Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Tradition Meets Modernity in Alentejo

In February I had the opportunity to attend a Masterclass on the wines of Alentejo, Portugal led by Evan Goldstein, MS. It was a wildly educational session and we tasted some stellar wines. In the class we got an overview of the Alentejo region, explored the sub-zones, and learned about the leading varieties and classic producers.

Fun Fact: Portugal has the highest per capita consumption of wine in the world. In Portugal, people consume, on average, 54L of wine annually! France is #2 with 51.8L per year and the US is a measly #53 with 10.56L consumed annually. Portugual climate is hot and dry with a long warm summer. Wine production has greatly modernized and production levels have been increasing steadily for the last 13 years.

map from winesofportugal.info

Alentejo specifically is in the south of Portugal and covers ⅓ of the country. The Romans influenced and developed viticulture and vinification in the area. Wines made in amphora (called talhas de barro in Portugal) have been made continually since the Roman era. No trendy clay use here! In Alentejo, production is mostly red (78.9%), with white making up 19.7%, and rosado 1.4%. The topography is mostly flatlands and rolling hills. And the area gets tons of sunshine (over 3,000 sunshine hours annually).

map from decanter.com

Alentejo wines are #1 in domestic consumption, but make up only 20% of Portuguese wine exports. Alentejo is one of the largest suppliers of cork in the world. 49.6% of the world’s cork come from Portugal. And 84% of Portuguese cork output comes from Alentejo.

There are many grapes indigenous to this area, including: Arinto (w), Antao Vaz (w), Roupeiro (w), Trincadeira (r), Aragonez (r), and Alicante Bouschet (r). Don’t worry, there won’t be a quiz at the end!

Here are notes on the wines tasted:

2014 Herdade do Rocim Espumante Brut Rose Vidigueira 12.5% ABV
This wine is 100% Touriga Nacional. The wine is made in the traditional method and no dosage is added (the style is called nature). This wine was amazing. Lots of nice leesy and yogurt notes. Red fruit. Overall there are not many bubbles in Alentejo, so this was a treat!

2015 Rui Reguinga Terrenus Reserva Branco Portalegre 13.2% ABV
This wine is a field blend, which means that several varieties are planted together in one vineyard. The grapes are then picked and vinified together. Bottles generally will not list the percentage per variety, since they aren’t sure. Fun fact: In 2017 this vineyard started to be tended biodynamically. This wine has a bright lemon color, sharp acidity on the tongue, with notes of citrus (lemon zest), green fruit (green apple), and tropical fruit (pineapple). This wine has an insane texture; almost chewy.

2016 Luis Duarte Rubrica Branco Reguengos 14.5% ABV
This wine has a bright yellow color. Notes of citrus (lime rind) with a tropical note. The wine is herbaceous, even a bit green with some savory/oxidative notes, such as almond skin.

2013 Susana Esteban Procura Tinto Portalegre 14.4% ABV
This wine is 55% Alicante Bouschet and the rest is a field blend. It has a purple, inky color. It is a bright, fresh wine with good acidity. Aroma characteristics include red fruit (raspberry and plum), floral (rose petals), spice (pepper, garrigue-sage/thyme). The tannins are medium and drying.

2013 Joao Portugal Ramos Vila Santa Reserva Tinto Borba 14% ABV
Evan described this winemaker as an unabashed modernist. This wine has a nice earthiness with a green note that I think comes from the Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend.

2011 Mouchao Tinto Borba 14% ABV
This wine is 70% Alicante Bouschet plus some Trincaidera. This is a very traditional wine. It is their current vintage as Alicante Bouschet needs time before it is ready to drink. Fun fact: the estate is mostly a cork forest! This wine will be able to age for decades. A very deep ruby color, almost black. On the nose I get both red and black fruit with a raisined/pruned note. On the palate, the notes are mostly primary. It’s a warm/hot climate here, and the fruit is very ripe and juicy. Vanilla notes from the time in oak. Med + to high tannins. Woahhhhh tannins!

2014 Esporao Reserva Tinto Reguengos 14.5% ABV
A contrast to the previous wine. This wine is modern in style. A combination of American & French oak (8 mos aging before release). This is a beautiful wine. Medium ruby in color with purple hues. On the nose I get both red and black fruit with a medicinal note. Perhaps eucalyptus? Could be Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend? Also, floral (violets) and vanilla. This is a feminine wine. Very pretty.

2014 Cartuxa Tinto Evora 14.5% ABV
This wine goes through extensive post-fermentation maceration with maturation in both vats and barrels for 12 months. Plus an additional 6 months in bottle before release. Deep purple in color with red and blue fruit on the nose and medium (smooth) tannins. This is a nice, easy to drink red.

2015 Dona Maria Grande Reserva Tinto Borba 14% ABV
This wine spends 1 year in new French oak. A deep, inky, purple color. Ripe black fruit, with some red. A perfumed note plus vanilla.

2015 Cooperativa Granja Amaraleja Moreto Pe-Franco Tinto Granja-Amareleja 14% ABV
This wine is 100% Moreto (which is an old varietal that is being abandoned). This is a grape that is traditionally made in amphora, and rarely exported. This is one of the lightest colored wines we tried. An interesting nose (mostly primary) and this wine opened up a bit as I swirled and tasted. Lots and lots of tannins and a slight oxidative nutty note on the back palate.

2015 Herdade da Malhadinha Nova Malhadinha Tinto Albernoa 14.5% ABV
I loved this wine! It has an earthy, forest floor note and black licorice and mocha on the back palate. I want to curl up with this wine in front of a fireplace.

2013 Cortes de Cima Tinto Vidigueira 14% ABV
The wines from this Alentejo sub-region (Vidigueira) are generally approachable and soft. Upon first tasting, my notes say this was the oldest and funkiest wine we tasted tonight. Lots of fun, savory notes. I love it. As I worked through this taste, the wine became a bit more subtle.

In a nutshell, Portugal’s wines are food friendly and diverse in style with a choice of traditional or modern wines. Also, amphora wines….who doesn’t love that. And Portugal is one of the fastest growing tourist destinations in the world, so it’s a GREAT place to visit.

When you find yourself buying wine at retail, a Portuguese wine has great value to offer. For under $20…..heck for under $15…..you can get some really great wines. Refreshing whites with good acid or deep dark reds that are balanced and fruit forward. Step out of your wine comfort zone and try a something from Alentejo….you won’t be disappointed!

Thank you to Full Circle Wine Solutions and Evan Goldstein, MS for the invitation to this fantastic event!

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!