Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Vintastic Voyage: Napa Valley

Barrel room at Artesa

Disclaimer: These tasting experiences were provided to me free of cost as a member of the media.

There is no shortage of articles/blog posts related to the Napa Valley. BUT, I wanted to share a tested and approved Napa itinerary that I’d recommend to the wine novice and the wine geek alike. This itinerary has something for everyone. I visited the region in early Spring with my friends Neal and Alyse of Winery Wanderings, and found this itinerary to be relaxed and easy to follow.

As an aside, may I recommend that when you plan your wine country getaway, remember that the goal is to have fun, enjoy yourself, and perhaps learn something new about wine. Because of this, I recommend you take a somewhat leisurely approach to things and not try to squeeze in too many winery visits in one day. Generally, 2-3 wineries per day is the max for most people to be able to enjoy the wines, not feel rushed, and not get too drunk! I only recommend 4 wineries in one day for professionals or if you are going to spit out all tastes. Even then, it is still an ambitious schedule.

Here is my suggestion for a full, fun day in the Napa Valley.

Charles Krug
Noon-1:30pm Long Meadow Ranch
1:30pm-2:30pm Gott’s Roadside
3:30pm-5pm Artesa
5:30pm-7:30pm Oxbow Public Market

Charles Krug 

Charles Krug in St. Helena is a great place to start. Come here for Napa Valley history, as they are a winery of firsts being situated in St. Helena AVA, one of Napa Valley’s first AVAs. Charles Krug is the oldest bonded winery in Napa (since 1861) and also is the first tasting room open in California in 1882. In 1963 they became the first Napa winery to import French Oak barrels and were also one of the first California wineries to varietally label wines. Since 1943 the Mondavi family operates Charles Krug with a respect and understanding of how important they are to Napa Valley’s history. Today they produce 90,000 cases annually and it is all sold on-site.

Upon visiting Charles Krug, you have two choices for your visit. They offer a $45 tasting flight and a $75 tasting flight that also includes a tour of the property. The tasting room is open daily from 10:30am-5pm. And a gorgeous tasting room it is. Up until 2006, it was the old barrel room. The space is expansive and stunning. Such a classy, upscale, yet not stuffy atmosphere.

Thank you to Tash for pouring! My highlight from the tasting was their 2016 Malbec at $65 a bottle. The wine showed characters of plum (red and black), vanilla, and spice box. It’s a velvety, smooth wine that you can really melt into. Would be a fantastic BBQ wine. 

Tasting Room at Charles Krug

Proof of their wine history!!

Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch 

Two miles SE of Charles Krug and you land at Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch. You come here for a culinary and wine sensory experience. We participated in the Chef’s Food & Wine Tasting (regularly priced at $70) and it was impeccable. A really elevated, yet comfortable experience. True wine country hospitality. We enjoyed 5 mini-food courses paired with wines. They also have a regular wine flight for $30 and a library wine flight for $40. The general store/tasting room is open from 11am-6pm.

Colin (who was a delight) lead us through our tasting. Anyone who says that Pinot Noir is their spirit grape, is good people in my book! Long Meadow Ranch employs a full-circle organic farming system. Each part of the ranch contributes to the health of the whole, including vineyards, olive groves, Highland cattle, heirloom vegetables, and livestock. They have three properties: 650-acre Mayacamas Estate (home ranch located in the Mayacamas Mountains above Rutherford), 90-acre Rutherford Estate (located on the Rutherford Bench), and 145-acre Anderson Valley Estate (Mendocino County). Everything we ate that day was local to the Rutherford Estate and all their wines are estate. 

Wines + Small Bites

Let the Tasting Begin!

Chef Aaron getting things ready!

Neal & Alyse of Winery Wanderings

Dungeness Crab (avocado, citrus)
Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc, Rutherford, 2017 ($22)
This is clearly not the ubiquitous New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Cooler climates here. I get green fruit (apples), citrus, and some tropical notes.

Swordfish (cabbage, horseradish)
Pairing: Chardonnay, Anderson Valley, 2016 ($40)
This pairing sang. This wine starts in French oak, then moves to stainless steel. I got an initial waft of a stick of butter on the nose, but it blew off as I swirled and make my way through the tasting. Quite a balanced and structured Chardonnay.

Cauliflower Soup (camembert beignet)

Pairing: Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, 2015 ($40)
This has to be the silkiest soup I have ever tried. Delicious!

Sunchoke (prune)
Pairing: Merlot, Napa Valley, 2014 ($35)
This wine has everything I want in a Merlot: a plumminess plus silky smooth tannins. A bit velvety overall. Really nice.

Grass-Fed Lamb (chickpea fritter, beet barbeque)
Pairing: Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2014 ($55)
A big boy red that really worked well with this dish. The wine benefits from a bit of Petit Verdot and Petit Syrah. 

Long Meadow Ranch

After the food and wine pairings at Long Meadow Ranch, it’s time for LUNCH. And what better lunch than a roadside burger stand. I recommend Gott’s Roadside for some “sticking food” to sop up all the wine.


After lunch it’s a 40-minute drive down south to Artesa Vineyards & Winery. If you saw the movie Wine Country, then you’ve seen Artesa, as it was the winery tasting room featured. I had met head winemaker Ana Diogo-Draper at a tasting in Los Angeles. I fell in love with Artesa’s wines, so when the opportunity to visit presented itself, I jumped at the chance. With Artesa, you come for the exceptional wines and stunning, modern tasting room.

