Category Archives: What We’re Drinking

6th Annual Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries Event

09100 wineries plus one 110-pound woman equals one enormous challenge.  Wednesday night oenophiles packed the Galleria at the San Francisco Design Center for the 6th Annual Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries event.  I wish I could say I tried everything, but with so many wines, I am ashamed to say that I only scratched the surface.  But, if anyone has ever had crème brûlée, the surface can be pretty sweet.
The event was in full swing by the time I arrived and grabbed my Riedel glass. I swiped a map of the layout and planned my attack.  Knowing that time and body weight, rather than gusto, were going to be my limitations, I decided to try two of every category.  I was able to stick with that plan, more or less, and leave the place sober and content.  Luckily, t he wineries were arranged by category and each category arranged in a logical tasting order.  

One unexpected highlight was disgorging my own bottle of sparkling wine. Movia’s winemaker Alec Kristancic was on hand to show me how.  Movia’s Puro sparkler comes with the lees still in the bottle, so upside down storage is necessary.  I was a bit nervous for my fellow attendees and not sure they knew what I was doing, I sure didn’t.  But all projectiles landed safely in a water bucket and I spilled only a little bit (ok, ok, I did spill some on the table).  I am not sure how I would do this at home because he uses a special tool to rest the cork in while you turn the upside-down bottle slowly.  Once it pops you quickly turn the bottle upright and there you have it!  

In the interests of time and space here are my favorites in several categories:

Sparkling: Schloss Gobelsberg NV Brut Reserve (Austria)

Not only do they make phenomenal Gruner Veltliner still wines, but they also make this sparkling wine made by the traditional méthode champenoise, complete with hand riddling.  The wine is made from 70% Gruner Veltliner and accompanied by Pinot Noir and Riesling.  Subtle aromas of crushed stones and slight citrus notes preceded a disarmingly smooth mouth-feel.

Crisp Whites
: Boutari Santorini 2008 (Greece)

Made with 100% Assyrtiko, Boutari’s Santorini is a steal at around $20.  I really enjoyed the unique aroma.  The rep hit the nail on the head and pinned down the aroma as that of oxidized fruit.  Think of the aroma of an apple or pear that’s been sliced and left out in the air.  I didn’t find it particularly acidic or crisp, but then again, I think it was served a bit warm.  At a cooler temperature I think the acidity would have jumped out a bit more.

Rich Whites
: E. Guigal Condrieu 2007 (France)

This wine does not need any alcohol to be intoxicating. Honeysuckle, orange blossoms and a hint of spiced bread predominated. Weighty without being heavy handed, it’s a luxurious wine.

Pinot Noir
: Louis Jadot Corton-Grèves Grand Cru 2007 (France)

One winemaker for 150 labels?  Yes, Jacques Lardière has the privilege of this Herculean task.  His rep at the event said he exudes energy and passion.  She described how at harvest he is a man possessed and even over the telephone she can hear his anxiousness to get off the phone and get back to work.  And what a marvelous fruit his labor bore. Possessing a gorgeous ruby red color, aromas of tart red fruit and the subtle scent of smoke and cloves hovering in the background. Good thing for Jacques, at the end of his work, he created something worthy of quite contemplation.

Rhone Family
: Delas-Frères Hermitage Marquise de la Tourette 2005 (France)

Hermitage truly is a beast and I mean that as a compliment.   Spicy, tannic and just plain immense, this wine should really come in a bigger bottle.  Black fruit and pepper lead the way to long and sumptuous finish.

Cabernet Family
Henschke Eden Valley Cyril Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (Australia)

This was a bit of a preview, as the wine is not yet available.  A phenomenal year for Australian wines, Eden Valley is more known for Riesling than Cabernet.  This particular hillside is planted with old vine Cabernet and small strips of Cabernet Franc and Merlot for blending.  Cassis and pitted black fruit aromas prevailed. Most impressive was the mouth-feel, walking the razor thin edge between elegance and tannic, cellar worthy structure, I loved every second of it.  
Runner-up: Ridge Monte Bello 2005:  Straight-forward and precise.

Port
: Niepoort 1991 Porto Colheita (Portugal)

Simply delightful.  This wine was the life of the party and conveniently located next to the Brix Chocolate table.  Bright red fruit flavors melted away into a rich consistency.  

Sherry: Lustau Jerez-Xérès-Palo Cortado VOS 20 (Spain)

This dry sherry made me wonder why it’s so hard to find them.  Complex and refined, with incredible depth of color and flavor.  It reminded me of the smell of the ocean and perhaps some toasted hazelnuts. 

