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Automatic Tasting Programs

August 3, 2010

It’s the week after the Wine Bloggers Conference, and I’m at home, recovering, and preparing for my new job to start.  As luck would have, I was invited to participate in the 2nd Blogger Tasting panel at Ridge Monte Bello, and headed on down to the mountains above Silicon Valley to see what Christopher Watkins, blogger and Chief Monte Bello Dude, had in store for us.

Christopher Watkins ponders the sanity of letting us inside...

We were greeted with a series of vertical tasting flights from the ATP series, which is the club only wine that Ridge produces.  These wines are winery direct, and are often only available to club members upon release, so this was really a special tasting.  We started with the 08 Mikulaco Chard, which is a small property on Monte Bello.  The fruit here is normally allocated to some of the other chardonnays that Ridge produces, and this is only the second vineyard select wine made from the vineyard.  There was vanilla, guava and tropical fruits, toasted caramel and a mineral finish of stone fruit, particularly peaches, and golden raspberries.  It is fermented in 15-20% new French Oak, with the remainder in 1-3 year old American oak.  I really appreciate a subtly oaked Chardonnay, and as you probably know I’m often a member of the ABC Club.  This was a bit to tropical for me, but enjoyable all the same.

Next up we move to the 02 Carignane from Buchignani Ranch. This is the northern most property Ridge sources from, and is only planted to zin and carignane, the old school field blend classics.  True to it’s nature, I tasted blueberries, blackberries, bay leaf (I know, but I swear I did!), bittersweet chocolate and an herbaceous tobacco finish.  Paired with the 02, we tried the 05 Carignane.  Again, there was a heavy herbal profile, with mint, eucalyptus, and spice box, and a bright berry bust with a tannic backbone.  It was quite spicy and showed a fair bit of earth.  Finally, we had the 08.  This was much fruitier, with smoky blackberry, bright purple color, and juicy red berries.

Next up, we went rogue Rhône leaving Sarah Palin at home – with the Fity-Fity.  This is my pet name for the SyrahGrenache blend from Lytton Springs, and I think they should relabel it, don’t you?  I meanr really.  With the blackberry pie and fig spice on the 06, this could be dessert.  I also tasted chipotle chocolate, coffee, and dried blueberries.  YUM!  I could drink this all day.  In fact, I need to arrange this.  Paired with the 06 we tried the older 05.  This was much earthier, with dark mushrooms, smoke, and stewed fruit.  I didnt’ care for it at first, but I left some in my glass for a bit and ti grew on me.  still, the 06 won my heart.  BUY  the 05 just needs some air so TRY

Ah syrah.  Where have you been my whole life!  First, the 03 Lytton West.  With 9% viognier co-fermented, this is an old school Rhone classic.  The aromatics of the viognier add to the loganberry and chocolate flavors with jasmine and honeysuckle notes.  It’s little sister the 05 was smokey and spicy, and much more subdued with more fruit and less complexity.  For this reason, I give the 03 a STRONG BUY and the 05 a HOLD.

Big Love means Petite Sirah.  This sneaky grape, aslso known as Durif, makes for some wild wine.  The 06 Dynamite Hills comes frmo 65 year old vines in York Creek, and I had a really hard time getting a nose.  It had some chewy smoked almond flavors, with salted plums (you know, those Asian dried salted thingys) and firm tannins.  Not my fave.  It’s 03 counterpart was more to my liking with blackberry and plum compote, with smoke and blackpepper, black fruit and spice.

Part of the joy of discovering wine is tasting the same wine, with different vintages, side by side.  I adore verticals, and you should try your own!  Wine is a living creature, and develops over time.  Something for the better, sometimes not, but how will you know unless you try?  See what happened to Dave Tong of Santa Cruz Mountains wine Blog when he tasted the older vintages?  I rest my case.

Of course, Dave's British so he's already a little crazy but...

I really love doing these pairings, and special thanks to Christopher for having us and putting out the good cheese!

EAVB_FUGBYPFPAP

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Please excuse my dust…

June 28, 2010

Freshly back from the 2010 Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla, Washington, my laptop is dead my brain is overloaded.