Our tasting was a superb experience. The tasting room is bright, inviting, and quite a sight. It is open from 10am-5pm and there are various wine flight options, starting at $35. Anne expertly lead us through the flight, which was exceptional. A highlight for me was tasting their sparkling. We tried the 2014 Codorníu Napa Grand Reserve Brut, Estate Vineyard, Los Carneros ($45). 

Bubbles to start!

Let the tasting begin (again)!

The grounds at Artesa

One of the Artesa tasting rooms

Other wines tasted:

2017 Albariño, Los Carneros ($28)
Stone fruit, tropical fruit, and delicate little white flowers. Medium + acid.

2016 Chardonnay, Los Carneros ($23)
This is their largest production wine that is distributed widely. A fresh and primary Chardonnay. Valley floor fruit that has been through malo and saw some oak treatment.

2016 Chardonnay, Estate Vineyard, Los Carneros, Napa Valley ($38)
Made in the Burgundian style. All hillside fruit. Toasty, nutty, and warming.

2016 Pinot Noir, Los Carneros ($28)

Beautiful, bright red fruit on the nose. More floral and spice on the palate. A lovely entry-level Pinot and at an unbeatable price.

2016 Pinot Noir, Estate Vineyard, Los Carneros, Napa Valley ($45)
Compared to the above, this wine goes deeper and has more intensity of fruit. Quality with a capital Q.

2014 Galatea Cabernet Sauvignon & Tempranillo ($90)
Deep, deep, deep purple in color. Hellooooooooo tannins, but don’t worry, they’re integrated AF. A deep and expressive wine. Definitely a standout among the flight.

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Foss Valley Ranch Vineyard, Atlas Peak, Napa Valley ($90)
Medium ruby color. Tannins dominate.

After your day of wine tasting, a visit to Oxbow Public Market is a great option for a casual dinner. This is Napa Valley’s version of a food hall and there are options to please every palate. And more wine, should you need that! The general hours range form 7:30am-9:30pm (each merchant may have slightly different hours).

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

New Zealand Standouts

I taste a lot of wines day in and day out. Recently, I seem to have lots of New Zealand in my glass. Here is a round-up of some standouts that I highly recommend. Cheers!

Neudorf Sauvignon Blanc 2017 $26 
This wine has a spicy and vegetal note on the nose that carries through on the palate. I get a tomato leaf and olive note. Quite lovely, and unique for a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc! 

Greywacke Wild Sauvignon Marlborough 2016 $29
In the style of a white Bordeaux, specifically Pessac-Leognan. On the nose, a savory petrol note; flint. Exquisite. This is, hands down, one of my favorite whites from New Zealand. I have tried it many times and am never disappointed. 

Dog Point Chardonnay Marlborough 2015 $42
Aromas of tree fruit, cream and butter/dairy. Less malo notes on the palate. Really clean, pure fruit with a slight savory note that makes it really interesting. 

Burn Cottage Pinot Noir, Burn Cottage Vineyard Bannockburn, Central Otago $65
A bowl ‘o red fruit on the nose. On the palate: wow, complex with a medium + lingering finish. Super savory. A heady wine that makes you think. 

Neudorf Pinot Noir Tom’s Block 2014 $28 
This wine has juicy red fruit on the nose, plus a nice spiciness. A true, classic Pinot that is more structured than one would expect. Layered….more interesting as you get into it. 

Mills Reef, Elspeth Syrah Hawke’s Bay 2016 $46
Aromas of red & black fruit, black pepper, baking spices and black licorice. Plus a woody note. Varietal character on the palate: deep fruit + meatiness. Feels very honest, true….simple. 

Vidal Syrah “El Legado” Hawke’s Bay/Gimblett Gravels 2014 $60
The first vines on this property were planted in the 1900s. This wine gives classic Syrah markers including red fruit, pepper, and a faint animal aroma. Quite lovely.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

In Wine, Is Sugar Bad?

There is sugar in any bottle of wine. Period. The question is, how much sugar?

In the wine world, we talk about “gateway” wines that people tend to start with in the beginning of their wine journeys. When people start drinking wine, they tend to start with sweet wines. Things like: Port, Moscato, and sweet Rieslings. Generally, as a person’s palate progresses, they learn to appreciate things besides sweetness, such as tannins, acid, and complexity.

As wine drinkers learn more, they tend to eschew what are perceived as “beginner” wines, such as those mentioned above. When I am working with a group in a tasting or a class setting, those who have some wine knowledge under their belt tend to make blanket statements such as “I only like dry wines...nothing sweet”. This, I find, is the perfect time to drop some wine knowledge.

What I have learned is that when a beginner/novice wine consumer says “sweet”, they generally mean fruity. And when they say “dry”, they generally mean tannic. I have tested this time and time again. As a general rule, most wines that I pour in my classes are dry. Occasionally there might be a sweet wine, or a dessert wine, but generally I am pouring a flight of dry wines. People frequently exclaim that a CA or a NZ Sauvignon Blanc is sweet…..when what they are actually smelling and tasting is the fruit forward characteristic of the grape, and perhaps the ripeness of the fruit from the generally warmer climate. People are astounded to realize that this wine is dry. It is, by far, the #1 most common takeaway that people walk away with in my classes. The same goes with red wines.