Crisp weather = warmer wines

SA fall vinesSome people are seasonal drinkers, choosing wines that match the weather. I tend to be one of those people. Summer = crisp whites; Winter = hearty reds. Granted, I mix it up a bit as there is never a bad time for most wines. This past couple of weeks, it’s clearly become a new season. Fall is here – the changing colors, the blowing leaves, the brisk winds and of course, college football. For all but the last, which I still love to watch with a good beer, this means a change in my wine choices as well.  Out with the summer wines – I need something to go with this sudden chill down. Nothing too hearty, but a little something to take the cool nip away.

A few of my favorite fall wines and why:

Pinot Noir Okay, so this is a year round favorite, but it’s especially great for fall. Pinot Noir is like the light jacket of wine – bright fruit and smooth tannins vermonte pinotslowly ease you into this cooler weather. Right now some favorite Pinot Noir include:
Pessagno Winery Lucia Highlands Estate Pinot Noir 2007 – delicious silky smooth Californian Pinot – ripe and rich, yet elegant. Awesome value right now at $28.00
Veramonte Pinot Noir Reserva 2007 – a bit of spice and earth quality match well with the bright cherry fruit. Great Pinot from Chile for $13!

 

Tempranillo – Spicy and earthy, but lighter bodied, Tempranillo is perfect to celebrate the change of season. Spain is the go-to country for this grape, which is extremely food friendly. Lots of values these days, including:
Montecillo Rioja Reserva 2003 – More traditional style of Rioja, with the typical age notes of tobacco and toasted oak. But also still full of delicious fruit. $20
Abadia Retuerta Rivola 2007 – This is the more modern style of Tempranillo, with ripe fruits and smooth, silky tannins. Still great with food, though! $17

Italian Blends – Italy has so many

varietals, regions and styles, you can certainly find a wine to fit any season. For fall I love fuller bodied Barberas and the viettigems of Southern Italy. A few favorites include:

Vietti Barbera d'Asti Tre Vigne 2006 – medium-bodied, concentrated red fruits, a bit of and spice, great acid, mild tannins and a lingering finish. A perfect food wine. $19

Nero d’Avola – Try a wine made from this grape, because it’s got depth and character. Kind of like what you want in a friend or colleague. Typical descriptors include: dark berry fruit, exotic

spice, licorice, pepper, long finish. The grape has potential to age, but depends on the producer.

Carmenere – A Chilean specialty! With a smoky and meaty quality, this grape makes wine that is a lovely match to fall foods. Or just sitting by the first fire of the season.  Also, South America is known for its value, and these two well-priced Carmeneres are excellent. 
Concha y Toro Casillero Del Diablo Carmenere 2008 – Easy-drinking, full of dark plum and smoky character typical of Carmenere – and under $10
Chono Carmenere Reserva Maipo Valley 2006 – Recently tasted this wine and thought, wow. THIS is a good Carmenere. While I love the smoky, meaty characteristics of Carmenere, sometimes they can also have a green pepper edge that is overpowering. Not in this wine! Balanced and focused on the fruit, a great value at $13.

Enjoy the wines, enjoy the leaves and the changing colors… and enjoy the crisp air before it gets frigid and you’re longing for summer already!

Golfers and Wine

golf flag

Last week at an event, we poured wines to fit the theme, “Golfers and Wine.” Who knew so many wines would have a golfing hand (or club?) behind them! I have yet to see another sport with so many members in the winemaking field. The styles of wine from these swinging guys (though gals are getting into the fray as well!) range the gamut, with some sparkling, some white, some red.

Here are the wines we poured at the event and the stories behind them.

greg norman

Golfer & Wine: Greg Norman Sparkling Brut – Dry and crisp, with citrus and stone fruits. Because it’s a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, you get that bright citrus mixed with a richer, almost nutty character. Great value for the bubbles.

About: Greg Norman, aka “The Shark,” began drinking wine on the tour, soaking up the wines from Europe and California as he played and tasted his way around the world. In the 1990’s, Greg paired up with Beringer Blass Estates to create Greg Norman Estates in Australia. More recently, Norman put his name on Greg Norman California Wine Estates, producing a range of wines from the entire state. Though he does not  make the wine or own the vineyards, he approves the decisions and the wines reflect his style – approachable, easy-to-drink but with lots of character.

Golfer & Wine: Arnold Palmer Santa Barbara Chardonnay – Ripe stone fruits and juicy citrus backed by a good acidic backbone. A touch of oak and a creamy texture round out the wine making it refreshing and delicious.