Stay tuned as I learn how best to blog from my iPad, and await the return of a working laptop!

Chile is HOT!

May 26, 2009

wines of chileI’ve been talking a lot recently about value wines, and where you can find good value and good wine.  Chile happens to be one such place.  I’ve written about that here, here, here and here.  Oh yeah, and here too.

Recently, RF Binder and the Wines of Chile people put together a premier tasting for bloggers, where we had the winemakers, the wine players, and the wine bloggers participating in an online tasting including a video uplink to Chile.  I have to say, this was one of the most enjoyable live tasting events I’ve done in a while.

We blew threw them extremely quickly, but here are my tasting notes:

Emiliana Natura Sauvignon Blanc 2008 – this wine is from the Casablanca Valley in Chile, which is one of the fastest growing areas for viticulture in Chile, especially for Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.   These varietals thrive in the cool growing region, which is known for high acidity and fresh fruit aromas.  The proximity to the ocean make the climate mild, with no extreme temperature extremes.

I found this wine very enjoyable, and a GREAT deal at $10.99, and even better deal for less.   It was grassy on the nose, reminiscent of New Zealand sauvignon blancs, but was followed by crisp citrus fruit and green apple.  My Aussie friend who was tasting me is normally a NZ Sav Blanc drinker, but she said “super yummy!” which is high praise indeed!  This bottle did not last the night, because we kept going back to it.  Emiliana has two lines, and the Natura is from the Organically grown line.  They are certified organic grapes, and this is one of the best examples of a successfully made organic wine that I hvae had in a while.  Run, don’t walk to stock up on this summer sipper.

STRONG BUY

Cono Sur Visión Pinot Noir 2008say what you will about California Pinot Noir, this wine was NOT good.  I don’t find it old world, and I don’t find it good.  I’ve had several Pinot Noirs from Chile to see if I can find ONE that I like but alas, I still have not.

The Colchauga Valley region is the 2nd largest appellation in Chile, and is typically known for Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Malbec and Syrah.

I did not find much complexity in this wine, and found it flat and dusty.  It had notes of sour cherries, and I found it muddy.  It was decidedly better at the end of the evening in a 2nd taste, but even at $15, I’d have to give this wine an avoid.

AVOID if you like New World Pinot

Los Vascos Reserve 2006 – interestingly, this is one of the wines I tasted a while ago and found to be terrible.  It goes to show you, that anything can happen in transport, and I can clearly say that the previous bottle i tasted was off because I really enjoyed this wine. It is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Carmenere, 10% Syrah, and 5% Malbec so it’s a bit of a mutt.  However the $20.99 price tag makes it’s an affordable luxury in a Bordeaux Blend not from Bordeaux.  It is also from the Colchuagua Valley, and is a house of Domaines Barons de Rothchild Lafite.

I found it to have a lot of red fruit, followed by a strong backbone of tobacco and earth, with a touch of green pepper.  I normally don’t like green pepper in my wine, bu tthis was balanced.  There was a lot of dusty cocoa and deep dark brooding personality under there.  The second day, i had a glass of this with dinner.  It was even smoother, and had mellowed out nicely

STRONG BUY

Santa Carolina Reserva de Familia Carmenere 2007 – let me start out by saying that Carmere is not a personal favorite of mine.  I find them too smokey and vegetal for my liking, but I actually did enjoy the Santa carolina.  With 5% Petite Verdot thrown in, I think that the overwhelmingness of the Carmenere was subdued.  This wine comes from the Rapel Valley, which is the largest of the fine wine areas in Chile.  The climate and soil types vary widely, so we really have several micro-appelations in one larger one, much like the greater Napa Valey.  Merlot is the classic varietal grown here, and the Colchagua valley sub-appelation is within the Rapel appelation.  The fruit for this Carmemere is grown in two vineyards, from different sub-appellations of the Rapel, and is aged in French oak for 12-14 months.

This is a HUGE wine!  I wish I had decanted it for a while, instead of just opening it 30 minutes prior to tasting.  There was a lot of dark fruit, and spicy pepper and black licorice.  It was quite smooth, and I actually liked it – surprising for a carmenere!  It lacked the overwhelming smokiness that I don’t like, and at $14.99, I would try this wine again after decanting for a while.