“Fruitier” grapes are commonly thought to be “sweet”. An Argentinian Malbec is a perfect example. In contrast when I pour a tannic wine (say a Cabernet Sauvignon), they think THIS is the dry wine. When I tell them they are both dry, they get a bit confused. This is another perfect time to drop some wine knowledge. I explain to students that tannins are naturally occurring in the skins, stems, and seeds of grapes. And that tannins give a drying sensation in your mouth. How can a beginner truly understand the feeling of tannins? Steep a cup of tea with a tea bag. Wring out the tea bag. Stick the tea bag in your mouth and bite down. THIS, my friends, is tannins. Then when they go back to the red wines, they can understand and feel that same drying sensation with the Cabernet Sauvignon.

Back to sugar. So how do some wines have more sugar than others? It’s all about residual sugar (RS). Here is my elementary explanation about how grape juice becomes wine:

1. Insert grapes/grape juice in tank
2. Add yeast (what I call Pac-Mans) to the juice
3. The Pac-Mans eat sugar (in the grape juice) and multiply, creating CO2 and alcohol
4. Once the Pac-Mans eat all the sugar, the fermentation is done and the Pac-Mans die
5. IF you want to create a wine with RS, you stop the fermentation BEFORE the Pac-Mans finish eating all of the sugar, thus leaving some sugar in the wine.
6. You do this by cooling the temperature of the tank. Alcohol will not ferment if the liquid is too cool.

So what constitutes a dry wine vs a sweet wine? See my chart below. Note that most all table wine falls in the bone dry/dry categories. The main exception is domestic, commercially produced wines in which sub-par fruit is used. To make up for that, they tend to increase the RS (12-15 g/L as a loose range) to mask the shitty grapes.

Bone Dry <1g/L RS
Dry 1-10 g/L RS
Off-Dry 10-35 g/L RS
Sweet 35-120 g/L RS
Very Sweet/Luscious > 120g/l RS
*I pulled these numbers from WineFolly and they seem to be in line with the levels I recall from my WSET studies.

Ok, so what does the term “low sugar” mean? In my opinion, this is mostly a marketing term. It gives an indication to the consumer that this wine falls in the low range of dry, or might even sit in the bone dry category.  Personally I don’t count my calories or sugar intake when it comes to wine. I’m in the biz, I taste (and generally spit) a lot of wine, and the level of sugar (from a nutritional standpoint) doesn’t appeal or apply to me. However, someone watching what they eat/drink or counting sugar intake, might be interested in that term and might seek it out in a wine. The key piece to remember is that a term like “low sugar” is not regulated. Someone at 1g/L might say their wine is “low sugar” whereas someone who makes a wine at 9g/L might call their wine “low sugar”. And the consumer won’t know the difference unless they seek out the tech sheet to get the details.

I recently interviewed Amanda Scott, who is the founder of Thomson & Scott, a line of Champagne and Prosecco that bills itself as ultra low sugar, vegan, and organic. Amanda is leading the “transparency in wine” movement by creating a company that asks consumers to demand what's in their bottles. In fact, she is the (self-proclaimed) first person in the industry to publicly call out for it. Amanda thinks it is a no-brainer and is shocking that in 2019 we have no idea what is in our wine bottle. I tend to agree!

Thomson & Scott produces top quality Champagne and Prosecco with as little intervention as possible in the production process and highlights its vegan and organic credentials. According to Amanda, wine labelling is sparse in its detail and misleading in its description. Currently, the wine industry doesn’t have to say what goes into making the products we drink. Amanda wants to change that. She was raised on a vegetarian, no sugar diet by her health-conscious mother, and has always had a keen interest in what’s in her food.

Amanda feels that because her organic Prosecco is of such beautiful quality to begin with, less sugar is needed to balance off the acidity. It is possible to make a zero-dosage (no added sugar) Prosecco; but, since Prosecco traditionally has a certain fruit-forward, easy-drinking quality that fans have come to expect in its flavor profile, 7g/L felt like exactly the right amount. This is roughly half of what many Proseccos come in at. In their Champagne portfolio, they do have a zero-dosage option.

I also asked Amanda a tough question about her use of the word “skinny” in her branding:

Brianne: Talk to me about the use of the word "skinny" in marketing and on the label. Bethenny Frankel has been very successful with that word being central to her Skinnygirl brand. However, our society is moving to a place of more inclusivity and body positivity, and the use of words like "skinny" can sometimes be frowned upon. Would love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you think marketing this product to the US market will be different than marketing it to the UK market?

Amanda: “Skinny” was used in our case in the same way as Skinny Cappuccino or Skinny jeans - in a fashion sense about the item in question, not about any individual. To help amplify our message in a hugely male dominated, often old-fashioned, financially-focused industry, I knew I needed to be provocative. Using the term “skinny” has been a vehicle for me to put the spotlight on sugar added to wine. Pure and simple. Our brand is Thomson & Scott. Marketing in each respective country will always be different and deeply nuanced. That said, London brands have a history of trend-building internationally, and so our core values remain regardless. The US market in many ways is culturally ahead on understanding that wine can be high quality and yet also fun. That’s certainly part of our broader mission, and something we in the old wine world can take inspiration from.

There you have it! In conclusion, I do not frown upon the use of terms such as “skinny” and “low sugar”. The terms are not regulated and companies/brands are able to use them as they see fit in order to reach their target consumer. Two words such as “low sugar” can help a consumer make a decision quickly and efficiently. I also appreciate the ability to use language that helps reach your target market and that helps connect your brand to the product at hand. The key here is that people not abuse this freedom. What we don’t want is to end up with mass produced, commercial wines claiming all sorts of health benefits and what not. As an industry, we have to hold ourselves to higher standards and call out when our peers are using language to manipulate the consumer's perception of what exactly is in the bottle.