About: Before Tiger there was Arnold. This guy has won 92 national and international golf championships! Not too shabby. A savvy businessman and wine lover, Palmer partnered with Luna Vineyards, a well-known winery in California, to create his line of wines. Established in 2003, Palmer just released the 2005 vintage of his Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Santa Barbara Chardonnay. Both are typical of their region and quite good.

luke donald

Golfer & Wine: Luke Donald Claret – Ripe black fruits dominate this blend with a spicy and smooth texture. Soft tannins, big fruit.

About: A native of England, Luke Donald has been on the tour since 2001. He got into the wine business more recently, partnering with the Terlato Wine Group (he’s good friends with Bill Terlato) and releasing his first vintage in spring of 2008. His Claret, or Bordeaux Blend, is a classic Napa Valley blend. Big fruit, smooth tannins, long finish. Earlier this year he released his first white, a Burgundian-style Chardonnay from Carneros.

 

Golfer & Wine: Nick Faldo Shiraz- Spicy pepper and sweet plums mix to create a well-balanced red. More spicy than sweet, this Shiraz shows the typical style of Coonawarra reds.

About: Like Donald, Faldo is of English origin, but chose Australia as his country of choice to produce wine – the Coonawarra region to be exact. Longer in the game (both golf and wine) than Donald as well, Nick’s first vintage was 2000. His wines, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz & Cabernet Sauvignon, come from the Terra Rossa (red earth) soils of Coonawarra, giving the wines lots of backbone and a touch of eucalyptus and spice.

Golfer & Wine: Ernie Els Engelbrecht-Els Red Blendripe black fruits, spice and smoke marry well in this blend, with a solid tannin backbone and els a lingering finish. Will get better over time, but delicious now, too.

About: South African golf legend, Ernie Els, partnered up with old friend and wine veteran, Jean Englebrecht, for his wine venture in the Stellenbosch region of South Africa. They launched their first wine in 1999 and opened a winery in the region 5 years later. The brand creates a range of wines, from the affordable Guardian Peak to the collectible flagship wine, Ernie Els. The Englebrecht-Els blend is distinctively South African, a blend that marries Els’ love of Bordeaux Blends with Engelbrecht’s passion for Shriaz.

Not only the boys are making wine. Annika Sorenstam recently partnered with Wente Vineyards and launched a $60 Syrah under her name. We’ll keep you posted on more golfers that turn to producing wine, as well as other sports that have players in the wine game. What other sports have you seen in the wine field?

Chardonnay Revisited

ABC – Anything but Chardonnay. You may have heard it from a few wine drinkers along the road. Fed up with the over-oaked, big butter, creamed-corn style Chardonnays that were coming out of California about 10 years ago, many wine lovers swore off the grape, particularly California style. I still talk to people who tell me they just don’t like Chardonnay (which is when I have them taste Chablis). While I did not have  an adamant hatred of the grape, I certainly would choose a slew of other wines before ordering or drinking a California Chardonnay. But recently, this changed.

It all started when I wasnewton chard vines categorizing some wines into our “style of wine” categories on Wine.com. A few wines I had not yet tried, and so instead of throwing all California Chardonnay into “rich and creamy,” I carefully read through the tasting notes offered by the winemaker and even ordered a few of which I was unsure. As I read note after note, even those that were rich and creamy, with notes of butterscotch, fig and crème brulee, I started craving a California Chardonnay. Enough with grassy, acidic Sauvignon Blanc, or my go-to Rose for summer. No more cool Torrontes or Gruner Veltliner. Not even my favorite Chablis would do the trick. I wanted Chardonnay. Not the buttery oak bombs of yesteryear, but the delicious fruit & oak balance with a creamy finish that these wine notes promised. I was salivating.

I ordered a few Chardonnays to taste and also had the pleasure of tasting a few at the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend over Labor Day. I am officially a Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley Chardonnay girl. Sip after sip, I re-introduced my palate to California Chardonnay and am happy to say that they will once again have a place in my wine-drinking repertoire.

Here are the wines I found to quench my California Chardonnay thirst:

Davis Bynum Russian River Chardonnay – I remember stopping by this winery in 2003, before I’d ever heard of them (I was younger then, and living on the east cost). Their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir got two thumbs up, and we packed some up in our luggage to bring home. I got to re-taste these delicious wines at the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend and once again, gave them all two thumbs up. About $24.

anabaAnaba Sonoma Coast Chardonnay – a fairly new winery producing a red and white Rhone blend as well as this Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. Wow. This was an excellent wine and a perfect example of what cool-climate Chardonnay can do. Clean, crisp, with lovely ripe fruit balanced by a creamy texture and subtle vanilla oak flavors. Really lovely. Winemaker, Jennifer Marion, knows her stuff, too. Young and eager, she is doing some great things here…  $25.