BUY

Errázuriz Single Vineyard Carmenere 2007 – for the 2nd carmenere of the evening, we move to the Aconcagua Valley.  This is a new regoin, planted in the early 1990s, and is known for it’s extended dry season and moderate summers.  This is primarily Carmenere country, and winemakers here strive to keep the fruit ripening well in to the fall, to minimize the herbaceous tendencies of Carmenere and expand the fruit flavors.

The Single Vineyard Carmenere is 3% Shiraz, and was aged in 100% Oak which was split between American and French for about 12 months.  I found it less enjoyable than the Santa Carolina, and much more smoky.  It was very peppery and had tons of green pepper.  At this price point – $26, I would prefer a differetn selection from Chile.  I like my green veggies on my plate not my glass!

BUY ONLY IF ON SALE

Undurraga T.H. Syrah 2007 – ok yeah. YUM!  I loved this wine, even if it was a bold fruity syrah and not terribly complex.  It was the 2nd bottle that completely gone on the tasting night.  It comes from the Limari Valley, and even with it’s $24 pricetag, I think it’s worth it.  The Limari Valley is 250 miles north of Santiago, and just south the driest place on earth.  Because of the dryness, drip irrigation is the rule.  The limestone bed under the valley’s clay soil is ideal for white wines.  the cool climate helps grapes to ripen slowly, producing classically crisp and acidic wines.

I really loved this wine.  It had huge red berry flavors, followed by chocolate and cocoa.  It was soft and lush, with a vibrant undertone.

STRONG BUY

Haras Character Cabernet Sauvignon – Carmenere 2006 – This is an interesting blend, of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Carmenere, 9% Cabernet Franc, and 7% Syrah.  It comes from the Maipo Valley region, with is located between two mountain ranges:  the Andes and the Coastal Mountains.  Most vineyards are located above 2000 feet, where the temperature variants develop rich and complex wines.

It had a ton of smoke, tobacco and leather.  It was very vegetal, and not bad but not really my style.  For $21, there were other Chilean Cab blends that I would buy over this.  This was ok, but nothing to write home about

BUY IF ON SALE

Veramonte Primus 2006 – this lvoely Cab-Syrah blend was 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Syrah, 17% Merlot, and 16% Carmenère.  It alos comes from the Colchagua valley, and I really enjoyed this blend.  The 2006 season produced intensely concentrated fruits, and this wine really shows that off.

It was rich and bold, with tons of spice.  I also tasted lots of dark fruit and full raspberry flavors, with a big body that was beautiful the next day.  It was well worth the $20 price tag.

STRONG BUY

All in all, Chile has some GREAT finds!  I encourage you to get out and try several to see what your style is.  In the Bay Area, some great resources are Cost Plus (World Market) and Costco, but also try your local retailers.  Chile is HOT!

Bring on the BACON! Yes I said bacon.

April 24, 2009

When the box first arrived in my mail room at the office, I was slightly scared that someone was playing a bad joke on me.  Or just didn’t like me very much.  Or I had really made it big in the wine blogging world.

Why you ask?  Well, the box that I received was stamped, in large size letters, “Trinchero Family Estates”.  Now, for me, when I hear Trinchero, I either think of my friends parents and their dinner parties with Vera, or I think with shock and horror of the Sutter Home domination of the white zinfandel market.  To say I’m not a fan of the pink stuff is being too kind.  I hate it!  I abhor it!  It’s worse than Sunny Delight, a product that though is made of juice, tastes nothing like it.  So goes my thoughts of the wines of the Home.

That said, the history of Sutter Home and therefore White Zinfandel, is a good one.  At a time when most vineyards were ripping out Zinfandel, which has now become American’s Hertiage Grape, Sutter Home and a handful of other wineries, kept hte vineyards by making sweet pink wine for the masses.  For that I give them kudos, as I really like a good RED (yes there really is only one) Zinfandel.