I did have the opportunity to try the Thomson & Scott wines at a press event in Los Angeles in March. The Prosecco retails for $24.99, while the Champagne comes in at $49.99. Both lovely wines and I did notice a marked dryness, especially with the Prosecco, which is generally too sweet for my taste. Bravo Amanda. May the “transparency in wine” movement progress far and wide!

What are your thoughts on low sugar wines? And on transparency in wine labeling?

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Picks for National Rosé Day

Disclaimer: these wines were all received as samples.

I’m not normally one to celebrate and capitalize on any National _______ Day. BUT, today is National Rosé Day and if ever there is a day to celebrate, today it is! I won’t open this piece by boring you with statistics about how much rosé is now being consumed in the US. Let’s just say that it is A LOT. It’s almost as if 2-3 years ago everyone woke up from their White Zinfandel/Blush PTSD haze and decided that pink wine was cool again. That, and the fact that a new generation of wine consumers in their early 20s are looking for light, easy, and affordable ways to drink and be sophisticated. Rosé provides just that. Today I tasted seven rosés (tough job) that I find to be tasty and affordable. Enjoy!

Jean-Luc Colombo 2018 Cape Bleue Rosé ($12.99)
Crafted in the classic Provençal style, Cape Bleue is a blend of 67% Syrah and 33% Mourvèdre. This wine is made in the Méditerranée IGP region of southern France that covers part of Provence and the Rhone Valley. Use of the Méditerranée IGP allows for less stringent winemaking rules and grape usage. This wine is like a rosé fruit basket of strawberries, watermelon, and grapefruit with a little bubble gum thrown in. Plus a hint of garrigue (dried herbs) that the area is known for. At $12.99, it’s also quite wallet-friendly. And no residual sugar, which makes me happy, as I prefer my rosés dry AF! 

Portillo 2018 Rosé ($10.99)
This guy wins for the best price in the bunch at $10.99 a bottle. My family is from Argentina, so Malbec sits near and dear to my heart. Portillo, located in the heart of Argentina’s Uco Valley, in Mendoza, is home to some of the highest elevations on the planet. Made from 100% Malbec, this rosé is versatile and food-friendly. I get a tad bit darker fruit on this wine….mainly plums and cherries. Also, I think there is a SLIGHT residual sugar to this wine, that really suits it. Good acid, super refreshing, and a steal of a deal. 

Bertani 2018 Bertarose ($15.99)
Created by an Amarone producer, Bertarose is a unique blend of 75% Molinara and 25% Merlot. Molinara is one of the classic grapes used in Valpolicella wines. The other 2 main Valpo grapes include Corvina and Rodinella. Bertani (the winemaker) discovered the delicate character of the Molinara grape was well-suited to rosé and the addition of Merlot rounds the wine out. A much more floral nose on this rosé. I get notes of whiteflowers (i.e. elderflower) plus bright, juicy strawberries and tangerine notes. This is a quaffable “pool friendly” wine to enjoy on a hot summer day. 

Peter Yealands 2018 Sauvignon Blanc Rosé Marlborough ($14.99)
The lightest color of the bunch, this New Zealand rosé is produced from the country’s signature Sauvignon Blanc grape with just an added splash of Merlot for color. This is an interesting one. I can’t say that I have ever had a rosé that was predominantly Sauvignon Blanc. For the Sauv Blanc drinker, this would be a home run if you wanted to try something new. 

Mas de la dame La Gourmande Rosé ($19.99)
Mas de la Dame translates to “farm of the lady”, a nod to owners Anne Poniatowski and Caroline Missoffe, the dynamic female duo behind the winery. Certified organic by ECOCERT, Mas de la Dame’s La Gourmand Rosé is a blend of 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre and 10% Cinsault. I get loads of citrus fruit on this wine, such as tangerine and ruby red grapefruit. Also, strawberries and raspberries and a faint floral note to really round it out. This is a pleasing and quite feminine wine, ironically made by female winemakers. 

Sosie Wines 2017 Rosé of Syrah ($25)
This wine comes from Sonoma’s Bennett Valley, a fog shrouded valley that draws cool breezes from three directions, trapping cool air for most of the day. A nice deep pink color with a copper/orange hue, and notes of tart cherries, strawberries, and nectarines This wine is the most structured of the bunch. 

Champagne Pommery Brut Rosé Royal ($50)
If you want to splurge on some pink bubbles, here you go. This Champagne is the classic Champagne blend of Chardonnay (34%), Pinot Meunier (33%), and Pinot Noir (33%). A beautiful pale pink color with persistent bubbles sets the tone. Fresh red fruit leads (strawberries, raspberries) as well as some stone fruit (peach/nectarine). A delightful, balanced rosé Champagne that would make even the most discerning wine lover happy. Not all rosé is built for the #roséalldaycrowd. This is a fine example. 

Thank you to Taub Family Selections, Calhoun & Company, and IT-PR for these samples. Enjoy the rest of your National Rosé Day!

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Rioja: The Motherland of Spain

When you think of the Rioja, you generally think of red wine. But did you know that Rioja wines can be white, rosé, or red? Also, every bottle of Rioja carries an official trust seal (classification) located on the back of the bottle. Be sure to look for this label on every bottle. This ensures it is an authentic Rioja wine.

