Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Chateau Montelena: A Review of Two Wines

Chateau Montelena in Napa Valley is most famous for winning the white wine category of the Judgement of Paris tasting in 1976. The Judgment of Paris was a blind tasting organized by Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant, in which classic French wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy were competitively tasted next to wines being made in little-known Napa Valley, California. To everyone’s surprise, the Napa wines took home first place in two categories. Chateau Montelena won the white wine category with their 1973 Chardonnay and Stag’s Leap won the red wine category with their 1973 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon. Check out the movie, Bottle Shock, which tells the story of this tasting and shows how Napa got put on the map.

And now, for a tasting of two Chateau Montelena wines

Chateau Montelena 2015 Calistoga Zinfandel 14.5% ABV $39

This wine is from Calistoga, which is one of the warmest sub-regions in Napa and also the northernmost. Those who were here remember 2015 as the driest year on California record. This coupled with warm weather produces dense and ripe fruit. 
Tasting Notes: This wine has stewed black fruit on the nose (perhaps blackberry jam) and dark chocolate/cocoa. On the palate I get the same stewed black fruit (including bramble), plus a slight raisined note, as well as cedar/toast, vanilla, and sweet baking spices (cinnamon and clove). This wine is big, juicy and in yo' face. BUT it is very well-balanced. I love this wine. This is everything I want a California Zinfandel to be.

Chateau Montelena 2013 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 14.1% ABV $58

According to the tech sheet, this wine shows Napa Valley greatness without the wait, as it is intended to drink now. The 2013 vintage had a dry and mild Spring, which stresses the vines early on. Summer brought lots of sunlight plus wide diurnal shifts (difference in temperatures between day and night) which helps the grapes retain acidity. 
Tasting Notes: On the nose I get predominantly black fruit (blackberry), but also a bit of red fruit (plum) plus vanilla. There is an ever so slight pyrazine (green) note that gives away the fact that we are drinking Cabernet Sauvignon. On the palate I also get black and red fruit as well as strong tannins and acidity. This wine delivers classic Cab flavors and is ready for immediate consumption. 2015 is the current release. The 2015 retails at $61.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Vintastic Voyage: Experience the Willamette Valley at Youngberg Hill

A short 45-minute drive from the Portland airport and we had arrived to a peaceful, pastoral wine country setting in the Willamette Valley. The sign signaled our arrival “Youngberg Hill: Wine-Inn-Events”. A mile-long driveway (more about that later) separated the main road from the tasting room. The views here are beautiful. Views of rolling hills with perfect rows of vines. But what I noticed is that there is a lot of land on this property not planted to vine. Lots of trees (almost a mini-forest), a small lake among the vines, grazing land for the Angus cattle and Scottish Highlanders, grassy hills, native plants, and did I mention trees? Lots and lots of trees. Why wouldn’t they maximize their 50-acres and plant as much to vine? The answer is biodynamics. 

Biodynamics refer to the process with which grapes are grown and wine is made. Biodynamics were developed by Rudolf Steiner using his own formulas as well as referring to the astrological and lunar calendars. Organic wine is wine in which the grapes were not sprayed with chemicals (making the grapes certified organic) and the wine was made with no added chemicals (i.e. sulfites). Both biodynamics and organics are very sustainable and have their own pluses and minuses. The beauty of nature, is that there is no waste. Nature is a naturally sustainable system. Biodynamics closes the fertility loop because everything the system needs is within the system.

After the mile-long drive up the driveway, you arrive to the tasting room/B&B onsite. It’s a gorgeous house on a hill. When you walk in it feels like it could be your aunt’s living room. A throw rug. Flowers on an end table. Lots of dark wood. It feels comfortable and familiar. To the left you have the tasting room that is very warm and welcoming with sweeping views of the vineyards. As you continue through the house, and it really does feel like a house, you pass through the kitchen, living room area, and a wrap-around deck with views that cannot be adequately described unless you see them with your own eyes.

On the deck you are given a taste of the 2017 Aspen Pinot Gris to enjoy, compliments of the winemaker. From here, you can check-in to your room, or begin the full tasting flight. Either way, you are fully immersed in the Youngberg Hill experience. What mortgage payment? What grocery list? What dry cleaning to pick up? All the “noise” of the city and of your daily life seems to melt away and you are fully present on this deck with this taste of wine.

According to Wikipedia, experiential marketing is defined as a marketing strategy that directly engages consumers and invites and encourages them to participate in the evolution of a brand or a brand experience. Rather than looking at consumers as passive receivers of messages, engagement marketers believe that consumers should be actively involved in the production and co-creation of marketing programs, developing a relationship with the brand. This blurb isn’t necessarily part of my review of this property. And it isn’t what a consumer is thinking of while onsite, but it’s happening. It’s running quietly in the background. You are experiencing Youngberg Hill in the present. And it’s not in a sales pitchy way, but you are quickly becoming one with your setting. This is your new life for the next day or two. Youngberg Hill has hit the mark with their quiet yet solid version of experiential marketing.

