A Riesling to Try

A question I keep posing these days has to do with what one drinks when temperatures reach into the 100s. In the Northwest, temps are hovering at 102 degrees. This is an area where many homes lack air conditioning, so keeping cool requires fans, basements and cool drinks. When I ask what is most refresohne rieslingshing in this weather, an answer I frequently get is Riesling.

Riesling is a perfect hot weather drink as it is extremely refreshing, while still very fruit driven. The acidity and lower alcohol are a perfect match for quenching your wine thirst. Even when served ultra cold, Riesling’s layers of fruit and minerality can show through.

One to try is the Schmitt Sohne Thomas Schmitt Riesling QBA 2007. At $15, this wine is perfect for summer. Great acidity with ripe peach fruit backed by some good mineral notes. Fruity but crisp & a good, strong finish. Great for hot nights and/or spicy fare. 

Speed Tasting – Speed Blogging – notes from the Wine Blogger Conference

Friday, July 24th – Hanging out at the Wine Blogger’s Conference 2009 in Sonoma, CA. We’re getting ready to speed taste through some Sonoma wines while at the same time, blog about them. We’ll see if my typing can keep up with my tasting. Be forewarned, there are a few wines to taste, so this will be a longer post. Sit down, pour yourself some wine, and read all about it. Excuse fragmented sentences, but this was written “live.”

Wine # 1: El Molino High School 2007 Lions Pride Pinot Noir. That’s right, I said high school. But not to worry, the students are not making the wine. El Molino is an agricultural high school in Forestville in Sonoma county. One of the last agricultural high schools in the area, the Russian River Valley Winegrowers (RRVW) make this wine on the school’s behalf. The vineyard lies in the Sebastopol area and is owned by the high school. The RRVW picks the grapes, then picks a celebrity winemaker to make it. Now on its third vintage, the ‘05 vintage was made by Merry Edwards, while William Seylem made the 2006 vintage. The ‘07 we’re tasting today was produced by Lee Martinelli, Jr, who was a graduate of the high school. All proceeds go to support the El Molino High School. Only 100 – 120 cases are made per year.

The wine… lovely Pinot Noir full of briary berry & black cherry flavors, sweet spice and bright acidity. A bit hot on the finish (meaning a touch high in alcohol, perhaps?), but it’s my first wine of the afternoon so that could account for something.

Wine #2: Rodney Strong 2005 Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon – $75 retail and winery only – so you’ve got to go online and sign up to get some. And they only have 200 cases left.

David Raymond consults on this one – it’s 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Malbec, 4% Petit Verdot and it comes from hillside vineyards in Alexander Valley. They have the coordinates on the bottle so you can type them in and see it on google maps. Kind of like we and Wine.com do for all our wines with Map It! It is a bold Cabernet Sauvignon, big fruit but with a great structural backbone to hold it together.

Wine #3: Cornerstone Winery – Tasting the Howell Mountain 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. This winery produces only about 1800 cases/year – all Cabernet Sauvignon, all the time. According to the winemaker, this is not a right-now wine. It is a wine that needs age – time to mature in the bottle. The point of growing on a mountain, he says, is to get small berries, which in turn give the wine fruit intensity, but also intense tannins from the skin–to-grape ratio. Vines are grown on red clay, where iron lends itself to the plant. Characteristics in the wine include black olive, iodine & a touch of oak. The winemakers likes to give it 2 years in oak and 2 years in bottle before release. So, the taste… Yep, it’s a big wine. The tannins are certainly intense, and it is definitely not ready to drink yet. But you can tell with the balance of fruit, tannin and acid, that in 10 years, this wine will be super. In 20 years, it will be killer. I love Howell Mountain wines, and this is no different. First time I’ve tasted this wine and I’m impressed. Pretty yummy stuff. $100 retail.

Whew, okay, next wine (this is exhausting! I’m so glad I took typing in high school!).