Rioja was the first region in Spain to receive DOC status in 1925. It is located in north Central Spain, along the Ebro River and is 210 square miles in size. The region is most known for its medium-bodied elegant wines that are fruity when young and more velvety when aged. The wines are also known for their aging potential. There are three sub-regions in the Rioja: Rioja Alavesa (chalky and limestone soils), Rioja Alta (chalky soils with more Atlantic influences), and Rioja Oriental (alluvial soils with a Mediterranean influence).

The main grape used to make Rioja wine is Tempranillo with 80% of wines being Tempranillo based. It is a grape indigenous to Spain, and finds its finest expression in the Rioja region. Tempranillo is versatile and has great aging potential. Other grapes used in the Rioja include: Graciano, Garnacha, Viura, Maturana Tinta, Malvasia, Garnacha Blanca, Tempranillo Blanco, and Maturana Blanca.

Moving away from the facts, and into my personal opinion, Rioja wines are a great way to start a cellar as the prices (for what you are getting) can be quite reasonable. Aside from the fact that the wines are great, one reason why I speak highly of Rioja wines is their value. What’s great about the Rioja is that many of the producers have had the winery/vineyards in their family for generations. With that being said, they might not have a mortgage to pay or a construction loan to pay on a fancy new chateau-like building (as do some CA wine regions). Personally, I like to know that my wine dollars are going more towards the juice than to expensive real estate, a famous winemaker, or a marketing budget.

Rioja only releases wines when they are ready to drink, which takes out a lot of the guesswork. This is why you see older Rioja vintages on the shelves at such killer prices. The “current release” of a wine can easily be 5-10 years old. So if you buy a bottle, rest assured that you can bring it home and pop it open with no problem.

Which leads me to another important topic when talking about Rioja wines: aging. Rioja has a strict aging classification system. The details are a bit complicated, but the good thing is that the aging level can always be easily found on the bottle. No guessing here. Rioja aging classifications (for red wines) are below:


No aging requirements. Can have minimal oak aging.

Aged for 2 years with a minimum of 1 year in oak.

Aged for 3 years with a minimum of 1 year in oak and 6 months in bottle.

Gran Reserva
Aged for 5 years with a minimum of 2 years in oak and 2 years in bottle.

In November 2018 I attended the “Spain’s Great Match” event where Wines from Spain poured 150 wines alongside tapas and pairings from Jose Andres’, The Bazaar restaurant. At this event I attended a Rioja seminar in which I tasted the below Rioja wines. Cheers!

Bodegas Marques de Murrieta Reserva 2013 D.O.Ca. Rioja
This wine is showing a bit of age with its garnet color. The traditional Rioja nose (sour red fruit, sweet spice, vanilla, and cedar), plus violets, also classic for Rioja. This wine is made from all estate grapes, which is not typical in Rioja. An elegant wine.

Bodegas Bilbaínas Viña Pomal Reserva 2013 D.O.Ca. Rioja $24.99
This 100+ year old producer falls under the Cordiníu portfolio. Ruby in color with purple hues.This wine does not have the “traditional" Rioja nose. It’s actually a bit understated. Delicate violets on the nose. Black fruit and licorice on the palate.

Bodegas Montecillo Reserva 2011 D.O.Ca. Rioja
A more modern nose for Rioja. Such a youthful, fresh wine for being 8 years old! Sour cherry prevails! A hearty fish (such as tuna or swordfish) would be a good pairing.

Bodegas Ontañón Reserva 2010 D.O.Ca. Rioja
The most polished wine of the bunch with a beautiful nose of red fruit (sour cherry + cranberry) plus a “spice” character, perhaps jalapeño? This wine is aged in a combination of American and French oak.

Bodegas CVNE Imperial Gran Reserva 2009 D.O.Ca. Rioja
This wine is deep ruby color and has the nose of an old Rioja: a combination of red and black fruit, violets, spice (cloves + cinnamon), and toasted oak. Smooth, well-integrated tannins.

Bodegas Faustino Gran Reserva 2005 D.O.Ca. Rioja $40
This wine is versatile and could work with many different foods. At 14 years old it is quite soft and understated. Actually, the most understated of the bunch.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Sella & Mosca: Simply Sardinia

In my wine journeys I have the opportunity to experience fabulous wines and attend events where I get to taste these wines and meet the winemakers. One such occasion was when I was introduced to Sella & Mosca, the largest winery on the island of Sardinia. Sardinia lies south of France near the island of Corsica and off the west coast of Italy. Sella & Mosca lies on the NW corner of the island, just inland from the historic port of Alghero, which was designated a DOC in 1995.

Sardinia has a 6,000-year winemaking history. Sella & Mosca is the largest winery on the island (550 hectares planted) and almost the oldest. Fun fact: it is the second largest contiguous vineyard in Italy! They use all organic cultivation and participate in other sustainable activities. The vineyards have been planted with alternating rows of oleanders, palms, maritime pines, eucalyptus and other Mediterranean plants. The winery also maintains a 12-acre nature preserve dedicated to Mediterranean vegetation and local wildlife.

Tourism is the main industry on the island with 1.4 million tourists visiting year-round. In the summer, the population of the island doubles. The island provides lots of sun and wind and desirable soils for grapes including: iron-rich limestone, clay and sandy soils. All their wines are made from estate-grown grapes and they grow both native varieties (Vermentino, Torbato, and Cannonau) as well as some international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.

