With the highly-anticipated release of the 2013 Rombauer Chardonnay, I got to thinking about how this varietal became what it is to the US wine drinking public. Like Cabernet Sauvignon, domestic Chardonnay kicked into high gear in the 1970s and really it has never looked back. When I started my competitive wine judging career in the late 1980s, judges felt rewarded when a competition gave them Chardonnays. It was the most coveted category in those days because it was the hot new superstar. Now, decades later, Chardonnay is the best-selling wine varietal in the United States because it is so consistently good.
At all price points, from under $10 to the-sky-is-the-limit, Chardonnay performs well. And not just those from California, but from all over the world, this wine clearly attracts the whole range of consumers.
Since 1982, Rombauer Vineyards in the Napa Valley has produced one of the state’s most sought-after Chardonnays. In all channels, from retail to restaurants, Rombauer is a leading performer. Because of its crowd-pleasing style and inviting flavor profile, it’s the perfect wine to sip on a sunny deck or serve to wine-loving guests.
I serve Chardonnay often because my family, friends and neighbors enjoy it, and Rombauer is one my top choices. The new release 2013 Rombauer Chardonnay, made from the winery’s estate-grown grapes in the cool climate Carneros District is another winner. It shows ripe tropical fruit and high quality oak in admirable balance. The 2013 vintage was nearly ideal in northern California and without question, this Chardonnay benchmark shows it. Let’s celebrate the release of the 2013!
One of the hardest groups to wrap our heads around is Wine Bloggers. Who are they? What do they do? What effect do they have on the wine business? In the old days, newspapers were the only venue, followed by wine newsletters (circa 1970). An aspiring writer had to have a column somewhere. Whether it was a small town paper, an urban newspaper or a syndicated column spanning lots of turf, writers were only considered bona fide it someone thought they were good enough to be in print.
I attended my first Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland, Oregon two years ago. I met an array of writers from the simple enthusiast to the serious reviewer. Whether they wrote once in a while or often, I assumed that all of them could write, it was simply a matter of how big their audience was and whether they would grow. Recently I attended Wine Bloggers Conference 2014 (Twitter handle: #wbc14) and was even more impressed than I was in Portland. Perhaps because I had become a participant in the wine blogger world and now had a better understanding of what that meant.
The weekend proved extremely educational and enjoyable. Zephyr Adventures, the organizers of this event, put together a tremendous conference that included a little bit about everything. They covered a wide variety of topics, including an insightful presentation (The U.S. Wine Consumer: Who, What & Where) by Michael Osborn, founder and vice president of merchandising at Wine.com, and an incredible tasting of Santa Barbara County Syrah (Syrah Territory: Ballard Canyon hosted by Ballard Canyon Grower Producer Wineries).
As I completed my summary of the weekend in Buellton, I highlighted the Live Wine Blogging – Whites & Rosés as the most exhilarating of all. Two years ago, I poured wines. This time, I joined the bloggers and was seated at a table ready to taste, photograph and tweet. Some wine tasters might regard speed tasting as totally crazy and not productive, but I found that my palate could actually perform well in the ten minute window of chaos that each wine presenter was given. While I tasted and quickly recorded many wines, it was the 2013 Ferrari-Carano Fumé Blanc that I remember most. Aromatic and pure, with notes of citrus peel, melon and grass, the wine’s easy-drinking yet crisp palate stayed with me for a long time following the event.
How will wine bloggers figure in the business of wine? One doesn’t really know; some will blog once in a while and have little research to back their findings, others will write at the level of the great wine writers, most will be somewhere in-between. One thing is for sure: They are here to stay.
Let’s go back in time to really understand how far Silver Oak Cellars has come. In the early 1970’s, Justin Meyer and Ray Duncan decided to launch a winery dedicated exclusively to making Cabernet Sauvignon, a bold move. At this time, varietal wines had not yet become a reality in the United States. Most American wines were generic (Chablis, Burgundy and Vin Rose) or fortified wines (port, white port, tokay, muscatel). Serious table wines from California were not yet a reality. The French owned the market (Bordeaux, Burgundy, Beaujolais, etc.) So who are these renegades to create a winery dedicated exclusively to Cabernet Sauvignon? They were pioneers!
What came first? The label or the water tower?
Consumers recognize the iconic water tower on the Silver Oak label – and possibly from visiting the winery, as one sits above both tasting rooms in Alexander Valley and Napa. But alas, the label was not inspired by the water tower, in fact, it was inspired by original co-founder Bonny Meyer, who photographed upwards of 30 Napa Valley water towers. Meyer finally commissioned John Farrell, a young local artist, to create the Silver Oak label with the water tower image. The physical tower was built afterwards.
Today, the marketplace can’t get enough of Silver Oak. Huge crowds descend each year on the little town of Oakville on the winery’s well-orchestrated release day. Under the direction of winemaker Daniel Baron, Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon continues to improve remains one of Napa Valley’s most sought-after wines.
The 2010 Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet serves up plenty of ripe fruit flavors, with an accent of savory herbs and a shading of sweet oak. Delicious now, especially with a highly marbled grilled rib eye of beef, this wine will enjoy development in the cellar for another 10-15 years. The winery’s chef Dominic Orsini recommends flank steak and salsa verde. Doesn’t that sound good? I am sure glad we have progressed since the 1970’s - Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon is a time-tested treat!
Stand back, a new, ultra-premium Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc producer has entered the arena. Jenny Wagner, of the famous Wagner Family of Wines- Caymus Vineyards, Mer Soleil, Conundrum, Belle Glos and Emmolo, put her stake into the ground. Taking her mother’s (Cheryl) vision and drawing from her father’s (Chuck) winemaking acumen, she is producing World Class wines! Learn more from our storyboard below.
Let’s take a trip to Rioja. The three hour drive from Madrid to Haro, the westernmost city in the district, is well worth the trip. This area is a natural for fine dining: known for lettuces, peppers, onions, artichokes, asparagus, beans, peas, goat, beef and sausage making. Then there is the wine.
The magnificent and internationally acclaimed Rioja longs to be poured into a glass. Rioja is available in white (Blanco), rosé (Rosado) and of course red (Tinto). The white, made from Viura, and rosé, crafted from Garnacha, are fine wines, but I choose to spend most of my money on the Crianza.
Why is Rioja so cool? The wine is incredibly versatile and food-friendly. Plentiful in the marketplace, Rioja is ready to be paired with any cuisine, from classic American fried chicken to Sichuan chicken. Rioja has what it takes to make the experience memorable so feel free to experiment. The notion that “one must serve Spanish food with Rioja” is as old a tale as red wine with meat and white wine with fish. Go on and draw from the garden, search the pantry and grab the butcher’s or fish monger’s choice of the day before you crack open a bottle of Rioja.
My personal pick is the 2010 Cune Crianza. This wine is fresh, fruity and substantial. Some tannins for firmness on the palate, yet nice and rounded in the finish; perfect for a buffet while relaxing in the backyard with family and friends. In the end, one does not have to visit Northern Spain to enjoy the Rioja experience.