Wine #4: Yay! Signaterra by Benziger is next! I LOVE this wine. Tasted it in Aspen. They are pouring the 3 blocks right now, which rocks. I’ve already written about these wines, but a quick note. It’s predominantly single-vineyard – 65% Cab, 35% Merlot. Sourced from three different sites on the valley floor. Gets 18 months of French oak, and you can taste the slight hint of vanilla, but it is balanced and integrated. The wine is giving off dark fruits, chocolate and looong-lasting tannins. The wine has ageing potential, though you could put it with a juicy ribeye and be happy right now. Only $49 from an excellent winery.

Wine #5: Matthiasson 2008 Napa Valley White Wine – this is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Ribolla Gialla (one of my favorites from Italy), Semillon and Tocai Friulano. Interesting blend. Primarily Sauvignon Blanc, but the others are lending some interesting characters. Kind of half Italian and half Bordeaux blend. Nose is very aromatic with ripe stone fruit & flowers.  Quite lovely, though unfortunately low production. If you get up to Sonoma, stop by here to visit. Silenus Tasting Room is where you can go. This is a wine worth seeking out.

Wine #6: Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon – 92% Cab, with some Merlot & Petit Verdot. Retails for $54, alcohol is 14.5% – the fruit that does not make it into Insignia goes into this blend. Price is much better, bottle much smaller. Good fruit, typical Cabernet flavors, which I love – meaning, while fruit is big, you also get that olive and cedar and tobacco notes. Not a fruit bomb!

Wine #7: Randall Graham is here! Yippee. Cool pioneer in the wine world. We love this guy. And his wine. Tasting the Bonny Doon ‘05 Cigare Volant, which I saw them decanting earlier. A Rhone blend – Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah & Cinsault. An hommage to Chateauneuf-du-Pape is how it began, but as Randall tells us, it is no longer tasting anything like CNP, it has evolved into its own entity. It is elegant and spicy, with bold fruit flavors and fine tannins. Cigare Volant means a Fine Cigar. Alas, they are no longer packaged in the cool cigar boxes… but the wine still rocks. Only $39, this is a great value. A perfect match for game or other grilled meats. Well done, every year. The winery is now biodynamic, too!

Wine #8: Kaz Bullseye 100% Petite Sirah. Okay, it’s 16.5% alcohol. Not going to be my favorite dinner wine. Dessert, maybe. A spitting wine, definitely. The heat! My goodness, the heat! Still, the wine has that typical inky purple color, the fruit is well-done & balances the alcohol, the label is super cool, but could not drink this all through dinner. The winery does do a cool re-fill option with jugs, though. Calls it “Nice Jugs.” Nice name. Kaz Vineyards. Check them out.

Wine #9: Concannon ‘06 Petite Sirah – So this is a wine we sell every year, and usually sell a lot because it is very well-priced. Their inaugural vintage was released in 1961 – had no idea it was that old. Located in Livermore, they are opening up a new tasting room. From Ireland, the Concannons came here in 1883 – it’s one of California’s oldest wineries. Cool fact: In 1950 Concannon had its first female winemaker. Not so common back in that day. The Petite Sirah is a good value. Spicy fruit coming in at $15/bottle.

Wine #10: Bella Vineyards ‘07 Zinfandel from Lily Hill Estate – Beautiful vineyard setting in Dry Creek Valley. Not yet heard of the winery, but the wine is good – very typical Zinfandel – wild berry and very concentrated black cherry. Good stuff.

Wine#11: Twisted Oak Winery ‘07 River of Skulls – scary name, scary label. Comes from Skulls County, hence the name and label. Going to be released next month. 88% Mourvedre, the rest Syrah. Mourvedre is one of my favorite grapes, so hoping for good things here. And it’s good. It’s got that cool meatiness that Mourvedre can lend, backed by wild & spicy fruit. Another winery with which I am unfamiliar. Ah, now I know why – small production – only 400 cases.