Of note about Sardinia is its designation as a “Blue Zone”. Blue Zones are regions of the world where Dan Buettner claims people live much longer than average. Other blue zones in the world include Okinawa, Japan and Costa Rica. Sardinia is said to be on this list partially because Cannonau has one of the highest concentration of resveratrol as any other grape variety. 

Founded over a century ago in 1899, Sella & Mosca was started by two Piemontese businessmen: Erminio Sella and Edgardo Mosca, who were two very important figures during the Risorgimento. Had to look this one up! According to Wikipedia: the Italian unification, also known as the Risorgimento, was the political and social movement that consolidated different states of the Italian peninsula into the single state of the Kingdom of Italy in the 19th century.

Today, the head winemaker is Giovanni Pinna who lead us through a tasting of their wines.  A native of Sardinia, Giovanni has devoted his entire career to studying, working and teaching others about the island’s unique viticultural landscape. He joined Sella & Mosca in 2000 and is now chief winemaker over their annual production of 7.6 million bottles!

Most notable about Sella & Mosca is their dedication to the Torbato grape, their flagship variety. Torbato was brought to the island during the Spanish rule. Even though a variety called Turbat is found in Spain today, Sella & Mosca is the only producer in the world to vinify it as a 100% varietal wine. Today they produce four types of Torbato: Torbato D.O.C. Alghero, Terre Bianche D.O.C. Alghero, Terre Bianche Cuvée 161 D.O.C. Alghero, and Torbato Spumante Brut. Giovanni uses no oak in their white wines, as he wants you to experience the grape, not the wood.

Sella & Mosca wines are readily available in Los Angeles at the Wine House, K&L Wines, and Wally’s.

Below I detail the Sella & Mosca wines tasted at this luncheon, as well as the incomparable food pairings courtesy of Celestino Drago at Drago Centro. Note that the menu was created to try different wines with different courses, so it was not a straight one course + one wine per pairing.

Crab Salad Toast, Truffle Arancini, and Tuna Crostini

Torbato Brut 2017 Alghero Torbato Spumante DOC $24.99 (12.5% ABV)
This wine has bright fruit notes of pear and green apple with a delicate whiteflower note on the back end, but not as much florals as you’d get from a Prosecco. This wine has medium + acid and is quite round…not austere. A fabulous pairing for seafood. I feel very honored to try this wine as Sella & Mosca makes the only varietally labeled Turbato in the world! Fun fact: they are working on a traditional method Turbato sparkler that is still sitting on the lees and aging. That would be a treat to try!

First Course
Scallop, Roasted Maitake Mushroom, Truffle Beurre Blanc 

Second Course
Tagiolini, Seabass, Cherry Tomato, Pine Nut, Fish Fumet 

Le Arenaire Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Alghero DOC $17.99 (13% ABV)
A much riper nose (less green) than the ubiquitous Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. It is round, ripe, but with gripping acid, just as you’d expect from a Sauvignon Blanc. Citrus (Meyer lemon), green fruit, and a hint of tropical notes (unripe pineapple). A very well-balanced wine…I really love this one. Great acid and great body. Fabulous with both the scallop and the pasta course. And at $17.99, a great QPR compared to other Sauv Blancs out there where the quality can be a bit lacking at that pricepoint.

Monteoro 2016 Vermentino di Gallura Superiore DOCG $26.99 (14% ABV)
Vermentino is a well-known grape to Sardinia. It is found in other regions (such as Liguria and Tuscany) but 75% of Italy’s Vermentino finds its home in Sardinia. In France it is known as Rolle. Here in Sardinia this wine is produced in Vermentino di Gallura, Sardinia’s only DOCG, formed in 1996. A lovely almond-skin nose gives this wine a true “Sardinian” feel, as you know instantly this is not one of the international varieties. Typicity reigns with Vermentino in Sardinia. 

Third Course
Lamb Loin, Venere Risotto, Roasted Beets, Bartlett Pears, Lamb Jus 

Fourth Course
Chef’s Assorted Cheeses 

Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva DOC 2015 $17.99 (14.5% ABV)
Cannonau is known elsewhere as Grenache, a thin-skinned red variety. Over 700 years ago the Spanish brought Grenache to Sardinia and over time the grape has changed and now it’s known as Cannonau. This wine gives bright red fruit, floral (violet) notes, graphite/minerality, earth, umami/mushroom, and balsamic notes. No joke, my tasting notes on the palate says: HOLY SHIT. This wine inspires me. For $17.99 you are transported to the Mediterranean. To Sardinia. Italian wines tend to do this……they take you there. Whether it’s through the nose or the taste, or how the wine plays with the food, or how it brings back memories of perhaps a trip you took to Italy. It is quite a special thing and this wine reminds me why I LOVE Italian wines. There is just something about them.

Tanca Farrà Alghero DOC 2014 $26.99 (13.5% ABV)
This guy is 50% Cannonau and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. You can actually smell/taste the structure and backbone that Cab Sauv lends.

Marchese di Villamarina Alghero DOC 2010 $59.99 (13% ABV)
The grapes for this wine originate in the Villamarina vineyard of the estate. After harvest and fermentation, the wine is matured in small French oak casks for 18 months before transfer to larger oak barrels for a further year. After bottling, it is aged an additional 18 months. A beautiful, well-balance wine. Really nice. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Odfjell Vineyards: The Best of Chile in a Bottle

Disclaimer: These wines were received as samples for review.

