Tuesday, December 23, 2008

$10 Tuesday: White Cotes du Rhone

We've been on the prowl for some good ten dollar wines, and this week's selection is an interesting wine with, an arguably even more interesting website. I knew nothing about this producer when I selected the M. Chapoutier Belleruche other than that it was Côtes du Rhône, and there was Braille on the label. I thought there was probably a story there but, the main selling point was the ten dollar price tag.

It turns out that the Braille has special significance due to the historical connection to Maurice Monier de La Sizeranne, the inventor of the first version of abbreviated Braille. Under a tab labeled "Convictions," we also learn that M. Chapoutier adheres to a "demanding" biodynamic cultivation method.

M. Chapoutier Belleruche Vin Blanc

Vintage: 2007
Appellation: Côtes du Rhône
Grape Varieties: hand-harvested White Grenache, Clairette and Bourboulenc
Alcohol: 13.5%
Price: $10-$12
Aromas: Pear, melon, pineapple, citrus zest
Flavors: mineral, citrus, apple

Summary: Pleasant aromas give way to a nicely balanced wine with full mouthfeel and clean acidity. During dinner, I kept finding my glass empty, and I also noticed that I was refilling it often. Yes, this is a refreshing and tasty wine. All this for ten bucks? How do they do it?!


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Chianti Classico

On our last visit to Ceres Street Wine Merchants last fall, I asked David for his recommendation for a Chianti Classico. Knowing David’s reputation for carrying great wines, I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed.

The Castle of Verrazzano is located on a hilltop in the Chianti Classico region. The vineyards are farmed organically with mechanical weed control and hand cultivation. The vine production is kept low by culling inferior bunches of grapes through the growing season. Harvest is also done manually.

The grapes are fermented in smaller batches and aged in small and medium oak barrels. Bottles are cellared under the castle providing excellent temperature control.

Keep in mind that this is Chianti Classico, not Chianti. You will expect a much higher quality wine with Chianti Classico as we have previously discussed.

Chianti Classico DOCG
Castello di Verrazzano

Vintage: 2005
Alcohol: 13.5%
Price: $33.00

Color: Garnett
Intensity: Dark
Aromas: Cherry, hay, raspberry, cassis, earth, mild European oak.
Flavors: Cherry, elderberry, cassis, mineral, anise, licorice, black pepper, coffee, tobacco,
Body: Full
Acidity: Moderate
Sweetness: Dry
Tannins: Leather
Finish: Long

Summary: This is moderately complex wine as you would expect for a Chianti Classico. The aromas and flavors are bold and present. It stands up well with food. It has good tannin structure and should be enjoyed now and for the next three to five years.

We are having this tonight with B’s pizza. I’d have this with Mexican, grilled stake, salty foods, red pasta dishes, baby back ribs, eggplant parmesan, chocolate covered asiago, or Ciappino.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Well Wishes $2 You | Pistachio

At this festive time of year with so many libation choices, it's important to remember that in many parts of the world, children don't even have access to clean drinking water. Today on Twitter, @Pistachio is running the an interesting charity experiment:

I’d be so incredibly stoked to see 12,500 tiny donations from all over the web come together to make my Well Wishes dream come true… It just takes $2. Won’t you?Well Wishes $2 You | Pistachio, Dec 2008

I donated--it's easy. You should read the whole article.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Revisiting a Favorite

Our infatuation with the Monferrato began a year ago last October at the Boony Doon Vineyard tasting room. I remember Taster A and I both taking a sniff, looking at each other, and exclaiming "rose!" in unison. It was a striking wine. We brought two bottles home and tucked them away for a special someday.

When challenged to write up a wine in seven words for Wine Blogging Wednesday #42, the choice was easy: What better choice than a wine that I kept going back to in my memory? Again, when we came up with our Best Wines of the year list, the Monferrato was on the short list.

