Category Archives: Wine Recommendations

Braving the Willamette Valley front: Oregon Wine Month

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There is a belief among wine cognoscenti that grape vines must suffer before they can produce great wines. In the Willamette Valley of Oregon, not only does that happen, but everyone in the wine business undergoes an annual pain called, “The Harvest.” Is Mother Nature going to be good to us, or will we be left to our own devices and suffer unruly weather? Unlike other regions in the world, such as Australia and the Napa Valley in California, the Willamette Valley proves unpredictable, and provides vintners with unhappy grapes from difficult vintages. While all wine growing regions suffer good and bad years, Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley, just like the varietal in Burgundy, paints a picture of extreme variance.

Why do it? Just like writers, photographers and chefs, it is because of the challenge. Many of the greatest wine growers and winemakers aim their sights at the Holy Grail and pursue Pinot Noir with unrelenting faith because when Pinot Noir is great, there is nothing better. This is where the geekiest of wine folks live. It is an on-the-edge behavior that puts them in another realm. Two recent vintages in the Willamette Valley underscore this theme. 2011, which was a cool year, yielded many ungenerous wines that most “normal” wine drinkers may not enjoy. Yes, they may pretend to like it at a party, but it lacks the big, ripe fruit characteristic of say, a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2012’s were a much different animal, and produced a wine that everyone would drink happily. For the most part, the 2012 wines are rich, rounded and juicy as can be. I already know a few purists who are scoffing at the wines for their uber-enticing style and seemingly early drinkability. Oh yes, I forgot to tell you, wine geeks often like wines that are crisp, high in acid, great with food and have potential to age over decade’s time. I am okay with both, I would just have to change my food pairing choices.

Pinot Noir is always a challenge. The wine is one of fussiest on the planet. The wine folks in the Willamette Valley are used to being on the outskirts of life and have come to love all their vintages for what they are. One fact is undeniable – unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Zinfandel, it cannot hide. Vintners cannot use oak, sugar or other varietals to make it better. It is what makes us love it or hate it. Here are a pair of favorites from my notebook. The classic and red-fruited 2013 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir from Dundee Hills, the fine and complex 2012 WillaKenzie Aliette and the cool vintage 2011 WillaKenzie Pierre Leon. Give them a try and you too will discover how nifty the Willamette Valley vintners are!

 

Hurray for #Chardonnay Day!

14_04_11 1100 Pebble Beach Food & Wine_4000_BlogOh, it’s finally here – Chardonnay Day. The day I absolutely love and adore. Yes, I am the unabashed Chardonnay lover. I was hooked after my first sip of white Burgundy. Since then I’ve been searching the world for the same sensation for a lot less dough. It’s been tough. See, I fell in love with Chardonnay just after college when I traveled to Burgundy for a wedding. It was just the carafe of table wine they were pouring in the cafe, but I vividly remember thinking, this is so. dang. good. Much different than the Kendall Jackson and Columbia Crest we so often brought to dinner parties to seem sophisticated in college. I had very little wine vocabulary at the time, so I believe I called it, “deliciousness,” but I can’t be sure.

Now I know more about Burgundy and more about why I love wine from Burgundy. The terroir there is not a myth. Something about the soil, sun, aspect, grape clones and more help to create one of the best wines in the world – creamy but crisp, with layers of complexity between fruit and oak and spice… And yet, these wines are often unattainable in price.

And so, I try Chardonnays. I try any I get my hands on, seeking that wine that has the balance, the complexity and the je ne sais quoi that I can I love in Burgundian wine, but in a bottle I can afford. It will never be just like my Burgundy favorites,  but I have found many value Chardonnay that achieve balance and a loveliness that are a decent second… here are my favorites under $50!

Iron Horse Estate Chardonnay
From the Green Valley part of the Russian River, this cool-climate gem is affordable (under $25) and absolutely delicious. No malo, and a perfect balance of fruit and very light oak.

De Wetshof Bon Vallon Chardonnay
I absolutely loved this wine! And there are not many unwooded Chardonnays I like (Iron Horse an exception), but this did a fantastic job.