It is not often that wine crosses my desk that possesses the holy trifecta: affordable, organic/biodynamic, and delicious. This was the case with the wines of Odfjell Vineyards of Chile. I wanted to speak to the winemaker and learn more about Odfjell and about making wine in Chile. Arnaud Hereu, chief oenologist/winemaker was kind enough to answer a few questions as I explored and tasted their wines.

Odfjell is a good example of sustainable viticulture and winemaking in Chile. When I asked Arnaud, why do you think that Chile is one of the leaders in the world for sustainability when it comes to viticulture and winemaking? He responded: Chile is a country that thinks of the future, a country always a step ahead. Chile is a country really connected to nature: the landscape, the fruit industry, even the mining industry in a way…they know that they have to keep their country in “good shape” for the next generation. Wine is an important aspect of agriculture, it is exposed outside of the country and I think it is important for us to show to the world that yes, we care about the future.

Odfjell was started by Dan Odfjell, a Norweigan shipping owner and avid traveler who was won over by a small corner of the famed Maipo Valley in Chile. Fast forward and today the business is lead by sons, Lawrence and Dan Jr. They now have 284 acres of vines in the Maipo, Lontué, and Maule Valleys and are 100% certified organic and biodynamic, producing 60,000 cases annually.

Lawrence, one of Dan’s sons, designed the gravity flow winery onsite. The system allows for extremely gentle handling of the grapes. The winery is situated on a hill above the vineyards. Carved into the slope, over 60% of the winery is underground. This subterranean environment naturally achieves low and stable temperatures for storage. The design incorporates a number of passive cooling strategies, such as: optimizing solar orientation and using 30cm thick concrete walls as thermal mass. Gravitational wineries ensure that during winemaking, pumping is reduced to an absolute minimum, thus avoiding unnecessary agitation of the wine. This gentle handling allows us to preserve all the subtle fruit characteristics from the vineyards for the final bottle.

Gravity-flow winery onsite at Odfjell

On a (sort of) unrelated to wine note, they also breed Norweigan fjord horses on their estate. Dan brought them to Chile over two decades ago. These horses control weeds, provide better soil drainage, and transport grapes during harvest without compacting the soil. And they're cute!

I asked Arnaud: Is there something special that you feel you can do/accomplish at Odfjell versus at another winery? He replied: Odfjell is paradise for a winemaker. The owners are really open to try new things. They trust the winemaking team. The vision of the Odfjell family is long term.

And now, let’s explore the wines of Odfjell Vineyards. I am not including my personal notes as I had a bit of a stuffy nose upon tasting and my palate was not up to snuff. But I can say that I did enjoy what I tried and even shared these wines with friends who were all impressed, especially with the Armador Cabernet Sauvignon at $15. Try getting something of that quality from California for 15 bucks?!?!?

2016 Odfjell Armador Cabernet Sauvignon ($15)
Winey Notes: Ruby color with hints of violets. Red fruit such as strawberries and plums, as well as licorice, anise, and a touch of vanilla, chocolate, and mushroom.

2017 Odfjell Ordaza Carignan ($23)
Winery Notes: Ruby red in color with a hint of violet. Red fruit aromas of strawberries and plums appear on the nose along with licorice, anise, and a touch of vanilla. Perfectly balanced on the palate with ripe tannins and a long, refreshing finish.

2013 Odfjell Aliara ($44)
Winery Notes: Concentrated deep violet in color. The nose is attractive with a range of aromas from the different varieties in the blend, including hazelnuts, dates, and fried figs as well as floral notes (jasmine and roses). The palate is sophisticated, intense, and juicy; complemented by chocolate, coffee, and tobacco leaves. The finish is long with ripe and velvety tannins.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Chatting with Somm Cristie Norman

If you are into the social media wine scene and follow all the hip and cool somms, then chances are that you know Cristie Norman. Cristie is a bikini athlete, a sommelier at the world-renowned Spago in Beverly Hills, and today is launching her Online Wine Course. One thing about Cristie is that she ain’t your daddy’s somm. She’s young, energetic, entertaining, AND knows her wine shit. I mean, working at Spago you HAVE to. Across her Instagram feed she’s opening things such as: Guigal (the LaLa wines), Domaine de la Romanée Conti, and Krug Champagne. If that doesn’t give you street cred, I don’t know what does.

The road was not always easy for Cristie. When she first got started (and even still today!), she would get responses like “Can you send your boss over to help?” or “Are you a real somm?”. There were times she cried in the cellar. She has since grown more confident and is more comfortable in her own skin. Cristie now sees herself as a sommelier/leader first, and a woman second. And she demands that others look at her the same.

Let’s talk about her current venture the Online Wine Course, which launches TODAY. Cristie wanted to help people build a foundation of knowledge when it comes to wine. In her experience, people try to taste and learn about wines sort of “ad hoc” and are missing some of the fundamental building blocks of wine, which will allow them to understand wine better and taste more effectively. Her goal with the Online Wine Course is to give them the building blocks to start with and that they can build from.

You may have seen her fun “Adulting with Alcohol” YouTube web series. Lets’ call the Online Wine Course the more “adult” version of that. Minus the swearing! It’s hilarious….you should seriously check it out.

How does the Online Wine Course work? Well, it launches today! The program is $149.99 OR she has a lifetime access option for $299.99. I have a 50% off promo code (SOMMSPIRATIONS). The course is broken down into 2 modules/sections and gives you over 2 hours of solid content, including quizzes in each “mini-section” and an exam at the end. And once you pass the final exam…you get a pin!

