Wine pairings for Chinese takeout

Chinese Takeout and gewürztraminer.

It was Valentines Day and I was trapped at home, waiting for a wine shipment that needed my signature. Michael was working so he suggested Chinese Takeout for dinner. This brilliant move allowed us to order when he was heading home so dinner could be ready upon his arrival! (Good thing too, because I was hungry!) So Valentine’s Day evening curled up on the couch with Chinese Takeout, my husband maybe some winter Olympics? Yeah, that sounds pretty heavenly to me. But what to drink with our takeout? I thought I would research some options and see what we had to match in the cellar.

Luckily with Chinese New Year being Friday (February 16th), it is easy to find suggestions this time of year.

A little bit on Chinese New Year and the Year of the Dog

Living in Vegas, I am well aware of Chinese New Year. The town is covered in Billboards announcing, sometimes in English, sometimes Chinese, that we are welcoming the Year of the Dog.

So…in the Chinese Zodiac, the dog is the eleventh animal. Dogs as everyone knows are honest and loyal and so it goes for those born in the year of the dog. Sadly the year of your Zodiac sign is traditionally an unlucky year, so if you were born in 1910, 1922, 1034, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994 or 2006, it’s time to pull up your big girl panties and prepare for a challenging year. Don’t worry the rest of us have your back!

Back to wine pairing

Typically when you think of Chinese or Asian style foods reisling or gewürztraminer, the sweetness in these wines can be great for complimenting the spiciness or sweetness in the food. But when you get into sweet and sour dishes you will find they go well with high acid wines, so a sauvignon blanc, an albariño or un-oaked chardonnay would work. Of course sparkling wines and rosés are a good bet too, pairing with a range of flavors and sparkling wine is exceptional with fatty dishes, cutting the fat and cleaning your palate for the next bite. If we were diving into some duck or pork I would probably think about a pinot noir, and with beef…I might lean toward a Rhône style blend or even something deeper like a syrah or malbec. Remember that to keep the spice down in a dish you want to pair it with a wine that is not too dry, one that has a bit of sweetness.

chicken lettuce cups

chicken lettuce cups

vegetable lo mein

vegetable lo mein

Chinese Sesame chicken

Sesame chicken

But for this night we settled on crab rangoons & chicken lettuce wraps, I had some hot & sour soup (it’s a weakness) and then Vegetable Lo Mein while Michael enjoyed some sesame chicken. I searched for a lambrusco for Michael to pair with the sesame chicken. I know lambrusco fell out of favor in the 80’s, but it can pair very well with dishes that are a little sweet with some soy. Sadly…I could not find a store near by that had a lambrusco. So that pairing will have to wait for our next Chinese takeout day.

Balleto gewürztraminer and Chinese food.

Balletto 2016 Gewürztraminer and Chinese food.

We ended up popping open the gewürztraminer from Balletto Vineyards and enjoying that with dinner. This wine has a hint of sweetness and a little spice on the finish. It was really lovely with both the chicken lettuce cups and my vegetable lo mein. This is a great wine for pairing with lighter vegetable dishes, because it doesn’t overpower them. I do admit to having a little trouble pulling my nose out of the glass to take a bite of food. This gewürztraminer from Balletto is so beautifully fragrant, it had me captivated. (If you would like a virtual visit to this Sonoma Country Winery, check out our video!)

With Chinese New Year and all the dumplings right around the corner, I do have a couple of suggestions. With dumplings, keep in mind that you are pairing with the fillings or the sauces. A traditional pork and cabbage dumpling would be very nice with a chardonnay that has good acid and a little oak. If you have some fresh ginger with your dish, you might go with a Sauvignon Blanc. If you really want a red, by all means do it! Pinot Noir is that great crossover wine and it’s lovely with pork. It is also light enough that it won’t overpower your dumpling.

So…I hope you had a wonderful Valentine’s Day and here’s to a great Year of the Dog!  Pick up some Chinese take out grab a bottle or two of wine and have your own celebration!

