Tag Archives: pinot noir

Another Great Way to Explore Wine

As a long-term member of the "majority" of
oenophiles, defined as those individuals have have never tried a vertical of any fancy
wine or have 1,000 bottle wine cellars, I have been authorized (by myself) to invite anyone who's curious
about wine to join our group, like a jogger vs. runner, the distinction
is a state a mind. Oh and just to be clear, those of us who know which
years are "good years" and what to avoid or covet in wineshop, don't
actually buy or even try every bottle of wine, instead we cheat by
attending wine tastings.

This weekend, I attended the New Zealand Wine Discovery Tasting in San
Francisco. I seldom write tasting notes but I do make mental notes of
my general impressions and star my favorites. It's not laziness on my
part, but really it's about forcing wines to be memorable for good or
bad and taking away generalities that are much more useful than jotting
down 5 descriptors. I use this info to navigate menus and select from wines I've never tasted. So,
without further ado, I've laid out below my tasting plan of attack and
the mental notes that followed to show you how I add to my wine
knowledge without trying every bottle I see.

Attack Strategy #1: Scan the winery list. You might see wines you've always been curious about.

There has been a lot of buzz lately about pinot noirs from Central Otago, so
I gave them a try. I would have liked to have found a greater breadth
of aromatics and more substance. Nonetheless, I
found that Central Otago wines tended to have more complexity than
other regional wines, consequently, they would be great better with
food and at lower price points than quality pinot noir from California,
in other words, a good value. I liked the 2008 Matua Valley Central Otago Pinot Noir. Mental note to self: Central Otago = food/wallet compatible.

Attack Strategy #2 Taste the most expensive wines. This is often the best way to make sure your aren't disappointed later on.

In this case, the higher priced wines retailed around $36. They all turned out to be pretty good in terms of quality and given the pricing, as compared to top tier pinot, a good deal. Our favorite of the event turned out to be one of the most expensive at $37
a bottle (2008 Alana Estate Pinot Noir from Martinborough). For $37 and
up you get more tannic structure and finesse (in other words, it's not
quite as fresh and fruity). Mental note to self: Martinborough is producing some excellent and nuanced higher end pinots.

Attack Strategy#3 Experiment. Try the strangest wine you see on the list. Maybe it's from an obscure place or perhaps a variety you've never heard of.

We tried a brilliant 2008 Bordeaux blend from the tiny island of Waiheke produced by Man O' War called the Ironclad. Mental note to self: Waiheke Island is on my radar for Bordeaux blends.

Attack Strategy#4 Sample different regions and vintages

We tried side by side vintages of the 2007 and 2008 Tarras Vineyards
Pinot Noir from Central Otago. I enjoyed them both. I learned later
that 2007 is a great vintage for reds in New Zealand. Given a choice, I
would go for the 2007 if only because additional age rounds a wine out. Mental note to self: Don't fret over 2007 vs 2008 vintage for Central Otago pinot.

Attack Strategy#5: Sample different price points. I like knowing what another $5-10 gets me.

For this experiment I tried three lines of Brancott wines. First, I tasted the 2009 Brancott Sauvignon Blanc Malborough ($11). I got a lot of grassiness, grapefruit and perceptible sweetness. I like my wines a bit drier, however, it paired very well with oysters. Next we sampled the 2009 Brancott Reserve Sauvignon Blanc ($15). This wine was more weighty and less obvious in the nose, making room for more complex aromas. I think this one would pair much better with an entrée than the less expensive Brancott which is better suited to more casual occasions or a hot summer picnic. Finally, I tried the Brancott Letter Series 'B' Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough ($24). This is very good wine with an interesting minerality on the nose and good texture in the mouth, by far the best and pairs well with seafood and lighter pasta dishes. For these wines, I think it's important to decide what you personally enjoy. Some tasters love grapefruit aromas (one taster kept raving that "the
grapefruit just punches you in the nose"), whereas, I like less
violence and more minerality. Mental note to self: These start fruity and crisp and increase in weight, minerality and complexity for just a few dollars more.

Now get out there and start exploring!

What to drink on your 2 year anniversary

Today I've been married for two years. Though it often seems like much longer (mostly in a good way), I still think it's an accomplishment. 2 years down, 50-something to go?

We went out last night for dinner at a fantastic restaurant in Portland – Bluehour. To be honest, we don't get out all that much. With a 1 year old who has an abnormally early bedtime, we have the evening to ourselves, but it's usually at home. So it's a nice treat to get out, even though sometimes our conversations revolve around work, what we want to do around the house or analyzing the comments made by people at a table nearby. Last night night was a mixture of the three: we talked about new wines coming in to our "green" line up, talked about the garden in the yard and the dining room shades and then I had to ask, do people still jazzercise? One of our neighbors, who had to be in her early to mid 30s, said she jazzercised. (The tables are close together at this restaurant so it's easy to eavesdrop.) This was such a curious comment to me. Whenever I think of jazzercise, I think of Jane Fonda, that Jamie Lee Curtis movie and older women doing aqua aerobics. Am I wrong? Is it back like tight jeans and over-sized shirts? Perhaps. I will be looking into this and find out what kind of jazzercise options there are up here in the northwest.