Wine#12: Hurrah! Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs – a true favorite. This is the ‘06 vintage. Great apple aromas and flavors, very good fresh bubbles and a light crisp aromatic loveliness. Makes mouth happy! Great way to finish! Will post more on this lovely conference later.

Date Night at Home

Saturday night – date night! Time to let the stress of the previous week go and enjoy good food, good wine and lingering conversation with your significant other. Restaurants are commonplace to do this, though these days, trying to cut costs has led us to stay in a bit more. But date night can still be full of delicious wine and food, even if you’re enjoying it at home.

Last Saturday, my husband and I decided to do restaurant style food and wine at home and price compare – what did we pay vs. what we would have paid by going out.

The Food
Nothing like a good, juicy steak to go with a big, tannic red from the cellar. We picked up 2 medium-sized New York steaks from our local market on sale at $13.99/lb. A loaf of crispy bread, some red potatoes for roasting and mixed green salad made up the remainder of the meal.

The gosset grand reserveWine
To start the evening, we had some roasted, salted almonds and a glass of Gosset Grande Reserve. This is one of my favorite non-vintage Champagnes. It offers delicious crisp apple, brioche and yeast aromas. Richly textured for non-vintage and just delicious. Runs about $60 retail. Probably $20 – $30 per glass at a restaurant (if they even had it by the glass). I think Champagne is too often skipped when it’s just two people, as you can rarely finish the bottle and you don’t want the bubbles to go flat. Invest in a Champagne stopper! A good one will preserve those bubbles for a few more nights.

For the main meal, we decanted a bottle of Pine Ridge Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2006. You’ll find this on many steak restaurant wine lists at about $100 – $120. It runs around $45 retail. The nose was quite lovely – licorice, some dried herbs, repine ridged & black cherry. Nice structure on the palate, with dark fruit, oak spice and integrated tannins. Nothing under-ripe about this wine, but nothing over-ripe either. We served it with our grilled steak and it was a beautiful match. Decanting definitely helped bring out the layers in this young wine and the protein & fat from the steak tamed the tannins.

We ate outside on the patio, enjoying the wine in good glassware, taking in the setting.

Adding up the food, we had about $25 of grub. Wine was about $105, but we had 3/4 a bottle of Champagne left for the next few days. $130 total for the evening, including some very nice wines. At a restaurant, this may have added up to $250+. Granted, we had to do some prep and some clean-up, but totally worth it for what we had back in our pocket – and the added fact that we did not have to drive anywhere afterwards! So splurge on that really good bottle and enjoy it at home!

The remainder of the Gosset will be enjoyed with some popcorn this evening.

Wine Education Wednesday: Syrah vs. Shiraz

 Lately I’ve been craving Syrah for two simple reasons: It pairs well with hearty meals and, best of all, it costs much less than other popular varietals. With so many options for wine lovers out there, one question I get from time to time is,  'what is the difference between Syrah and Shiraz?' Answer – Nothing!  In the true spirit of Australian individualism, the Aussies planted Syrah and called it Shiraz.  The two grapes are genetically identical, though in taste profile, you will find some differences.

Since Roman times Syrah has been grown in the a Rhône region of France.  Hence, it is commonly referred to as a Rhône varietal.  Syrah has seen a surge in popularity and is now grown in California, Washington, South America and South Africa. You can find it in just about every region, though those listed are most popular.  Despite these new challengers, I prefer Australian and French Rhône wines.   Syrah from these regions offer intense richness and a full-body.

French Syrah

French Syrah comes from the Rhone Valley, which is divided into the Northern and Southern Rhône.   Northern Rhône wines command a high price and produce some of the most sought after and long-lived Rhône wines.  Northern Rhône wines are made primarily from Syrah, though in some areas a small percentage of white can be blended in. Familiar appellations in the Northern Rhône include: Côte Rotie, Saint-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage and Cornas.