I was in a celebratory mood over the weekend having finally finished my holiday shopping, and also having received my new Instinct phone on the same day. Since we will be back in the vicinity of the Santa Cruz mountains soon, I proposed opening one of our dear bottles.

The Verdict: One Year Later
The rose is still there but, it has moved off the nose and onto the palate. The nose is more toward concentrated pomegranate and blackberry now. The flavor, however, from start to finish is all rose with a little mid-palate red fruit and some pepper on the finish. Alas, it's not the same anymore but, I'm not ready to demote it from the sublime list just yet. It's still an interesting wine even if it has become more subdued in some respects. The bloom is definitely not off the rose yet.

Taster A and I must go back to Boony Doon's tasting room in December and taste it there again...and replenish our stock while we're at it!


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

$10 Tuesday: California Viognier

A lot of people are asking for good wines under $10 these days and we want to give the people what they want! Hopefully, we will be able to find some good values without sacrificing on quality...

So far, so good with this Cline 2007 California Viognier. When wine is classified as "California" the grapes can be a blend from growing areas all over the state so maybe this isn't going to be a preemo example of terroir but, what do you expect for ten bucks!?

The nose is a burst of blossomy orange blossom, pear, and a hint of grapefruit zest and butter. It has a nice richness of viscosity yet refreshing acidity. It also has a pleasant amount of sweetness while still seeming relatively dry.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed sipping this wine even on a cold December night! Of course, the true test of wine is how it stands up to food and it passed the test there as well. Excellent with cheese and crackers or lighter fare such as poultry or fish. Definitely an enjoyable wine for any time of year.


Region: California
Vintage: 2007
Alcohol: 14%
Price: $10
Aromas: orange blossom, pear, grapefruit zest, butter
Flavors: floral, apple, pear, citrus

Three cheers for saving money!!


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tinto from Rioja DDOc

I had my cold a week earlier than B, so I’m back in the saddle. Tonight we are popping open a Tinto from Rioja.

Rioja was Spain’s First Rioja Denominación de Origen Calificada, a higher classification than D.O. Rioja is in Spain’s North East corner and approximately 1500 to 2000 feet above sea level. The average temperature during the growing season is 62F with approximately 18 inches of rain per years. The region has fine red clay soils.

Tonight, we tried a Tinto from this region with a simple pasta dish with olive oil, onions, artichoke hearts, tomato, toasted pine nuts, parmesan cheese and garlic bread.

Cortijo III
Rioja Denominación de Origen Calificada
Tempranillo 80%, Granacha 20%
Vintage: 2007
Alcohol: 13.5%
Price: $12.00

Color: Garnet
Intensity: Medium
Aromas: Cherry, herb, mushroom, chocolate
Flavors: Cherry, strawberry, cranberry, licorice, anise, allspice, chocolate
Body: medium
Acidity: Tart
Sweetness: Dry
Tannins: Soft
Finish: Moderately long

Summary: This has a nose that reminds me of the garrigue of Côtes du Rhône. The color of the wine is not unlike the King’s purple. It is not a big wine, but it does have bold berry and spice flavors. I don’t consider this to be a wine to be enjoyed without food. It’s too acid for that. However with the right food, it will serve as a decent table wine. This is primarily a Tempranillo. At 20% the Granacha is there, but is waiting in the wings like the under utilized understudy.

The wine is not overly complex, but is bold in its spiciness.

I'd say this wine would do well with Mediterranean food, lamb, baba ghanoush, or with Mexican, Greek or something with Portuguese Linguisa. Or, perhaps some nice spicy tapas like we had with our last Rioja.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tasting Impaired.

more animals

Actually, I'm still too sick to taste wine. Please check back soon...


Monday, December 8, 2008

Yeast Q&A with Hanzell's Consulting Winemaker

First, please forgive the lapse in posting. I've been "out sick." Now, back to our regularly scheduled program... I read an interesting round-table discussion about yeast in a 2006 WineBusiness.com interview with Michael Terrien, Peter Anderson, and Larry Biagi. I had a few questions of my own about the role of native yeast in wine-making, so I contacted Mr. Terrien to get his thoughts. Michael is currently Consulting Winemaker with Hanzell Vineyards.