Now, back to the story.  When I got the dreaded box back to my desk, I knew I couldn’t wait until I got home, and ripped it open right away.  WOW!  Was I happily surprised!  Inside, came a 4-pack of samples from the new Napa Valley winery, Napa Cellars.  Now, when I was asked if I wanted to try these wines, having never heard of them, I said of course.  I’d love to try a new winery.  This goes to show you, even this jaded fool can be swayed by good marketing efforts.

So the first wine I opened from this lot was the 2006 Napa Cellars Napa Valley Syrah.  This is a winery exclusive, but you can find the tasting room int he same building as Foie a Deux, in Oakville.  The fruit was sourced from Carneros, which is a cooler climate for syrah and the first thing I noticed when I sipped the dark deep brooding wine was that it was classically cool climate.  This was not a hot Dry Creek fruit forward syrah.  A cool climate syrah takes longer to ripe, which gives it a longer hangtime, which producers a more intense wine.

I found this a very rich and dark syrah, and was a bit difficult to drink at first.  I definitely suggest decanting this beast.  At first it h

ad bittersweet chocolate notes, with currents and dried plums.  I also tasted smoked meats, which is why this is being posted on my Bacon Friday post!  There was a tasty bit of anise, and soy sauce – which normally your wouldn’t like in a wine, but here it fit in well.  There was a nice finish of black pepper and blackberries.

After enjoying a glass on the first night, I decided that I would let it air out over night.  Normally, i would decant such a wine, but sometimes being a single girl has it’s downfalls.  It’s easier for me to leave a bottle open sans VacUVin than it is to decant, since I can store it more readily for further consumption.  On night 2, even having enjoyed the meaty wine on night 1, I enjoyed it more.  I tasted more espresso and molasses, along with minerally black pepper and cedar.  I also tasted a lovely black cheery note, with hints of leather and campfire smoke.

I really enjoyed this wine, and it’s a great big giant meaty syrah.  I would pair this with steak if I ate steak, but I enjoyed it with a BAPT (Bacon Alv

acado Provolone Turkey) sandwich.  This wine retails for $34, and is available at the winery.  Why not go by and check it out?

A Folio of wines!

April 15, 2009

There is something so alluring about a tasting room that offers several different wineries tasting in one convenient location.  Folio Winemakers Studio is one such place, and I popped int here one afternoon to do some tasting, since I happened to be stopping by.

First, a little history on Folio.  Folio Winemakers Studio pours many brands, and is home to I’M (Isabel Mondavi), Oberon, Hangtime, Medusa, Spellbound and Mayro-Murdick wines.  It was founded by the Michael Mondavi family in 2004.  If you’re not sure which branch of the family tree Michael is on, it is the Robert Mondavi tree that sprouts these roots.  Michael is Robert’s oldest son, and it was together that they founded the Napa Valley dynasty known as Robert Mondavi Winery.  Now, five years after the sale of that winery, Michael has this new venture.  Folio houses the Michael Mondavi home brands, but they are

I have been to Folio on a couple of occasions, but none of them compare to this trip.  My Twitter friend, Lessley VanHoutan (@foliowinemakers) kept asking me when I would get up there to visit, so I finally took advantage of her offer and was treated like royalty!  I arrived with Russ the Winehiker and The Brix Chicks in tow, and proceed to spend the better part of an afternoon relaxing and chatting away as we tasting through most of the reds.

I started with a flight of pinots, being my passion, but then couldn’t stop and kept moving down the list.  It just got better and better, so without further ado, here are my highlights:

2005 Mayro Murdick Santa Lucia Highlands – Rich, cloves & spice.  Bright cherries and cola.

2004 Trinitas Mataro – blending with Petite Sirah, and a touch of Black Malbesie (I’m sure I spelled that wrong since I can’t find it on Able Grape!)  This was one of my faves.  Blueberries, blackberries, dark bark.  Dark chocolate.  I had to take one home.

2005 Hangtime Mounts Vineyard Syrah – Because it came from one of my favorite small vineyards in Sonoma, I just HAD to try this syrah.  Of course, I was not disappointed.  Inky rich, cocoa deliciousness.  Also came home with me.