Landmark Overlook Chardonnay – mmmmm… this is one of those full-bodied wines that while rich, have a nice backbone of crisp acid and citrus to back up the tropical fruit & oak. The '2007 vintage is $26

Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay – An all time favorite. It’s expensive, but if you have the opportunity to taste it, do so. Apple, toast, spice and a long finish make this a wine to savor. See Newton Vineyard pictured above. The ‘06 vintage is on sale for $53.

Au Bon Climat Chardonnay – Jim Clendenen shows us what California Chardonnay should be. From a warmer climate, the ABC combines bright donkey and goatfruit and lush vanilla and oak into a Chardonnay that is definitely California, but the way it should be. This is a Chardonnay I truly enjoy AND it’s at $20.

A Donkey and Goat Chardonnay – Small boutique winery in Berkeley, CA, Jared and Tracy Brandt get their Chardonnay fruit from the Chalone appellation, which is a bit warmer, but they do this wine well. Again, the balance is excellent. They actually blend in some of the ver jus to heighten acidity and lower alcohol. The result is fantastic! $40.

My favorite non-California Chardonnay picks are these, and they are great, easy-drinking Chardonnays, almost all at $20 or less.

Catena Chardonnay – From Argentina. A perfectly balanced Chardonnay. Always a crowd pleaser. $20

Meerlust Chardonnay – Excellent South African Chardonnay – good balance and structure. Also $20

Errazuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay – Rich and delectable, this has got layers of complexity, great balance and a wonderfully long finish. Great for the price!!! $18

Cape Mentelle Chardonnay – Always a winner from the left coast of Australia. Classic Chardonnay style. $20

Tell us – what are your favorite Chardonnays?

Perfect Indian Summer Whites from Southern Italy!

italy

Fall indicators become apparent after the Labor Day Weekend with school back in session and the leaves on the trees about to change color. But  many parts are enjoying an Indian summer with unusually warm temperatures. On those hot days, I always recommend dry and aromatic whites from the Mediterranean. Specifically, I’m quick to mention the array of Italian white varietals for the dinner table and barbecue gatherings. Where can you find more varietal options than Italy, which holds claim to over 2,000 native varietals?

The Italian White category is one of the most underrated categories in the White Kingdom for the QPR (Quality Price Ratio)! Anothsellamoscaer perk is that the category offers a great range of pairing options from semi soft cheeses to the foods of the sea. Also, let’s not forget the antipasti course. The most known Italian grape is Pinot Grigio hands down, which hails from the Northeastern corridor of the country: Alto Adige, Collio, Friuli, Trentino and the Veneto. But, let’s not forget the wonders of Southern Italy, where many native cultivars date back to Phoenician and Greco-Roman times. greco

There’s no better place to start in the South than Campania, the district that surrounds Naples, and where the grapes Falanghina, Fiano and Greco di Tufo take center stage. These varietals languished for several decades, but now have made a roaring comeback, making Campania the center of the Southern Italian Wine Renaissance.

Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean, has followed suit over the last 15 years, with wine imports recently hitting an all-time high. Importers are finally bringing in an array of wines made from ancient varietals like Inzolia, Catarratto, Ansonica and Grecanico. Several noted houses blend Inzolia and Chardonnay together. The finest producers make incredible blends from several of the above mentioned grapes – these are worth seeking out.

Zipping over to Sardinia, or Sardegna to natives, Vementino takes prominence in the northern portion of the island. Galluria is the most noted vermentino sardinia and prized D.O.C.G. for this region. Vermentino also grows in Tuscany, but the exotic fruit characteristics on the nose and palate really shine through with the Sardinian rendition.

The common denominator for all these Southern Italian whites are great price points, praise from the press, alluring aromatics, exotic fruit notes braced by excellent minerality and acidity, versatile food pairing wines, and alcohol levels are in check (12.0%-13.5% alc.) without the use of cumbersome oak. Both the neophyte and serious enthusiast can find tremendous benefits from this category.

My highly recommended picks:

Falanghina: Terredora, Irpinia D.O.C., Campania 2008

Greco: Feudi di San Gregorio, di Tufo D.O.C.G., Campania 2007

Ansonica-Catarratto blend: Donnafugata “Anthìlia”, Sicily IGT 2007

Inzolia, Catarratto & Grecanico blend: Regaleali Bianco, Sicily IGT 2007

Vermentino: Argiolas “Costamolino”, Sardegna D.O.C. 2008