Tag Archives: pinot noir

When the “big” wine guy helps the “little” wine guy

Last Friday our company outing took us to two wineries for tours and tastings, one of which was DeLoach Vineyards. If you've ever visited DeLoach, nestled in the lovely Russian River Valley of Sonoma, you'll know how impressive it is. As well it should be. The winery is owned by Boisset, one of the largest French wine companies – they own and import a number of wines from France and run a few properties in California, too. The family's line up ranges from easy-drinking quaffable wine to collectible Burgundies. They have positioned themselves at the forefront of the eco movement in wines, packaging a few of their wines in PET bottles and converting DeLoach to organic and then biodynamic farming.

DeLoach is pretty cool in that it has an organic farm, with herbs and vegetables galore, as well as chickens laying fresh eggs and sheep roaming about. It's what you'd call self-sustainable.

Walking through the vineyards with Lisa Heisinger (yeah, she knows her stuff), the general manager, we heard all about their biodynamic practices, as well their efforts to recycle (water & grape pumace). In the barrel room they described the artisan practices used in making Pinot Noir – manual punchdowns, natural yeasts, minimal oak, etc. While I love all of these efforts, it's still wine made from a big company. With a lot of money, who can afford to implement these practices. That said, they are a big company that helps the little guy. We were joined by one of the "little" guys that day.

His name is Ulysses Van der Kamp and he owns Van der Kamp vineyard, which is located in Sonoma Mountain and has been around for over 100 years. You immediately want to talk to Ulysses due to his rugged good looks and piercing blue eyes. He's a farmer. He grows grapes. Pinot Noir grapes, to be specific. That's pretty much it. This man lives and breathes Pinot Noir. His passion is contagious and draws you in. He's the kind of guy that does not take vacation because the grapes don't take vacation. He personally visits each vine at least 12 times a year, doing the pruning himself, focusing on the entire life of the vine. I actually asked him if he gave the vines proper names! (he doesn't)

Ulysses (I choose to call him by his first name because I love it) loves DeLoach and DeLoach loves him. They've been working together for a few years and in 2006, DeLoach released the first Van der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir, part of their Vineyard Designate series. As a grower, dedicated to organic farming and sustainable living, I think Ulysses wants to sell to a winery that feels the same way about the vines. Though he has no say in what happens after DeLoach takes the grapes, he is clearly pleased with the outcome in the bottle – as are we. This wine was fantastic. Bright fruits, lots of dried herbs on the nose. And the palate, while bright with acidity and red fruits, is also coating with its texture, savory character and super lingering finish. A great food Pinot and we loved it with the myriad of foods we had on our plates for lunch.

While it is still a wine run by a big wine family, who makes everything from artisan Pinot Noir to easy-drinking value bottles, they are a big company that thinks like a small one and they represent what you want a "big" company to do – use their money to give back to the earth (organic, recycling, etc) and utilize the artisan growers of the region, like the very lovely Ulysses. Hats off to DeLoach for all that they do up there – making fantastic wine, maintaning a beautful place to visit and most importantly, doing what they can to better the earth they use and the people around it. 

Stay tuned for the Van der Kamp Pinot Noir to show up in our selection. And we hope to head down to Sonoma to talk further with DeLoach and Ulysses.

Perfect Spring Sippers

Though Spring has been here for a couple of months, it certainly has not felt like it all the time… particularly in the NW. However, temps are finally getting up there and I'm ready to pop open some wines that fit the weather. Style wise, for whites, we're talking Light & Crisp. Reds mean Light & Fruity.

In whites, three perfect choices are Sauvignon Blanc, Albarino and Chenin Blanc. My picks are:

Montes Leyda Sauvignon Blanc 2008
I recently arranged this to be the white for a rehearsal dinner party in April. People who thought they did not like white wine – or were usually beer drinkers – LOVED this wine. As did I. There was not a drop left by the end of the night (as you could see by some of the moves on the dance floor). It is wonderfully aromatic; citrus-driven, a touch of grass and herbal notes, and so deliciously crisp. The Leyda region in Chile is very cool and this wine shows how great the region is at Sauvignon Blanc.

Bonny Doon Ca' Del Solo Albarino 2008
I said it once, I'll say it again: I've not yet met a Bonny Doon wine I didn't like. And I mean really like. This Albarino is a perennial favorite. Even in the cold weather it's a delicious aperitif or pairing with seafood. But it just tastes so delicious in the spring. It's what I'd call CLEAN. Bright apple fruits, crisp backbone, citrus and some herb notes. Made with Biodynamic farming, which may be from where its sense of purity comes.

Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2009
Another favorite, particularly for the price. Chenin Blanc is a grape that South Africa does VERY well and Mulderbosch is makes a classic version. Again, we're talking Light & Crisp, so you're going to get citrus, and bright acid. But you also get some riper tropical fruits in this one, with kick of spice, too.

Moving on to red recommendations…
Beaujolais, Pinot Noir & Cotes-du-Rhone are my top wines for Spring. Some of my picks include:

Duboeuf Fleurie Domaine des Quatre Vents 2008
Do not be fooled – Beaujolias, particularly "cru" Beaujolais is good stuff! Duboeuf is a classic producer of Beaujolais, the large region in the south of Burgundy producing bright wines from the Gamay grape grown on granite soils. When you talk Beaujolais, you're talking bright red fruit, some spice and acidity, but the key term for me here is bright. It's a red wine that is light and almost crisp. Perfect for warmer weather and light foods.

Escarpment Over the Edge Pinot Noir 2008
I love this wine. Mainly because I was so impressed when I tasted it and found out it was under $15! This is a "savory" style Pinot Noir, with lots of berry fruit, some sweet spice and some spicy spice, as well as a touch of dried herbs. Just lovely all over. Good finish, great for a juicy burger or some grilled salmon.

For my Cotes-du-Rhone, I have two picks. And they are both a bit more pricey, but totally worth it I think as they are from Cairanne. Cairanne is my favorite "villages" of the CDR and I think it will the next "cru" (the way Gigondas, Vacqueyras & Vinsobres were upgraded). Your choices are:

Dom. de L'Oratoire St Martin Cairanne Cuvee Prestige 2007 or Domaine Alary Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne 2007
Both wines are full of upfront fruit and sweet spice. The Oratoire St Martin has quite a bit of Mourvedre in the blend, so you will get more peppery spice notes and some earthy tones. The Alary (which I am very partial to) is more on the rich, sweet spice side, with a silky smooth texture. Either way, you're getting great grill-friendly wines that are perfect for spring.

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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?