2005 Oberon Oso Vineyard Pope Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – aged in 100% new French Oak, this was not my favorite cab, but it was a good value and tasty.

2006 Embelem Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon – Rutherford cabs are my weakness!  This is a new label, and was generously poured pre-release.  WOW!  Chocolate, deep rich sipping wine.  Classic Napa Cab but not overpowering.  Very appellation specific and clearly showed the Rutherford dust.  I will be back to buy this baby.

2005 Medusa Old Vine Zinfandel – easy drinking, smokey, food friendly zin.  This was not a fruit bomb but was simply lovely.

With over 30 wines to pour, I highly recommend you stop by and try a few for yourself!  I am headed back up there this weekend, and plan to try some of the whites, which I just skipped over since I couldn’t taste them all.

Thanks again to Lessley for a great time and see you soon!

Folio Winemakers Studio is located in Carneros, at 1285 Dealy Lane.  This is just past Domaine Carneros, and a short drive from both Sonoma Valley and Napa.

Secrets revealed! Lose weight with wine!

April 1, 2009

Dateline – Biggest Loser Ranch, Tustin CA

Source say Gillian is now force feeding her team red wine.  That’s right, that mystery concoction that everyone told you will make you fat, will make you thin!  I found this proof on the internet:

Before wine diet

Reverse-It-All, the secret ingredient in red wine, has been found to increase your endurance as well as cut weight and reduce the risk of diabetes.  Reverse-it-all also activates the wonder twin powers, in the form of the longevity gene.  Reverse-It-All is only found in the skins of red wine grapes, so I encourage you to use your red and pink wine intake accordingly.

After wine diet

While skeptics state that you would need to drink hundreds of glasses of red wine in order to reap the benefits of Reverse-It-All, I am here to prove them wrong.  According to the renowned Bacon expert, Rick Bakas, “Wine doesn’t make you fat, it makes you lean…..against a wall, a chair, the floor, other people….”.  Therefore, I am going to experiment with the Red Wine Diet.

The key to this diet is the judicious use of a good red wine.  For my first week of dieting, I meandered through Chile, starting with the Viu Manent Secreto Malbec 2006 You can see the full review by clicking through.   This Malbec is a chewy wine, that brings notes of smoked meats and leather.  Chewing your wine 40 times before swallowing has been shown to fill you up faster.

First, you start with this rich red wine.  Pour yourself a glass.  Sip it slowly, enjoying the full flavors.  If you are having trouble picking out taste profiles, pour yourself another glass.  Repeat.  At NO TIME may you eat real food while on this diet.  It is very important that you drink an entire bottle each night, in order to get the correct amounts of Reverse-It-All flowing in your system.

If you are having hunger pangs, I would suggest that you try a critter label, such as Pink Goat.  The critters on the label are actually steeped in the wine, which should help you get your protein levels stabilized.  This wine hails from Chile as well, and is made from the blood of real goats.  This will provide you some protein, and help tide you over until you can eat real food again.

Alternatively, if you are searching for divine inspiration with your wine diet, try the Montes Cherub Rose of Syrah.  This traditional Syrah Rose is refreshing and will help fill you up, while having a cherub sprinkle you with good luck.

For the complete details of The Red Wine Diet, please refer to the user guide, which is available on Amazon.com.

Hospitali-teed off!

February 24, 2009

This weekend, I was fortunate enough to find myself in Napa, celebrating Lisa’s (@winedivergirl) housewarming.  Since I was staying the night, we had planned to go wine tasting the next day with our friend Brian from The Roger Smith Hotel (@bsimi), who was visiting from New York. When we got going on the rainy winter Sunday, we opted to start with some bubbles, so Lisa took us on over to Domaine Chandon.  Now, I know this winery well.  I have been there many times.  I buy their sparklers int he grocery store – a LOT. 

As we pulled in to the winery, the river passing through the property was a bit wild, which really should have warned us of the impending visit.  As we walked through the retail store, several employees were milling about,  did greet us on entry.  As we made our way upstairs, we saw that while the tasting bar was hopping, it was not busy.  I did see immediately, that there were only 2 employees working the whole bar – which normally would not be surprising, but if you’ve seen this tasting bar, you can easily line up 25 people along the perimeter.