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Balletto Vineyards in the Russian River Valley

I had a plan, well sort of. It was Day 3 of our Flash tour and Flash tours are pretty busy! We had spent a day in Sonoma and this day was to start in Napa and end up in the Livermore Valley. That’s a lot of ground to cover. I had a plan to start the day and to end the day, but the middle was a bit mushy. There was much driving to be done, so the wine needed to wait until later in the day and I had not done enough research to find a proper stop. Michael dove online and saved the day. A mid afternoon stop that could be our final Sonoma destination that had a patio for a picnic lunch and a hike! Balletto it was! Since then I have had multiple people tell me how much they like this winery, but at the time…I knew nothing about them.

Balletto Vineyards

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Balletto Vineyards is located in Sonoma, with their winery just a little bit off the 12 on Occidental Road.  The address says Santa Rosa, but they are closer to Sebastopol.  They were farmers first, with John Balletto starting the business running the family’s 5 acre farm growing vegetables in 1977.  John’s father had passed away and to care for his family, he gave up college athletic scholarships to start the business.  They expanded the property they owned and grew more and more produce.  In 1995 they had 700 acres and grew 70 different varieties of produce and were one of the largest vegetable farms in Northern California.  Multiple El Ninos in 1998 wiped out much of their crops and as they looked at potential future water crisis’ they determined to turn their properties to wine grapes.  They began with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and sold fruit to Sonoma Wine Producers.  In 2001 they created Balletto Vineyards, keeping 10% of their fruit from their Russian River Valley Vineyards for themselves.  Their produce packaging and shipping center, became the winery.

#VineyardAdventures

In the tasting room you can ask about the self guided tour and they will give you a laminated map to guide you.  These are done in conjunction with Sonoma.com and on their site you can find details on multiple Free Vineyard Walking Tours.

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour

We started out with the hike, it was a beautiful day and getting to see the soil and the vines and a little of the story of this place seemed to be a good way to set the mood for the wines we would taste later.  The tour had 7 stops, each telling you a bit of behind the scenes information on things Balletto Vineyards is doing to be sustainable, to care for the land and the people on it.  Because after all…that really does make for better wine.

Preservation of Habitat

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour

Located in the Russian River Valley the vineyard and winery sit next to the Laguna de Santa Rosa which is a major tributary of the Russian River. This part of the Russian River Valley is flat and open and the Laguna de Santa Rosa is a wetland habitat where you can see a variety of birds, including osprey, pelicans and Great Blue Herons.  Diversity in species and landscape are vital to keeping environments healthy.

Water Conservation

When Balletto began as a vineyard, they already understood the importance of water conservation.  Here next to the winery they have 3 holding ponds where they reused water from the winery.  The water is specially routed to the ponds from the winery where it is treated.  It is then reused for irrigation and in the spring for frost protection.  In addition they have mobile fans for the vineyard. Frost protection can be quite the water guzzler, so the fans allow them to use less water.  They also utilize recycled water from the City of Santa Rosa’s Laguna treatment plant.

Trellising

While water can be in short supply, the morning fog brings lots of moisture to the vines.  When you get close to harvest, this can be detrimental as it can increase the chance of fungal diseases.  To mitigate this, vineyards use trellising.  The Chardonnay vines at Balletto are trellised to keep the clusters of grapes even along the vine, allowing for more air circulation among the leaves and clusters and decreasing the chance of mold and fungus growing.

Grapes

We walked along the vines and were drawn to the beautiful clusters which were going through veraison, turning those beautiful shades of deep purple, bronze, or silvery gray.  Balletto grows 9 varieties of Pinot Noir and one Pinot Gris (known as Pinot Grigio in Italy).  Pinot Gris is Pinot Noir’s lighter dryer cousin.  These grapes thrive in the Russian River Valley’s cool coastal climate.  There is Chardonnay here also, so the colors of the berries in the blocks varied from the bright greens of the still ripening Chardonnay to the dusty grey bronze of the Pinot Gris to the deepening purple of the Pinot Noir.  Here for your viewing pleasure, a selection of grape glamour shots.

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Soils

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour

Terroir is the idea of the essence of a place.  This begins with the soil.  The vineyards of Balletto encompass 5 different soil types with the two primary types being Wright Loam and Blucher Fine Sandy Loam.  North of the winery near Oxnard road you find Clear Lake Clay.  The differences in soil, site and climate are what make vineyards unique.  Mind you, we were just standing on one of the Balletto Vineyards, they own 16 estate vineyards in the Russian River Valley AVA from the Santa Rosa Plains to the Sebastapol Hills area and Petaluma Gap.  From these vineyards Balletto creates 8 vineyard designate wines, allowing you to taste the difference in terroir.