There are over 550 wineries to choose from in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, and the wine marketplace in the Valley is fragmented. So much so that 85% of wineries are small, craft producers of less than 5,000 cases.

How can the Willamette compete with say, Napa? When people are choosing a wine country vacation destination, they have a few options. They can go to a wine country made up of big, fancy McChateaus with names we all recognize, white tablecloth dining, and over-confident tasting room staff.* Or they can come to the Willamette for that quintessential wine country experience: small towns, friendly people, good food, and good juice. Though the Willamette Valley runs a sweeping 150 miles north to south, it feels like one big small town.

*I actually love Napa, and have found some gems there. But there is a lot of “fluff” and “noise” to get through in order to reach the authentic part of Napa!

Youngberg Hill is a 50-acre estate with 20 acres of biodynamically farmed vineyards. The first vines were planted in 1989, and current owner Wayne Bailey acquired the property in 2003. Today Wayne and his wife Nicolette live on the property with their three daughters: Natasha, Jordan, and Aspen. Wayne is also winemaker at Youngberg Hill and keeps a “pragmatic obsession” and “fervent” “non-interventionist” approach to winemaking. He makes wines that have been described as “seriously organic”.

In addition to the vineyards and tasting room, there is a 9-room B&B onsite. As well as a full events center that can be rented out for private events and weddings. The “Wine Wednesday Music Series” is weekly from 6pm-8pm throughout the summer. Both wine and food are available for purchase, in fact one of Youngberg Hill employees brings a food cart out and caters onsite

Upon arrival, Neal, Alyse, and I had the Seated Tasting Experience with Karyn Howard Smith, the new Hospitality Manager at Youngberg Hill. Neal and Alyse are bloggers at Winery Wanderings out of Eugene, OR.  My tasting notes follow at the end of this post. As a visitor to Youngberg Hill, there are two tasting options. The $15 general tasting in the tasting room, or a longer, more in-depth seated tasting experience for $30.

After our tasting we were lucky enough to meet Bobby Fanucchi, the self-proclaimed “vineyard guy” onsite. Bobby is everything you’d expect from a guy who works in the vineyard. He walked in sweaty, dirt under his brow, and in overalls. It doesn’t get more authentic than that! Bobby’s passion for the property is evident. He drove us around in a Jeep and you can tell he lives and breathes this place. He knows every nook and cranny and is proud and happy to take such good care of the land. He works in the vineyard 5 days a week and also helps out in the tasting room, when needed. He and his wife also work on the events side in catering for some of their public events.

All in all, our visit to Youngberg Hill was impeccable. After our vineyard tour with Bobby we took a glass of wine on the deck in the sunny afternoon. We met a couple visiting from St. Louis, who looked just as relaxed as us! We stayed in the cozy and comfortable Cellar Room downstairs. They even had a bottle of their Jordan Pinot available for purchase (at a discount!!) on the nightstand. Displayed with 2 branded wine glasses. Nice touch.

The next morning Alyse and I took a walk to the end of the driveway. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but it was 2 miles roundtrip! A beautiful walk, with a nice incline on the way back. You can even grab a Youngberg Hill reusable water bottle to keep you hydrated! After the walk, I took my coffee (before breakfast) on the deck and met a couple visiting from Washington state. The quiet of this place still astounds me. I live in Los Angeles and have been there for 18 years. It’s never quiet. To be able to sit on the deck and answer emails to the sounds of birds chirping is a beautiful thing. After getting ready for the day we enjoyed a made to order breakfast. 2 courses: homemade granola & Greek yogurt plus sausage links & stuffed French toast. All of this is included with a stay at the B&B.

Overall, it was a lovely stay from start to finish. Youngberg Hill has a lot to offer and I’d highly recommend a visit here if you want to “get away” in a peaceful wine country setting in the Willamette Valley.

There are over 550 wineries in the Willamette that are waiting for you to experience them and who want to share their stories with you. This is what you get in the Willamette: a convivial atmosphere to enjoy some pretty damn good wine. Warning: Must Love Pinot!  I highly suggest you make Youngberg Hill your homebase while visiting the Willamette Valley.

Youngberg Hill Wines Tasted

2017 Aspen Pinot Gris $25
This wine is every so slightly sweet with detectable RS (residual sugar) at 2%. I prefer a drier wine, but this is a nice easy drinker.