Esk Valley Chardonnay
Represents what New Zealand is doing in Hawkes’ Bay, and at an affordable price.

Catena Alta Chardonnay
Argentina is known for values, and this $30+ Chardonnay acts like a $60+ from California. It’s kind of a mild splurge…

Dierberg Chardonnay
A fantastic find for me! A small boutique wine with incredible character and complexity.

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay
This coastal winery delivers a ton of depth, balance and complexity on this high quality bottle from South Africa.

Craggy Range Kidnapper’s Vineyard Chardonnay
Chablis-like in style, can’t get enough of this New Zealand wine.

In general, for my style of Chardonnay, I love exploring the wines of Oregon, New Zealand, South Africa and little pockets of California

 

What Chardonnay will you drink for #ChardonnayDay?

There has never been a better time for rosés

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So it seems that when one counts all of the numbers, and sees the dollars that flow in, it is still red (as in red wine) that drives the numbers and brings home the bacon. It seems the higher in the food chain wine drinkers go, the more they go to Cabernet Sauvignon, especially that valley along highway 29 called Napa. While Pinot Noir is still the Holy Grail, Cabernet is and will always be king. But must we only bleed red? While I will rarely turn down a chance at a fine Oakville or Rutherford Cab, I would never like to be remembered as a “one trick pony” wine lover.

Where does my pink wine experience begin? Not so gloriously. I have to admit, my first pink was not even the first straw colored, “dry” Sutter Home, but must have been a Carlo Rossi Pink Chablis (out of a four-liter jug) at a party in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. Though possible it was a syrupy sweet Ripple Pagan Pink. Memories that began my wine journey, kind of on the yuck side, but one that I had to take. They often say that one never makes it to the top unless one knows what the bottom is like.

Years later when I found “sophistication,” I discovered Rosé Champagne and learned how incredible that can be. While a lot of American wine drinkers did not understand the category, I learned over time that one should never turn down a glass of Dom Pérignon Rosé, ever! But the road to rosé credibility failed to materialize in the world of dry rose; these wines were left in the hands of a minuscule number of wine geeks. In the mid to late 1970’s, the category called blush took the market by storm. The industry pushed and succeeded to make a kind of kool-aid wine that they hoped would transform generations of cola drinkers into wine drinkers. It worked, but it also sent mixed messages about the color pink (orange, salmon, eye of the partridge, etc.). True students of wine struggled with this phenomenon because it devalued highly prized wines such as Tavel from the Rhone, Clairette from Bordeaux and of course, the aforementioned Champagne Rosé. The wine world created a mixed category that lumped the dry rosé with the  more popular sweet blush, and the view most sophisticated wine drinkers had was rosé =sweet. So where are we today?

Rosé is now a legitimate fine wine category. Producers have globally begun to craft superior wines that pair incredibly well with food. Over the last two decades, countries from below the equator (where the seasons are opposite from the northern hemisphere) have begun to supply the global market with some of the world’s best rosés and ensuring that this category’s pipeline never runs dry (of dry super premium wines so to speak). Among my recent favorites: the brisk, bright minerally 2014 Red Car Rosé of Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast, the charming and aromatic 2014 Belle Glos Oeil de Perdrix (eye of the partridge) from Sonoma County and the 2013 Sierra Cantribria from Rioja, Spain. Take it from one who loves wine, there has never been a better time than now to step into the world of pink wines, your palate will be happily satisfied and your soul will gain insights into the world of rosé!

Malbec: Did I find God in the vineyards?

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Did I find God in the vineyards? That must have happened because I can’t even explain it normal terms. On January 16, 2012, in a little town called La Consulta, my colleagues (Thane, Neil, Peter, Brett) and I tasted something magical. We flew in from the US on a Tour de Argentina and Chile to meet with some of those countries’ superstar winemakers. But no moment of this trip was greater than the time with we spent with Karim Mussi Saffie, Proprietor and Winemaker of Altocedro in La Consulta, Mendoza. The plan was to check out the winery, the vineyards, taste wines, eat food and drink, but what transpired was more than we had expected.