Pomace for Fertilizer

Pomace is the seeds, stems, skin and sometimes pulp, left over after the grapes are crushed for their juice.  Named for the Goddess of Fruit “Pomona”  this leftover from the wine making process can be used for fertilizer.  It tends to be a little smelly, as any good fertilizer is.  Here at Balletto they create piles of pomace after harvest and let them dry for 16 to 18 months, then they use them as fertilizer between the rows.  Reduce, Reuse, Recycle…there you go.

Field of Dreams

There is more to wine than the soil and the grapes, the people who make the wine are part of this story.  It’s their hard work you taste in the glass.  Protecting the land and conserving it’s resources, is good for grapes, but it’s also, more importantly, good for people.  A sense of community is important.  Here is one story from Balletto on building community.

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour field of dreams

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour, field of dreams

Next to the winery, it is impossible to miss the “Field of Dreams”.  Instead of being in the middle of a cornfield, this field sits on 4 acres in the middle of the Balletto vineyard.  In 2004 the Balletto vineyard crew asked John Balletto if the winery would sponsor their league baseball team.  John Balletto took it a step further and took 4 acres next to the winery and donated all the materials to build a regulation baseball field.  The vineyard crew built the field and now in the Spring and Summer the league plays games here on Sundays. Blocks in the vineyard now sport names like  “First Baseline Chardonnay” or “Field/Dream (west) Pinot Gris”.  (scroll to the bottom to see the field in our video of our walk)

On to the Wines

Balletto has an extensive tasting list ranging from Sparkling wines (which makes perfect sense since they grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), to Pinot Gris, Sav Blanc, Chardonnay and a Gewurtztraminer. They produce a lovely Rosé of Pinot Noir and a Vin de Paille dessert wine from their Pinot Gris.  Their Reds are dominated by Pinot Noir (no surprise there), with several vineyard designates.  They also have a Zin and a Syrah.

Balletto Vineyard, Tasting Menu

Balletto Vineyard, Tasting Menu

2013 Brut Rosé 2013 $42

This wine spends 3 years in the bottle. In June of 2017 it was given 90 points by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay this Sparkling wine is made the the Methode Traditionelle.  It is dry and refreshing with balanced acids and a little mineral note.  Stacy at Briscoe Bites did a great review on this wine http://briscoebites.com/balletto-brut-rose/

2016 Savignon Blanc $19

This wine comes from the Balletto Estate Vineyard on Hall Road, where they have two blocks that balance each other. The South block fruit is 80% of this wine with bright fruit and high acidity while the fruit from the north block adds a rich and savory note to balance the wine. My note on this was “Bright without being abrasive”. They note that the wine is pressed lightly in whole clusters and fermented in neutral oak for 5 months on the lees. 20% of this goes through malolactic fermentation. They produce 1200 cases of this wine.

2016 Teresa’s Unoaked Chardonnay $20

The grapes for this wine come from the west end of the vineyard around the winery which has sandy soil and they are a Robert Young clone.  The grapes are harvested early, whole cluster pressed and given a long cool fermentation.  This is 100% stainless steel, no lees stirring and no Malolactic fermentation.  What you get is vibrant with great acidity, but also with a great texture.  They made 3,260 cases of this wine.

2014 Cider Ridge Chardonnay $38

This wine comes from their new Cedar Ridge Vineyard which sits just 10 miles from the Pacific.  It is cold and foggy and windy, but the vines are on slopes that face west, get amazing sun and sit at an elevation of 950 feet.  This wine has tropical notes and well as subtle nut tones and a little minerality. The grapes are whole cluster pressed and then barrel fermented, so it is a great contrast to Teresa’s Unoaked.

2016 Gewütztraminer $19

This Gewürztraminer is from their Piner Road Vineyard where they have 2 blocks of Gewürztraminer totaling less than 5 acres on the 58 acre vineyard.  With a nose ripe with lychee, beeswax, honey and white flowers, this wine steps away from the traditional Burgundian wines this winery is known for.