Ok fine, so they were short staffed.  I thought, no problem, there is an opening at the bar, so we’ll side up and look at the menu, assuming the bartender will come by at some point.  And bartender is what they are – Chandon does not offer traditional tastings, but instead offers flights of 2 different sparkling levels, still wines, as well as champagne cocktails.  Having decided on our beverages, we tried to flag down one of the two staff members for assistance.  NO such luck.  We stood.  We waited.  We waited some more.

15 minutes in to this, we mutually decided to high tail it out of there.  Now I know that as an industry rep, a wine blogger, and a hotel beverage manager, we might have high expectations for customers service, but this was just RIDICULOUS.  To not even acknowledge our presence with a simple “I’ll be right with you” set me over the edge. What made this experience worse was that as we walked out, the Chatty Cathys in the retail shop didn’t even say goodbye, or why are you leaving, or anything.  They just ignored us.

Meanwhile, as we headed over to micro winery Elizabeth Spencer, we were fuming.  Inside the tiny tasting room, everything about our day began to change.  We were greeted.  We were smiled at.  We were talked to.  Vanessa INTERACTED with us.  Once she found out we were tradespeople, she asked us about what we did.  She showed me a very cool iPhone app, and she talked to us about the wines.  This experience was so lovely, Lisa even joined the wine club!  I bought a bottle of syrah.  Oh and the wine was delicious!

Feeling redeemed, we even ventured over to Rubicon Estate.  Known for it’s outrageous tasting fees but beautiful grounds, we were at once welcomed by the greeter.  Even after we asked for their trade tasting policy, they treated us as valued guests.  OK< so the guy at the tasting bar was a little stiff, but his coworker truly appreciated my rubber chicken and her escapades.  After Rubicon and some lunch, we made another stop, this time at Miner Family Wines.  While Miner was serviceable, we were basically abandoned after we identified ourselves as members of the trade.  While I realize that many tasting rooms recoup costs by charging for tastings, I feel that $25 is excessive.  If I can avoid paying for a tasting fee by utilizing my connections, that is $25 more i can spend on wine.  Wouldn’t you rather have me buy wine and tell my friends about it then ignore us for the sake of a few bucks that day?

OK now I know they are less likely to get us to buy wine on the first visit, or join the wine club.  But the last time i checked, my American Excess card was just as good as someone else’s.  This is a rookie mistake, because if i were buying for a party or for a hotel, i would certainly not want to buy their wine, based solely on this experience.

Just a note to you winery reps out there – the moral of this story is that one ounce of great service like Elizabeth Spencer, is worth 100 pounds of gold in FREE marketing.  I am telling everyone I know about Elizabeth Spencer, and that they need to go there and talk to Vanessa.  I am also telling everyone to run screaming from Chandon, since you can go to Safeway to get the wines and have a better experience.

Clearly Chandon doesn’t get it.  Clearly Elizabeth Spencer does.  Kudos for the latter for understanding how to treat it’s customers, whether we buy today, tomorrow or not at all.  Apparently, this is somewhat rampant at other established sparkling houses – see Shana’s post on Korbel!

Open that Bottle already!

February 24, 2009

Have you ever wanted an excuse to open a special bottle of wine you have been holding on to, but just can’t quite bring yourself to crack?  Now is your chance!

Saturday, February 28th, marks the annual Open That Bottle Night celebration, an event started by that wine writing couple from the Wall Street Journal – Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher. In the late 1990s, OTBN was born as an opportunity encourage their readers not to be intimidated by their wine, and to open a significant bottle and share their stories.

Since wine blogging has exploded int he last year or so, I am partnering with Vinquire (my other wine obsession) and Wilson Daniels, along with twitter Taste Live, to open some tasty treats and share with you.  Wilson Daniels is a full services sales & marketing company, which represents brands from throughout the US as well as internationally.  Having worked with them on Passion for Pinot as well as this event, I am impressed by their quality of product as well as service.  Check them out!