2016 Aspen Chardonnay $40
Some Pinot Gris vines onsite were pulled up to plant Chardonnay. This wine gives me dairy and cream on the nose, with nuttiness on the palate. Barrel aged in once-used oak barrels for 6 months. 336 cases produced. 12.9% ABV.

2015 Bailey Pinot Noir $50
I got slate/graphite on the nose. A nice earthiness/forest floor note and good overall texture/body. The soils for these vines are shale/volcanic. 151 cases produced. 13.3% ABV.

2015 Natasha Pinot Noir $50
These vines are grown on marine sediment. This wine has more fruit notes than the Bailey. It is a big, structured wine and would be good to recommend for Cabernet lovers. I get mostly red fruit (rhubarb and raspberry) + a good amount of spice (including white pepper and baking spices). 558 case production. 14.5% ABV

2015 Jordan Pinot Noir $50
These vines are grown on volcanic soil and this fruit gets 1.5 weeks longer hang time than the other Pinots. This wine is feminine and elegant and full of red fruit and floral notes. There is also a strong earthiness, plus spice and tobacco on the back palate. 448 cases produced. 13.7% ABV.

2015 Syrah $40
The fruit here is sourced from the Rogue Valley, which is south of the Willamette. I get ripe red + black fruit, chocolate, and coffee bean.

2015 Cuvee Pinot Noir $35
The fruit here is partially estate-grown and partially sourced. An approachable, easy to drink Pinot Noir with simple notes of red fruit and spice. A great value. This wine is ready to drink now. 286 cases produced. 13.5% ABV.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Everyday is Earth Day at Bonterra

Last Fall I attended an excursion to Mendocino with fellow wine bloggers where I learned about this small, but mighty wine region in northern California. Click HERE for more detail on this excursion, whereas today we delve into Bonterra Vineyards.

Bonterra, a brand in the Fetzer portfolio is America's #1 organically farmed wine. They have over 1,000 acres of vines, of which 100% are farmed organically and 25% are farmed biodynamically.  The land has been farmed organically for over 30 years and they are currently producing 500,000 cases annually.

In my opinion, the role Bonterra plays in the marketplace is to provide accessibility of organic wines to the larger market. Even if you are not a fan of large production wines, Bonterra is doing amazing things and deserves our attention. And I assure you, the wines are good.  Don't believe me? In 2016, Wine Enthusiast named Bonterra: American Winery of the Year. See HERE.  There’s something to be said about scale. Big is not always bad. As I witnessed firsthand, a tremendous amount of care goes into everything they do.

Joseph Brinkley, Director of Vineyards

Our day in Mendocino started with gloomy, foggy, and wet weather. It was cold and rainy, but that didn't stop us! We were transported to Bonterra Vineyards property, McNab Ranch in Ukiah where we met Joseph Brinkley, Bonterra's Director of Vineyards. Note that McNab Ranch is not open to the public. Joseph is a handsome young guy with dreads and he manages 1,000 acres of vines plus 1,000 acres of wild land. I cannot convey to you (nor can my photos do justice) of how beautiful this property is. We chatted in the barn, chatted in the rain, walked through puddles, and strolled through the vineyards.  This morning, with the weather in plain sight, I was reminded that a vineyard (and even a bottle of wine) is a living, breathing thing. WE as humans are at the mercy of the land. Not the other way around. This was a good reminder as I continued my deep dive into all things organic and biodynamic.

Joseph Brinkley, Director of Vineyards

Part of the day included a biodynamic prep workshop where we were lucky enough to stuff cow manure in cow horns. <insert sarcasm> These are buried in the vineyards in the fall to decompose throughout the winter.  I was happy to participate in this workshop and see a biodynamics up close and personal. But I'd be lying if I said that I wanted to do it again. Handling manure is not what I thought of when I envisioned working in the wine world!

Stuffing cow manure into cow horns!

After the property tour and biodynamic prep workshop we enjoyed a bountiful local lunch prepared by Chef Alan Cox. It was to die for and included: local greens with goat feta and a 4-vinegar dressing, white turnips and carrots with pomegranate and lemon rice wine vinegar dressing plus fresh dill and coriander, local chicken with preserved lemon beurre blanc, and roasted heirloom delicato and butternut squashes.  Chef Cox explained each dish to us and gave us a bit of a Mendocino history lesson. There is a community of Native American people in the area. His goal is to create bridges instead of walls, and he does this through food. Food brings an energy and connectedness. What a mindful, conscious guy he was.

The lunch was paired with local wines....too many to mention! I believe we tasted over 30 wines before lunch! What I did love is that we got to meet the local winemakers. Especially poignant was hearing from Jeff Cichocki, the Bonterra head winemaker, who had just lost his home in the fires. He was still here. There was an energy in the room and we felt it. I felt a tremendous amount of love and community. Jeff's integrity and humility was apparent.