2016 Rosé of Pinot Noir $18

Rosé has come back full force and drinking pink is finally fashionable again.  This particular Rosé is of Pinot Noir.  They specifically farm blocks of Pinot Noir at Balletto for their Rosé, the idea is to have brightness and soft tannins to give the wine structure.  This rosé is light in color because they limit skin contact.  They do 80% whole cluster pressing and 20% is sanguine (or the bleed off from their regular Pinot Noir fermentation).  This gives the wine depth.  Luckily they make 4,840 cases of this wine, but you should still plan to get the 2017 as soon as it comes out, and stock up.  Our friend Sarah did a review that I will share with you.

Sonoma Magazine – “22 Best Sonoma Rose Wines to Drink All Summer,” June 2017
“A perennial favorite, we loved the easy drinkability of Balletto’s Rosé. The classic strawberry notes are complemented by herbaceous green tea, Kefir lime, candied apple and a bit of minerality. At under $20 a bottle, easily findable at the grocery or liquor store across the country, and family owned and operated, it’s an easy pick for the ice bucket when company comes over.”- Sarah Stierch

2014 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir $29

This Balletto Pinot Noir is a blend from 7 of their estate vineyards.  Because the vineyards are diverse and range from warmer to cooler areas and open flat areas like the estate vineyard at the winery to vineyards that are steeper hillside vineyards, these grapes blend to create a wine with depth and complexity.  This wine and all of their Pinot Noirs are fermented with native yeast.  They ferment in 6 ton open top fermenters and then age in mostly neutral French Oak.

2014 Cider Ridge Pinot Noir $42

This Pinot is from the new Cedar Ridge Vineyard.  Balletto has 14 acres of Pinot Noir planted here and this is the first release of Pinot Noir from this site.  The Cider Ridge we found to be bigger on the palate than on the nose.

2015 BCD Pinot Noir $44

This wine is a vineyard designate from their BCD Vineyard.  This wine had more tannins than the other two Pinot Noirs that we tasted, but was still mellow and very nice.

2014 Zinfandel $28

The Zin had a classic Zinfandel nose, but was lighter on the palate due to the cooler climate.  It has spice and a bit of vanilla and is bright on the palate, with a long finish. Their Zinfandel comes from the BCD Vineyard where they have about a 6.5 acre block.

2014 Syrah $28

We are finding that there are quite a few cooler climate vineyards that started out exclusively growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, that are starting to grow Syrah and finding that it thrives and creates a lovely elegant expression of this grape.  This wine comes from the BCD Vineyard which is a rolling vineyard with sandy soils.  These are typically the last grapes picked by Balletto each season and they get maximum skin contact with lots of gentle pump overs.  To soften the tannins the wine is aged in French Oak for  22 months.  This was indeed a lovely Syrah, with cocoa, coffee and smoke on the nose and smooth tannins, but quite honestly it could not outshine the Pinots on this list.

We will leave you with a virtual tour of our afternoon at Balletto!  But a virtual tour is only so good.  Get out to Sonoma and visit Balletto for yourself.

Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Comparing Rhône blends from California’s Central Coast

2011 Pateline de Tablas & 2013 Le Cigare Volant Rhône Blends with cheese pairings

I love Rhône wines.  Wait…let me classify.  I love Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Viognier, Tannat, Roussanne, Marsanne, Terret Noir, Picpoul Blanc….I love the varieties and the blends of said varieties.  My experience with these wines is mostly from those Rhône Rangers in California.  I am just beginning to explore further into French wines and Rhône Blends.   In France the wine or blend is named by the area in which it is grown, the AOC , which is a completely different way of learning about the wines.

So as I learn about these wines, I start with comparing a couple of Rhône Blends from two of my favorite California wineries for Rhônes, Tablas Creek and Bonny Doon.  We chose the 2011 Patelin de Tablas from Tablas Creek and the 2013 Le Cigare Volant reserve from Bonny Doon.

The Wines

These two wines differ in where the grapes were grown, the makeup of the blends, the vintage and the wine-making techniques.  So first lets look at the wines themselves.

2011 Patelin de Tablas

 

2011 Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas

2011 Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas

https://tablascreek.com/wines/2011_patelin_de_tablasHere you can find all the geeky details.