After sitting with Cristie, it is clear that his is HER BABY. She spent her own money on this (she even turned down sponsors as she wanted the content to be unbiased and all her own). She enlisted the help of a WSET educator to write all the questions. Each section/module has a learning objective. The background music (including music during the exams) was created all original for her by friend, Gosh Father. The music used is intended to keep you focused.

What’s next for Cristie? Well, she’s crossing her fingers with the Online Wine Course. So far, pre-sales have been strong. A natural progression would be to create a new “201 Level” course to follow this initial one. Perhaps something more focused on how to taste wine. Speaking of tasting wine, she’s also in talks with VineBox about creating an at-home wine tasting kit featuring wine in test tubes. Stay tuned. She’d love to stay at Spago as long as Wolfgang will have her, as that has been an incredible experience. Looking to the future, she wants to create more job opportunities for those with an MS/MW. Enrichment trips for somms, scholarships, etc. She hopes to grow the Online Wine Course and one day be a big player in the wine certification arena.

Cristie seems to be expertly clearing her own path in this industry. Is she a respected sommelier at Spago in Beverly Hills? YES. Is she also a millennial wine influence? YES. And she’s confident and unabashed in both of those roles.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Wine Tasting in the Columbia Gorge

In the vineyards at Cathedral Ridge Winery

As the Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla, Washington came to a close, my post-conference excursion was just beginning! We headed off to the beautiful Columbia Gorge to visit Maryhill Winery and Cathedral Ridge Winery. The Columbia Gorge, 60 miles east of Portland is part of two AVAs, the Columbia Valley AVA and the Columbia Gorge AVA. The unique climate of the Columbia River Gorge earns it the title “Mediterranean of the Northwest”. I will say that we visited in October and it was sunny and the weather was beautiful. Insert gratuitous scenery shots!

Our first stop was to Maryhill Winery, which opened in 2001. The winery lies on the northern side of the Columbia River and in the southern tip of the Columbia Valley with Mt. Hood as its backdrop. Family owned by Craig and Vicki Leuthold, Maryhill is one of Washington’s largest and most visited wineries, with over 80,000 visitors annually.  They also have a tasting room in Spokane.

On our visit we met Kiwi winemaker Richard Batchelor who joined Maryhill in 2009. Visiting in October, there was A LOT going on. Fall is a great time to visit a winery if you want to see all the hustle and bustle up close! 

Look at those skins!

Owen Thornhill tapping one of the stainless steel tanks

“Great wines are our inspiration. For us, winemaking isn’t about lifted noses or highbrow personalities. It is about sourcing the best grapes and treating them with passion, patience, and balance. “ -Maryhill Winery

After 5 solid days of wine tasting for 10+ hours, by the time this post-conference excursion came up, I was in NO mood to write more tasting notes. With that being said, almost all tasting notes below came directly from the winery. Wine tasting fatigue is a real thing!

Maryhill Wines Tasted

Chardonnay 2016 $16
Winery Tasting Notes: Vibrant aromas of melon, pear, and apricot with traces of pineapple and grapefruit, continuing into a sensational and crisp fruit finish.

Pinot Gris 2016 $16
Winery Tasting Notes: Rich nectarine and pear notes mingled with honey. Crisp fruit flavor is delivered at the front of the palate, while a slight cream texture fills in the finish.

Sangiovese 2015 $26
Bri Note: A true New World Sangio but with a nod to the Old World.
Winery Tasting Notes: Delicate red fruit notes are framed by warm cedar. The palate has a richness of fruit accompanied by mild tannins and huckleberry, allowing this wine a smooth jammy finish.

Marvell (GSM) Hattrup Farms 2013 $44
Winery Tasting Notes: A sound and savory wine featuring an aroma of wood (New French) and spice and an herbaceous and lingering toasty finish with smooth tannins.

Zinfandel Proprietor’s Reserve 2014 $44
This is a new release (no tasting notes online). I got spice box on the nose and jammy fruit on the palate.

Petite Sirah Art Den Hoed 2014 $40
Winery Tasting Notes: Aromas of cherry, berry, graphite and a hint of sandalwood are met with tart cranberry on the palate.

Riesling 2016 $16
Winery Tasting Notes: Lively citrus flavors frame the palate with honey and pear, with lemongrass aromas complemented by lilac.

Our next visit was to Cathedral Ridge Winery founded in 2003 by Robb Bell. Their wines are self-described as big, bold, and sensuous...and boy were they! Here are a few shots from our visit to Cathedral Ridge.

Cathedral Ridge Wines Tasted

2017 Necessity White $30
Winery Tasting Notes: Delicate aromas of pink grapefruit and rose. Notes of crisp green apple, dried apricot, and honey.

2015 Necessity Red $30
Winery Tasting Notes: Our Pinot Noir (60%), Zinfandel (27%), and Barbera (13%) blend. Currants and raspberry with a touch of spice. 

2015 Bordheauxd Red $30
Winery Tasting Notes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah. A local favorite. Perfectly balanced, notes of deep black fruit, and cherry with a kick of pepper.

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon $34
Winery Tasting Notes: Earthy, dark fruit on the palate with a touch of pepper and robust tannin finish.

2015 Rhett’s Red Reserve $44
Winery Tasting Notes: 50% Barbera 50% mystery? Bright and boisterous just like Rhett (the dog!). Fresh orchard on the nose, raspberry, and vanilla. 

2015 Winemakers Reserve $58
Winery Tasting Notes: A premier Bordeaux-inspired blend bursting with Oregon blueberry pie, toffee, and vanilla.