Spending time in Mendocino enriched my understanding of terroir, and not just in regards to wine. A sense of place. Our sense of place and why we are here and what our role on the planet is. I felt more present to our responsibility as humans while in Mendocino because I met so many people who have such a strong connection to the land.  Something I don't always get in Los Angeles.

I'd be remiss if I did not mention Courtney Cochran who works in PR and Communications at Fetzer. Courtney was our host and cruise director for this overnight excursion and she rocked it. And she had a bun in the oven! She was a pleasure to be with, extremely knowledgeable, and had a strong relationship to time and to our schedule, which I appreciate as an event planner. Thank you Courtney!

Finally, here are the Bonterra Wines we tasted. Most of these wines have wide distribution and can be found at many grocery stores, including Whole Foods. I can say, from having experienced the Bonterra land, that with your purchase, you are doing something good. Good for the land and good for Mendocino. Bonterra is taking corporate social responsibility to another level with their careful and thoughtful use of the land.

Bonterra Tasting Flight

Zinfandel 2015 $16 
A pure, fresh nose for a Zinfandel. No prunes or raisins here. An example of a cooler climate Zinfandel. Restrained with a nose of red fruit and spice.

Merlot 2015 $16
This wine was GREAT on its own. Strong red fruit notes, plus ripe plums. Good spice characteristics plus floral (violets). This wine surprised me, and in a good way.

The Butler 2013 $50
The blend for this wine varies annually. It is a single vineyard Rhone blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre. Red + black fruit, spice box, and dried meat.

Sauvignon Blanc 2016 $14
We tried this one in the field and with the panel. A good Kim Crawford alternative if you want to expand your horizons. They even do this wine on tap at some on-premise locations. A good balance of sugar and acid. I get a lot of stone fruit.

Chardonnay 2016 $14 
Bonterra produces 140,000 cases of this wine annually.  The nose had me worried. I thought it was going be an oaky, buttery Chardonnay, but the palate was well-balanced.

The Roost 2015 $40
This is a 100% single vineyard Chardonnay. Their version of "Reserve". Only 250-500 cases are made annually.  A nice wine. Very enjoyable.  100% MLF with frequent lees stirring.  More purity of fruit, than the 2016 Chardonnay. All free-run juice, no press. Light and ethereal.

A toast with the Mendocino group!


Thursday, May 31, 2018

Inner Mendo Odyssey

Last fall I attended the annual Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Rosa, CA. The area had just been hit hard with the wildfires only a month earlier, but the resiliency of the community was apparent, as they welcomed us with open arms and leaned on us to help spread the message that Napa and Sonoma were open for business. As we’d hear throughout the week in Sonoma/Napa, in Mendocino, smoke taint was a non-issue since most of the fruit was already harvested when the fires hit. Though two wineries were lost in the fire.

Just before WBC began, I attended a pre-conference excursion called the “Inner Mendo Odyssey” which took us to various properties in Mendocino. I had never been to Mendocino and was blown away. It felt like I was transported to a land far, far away. Mendocino felt wild and untamed. In fact, it made Sonoma look fancy!

Wild and untamed Mendocino

Mendocino is the epicenter of organic farming in California. In terms of wine, there are 17,000 acres under vine in Mendocino County and 11 AVAs.

Our first stop of the day was Fetzer Vineyards in Hopland, CA (population 817!). Fetzer is one of America’s founding wine families and has since been acquired by Viña Concha y Toro. They are considered a certified zero waste and carbon neutral brand. They also operate on 100% green power. Here our group shared a toast and engaged in a conversation about sustainability and carbon farming with people from both Fetzer and North Coast Brewing Co.

Biodynamics refer to the process with which grapes are grown and wine is made. Biodynamics were developed by Rudolf Steiner using his own formulas as well as referring to the astrological and lunar calendars. Organic wine is wine in which the grapes were not sprayed with chemicals (making the grapes certified organic) and the wine was made with no added chemicals (i.e. sulfites). Both are very sustainable and have their own pluses and minuses. The beauty of nature, is that there is no waste in nature. Nature is a naturally sustainable system. Biodynamics closes the fertility loop because everything the system needs is within the system. I heard an interesting quote at this panel: there isn’t too much carbon, it’s just in the wrong place. This has always been something I’ve said about resources. It feels that we (aka the planet) have enough water and food. It’s just that those resources are misallocated. This is evident every time we throw away food in our fridge that has gone bad or throw away leftovers just because we don’t want them.

Sustainability panel at Fetzer Vineyards

Fetzer is the largest winery in the world to be named a Certified B-Corp. B-Corps meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability, and aspire to use the power of markets to solve social and environmental problems. This certification allows the board to make decisions not solely on profit. Profit is still a factor, but not the only factor. 