This wine comes from Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles, but this is not an estate wine.  This wine comes from multiple vineyards that they source from.

“Patelin” means neighborhood in French, so these are grapes not from the estate, but from the neighborhood.  The list of vineyards is long (16 different vineyards across 4 different AVA’s in the Paso Robles Region).  The AVA’s range from Adelaida Hills (higher elevation and warmer), to Templeton Gap (cooler with a coastal influence) to El Pomar (which is more moderate in climate) and then Estrella which is warmer.  The soils differ in these AVA’s also, Adelaida Hills, Templeton Gap and El Pomar tend to be limestone, where as Estrella is sandy loam.

Tablas Creek first produced this wine in 2010 after having a very light harvest in 2009.  This was second vintage of the Patelin de Tablas in 2011.

The blend is 52% Syrah, 29% Grenache, 18% Mourvedre and 1% Counoise, and sits at 13.7% Alcohol.

As to the winemaking techniques:  the grapes were de-stemmed and fermented in a mix of Open-top and closed stainless steel fermenters as well at 1500-gallon upright oak casks. As usual for Tablas Creek it was only native yeasts that were used.  After blending they were aged in stainless steel and 1200 gallon oak foudres.  So, kind of a variety (I think some of that may be due to available space).  They made 8460 cases of this wine.  That’s alot compared to the Côtes de Tablas of which they made 1560 cases.

2013 Le Cigare Volant Réserve “en bonbonne”

2013 Le Cigare Volant reserve from Bonny Doon

2013 Le Cigare Volant reserve from Bonny Doon

Randall Grahm has been making this homage to Châteauneuf-du-Pape since 1984.  The name comes from a weird wine law in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The story goes that a railway worker in northern France claimed he saw two Martians on his property who had landed in a cigar-like machine.  Soon the reports spread and the French were all worried about these “flying cigars” or Cigare Volant.  The Mayor of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region put a law into place banning these “Cigare Volants” from landing or even flying over the area or vineyards.  And…it worked, there have been no alien sitings in the region since then.  Randall came across this law and in his own inimitable fashion, names his homage to Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Le Cigare Volante”.

This wine is from the Central Coast.  This wine comes from multiple vineyards that are not necessarily close to each other.  It is a bit more diverse in soils and climates that they Tablas, which at least sources from the same region.

When you talk about wine-making techniques…well in Randall’s own words

“The idea of “raising” the wine in glass demijohns was also a bit of a fever dream, occasioned in part by the many hours I spent in deep contemplation of the mysteries of redox chemistry; there was something dream-like (à la Carlos Castaneda and Don Juan) about the many hours driving around southern France with Patrick Ducournau, deep thinker about oxygen and wine (and inventor of microbullage, or micro-oxygenation). I’ve already written quite a bit about the nature of the esoteric élevage en bonbonne—bâtonage magnetique, etc., the opportunity for the wine to digest a substantial volume of yeast lees, and the extraordinary texture and savoriness this protocol engenders.”  From his Production Notes

When you visit the tasting room you can see one of the demijohns (or carboys)

Carboy or Demijohn at Bonny Doon

A “Carboy” or demijohn on the counter at Bonny Doon Vineyards. This is used for élevage (the progression of a wine between fermentation and bottling)

This wine is 55% Grenache, 25% Syrah, $16% Mourvedre and 4% Cinsault and it sits a little bigger than the Tablas with Alcohol at 14.3%.

This wine’s production was only 554 cases.

What to Pair with these Rhône Blends?

I took inspiration from Randall’s suggestions.

“All manner of cute creatures: rabbit, tiny birds, etc. Rabbit in Mustard Sauce (We suggest our Cigare Blanc mustard for this dish). Beef Kidneys. Stilton. Braised Oxtail.”

Well I have a thing about eating cute creatures, so we settled on the Stilton as well as a Cambozola (a triple creme chees with the flavor of a bleu cheese).

Tablas Creek suggested Grilled Steaks, rich beef stews and spicy sausages with the Patelin.

We set off and got some sweet italian sausage, a shepard’s pie and steak and stout pie.

So here is the spread:  Sweet Italian Sausage with a brown mustard, Shepherds pie, a steak and stout pie, some zuchinni noodles sautéd with spices, black olives, a fig jam, the Stilton, Cambonzola, some manchego and aged gouda.