It began innocently enough, I had already spent many quality moments with Karim in previous (both in the United States and in Argentina) we even rode horses together once in the Andes. Now we were here. At one moment, Karim was looking at me with his intricate and sometimes devilish grin. I had no idea what he was up to but knew he was super excited to pour this wine for me. I was just taking notes and photographing everything in sight. Then he served it: The 2009 Altocedro Gran Reserva Malbec. My brain spun into another space and time. I found myself in a corridor of Bordeaux varieties. Where was I? In the Médoc, the Napa Valley, Walla Walla Washington? The wine’s intense dark fruits and sweet earth took Malbec to another level. When I came back, I just saw Karim grinning from ear to ear. This is only an example of where a good Malbec can take you.

Where is Malbec going? For decades it was known mostly as the grape from Cahors. More learned wine folks also knew the grape from the Southwest of France, where it is called, Côt. But as the world spins, most consumers saw Malbec as that “value” red wine from Argentina. If one just needed a Cabernet-like wine in the $10 to $20 range, Argentina Malbec was the answer. But somewhere in the night the grape was screaming, “There is more to my existence than being the wine at cocktail parties and barbecues.” Yes, in addition to being a great value red wine, Malbec has scaled the mountain to become one of the world’s great varietals.  It takes the Bordeaux blends from the region to a new level, producing wine that is complex and balanced. Age-worthy? Definitely – just check out an older vintage from Catena.  Malbec has spoken. Enjoy it’s possibilities and most definitely taste the 2013 Altocedro Año Cero Malbec and get a glimpse of the Mussi magic!

Top 10 “Suggestive” Wines For Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is all about sending clear and defined messages to those we love….

  • In a new relationship?  Keep the message basic and sweet
  • Been married for years?  Spice it up with something fun
  • Asking out your latest crush?  Time to be BOLD

Nothing says “Be Mine” more than a cleverly crafted wine label.   If all else fails, you at least get to enjoy the wine!  Here are our top 10 wines to give your loved one when

# 10  – Alexander Valley Vineyards – “Temptation”

Nothing gets to the root of human nature like an Adam and Eve themed wine label.  Sending this to someone is asking for trouble!  Or is it??

Tempation

#9 – Monogamy  “Truly Madly Deeply”

Ready to take your relationship to the next level?  Why not ask for a serious commitment with this love-and-cuddles themed wine!

Monogomy

#8 – promisQous

Leaning more toward flirtation… Giving this wine to someone you are into is the adult equivalent of handing them a soda can of Orange “Crush”

PromisQous

#7 – Ménage à Trois

The name says it all… Just be prepared for a variety of responses!

Menage a Trois

#6 – Peirano  “The Other”

Nothing says “Thanks for being my ‘other’!” than this sexy wine and seductive wine.

The Other

#5 – Michael David Winery “Freakshow”

For those of us who like things a little freaky, break open this offering when in the privacy of your own home!

Freakshow

#4 – Taken Wine Company “Complicated”

Facebook has an “It’s Complicated” relationship status.  Time to say it with wine and make it “Facebook official”!

Taken Complicated

#3 – The Prisoner Wine Company “Prisoner” & “Blindfold”

Even your “slaves” need a little wine & love on Valentine’s Day.

3-Prisoner

3-blindfold


#2 – Two Hands “Sexy Beast”

This label essentially screams “I want you now!”  Oh, and the wine itself is deliciously seductive, too!

Sexy Beast

#1 – Mollydooker “Carnival of Love”

Rated #2 on Wine Spectator‘s Top 100 List.  We thought we’d show this wine a bit more love by making it #1 on our list.  Not only is this wine label amazing, but the wine is spectacular!

1-Carnival of Love

 

 BONUS: 50 Shades of Grey

Ready to head to the theater?   Why not sip on some Fifty Shades wine first to put you in the “mood”.   Cheers!

50 Shades