A couple standouts tasted that day:

Fetzer Sundial Chardonnay
This wine has been produced for over 30 years and comes at a whopping $9 pricepoint. What a value! I was floored by how much I enjoyed this.

North Coast Brewing Co. Cranberry-Quince Beer
This is the ONLY beer I have ever liked, except for cider. In fact, I’d consider it a good crossover beer for the rosé wine drinker. It actually tastes like a cross between beer, juice, and cider.

After the sustainability conversation we had an opportunity to engage in a wine blending competition with Bob Blue, winemaker of 1000 Stories, a Fetzer brand. 1000 Stories is a new brand. The wine is matured in both new and used, charred Bourbon barrels, which are plentiful as each barrel can only be used once to make bourbon. To continue on the sustainability train, 1000 Stories supports the Wildlife Conservation Society and American Bison Society in their efforts to help restore natural habitats and reintroduce bison to healthy environments. 

My wine blending studio

In the blending competition we tried different component wines including Zinfandel, Alicante Bouchet, and Petit Sirah from Mendocino, Lodi, and Paso Robles. From there we got to play winemaker and create our own blend for submission into the contest. It was a fun exercise, but who the hell really knows what they’re doing…..probably none of us!

Blending in progress!

Our final blends awaiting judging!

We were then bused to the Fetzer 50th Kick-Off Reception & Dinner at Campovida. Fetzer was about to celebrate their 50th harvest that following week. Campovida is an organic farm, winery, and event space. Chefs such as Alice Waters, Emeril Lagasse, and John Ashe learned here. Gary Breen and Anna Beuselinck are the proprieters and the Campovida brand makes 3000 cases annually (24 different varietals)! 

Here is a peek at the menu we enjoyed. The food (and wine!) was plentiful, hence I didn’t get too many tasting notes!

With this menu we enjoyed an Arneis, Tocai Friulano, Rosé di Grenache, Nebbiolo, Syrah (this was my standout wine!), and late harvest Viognier.

Next week I'll delve into Bonterra Vineyards and their wines, which are certified organic and biodynamic!

Friday, May 18, 2018

Velenosi Winery: Success in Central Italy

Angela Velenosi

In the 60s and 70s there was an economic boom in Italy. Many people who lived in more rural areas  moved to the cities to take advantage of new opportunities. In the 80s, the country then had to incentivize people to move back to those areas and take control of farms and vineyards. They did so with small business agricultural loans. Angela Velenosi took advantage of these economic incentives and started Velenosi Winery with her then husband, Ercole. Velenosi is located just outside the town of Ascoli Piceno in Marche, Italy.

The Marche region is on the central coast of Italy on the Adriatic side. Continental influences come from the west (from the Apeninne Range) and moderate maritime influence come from the east. Velenosi was founded in 1984 by Angela and Ercole with 9 hectares. They now own 148 hectares total and have grown to 2.5 million bottle annual case production!

Angela was our guest at the Velenosi Winery LA Wine Writers luncheon in March. She is a beautiful and smart Italian woman who started this venture when she was only 20 years old! Our intimate group enjoyed this time with Angela. We heard about her journey in the wine world and got to delve into her portfolio of wines, which were paired beautifully with fare from Cafe del Rey. As always, this lunch did not disappoint.

Herbed Goat Cheese on Marble Rye Toast
Pairing: Pecorino DOCG 2016

Pecorino is an indigenous grape to Marche. The wine is round and creamy with medium + body and a nice saltiness/brininess. The creaminess comes from 3 mos of lees contact and battonage. Fun fact: there are sheep on this vineyard that eat the grapes from the vine in the fall. These sheep then provide the milk for Pecorino cheese! I love both this wine and this pairing. Such a simple thing to whip up if you’re having friends over: toasted rye bread, a schmear of goat cheese (with herbs if you have ‘em), plus an EVOO drizzle and some fresh cracked black pepper.

Spinach & Stone Fruit Salad with Orange Vinaigrette and Sea Salt
Pairing: Verdicchio 2017

This wine had an almost pink color to it. Lots of stone fruit (both on the nose and palate) made this a great pairing with the stone fruit salad. This wine is creamy, structured, and has ageability.

Butternut Squash & Chocolate Bread Pudding with a Dried Plum Sauce
Pairing: Lacrima di Morro 2017

This dish was delicious and incredibly unique. I was inspired to try and recreate this, but I wouldn’t have the faintest idea of where to start. An inspiring pairing. One does not overpower the other. They dance with each other, though this wine sings on its own. A perfumed note of violet petals plus an earthiness/twigginess. A very dry and almost astringent wine. My favorite wine of the day.