Eccelctic pairings for 2011 Patelin de Tablas and 2013 Le Cigare Volant Rhône Blends

Eccelctic pairings for 2011 Patelin de Tablas and 2013 Le Cigare Volant

Tasting the Rhône Blends

In general, the Patelin was more fruit forward, with a bit of wet hay on the nose (I love that funkiness), and you get a little mineral. The fruit is red and bright, but then there is spice and a bit of anise.  The tannins here are light, but the wine still has great structure.  It has developed, but still will be great for further cellaring.

The Le Cigare Volant was mellower on the nose,  But when it hit your mouth, it was richer than you expected from the nose.  My first impression was Thyme in cooked strawberries with hints of smoked spices (like a sweet smoked paprika that is very mellow)

Pairing the Rhône Blends with Food

Both of the wines were fantastic with the sausage, but each brought out something different in the wine.  The Steak and stout pie was also good with both, when paired with the Patelin, brought the fruit forward, with the Cigare Volant it highlighted the more savory notes.  Michael liked the aged gouda best with both wines (mostly because he’s not so into the Bleu cheeses).  The Bleu cheese with fig jam and the Patelin de Tablas was a big hit for me.  We got less scientific as we tasted on savoring every bite and pondering on it.  We pondered quite a bit and I forgot to write down all the notes, job hazard.  Regardless, we enjoyed both wines thoroughly and I am inspired to dive further into Rhône blends, from California as well as digging in deeper to the history of the AOC’s of the Rhône Valley in France.

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A Trio of Syrahs from California’s Central Coast

Syrah bottles Tablas Creek Carhartt Larner

I started out with a plan.  It actually wasn’t Syrah. The plan was dinner and a Roussanne.  We have spent a couple weeks doing research on Syrah and were almost complete.  Our next varietal to focus on is Roussanne and we were going to start with that tonight.  But…it got a little cloudy out and it was feeling a little cold and rather than the seafood companion to the Roussanne, we wanted something a little warmer and cozier.

I came across a post on my Twitter from Bonny Doon of two of their Syrah’s the 2013 Bien Nacido and the 2013 Le Pousseur.  I was inspired and pretty sure I had a Le Pousseur in the cellar, so I did a little pairing research on the Bonny Doon site, and Randall Grahm their winemaker, suggests lamb chops with chimichurri.  I don’t do lamb, (can’t eat baby animals) so I look a little further on the web for pairing advice and see sirloin as a pairing.  Off we go to shop for dinner.  We pick up a marinated sirloin with a chimichurri sauce!  Upon arriving at home, I head down to grab the wine, only to find, well, to not find, the Le Pousseur.  We must have already enjoyed that bottle!  Luckily, we have a few other Syrahs (that’s kind of an understatement).  So I debate between a 2013 Carhartt and a 2014 Larner Transverse.  Both are from Santa Barbara County.  Finally I decide that with a Tablas Creek 2014 Syrah already open, we might as well do a side by side with all 3.

Grilled sirloin & Syrah Tablas Creek 2014, Carhartt 2013 and Larner Transverse 2014

Grilled Sirloin with a chimichurri sauce, grilled eggplant and a salad to pair with our Trio of Syrahs.

The Syrahs

 

2014 Tablas Creek Syrah

The Tablas Creek Vineyard 2014 Syrah

The Tablas Creek Vineyard 2014 Syrah

At Tablas Creek in Paso Robles they have 4 clones of Syrah that were brought from France, from Chateau du Beaucastel. They planted these in 1994, so the vines are almost in their mid 20’s.  The 2014 is the tenth bottling of this single varietal that they have done.  This was fermented in open-top fermenters and was aged in a mix of smaller newer barrels (note that they are “newer” not “New”) and Neutral 1200- gallon foudres for 20 months.  It is 100% Syrah and sits at 14.6% alcohol. If you are familiar with Rhône Syrahs, they say this wine is “more Cote Rotie than Cornas,”.  Only 800 cases were produced.  Visit https://tablascreek.com/ for all the details.