SLG: I've visited Sonoma and Napa during crush a couple of times and noticed that the entire valley seems to become saturated with the aroma of yeast at that time of year. I also noticed the same aroma coming off the nose of several wines I sampled there last October.

What can you tell me about how yeast affects the aromas in wine, and what do you make of this similarity I noted between the smell in the glass and in the air?

MT: Wine is made from grapes and yeast. Often, it is aged in barrels too. It should not surprise you to smell the aroma of yeast in the bottled wine, no more than finding it is possible to identify the ingredients of grapes and oak. The first responsibility of the yeast is to turn the grape sugars into alcohol. The wonderfully aromatic bi-products of this metabolism contribute to the identity of wine, from fruity esters to funky sulfides.

SLG: Are you aware of whether any study has been done in Sonoma County to determine which ambient yeast strains wafting through the valley during harvest/crush are dominant, and whether commercial strains are dominant outside of the cellar? If not, do you see such data as being pertinent?

MT: I am not aware of such as study in Sonoma, but Sonoma County is enormous and encompasses great diversity both in climate and soil type. If don't believe a survey of wine-yeast would turn up county-wide dominant strains that are any different than in other wine-growing regions, but it might be possible to isolate some unique ones. But I think I understand what you are getting at: have industrially-produced yeasts affected native fermentations outside the wineries that use them? I suspect so. This would only matter to those winemakers who claim their wines are unique because of the yeast.

SLG: How big a factor do you think yeast is compared to other factors such as soil, in the outcome of the final product in terms of flavor and complexity?

MT: Yeast can and do influence wine flavor (as well as color and mouthfeel) to some degree, but it isn't usually the only source of difference. An extreme counter-example is a wine that has fermented with a yeast called Brettanomyces. The aromatic compounds resulting from such spoilage can be truly disgusting, with a bouquet of horse manure. But by and large the results of fermentation with the acceptable wine yeasts in the Saccharmoyces family are modest in comparison. In my experience there are far more influential factors on a wine than the yeast: vineyard and vintage are both readily apparent in a wine more so than yeast; and certainly farming practices such as leaf-removal or winemaker decisions such as whole-cluster maceration or the proportion of new oak can be observed in the final wine while the yeast choice is at best a point of speculation.

SLG: Why do some wine-makers choose to ferment with various native strains separately and then blend later? What limitations do you see with that technique?

MT: Each fermentation vessel, be it a tank of barrel, is its own unique environment. The native flora resident in the inside surface of the vessel, or residing on the grapes will compete for the nutrients in must. Some microbes will defeat others, and flavors will diverge from what one might assume casually are identical fermentations. With these divergent fermentations a winemaker has more 'ingredients' to work with when it comes time to assemble the blend. This level of attention is more likely associated with making small batches of wine. It is not scalable.

SLG: Please tell us a little bit about your wine-making philosophy and the main differentiators between your philosophy and the philosophies at both ends of the spectrum from zero manipulation to consistency through science.

MT: Hanzell has a well-deserved reputation for cellar-worthiness, both for the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The philosophy informing the winemaking techniques through the five decades of Hanzell's history has always been in service to this reputation. I think it is particularly fascinating to understand just how technologically inclined and innovative Hanzell's founder James Zellerbach and his winemaker Brad Webb were in the 1950s when they began.

Bob Sessions, who made the wines at Hanzell for 30 years up until quite recently, embraced the science and chose to honor his forebears by only carefully diverting from their practices. The implications are intriguing in many ways, but take this one subject of yeast: Hanzell's Chardonnay has always been inoculated with an isolate from Montrachet. The sensibility of craftsmanship would seemingly be at odds with the use of just such an industrially-produced yeast. However, at the time of Hanzell's first vintage in 1957, the goal was to reproduce the singular flavors of Burgundy, a feat that had not been accomplished in California.