Roasted Peppered Venison with Shaved Fennel & Cranberry Slaw, Pernod Dressing
Pairing: Ludi Offida DOCG 2014

This is one of Velenosi’s hallmark wines. 85% Montepulciano, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 7% Merlot. Red and black fruit, meatiness, plus vanilla and other baking spices. Dried flower as well. Medium + mouth-drying tannins.

48 Day Dry Aged Beef in a Porcini Mushroom Sauce
Pairing: Roggio del Filare Rosso Piceno Superiore 2013

Wow! To both the wine and this dish! The wine gives me: black fruit, spice (black pepper), leather, and black licorice. Also dried black cherries. Powerful, structured, and layered. You almost want to chew it. This wine was a “Tre Biccheri” at Gambero Rosso.

Almond Flour Cookies
Vernaccia di Serrapetrona DOCG 2016

This wine was made in the “apassimento” method. 100% Vernaccia Nera is hand-picked. 50% is fermented right away and the other 50% is dried for 3 months and then fermented. The two parts are blended together and put through a 3rd fermentation for 9-10 months. Reminded me of a rustic, sparkling Amarone. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Grenache: The Next Great Grape

I won!

We’re going to Napa y’all! Actually, I already went and will be telling you all about it! Read my contest-winning blog post HERE.

Tasting booklets for Garnacha: The Perfect Partner, the walk-around wine and food pairing experience

In April I had the pleasure of attending one of the most well-organized and informative wine events. They had a great mix of producers, winemakers, sales reps, retailers, and sommeliers, which is probably what made it so dynamic. I attend a lot of seminars, masterclasses, and walk-around tastings and I am usually left a bit underwhelmed. Rarely am I underwhelmed with the wines, but I’m generally underwhelmed with the quality of speakers/education offered. Let’s be real, as a general rule, most people are not great public speakers. Time and time again I attend these events and either hear a sales rep try to (unsuccessfully) convey the heart and soul of a brand or hear a winemaker speak to a group who clearly spends more time talking to the barrels than to actual people! Or hear someone who is just flipping slides and reading directly from them. I am the first to admit that public speaking is not my strength, but I would think that when a producer, a grape, or a region is being showcased, you want to do just that, showcase them! I digress.

Quick and Dirty Facts about Garnacha

Grenache. Garnacha. Cannonau. Alicante.

Garnacha is the 10th most planted wine grape variety in the world. Garnacha (specifically the Old World expressions) offer an outstanding value. In Spain, families have owned vineyards and wineries for centuries. With that being said, there’s no mortgage to cover! Overall there are lower land and labor costs. Think about a place like Napa, for example. How much do you think a mortgage costs on one of those giant chateau-like bad boys?

Garnacha is a grape that buds early and ripens late, which means it needs a nice long growing season. The grape has moderate acidity, enjoys hot/dry summers, and most is head/bush trained. Bush training helps control vigor, which is needed with a vigorous grape like Grenache. The bulk of the worlds Garnacha/Grenache can be found in France (51%) and Spain (38%).

Throughout the course of the day I enjoyed two panels. At the morning panel “Garnacha Unveiled” leading producers from Spain, France, and California explored the classical varietal characteristics of Garnacha; how it performs in different regions/terroir around the globe; and how it’s interpreted by renowned producers from around the world. Pedro Ballesteros Torres MW was one of my favorite panelists. Very passionate and unafraid to express his opinions! He said Garnacha is like Cinderella who was always underappreciated and finally got invited to the ball. The ball being the Global Garnacha Summit! Key insights were shared and the diverse panel kept things interesting, and at times, comical!

Pedro Ballesteros Torres MW explains the origins and importance of Garnacha in D.O.P. Cariñena, the birthplace of Garnacha with the most old vine plantings in Spain.

Pedro described Garnacha and how its identity is less about the actual grape, and more about where it’s from. To illustrate this, he said this is how both Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache would introduce themselves at a party:

Cabernet Sauvignon: Hi, I’m Cabernet Sauvignon. <Walking into the room assertively, shaking hands with everyone in the room, waving incessantly>

Grenache: Hey, I’m from Spain.

Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard is always amazing to listen to. He started out making Pinot Noir in California, but it broke his heart, so he moved to the Rhone varietals. He thinks cooler climate Grenache could be a thing, so long as the growing season is long enough. 

Winemaker Randll Grahm sharing his success with Garnacha in California's long ripening season, following a "jilted relationship" with Pinot Noir.