You will also find Vintage Charts (I love these) on their site, to let you know where their wines are at drinkability wise.  Many of the Tablas Creek Wines are meant to age. They taste through their wines and update the vintage chart annually.  The chart will let you know if the wine needs more aging, is drinking well but is youthful, is mature, is in a closed phase, if it’s time to drink it now, before it passes it’s prime or if you have waited too long.  It will also tell you if they currently recommend decanting the wine.

2013 Carhartt Syrah

Carhartt 2013 Syrah.

Carhartt 2013 Syrah.

This Syrah comes from Rancho Santa Ynez in the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County.  Carhartt prints all the good geeky details right on the back label and I love them for that!  This vineyard is just 10 acres and sits on a mesa in the Santa Ynez Valley.  The wine is 100% Syrah from clones 470 & 174 on 1103p Rootstock and 877 & Estrella clones on 5c rootstock. It is grown on vertical trellis.  It is sustainably farmed, and fermented in small lots with a cold soak, punch downs and pump overs & gently pressed.  It spends 17 months in barrel (35% new french oak).  It sits at 13.5% alcohol.  This wine is unfined and unfiltered and only 435 cases were made.

To learn a little more about Carhartt head to their website http://carharttvineyard.com  On the home page you will find a digital magazine, written by Chase Carhartt.  He will tell you the history of this small family business, where they produce only 5000 cases of wine per year and are dedicated making quality wine and treating customers like family.  Their tasting room in Los Olivos is only 99 square feet, making it the tiniest tasting room, but then there is the back patio, which is the best place to be a 5 pm in Los Olivos.

2014 Larner Transverse

Larner 2014 Transverse Syrah

Larner 2014 Transverse Syrah

Michael Larner has a background as a Geologist, so his labels and names for his wine stem from this background.  Transverse is the name for his Syrah that is not an estate wine.

“Transverse:  A geologic structure lying or extending across an area, in a cross direction to other distinguishing local features” From his blog post on this wine

This wine is a blend of Syrah from across Santa Barbara County.  The grapes come from 4 estates spread across the area: Verna’s vineyard is on the east side of the Los Alamos Valley, Coquelicot vineyard sits in the southern part of the Santa Ynez AVA east of Solvang,  Rodney’s vineyard is in the Northern part of the Santa Ynez Valley AVA on Foxen Canyon Road (at Fess Parker) and Star Lane vineyard is in the Eastern most part of the Santa Ynez Valley in the Happy Canyon AVA. So these vineyards span the area and all sit outside the Ballard Canyon AVA, where Larner Vineyard is located.

The grapes for this wine were harvested between October 1st and November 10th, 2014.  It was aged for 14 months in 100% neutral french oak puncheons and then spent 4 months in bottle before it was released.  It sits at 14.7% Alcohol.

“100% Syrah, 10% Whole Cluster. All vineyard lots were fermented individually, macerated for a total of 15 days, initiated fermentation using native yeast, later inoculated with BM 45 yeast and pumped over 1x per day plus punched down 3x per day. Peak Temp averaged 86˚F.”

All these details can be found on the Larner site at http://www.larnerwine.com/product/2014-Transverse

The Tasting

2014 Tablas Creek Syrah

As you pour this wine you immediately notice how dark and opaque it is.  The first thing I got when I stuck my nose in the glass was leather and earth, followed by dark fruit like black currants, folloowed by pepper and savory herbs.  When I went back to it later, I was struck by the salinity and minerality that it gave off as it opened up.  In my mouth it was tart blackberries with a bit of cranberry, you know that extra tartness and tannin you get from cranberries.  It made my mouth water and my teeth dry just a little.  It was mellow and the most food friendly of the wines.

2013 Carhartt Syrah

This wine was decidedly lighter as I poured it, and more translucent in the glass.  The first thing I smelled here was wet straw and barnyard, followed by cranberries, red currants and brighter spices like white pepper.  There were also light floral notes like violets.  In my mouth it was a much lighter wine than the others and tasted of tart red apple skin and dark red berries.  It numbed my gums a little without drying them.  It had a strong medium finish.  It heightened the spice in the chimichurri sauce without making it too hot.

2014 Larner Transverse

This wine was darker, like the Tablas Creek.  Was this due to the 2014 Harvest?  It also sits at 14.7 alcohol (the Tablas is 14.6 and the Carhartt 13.5), so perhaps the depth of color has something to do with the hang time?  The nose was pepper and spice immediately followed by Eucalyptus, black currants and leather.  In my mouth it was all rich red and black fruit with spice and bright bold pepper.  The bright red fruit really hits you mid palate.  It was tangy on the sides of my tougue and had a sweetness on the finish.

