often because the grapes got overly ripe, the skins have a ton of pigment and that bleeds into the wine. So dark in a Cab often = fruit bomb).
Smell: This wine has such a strikingly different aroma from any other Napa Cab I've ever had. It's so fresh. The wine is floral -- like roses and violets -- but also has this note of exotic spice, like Chai tea (cardamom), tumeric, coriander, and cinnamon. I know those are kind of random descriptions, because that's the stuff in your spice rack you may never use, but if you eat Indian food, just think of those spices with some flowers and you're there.
Taste: If you like balls-out, big Cabs this isn't your style. If you like medium, restrained, Bordeaux style wines -- here you go. This wine tasted like it smelled, and the sweet cinnamon and nutmeg flavors were prominent from the oak. It was flavorful, yet very fresh.
Drink or Sink: Drink. To me, this is an amazing, amazing, amazing wine. My notes say "stylish" -- and what I mean by this is that it's more than just a fruit bomb or an alcohol bomb. This wine can't be characterized the same way as other Napa Cabs. It's so elegant, so fresh, and so beautiful without being wimpy. It's a wine to think about -- it's got a lot of layers, yet it's so easy to drink and love in the moment. This is a gold star wine for me (and so much more affordable than other wineries' less good wines).
Wine #5: 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, $135
The difference between the Napa Valley and Estate wine is where the grapes are grown. For the Napa Valley wine, the grapes come from different vineyards around Napa. The benefit is that the winemaker can get the best of the best grapes with which to make the wine. The downside -- there is less consistency and control over the grapes than if the wine comes from one place. Enter the Estate Cabernet -- all from Montelena's vineyards on the property. This is their baby and their big daddy of a Cab, but the wine is still balanced, just like the rest of their line.
Drink or Sink: Drink. This wine is an fantastic balance of fruit, earth, spice, and flowers. 2007 was a solid year in Napa and this wine shows that. Still, despite the fact that this wine is much more in your face than the Napa Valley Cab, it is not over-the-top. Everything in moderation...the way it should be.
What a treat to try the same wine from another great vintage. Although the extra four years makes a difference, the wine shows a real consistency in style...
Smell: More complex aromas than the 2007 -- time is a friend to Cabernet if it's a well-made one! The wine had the characteristic Montelena floral note and it was earthy, but the stuff had more evolved fruit aromas too. Asian pear (which I call a papple because it's like a pear and apple together), raspberry, black currant, and sweet green herbs (like tarragon or mint) were all over this. Then there was this super-strong and pleasant smell of black tea. If you've ever had or smelled Darjeeling tea, that's what this smelled like. Super complex, super fabulous.
Taste: Another ballsy wine -- this was powerful stuff. Tasted like it smelled and it was so mouth-filling with rich, chewy tannins. There was a tobacco and earth note to the wine against the backdrop of the spices I found in the Napa Valley Cab.
Drink or Sink: Drink. The flavor was significantly different from the 2007 -- the wine had matured into something special. It was evolved. What a treat. Proves that when done right, Cab gets better and better.
What else is there to say? Chateau Montelena makes divine wine. It's a jewel in California's crown. I don't know of other wineries that do what they do or make wines that taste anything like theirs. Go up and down the Napa Valley and I bet you won't find another winery like them. Are they boutique, or little -- the thing that so many people seek out? No. But if you want something different, historic, and consistently phenomenal you can't miss their wine. It doesn't hurt that the people are cool, but even if they sucked, this place does something special.
Thanks to Laura, Joel, and especially for Jamie for having me -- especially on a crazy Saturday with the lush rush in full swing!
December 15, 2011
Wine For Normal People Radio: Episode 34--Wine Gift Ideas for Festivus or Whatever Other Holiday You Celebrate!
And just in time for the holidays: Wine gift ideas!
- Gadgets: The most useful, must-haves (not just random crap you buy just to buy!). Here's a picture of the Ah-so, for reference. Gotta also say that listener Sayle Milne provided the suggestion on wine charms! Thanks Sayle!
- Glassware: The three kinds someone really needs and a few recommendations on what to look for and what to avoid.
- Books. From Facebook friend Brandon Robinson, we cover books: why I don't love "Fun" wine books, three reference books for real wine dorks, and a shameless plug for the upcoming "Wine For Normal People" book (and shout to my fabulous agent Myrsini!)
- And, drum roll...you didn't think we'd cover all this stuff and forget the WINE, did you? We talk about strategies for shopping for wine as a gift -- from in-store selections to wine clubs to the horror of wine shipping laws (thanks to listener Bruce Bowler for the suggestion that we should cover this). I wax a little poetic on the sentimentality of wine...but just briefly.
- Then, Grape of the Week...listener Sayle Milne strikes again -- she has requested we cover this for a long time and voilá! Petit Verdot...and why it makes a better supporting actor, than star of the show.
We plan on churning out another episode before the holidays, but we wish everyone a happy Festivus (for the rest of us)...or whatever else you celebrate. Please post any ideas we missed here so everyone can benefit from your genius!
Oh...and if you like the podcast, please review us on iTunes, join the conversation on Facebook (Wine For Normal People page) and Twitter @normalwine.
We mentioned this, so here goes...call us and you'll be on the show!!! Do you have a wine-related question? Anything goes! 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'll answer it in an upcoming episode!
December 8, 2011
At the suggestions of the awesome normal wine people on Facebook, Frog's Leap was high on the list for my Napa trip this year and I was ready to discover all it had to offer. I'd enjoyed the wines at tastings, and knew the place was touted for its commitment to organics, but I'd never been to visit.
The Winery is in the Rutherford District of Napa, which is a small area in the middle of the Valley. Because it's so unique, Rutherford is worth a little tangent...so here goes...
December 7, 2011
- I geek out on the grape, talking about the history and the viticulture of Cabernet Sauvignon (I get into it -- everything from torrid vineyard love affairs to Pliny the Elder to methoxypyrazines)
- We try to cover everything you ever wanted to know about Cabernet from the most famous regions around the world:
- MC Ice gets really excited about the marriage of Cabernet and food. (the chemical reaction of tannin and filet fascinates him)
- And here's the link to the terroir episode we reference! LINK
December 1, 2011
The Winery started as a family farm in 1937. They produced Zinfandel grapes, mostly for sale but the teenage Aldo Biale was enterprising and held a bit back for experimental winemaking. He did a great job and shared it with a few friends and customers who bought other products from the farm. It was good stuff so word spread in Napa. But this was a small time operation so to keep the bootlegging under wraps from those eavesdropping on the party line phone the Biales used, those in the know got their jug of Zin by asking for a "black chicken." Today, "black chicken" is a wine, a wine club, and an important part of the heritage of Robert Biale.
Color: A pretty red plum color. It looked like raspberry juice.
Smell: This was a great smelling Zin and just what I like and expect -- ripe, juicy plum with smoke, black pepper, and a little bit of fresh shaved oak (like when you get wood cut at Loews).
Taste: The wine tasted like it smelled, but it had a lot of texture. It was kind of acidic and the alcohol was slightly off the chart. I got a burn, similar to taking a shot of vodka.
Drink or sink?: Drink. The wine was good, but I wouldn't call it great. The alcohol and acid stuck out a little too much and overshadowed the fruit. I wish the winemaker had tempered these a little bit -- the wine could have been amazing without these factors. It was hard to find all the nuance under the alcohol.