The region most closely associated with Garnacha is DOP Cariñena, located in Spain’s northeast region of Aragón. This is where Garnacha was born. Today most of the old-vine Garnacha in the world is planted in Cariñena. There are over 14,000ha of Garnacha planted in Cariñena alone, with a total of just over 1,500 growers. Cariñena has a high diurnal range, which is the difference in temperature between day and night. This temperature drop at night helps the grapes retain their acidity. Vineyards tend to be high altitude and soils are very complex. Garnacha also plays a strong supporting role in Rioja as a blending grape with Tempranillo.

These are the wines tasted at the Garnacha Unveiled seminar.

Grandes Vinos 2017 Anayon Parcel 81 (Parcelas Selection)
Grandes Vinos is a coop founded in 1977 who control ⅓ of the grapes in the region. This is a tank sample. Bright red fruit on the nose (cranberry and plum), plus a fresh floral note (rose petals). Great acid and freshness. Predominantly Grenache, plus 8% Cariñena and 4% Macabeo.

Clos Pissarra: 2014 El Mont Vineyard, El Lloar Priorat
The vine struggle is real. No irrigation and no soil really. Just a sea of slate. On the nose I get red berry, floral (rose), vanilla, and toast. On the palate I get warm, red fruit plus baking spices (including cinnamon). The yield here is ¾ ton per acre; a very concentrated wine. 15.7% ABV.

Domaine de Pegau: 2012 Cuvee Laurence
The family has been growing grapes in this area since the 18th century. Nose = a basement (true story!). Concentrated red fruit plus savory/umami notes. The palate is round and rich. This wine has very good structure and is quite approachable. Funky. I love it.

Clos de Trias: 2010 Vieilles Vignes
We’re in the south of France. This wine spent 7 years in barrel and 8 mos in bottle. The nose is understated and pretty. The palate = holy moly. Savory and salty notes. This wine is predominantly Grenache with a bit of Cinsault and Carignan.

Bonny Doon: 2015 Popelouchum Grenache
As can be expected from Randall, this is an interesting wine. The fruit is from 2-year-old vines, whereas normally fruit is not used for 3-4 years. 150 bottles were produced. This wine was fermented in a garbage can(!). The nose is very layered: red fruit, a perfumed note (rose essence), earth. I could dig into this wine. Randall said it might not make it to retail. ABV is 13.9%. It would have been 14.2% but the coyotes loved it so much, they had to harvest a bit earlier than expected.

A Tribute to Grace: 2015 Grenache, Shake Ridge Ranch
I fell in love with this wine. Angela Osborne only makes wine from Grenache and makes it the old way and uses her feet to tread the clusters-every day, twice a day. Grace was the name of Angela’s grandmother. I had only lost my grandmother a month before hearing this panel. And I felt the love for my grandmother that Angela felt for hers. This wine was magical for me. Maybe it’s the rose quartz in the vineyard? As I was writing my tasting notes I even stopped and wrote “no words, just thoughts”. Very, very light in color. The nose is delicate, fruity, and also perfumed. This wine feels empowered. The tannins are very well-integrated on this wine. Some things Angela said about this wine: power, female, aromatic, and earth.

Tables Creek: 2016 Cotes de Tablas
This is their entry-level Rhone blend, the ode to Cotes du Rhone. Warm, ripe red fruit plus floral (rose petals). Chelsea described it as bouncy and convivial.

Bethany Grenache Barossa
The family has been farming here since 1844. They are the 6th generation making wine. There is a good amount of earth on the nose, almost a funkiness or twiginess. This wine is 100% Grenache. All vines are 50-120 years old.

Bodegas Paniza: 2015 Garnacha de Pizarra
The only one of the group with a purple color. This wine smells like freshly poured tar...in a good way! On the palate: savory AF. Dark, baked fruit and licorice on the back palate.

Bodegas San Valero: 2015 Tierra de Cubas Garnacha/Cariñena
This wine has a clear Old World nose with more earth than fruit. Yet it is a FRESH wine. A great balance of the two.

After all that, you’d think we were done. Well, you’d be wrong! Between seminars there was a walk-around wine and food pairing featuring chefs of Copia who melded the signature flavors of Spain, France, and California with both 100% Garnacha and blends from around the world. The food was delicious and the selection of wines was not overwhelming, which is my #1 criticism of most walk-around tastings.

In the afternoon, I found myself at the “Garnacha Rising” panel that included leading sommeliers, buyers, and distributors who discussed historical strategies for promoting Garnacha wines in addition to current consumption trends. The panelists also exchange ideas for promoting Garnacha in today’s marketplace. This was a fascinating seminar and one that brought lots of audience engagement. The bottom line is that the American consumer is a varietal consumer and how can Grenache navigate that landscape when they are not a household name like say Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Pinot Noir.