I will be blending wine earlier in the day, but around 6pm PT / 9pm ET, please join me on Twitter (@vinquire) to hear about the following wines, generously provided by Wilson Daniels.  If you can’t play along, check out The Jug Shop or your favorite retailer, and participate from your sofa, easy chair, or corkage free restaurant!  If you are having trouble locating the wines, please click the links below, which will take you to our Vinquire search page.

Hope you can all join us!  By the way, I found out about a nifty new Twitter tool.  Have you tried Tweet Grid?  This cool little app lets you follow along with hashtags like #ttl.  It auto refreshes too!

Jumping frogs, Twisted wines, and Sneaky Syrah

February 19, 2009

Who needs romantic candlelit dinners?  Who needs chocolate and sweet nothings?  Not me.  I had a much better Valentine’s Day weekend, spend slurping the good stuff in one of the hottest new wine regions of California, Calaveras County.

My first visits to this area were whizzing by Douglas Flat on the way to go skiing at Bear Valley or Dodge Ridge.  Then, as I got older, we would take summer trips to Sonora and Jackson to learn about the Gold Rush history.   Last fall, however, my eyes were opened when I took my first trip to Murphys to go wine tasting.  I had my first taste of wine from this area, and fell in love.

First, a little history, just so I can shake off all of you lurkers and get the real readers in here.  OK just kidding!  The name Calaveras is Spanish for “skulls”, which is probably from the bones found by the Spanish Captain, Gabriel Moraga.  Calaveras County also gained notieraity when Mark Twain wrote the short storyThe Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County“.  The area was settled

The town of Murphys, with some 15 tasting rooms on Main Street, was settled during the Gold Rush by – spoiler alert – brothers Daniel and John Murphy.  They ran the local supply store, where they became rich off of the prospectors who needed supplies. Now, with it’s cluster of tasting rooms on a short meander, Murphys’ tasting rooms take you on a history walk through town, while enjoying some fabulous wine.

Wine has been made in these parts since the late 1800s, to supply the growing towns and miners with their elixirs.  Much like Amador County, immigrants brought the wine making techniques with them.  While certain other areas of the state are more well known, I think that Calaveras County will continue to grow (but not too much) and develop in to a wine power, while maintaining it’s small town charm.  This area is idea for growing Spanish and Rhone varietals, as it is very hot and dry in the summer, with snow and true winter in the later months.  As such, we tasted several Viogniers, Grenaches and Syrahs.  There is also a long history of Zinfandel being grown in these parts, and the oldest known zin planting is a 110 year old vineyard producing some potent juice!  Part of the allure of Murphys is that the tasting rooms are intimate, it’s rarely crowded (except for a bad experience with a bus of retirees from Modesto), the people are genuinely happy to see you, and there are great wines at amazing prices.  Have I mentioned that most wineries do not charge a tasting fee?  If they do, it’s rarely more than a few dollars and worth every cent.

Some fothe highlights of my weekend were:

  • Twisted Oak Presidents in Lust Dinner – This dinner, which humorously combines Presidents Day with Valentines Day, offered scrumptious treats by Sugar & Spice Catering in Jackson, paired with the best of Twisted Oak’s library wines.  My favorite pairing of the night was the Chipolte Tomato Bisque served with the 2004 Grenache.  It’s true, I have left my heart at Twisted Oak!
  • Tanner Vineyards – Tanner shares the supreme talents of Scott “Fermento the Magnificent” Klann, Twisted Oak’s winemaker and resident cool dude.  Tanner makes outstanding Syrah from thier own vineyard, as well as Petite Verdot and a Rhone blend called Mélange de Mère, a blend of Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Petite Verdot.
  • Lavender Ridge – is located in a historical storefront on Main Street, and offers cheese pairings with their wine.  I really enjoyed their Viognier paired with a nice triple creme!
  • Broll Mountain – some new friends that Brix Chick Liza and I met at ZAP work part time at the Broll tasting room, and we popped in to see them. Why hadn’t I popped in before!  Another great example of Sierra Foothills syrah.
  • Chatom – is slightly outsideo f town, near the Twisted Oak winery in Vallecito.  I had to drag Liza in there, but it was well worth it for the live music and wines in they were pouring.  The She Wines Red, a nice red blend, was a great every day wine for less than $10.
  • Ironstone (reserve selections only) – this behemouth is a huge event center, but if you stick to the reserve table, I found some gems.  I really liked the Christine Andrew Chard, and with the sale price of a whopping $11.99, I should have taken home more.  The Reserve Old Vine Zin from Lodi was what our hostess Shoshona referred to as a “dirty wine”, which was deep, dark, rich and filled with chocolate covered cherries.  I would reccomend a trip to Ironstone for a taste of these wines.  Their regular line is average and affordable, but these reserve wines are speical and offer amazing QPR.
  • Renner – is the newest kid on the block.  We hit them on a whim on the way back down 4.  Renner is located in a faux old west style town, in Copperopolis.  As we pulled in, we had the tasting room to ourselves, and were happy to discover that they own the Canterbury Vineyard where the viognier we had with dinner the night before came from.  They also make 2 syrahs that were wonderful, and were offering one of the syrahs by the case for $9 a bottle.  If we’re looking at QPR here, this one is out of this world.  For a weeknight sipper, this is a steal so walk, don’t run.  The regular price is still affordable at $18, but this special sprice was stunning.