The Southern Rhône produces much more accessible wines in that they are priced affordably and made for much earlier consumption than Northern Rhône wines, which can take decades to mellow. The freshness of Southern Rhône wines is a result of blending Grenache with Syrah, as well as a myriad of other grapes, including Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvedre.  In fact, Grenache is considered the dominant grape in the Southern Rhône and Syrah is often added to beef up the blend with powerful tannins and flavor (a practice also followed in Australia). Familiar appellations include: Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Côtes du Rhône and Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

Northern Rhône Syrah offers leather and spicy black pepper qualities coupled with intense tannins and a higher natural acidity than its Shiraz brother.  Complex flavors lead to a long wonderful finish worthy of contemplation. Southern Rhone wines, having a smaller percentage of Syrah and different growing conditions, are much softer, though still providing some spicy, earthy notes.

Notable Producers:  E. Guigal, Jean-Luc Columbo, M. Chapoutier, Chateau Beaucastel


Australian wines are booming and winemakers have made huge strides understanding which varietals grow best in each region.  Australian Shiraz is planted in several areas, but the best come from the Barossa, McLaren Vale and Coonwarra (also noted for its Cabernet Sauvignon).  These areas experience high temperatures resulting in very ripe fruit with lower acidity.  The ripe fruit coupled with Australian winemaking techniques create luscious, silky, mouth-filling wines.  The Barossa Valley in particular excels in the Aussie style offering round tannins and dark fruit flavors, accented with chocolate notes. Thirsty yet?

Notable producers:  Penley Estate, Penfolds, Hewitson, Tait, Peter Lehmann

My Picks

Delas St. Esprit Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge 2007 ($9.99). Contains soft tannins with smoky aromas of black pepper and burnt brown sugar.  Pair with roast chicken. A steal at $9.99!

Tait The Ball Buster 2007.  Luscious dark fruit with cocoa nuances.  Pair with steak or roasted lamb.


Royal Bottle Sizes

You may have seen huge bottles in restaurants and wine stores and thought ‘There’s got to be a name for those bottles, other than Really Big Bottles.’ And there are. Pretty cool names, too.

A few numbers: A standard bottle holds 750mL and is the most common bottle size you will see.
A magnum holds 1.5 liters or 2 bottles

After the magnum, the names of bottle sizes come from the names of kings noted in the Old Testament.

Bottle – 3 liters/4 bottles in Champagne & Burgundy (as well as most New World). In Bordeaux this size is called a Double Magnum.
King – After the death of Solomon, Jeroboam led a revolt against Rehoboam and became King of a newly independent kingdom of Israel.

Bottle – 4.5 liters/6 bottles (in Bordeaux this size is called a Jeroboam, just to confuse you).
King – King of Judea after the death of his father, Solomon.

Bottle – 6 liters/8 bottles (in Bordeaux this size is called Imperiale).
King – Here is an exception, as Methuselah is not a king, but rather the oldest man cited in the Bible at 969 years old.

Bottle – 9 liters/12 bottles
King – King of Assyria, also known as Shalmaneser. Mentioned in 2 Kings, Chapter 17.

Bottle – 12 liters/16 bottles
King – In the Book of Daniel, King Belshazzar (or Balthazar) was the last king of Babylon.


Bottle – 15 liters/20 bottles
King – King of Babylon (before Balthazar) who conquered and exiled many Jews. Also built the “Hanging Gardens of Babylon).  Seen here in painting by William Blake.

There are larger bottles said to be out there – Melchior for 24 bottles and Sovereign for 34 bottles. These are very rare.

The largest wine bottle made so far was commissioned by Morton’s Steakhouse in 2004. At 4.5 feet tall, the bottle held 130 liters (173 bottles, 1200 glasses) of wine. The wine itself was Beringer Vineyards 2001 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.

What’s the biggest bottle you’ve drunk?

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