As if our tastebuds weren’t shot, we ended the day with an interactive blind tasting competition led by The SommFoundation with cash prizes of $1000 for first place and $500 for second place provided by Somm Journal. Sadly, I only called 2 out of the 10 wines correctly. But it was a great learning experience and quite humbling, as blind tasting usually is.

All in all a wonderful trip to Napa. Thank you to Gregory + Vine for selecting me as the contest winner and providing me the opportunity to travel to the Global Garnacha Summit. A special shout out to Stefanie Schwalb and Viviana Millan who went the extra mile to make sure that I was taken care of! If this is an annual event, I hope to return next year!

Monday, April 23, 2018

They Make Wine: Michigan Edition

I tried my first Michigan wines a couple of years ago, on New Years Eve no less!

Fun fact: Michigan has over 13,000 acres under vine, making it the 4th largest state for grape growing! However, most of that acreage is for grapes that are used to make juice. If we drill down a bit, there are only about 3,000 acres under vine with grapes destined to become wine.**

In 1679 French explorers first made wine from native grapes growing in Michigan. By the mid-1800s a wine industry is established and it thrives until Prohibition. Now there are 5 AVAs in Michigan, including Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission Peninsula which constitute 51% of the vines in Michigan. There is also Lake Michigan Shore, Fennville, and Tip of the Mitt.

Vitis vinifera, which are the grapes we know and love, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, etc, started being planted widely in the 1970s. Today most new plantings in Michigan are v. vinifera. The most commonly grown grapes are Cabernet Franc, Riesling, Merlot, and Pinot Blanc. All of these grapes thrive and work well in cooler climates. The climate in the grape growing areas of Michigan are very cold, but Lake Michigan provides a much needed mitigating influence, which helps the grapes to survive in this cold.

Hybrids, which are a cross between v. vinifera and a native grape consist of 27% of plantings. Some consider these grapes (and subsequently these wines) to be inferior. I won’t get into the debate here, but feel free to add your thoughts in the comments. I once heard an MW speak (who shall remain nameless!) and he made a very interesting observation. He wondered if wine made from hybrids really is inherently inferior or is it just that no one has tried to make an excellent wine from hybrids? Native grapes make up 3% of plantings.

Mawby is a sparkling wine producer in Northern Michigan, creating traditional méthode champenoise, cuve close wines, and sparkling ciders. I have not personally visited Mawby, but was sent some samples for review. Their first vines were planted in 1973 and they now have 20 acres under vine, with plantings of: Pinot Noir, Vignoles (a hybrid), Pinot Gris, Regent (a hybrid), Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. They also source Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from other vineyards. Their tasting room is open year round, with limited hours in the winter. Larry Mawby has been making their wines since 1984.

Wines tasted:

M. Lawrence Green, Michigan Sparkling ($15)
This wine is a tank method sparkler made from 70% Cayuga (a crossing of 2 hybrids) and 30% Riesling with 1.5% RS (residual sugar). The wine is pale lemon green with medium aromatic intensity. On the nose is a floral note. Overall, this wine is quite unfamiliar due to the Cayuga. The wine is not all v. vinifera grapes, so you don’t get the traditional aroma/flavor descriptors.  This is a clean and simple sparkling that would be best consumed on its own or perhaps with something salty before a meal.

L. Mawby Blanc de Blancs, Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan Sparkling ($23)
This is a multi-vintage, traditional method sparkler made from Chardonnay grapes. The color is pale lemon green with a medium - aromatic intensity. There are faint youthful citrus aromas. This is a clean and simple sparkling that would be best consumed on its own or perhaps with something salty before a meal.

L. Mawby Cremant Classic, Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan Sparkling ($27)
This is a multi-vintage, traditional method sparkler made from 100% estate Vignoles, a hybrid. This wine shows citrus and yeasty/leesy notes. This is a clean and simple sparkling that would be best consumed on its own or perhaps with something salty before a meal.

Talismon, Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan Sparkling ($37)
This wine is made from a field blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Vignoles, and Pinot Gris. This was my favorite of the bunch, with a nice toasty nose and nuttiness on the palate. This is a clean and simple sparkling that would be best consumed on its own or perhaps with something salty before a meal. I’d also enjoy a glass of this post-dinner as a palate cleanser.

Grace Rosé, Michigan Sparkling ($23)
This wine is made from 98% Pinot Noir + 2% Regent, which is a hybrid grape used for color and aroma. This is a very enjoyable domestic rosé. Red fruit aromas of strawberry and raspberry. This wine would pair well with a fresh fruit dessert tart.

Tradition, Michigan Sparkling ($23)
This wine is 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay made in the traditional method. It’s an austere sparkling with strong acidity and citrus/green fruit notes. This is a clean and simple sparkling that would be best consumed on its own or perhaps with something salty before a meal.

**Statistics pulled directly from michiganwines.com