Their foremost pursuit was to make a wine to compare favorably with the Grand Crus. Only one or two wineries in all of the New World were pursuing this goal and certainly no market demand prevailed to differentiate their wine from their competitors by native fermentation.

A little more background on Michael Terrien: After UC Davis, Michael joined Acacia where he worked for nearly a decade before going to Hanzell. Now, he has a number of clients he consults for on winemaking while circling a close orbit around Hanzell. Before moving to California, Michael lived in Maine where he was born and raised.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Duck Pond Cellars, Dundee, Oregon

On my trip to Dundee, Oregon, we stopped into visit Duck Pond Cellars, on of the regions largest wineries. Arriving onto the grounds in late Fall, you could see the remains of the once beautiful rose garden that has been encroached upon by the ravages of the approaching winter.

Entering the well appointed tasting room and gift shop, we were greeted by our hostess who invited us to a tasting and enlightened us about the winery. The flight included their 2005 Riesling and the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon. Then our hostess put two glasses on the table and gave us a side by side tasting of their 2006 Pinot Noir ($20) and their Pinot Noir St Jory Vineyard ($40).

The 2006 Pinot Noir is blended from grapes sourced from their Washington and Oregon vineyards. It was a bright and alive wine with cherry, strawberry, cloves and licorice with a good dose of acidity to make it crisp. A fairly good wine for the price.

Then I evaluated the Pinot Noir St Jory Vineyard and I finally got what Pinot Noir is all about. This wine was floral, spicy and rich with fruit and wood notes. Smooth tannins with a little less acid than the 2006. This was Heaven in a glass. I think I finally get Pinot Noir after this side-by-side comparison. The St Jory Pinot Noir is sourced from their vineyard in the hills south of Salem.

I saw that they also had a 2004 Barbera. Because they did such a great job crafting the other wines, I asked for a sample. It was excellent Barbera and my mother thought so much of it, she procured a bottle. Good job, mom.

If you are headed to Dundee, I would suggest a stop at Duck Pond Cellars. It was a fun tasting, the staff is friendly and the wines are excellent.


Monday, December 1, 2008


During the last TTL (Twitter Taste Live), we got to taste this little number - the vineyard designated Gap's Crown 2006 Pinot Noir from Humanitas. Unfortunately, my cable internet provider chose the evening of the event to have bandwidth issues so I wasn't able to tweet much about it. I think this wine would make an excellent gift this holiday season; not only because it's good wine but, because it's for a good cause. The wines of Humanitas are a delightful way to give a charitable gift that can also be enjoyed by the recipient.

On the evening of TTL, I opened the bottle and poured three ounces of Pinot into my Riedel 4400/7 about an hour before the tasting started. I found a full rich wine waiting for me when I picked it up. You have to let this wine warm up in a big round glass for a while. If you dive right in, you're likely to get a prickly reception as I did, when I poured a glass, slapdash, straight from the wine cellar the next evening. If not treated properly, this wine might remind you of the shy girl at the party that makes people say "what's up with her?" Fresh from the bottle, at 60 degrees, it is rather short, and just gives the sense that it could be a lot more interesting than it's being. But, if you let it hang out for a while, and give it some space, it starts to open up. By the last sip, there's a fully bloomed personality in your glass. Turns out this potentially dour Pinot Noir is actually a real dishy treat--full of chocolate, caramel, raspberry sauce, toasted coconut, a little violet, and even a long coffee-nip finish.

Humanitas Gap's Crown 2006

Varietal: Pinot Noir
AVA: Sonoma Coast
Alcohol: 14.7%
Price: $40 (profit goes to charity)
Aromas: Chocolate, toasted coconut, raspberry preserves, violet
Flavors: Spice, chocolate, raspberry, coffee, blueberry