As we wrapped up our wine soaked weekend, I had amassed quite a collection of wine, but it was very easy on the wallet.  First off, you are not paying for Napa real estate so wineires are able to pass that savings on to the cosumer.  Additionally, in conjunction with the event weekend, we were able to get several “special sales” and allowed us to buy more wine!

Thank you Murphys for a fantastic sweekend, and can’t wait tos ee you nex ttime.

I don't taste and tell, except for you!

February 18, 2009

As some of you might know, I am trying to be a winemaker.  No, I don’t have carboys set up in the garage, and no I’m not living in the lap of luxury in Sonoma.  I am lucky enough to live in a city that has it’s own community custom crush facility, Crushpad.

I am part of a winemaking crew where I am making a Dry Creek zinfandel with a group of people, which is one of the great services Crushpad offers.  We were blending our finished zin with a variety of components, and we were able to decide how we wanted our finished product to come out.  Initially, we tried the control sample of our 2007 Grist Vineyard Zinfandel, which is a jammy, bright, and powerful zin.  Then, we tried a control sample of some petite sirah.  Once we tasted the components, we were able to think about what proportion of Petite Sirah we wanted to add to our zin, which we were hoping would add some depth of flavor, as well as a little backbone.

First, we tried a 5% Petite Sirah and 95% Zinfandel blend.  We all agreed that this was too much, as the Petite overpowered the subtlety of the zinfandel and we lost it’s character.  Then, our consulting winemaker Kian Tavakol suggested we try a different Zinfandel.  This zin was from the Beatty Ranch on Howell Mountain in Napa.  This vineyard is at 1800 feet and offers a completely different experience from Dry Creek.  These wines have a deeper black fruit and chocolate overtone, which is absolutely amazing.  I had a sample side by side with the Grist, and while totally different, they were both amazing.

Now that we had tried the control samples, a 5% blend, and a new zinfandel, we mixed it up by adding some of the Beatty Ranch zin to the mix.  Kian guided us to do a 2.5% Beatty Ranch Zin, 2.5% Petite Sirah, and 95% Grist Zin blend, which allowed us to keep our vineyard designate on the label.  We also tried another blend, which had a bit less Petite Sirah, but no Beatty zin.  The first test was not blind, and we were having a hard time deciding what we liked most.  Initially we were set on keeping the Beatty out of it, but then Kian played a trick on us.  He sent us out of the room, and presented the blends to us again, but this time blind.

When we came back in the room and tasted the wines again, we still loved them.  However, being blind, we had no idea which wine was what.  Most of us were completely convinced that sample B was our Dry Creek zin with no Beatty.  We were fooled, but we knew that sample B was our favorite.  It turns out, this was the 2.5% PS / 2.5% Beatty / 95% Grist!  We were all very happy with our final blend, and left Crushpad feeling giddy with delight that our zin would be bottled in a month, for us to take home and admire.

If you would like to blend you own wine at home, check out Fusebox, a custom wine blending kit in a box!