I digress… what I really wanted to share was the wine we had! Started with a cocktail that was all too good. Luckily I spilled half of it – on the table and on me – which I blame on the glass. The lip of a martini glass is much wider than that of a wine glass, and as I brought it too my lips, I moved to fast and too far, aiming for my normal tulip rim, and voila, vodka and elderflower juice all over. Total martini faux-pas, particularly on your first glass of the evening.

Next course, the wine. Bluehour has a fantastic local wine menu and we were having meat and fish, so we chose an Oregon Pinot Noir. We chose the Evesham Wood "Le Puits Sec" 2007 Pinot Noir. Looked up Le Puits Sec this morning and it means "The Dry Well," so named for the first well the owners dug on the property, which delivered no water. Le Puits Sec vineyard has been certified organic since 2000 and the Pinot produced from it is stunning.

I loved the label, and the color of the wine was pure Pinot. I've had Pinot Noir where you would never tell that it was a Pinot Noir due to its dark, opaque hue. This was bright and lovely. On the nose, vibrant red fruit, black cherry, peppery spice and a very subtle earth note. Very inviting. Palate was bright, with red and black cherry, raspberry, a more savory note coming through, particularly when paired with my halibut and sunchoke puree. Absolutely delicious finish. It was truly Oregon. Burgundian in style, but you'd never mistake it for a Burgundy. Definitely not as dense as California – it was uniquely Oregon. A true expression of its terroir. Runs about $30 and totally worth it in my opinion – a perfect summer Pinot Noir to match your grilled salmon in warm weather. We loved it.

Now, tonight is the actual anniversary and we're eating in, but planning to raid the cellar. Thinking bubbles, but will know more when I assess the inventory.

Any special wines you've opened on your wedding anniversary?

The Wine Influence of TV

Last week, while my husband was in Bordeaux, drinking enough for the both of us, I went on a sabbatical from wine. Mostly to make sure I still could. While I managed the no alcohol policy for 9 months, that was over a year ago, and I've gotten well back into the swing of the wine world. And let's be honest, in the wine profession, it's easy to be 'over-served,' particularly in a household where both of us work in wine.

I aimed to make it a week, and was doing fine the first 4 nights, until I sat down with my sparkling water after dinner to watch a recorded episode of Cougar Town, the new show with Courtney Cox that comes on Wednesday nights, right after Modern Family – would never have thought to start watching this show, but since Modern Family is our new favorite, we've occasionally seen the first 10 minutes and I'll admit, I'm now hooked – it's programmed in the DVR. The episode to which I am referring had to do with wine. More specifically, giving up wine. While watching an entire half hour of people pouring, drinking and talking about wine, there comes a point where you REALLY just have to have a glass of wine.

It got me thinking about other movies and TV shows that have centered themselves around wine. I recall watching Sideways in the movie theatres and wishing I could flag down an usher for a glass. One of my favorite movies, French Kiss, is such a great movie about wine, making you also want to sip a glass in a vineyard in France. There's also A Good Year, with Russell Crowe, which, while not my favorite, does have a decent "garagiste" wine element to it.

TV shows for are out there, too – Frasier had quite a few wine references – Niles loved a good glass of Sherry and they did talk snooty wine talk occasionally – and the West Wing also had political (and relationship) talk over wine (or so I'm told – I admit I didn't watch it much). And now, there is Cougar Town, where Jules (the main character) pours her glass to the top and slurps the first sip with no hands. Classy stuff.

But now I'm curious. Can shows and movies be this tied to our cravings
for wine? It makes sense as marketers do it with commercials all the
time – from beer to sugary cereals, they are using images and dialogue
to spark our cravings.

So did I make it through the show without a glass of wine? Sadly, no. I succumbed to the urge and had a glass. But, knowing it would be just one glass, I went all out and had a big 'ole Pinot glass full of Flowers Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. It was quite good and totally worth it. You tend to want to drink better wine when you are limited to less consumption. And I was able to continue abstinence another 2 nights with no wine-oriented shows! 

And now I want to know what else is out there urging us to drink wine – are there any shows or movies that have sparked your craving for a glass? Or more? 

Drinking Chile – Veramonte Ritual Pinot Noir

The next wine we tasted from Chile this week was the Veramonte Ritual Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir from Chile is getting big. Not necessarily in style, but in wine circles. When I visited Pinot Noir in early 2006, I tasted a few Pinot Noir from a few wineries, but as of yet, had only seen one (from Leyda) in the United States. Nowadays, there are plenty more.

It makes sense. Chile has fantasticl cool climate regions like Casablanca Valley and Limari, and grape growers are finding new regions every year.

I tasted Veramonte Pinot Noir Reserva about 2 years ago, and was impressed. For $12, it was a delicious example of Pinot Noir. Fresh berry fruits, but with nice spice, a touch of smoke and that savory characteristic I always seek in my Pinot Noir.

The other night I got to taste the Veramonte Ritual Pinot Noir – a slightly higher end version than the Reserva.
Well, yum. I have to say it was excellent. It was also darker and more dense than most Pinot Noir, and while I knew what I was pouring myself, my father tasted it and was surprised when we told him it was a Pinot Noir – it has typical flavors of the grape – cherry, berry & spice – but it’s not delicate. We paired it with some rotisserie chicken, rice and a big salad and it was great. It could also hold up to some grilled meats, though, considering it’s dense nature.

If you like fuller bodied, more fruit-forward Pinot Noir, this is a perfect wine for you!

Don’t forget that this wine is in our Support Chile program, so stock up before March 31!

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!