After tasting the wines, I was fascinated by the differences.  Were the differences due to wine making techniques, the location of the vineyards, the vintage year and it’s weather?  So I did a little digging and here is what I found out about the harvests.

About the Vintages

Paso Robles 2014 Harvest

2014 was the 3rd year of drought in Paso Robles.  The yields across the area were down, although Tablas Creek’s Syrah Harvest yields were up by 13% over 2013.  The year was noted for depth and concentration in the berries.

Santa Barbara County 2013 Harvest

While 2013 was the 2nd year of drought it was also the 2nd year of ideal growing conditions.  It was a warm, dry growing season without any considerable heat spikes.  It was an early harvest, starting on August 14th and like 2014 it was a fast harvest.  A typical harvest is spread out over 3 months, 2013’s harvest lasted only 7 weeks.  Yields were above average, with an early bud break and large fruit set.

Santa Barbara County 2014 Harvest

In Santa Barbara they had a shorter growing season.  The winter was mild and harvest for many was the earliest ever.  Harvest was also fast, with vineyards bringing in lots of fruit at the same time putting wineries into quite the scramble.  For all intents and purposes it was a solid crop and the fruit had good intensity.

The Regions

Map of California's Central Coast with Paso Robles and Santa Barbara Highlighted

Paso Roble and Santa Barbara Regions in California’s Central Coast  Map by GoogleMaps

The areas that these wines come from spans around a hundred miles on California’s Central Coast.  Tablas Creek is in the Paso Robles Region, while the Carhartt and Larner Syrahs are from the Santa Barbara Region.

Tablas Creek, Paso Robles, Adelaida AVA

Tablas Creek Vineyards is located in the Western Portion of the Paso Robles wine region in the Adelaida AVA.  The elevations in this AVA are between 900 and 1200 feet for planted vineyards.  Because they are the closest AVA to the Ocean, hot summer days are typically tempered by the Maritime influences.  Warm days and cool nights are an ideal growing condition.

For more on the Adelaida AVA you can watch our interview with Jason Haas.

Carhartt Vineyard, Rancho Santa Ynez, Santa Ynez AVA

Carhartt Vineyard is located in Santa Barbara County.  It is in the Santa Ynez Valley AVA, which is a larger AVA encompassing most of the southern part of Santa Barbara County.  Within this AVA you find the Sta. Rita Hills AVA to the West, Ballard Canyon AVA in the Central part of the area and the Happy Canyon AVA to the East.  Carhartt Vineyard sits in Rancho Santa Ynez on a hill top.

Larner Wines Transverse, Santa Barbara County

This wine is called Transverse because it comes from 4 estate vineyards that span the Transverse Valley of the Santa Barbara Area.  So…as you can see from the Map above it takes in multiple regions.

Verna’s Vineyard is in Los Alamos off of Cat Canyon Road.  The vineyard was planted in 1999 by the Melville family and is now owned by Cat Canyon / Shokrian Vineyards.  It is a or 100 acre parcel east of the 101 with warm winds and cool nights.

Rodney’s Vineyard is on the Fess Parker Ranch which is on the east side of Foxen Canyon Road. It is included in the Santa Ynez Valley AVA in it’s Northernmost region.  Fess Parker, so well known as “Daniel Boone” bought the property in 1988.  The vineyard is named after his late son-in-law.

Coquelicot Vineyard is in the Santa Ynez Valley, just east of Solvang.  It is one of the Southern most vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley AVA. This 58 Acre vineyard is Certified Organic.

Star Lane Vineyard is located in the Happy Canyon AVA which is the furthest West region of the Santa Barbara area and as such the warmest.  It sits north of Happy Canyon Road.

So, the differences in the wines?   It could be the growing season and the fact that it was just the 2nd year of drought was part of what made the Carhartt a bit lighter.  Or perhaps it was the wine making style.  Or the type of soil in the vineyards (we didn’t even really talk about that variable!)  And don’t get me wrong, the fact that it was lighter than the other two was not a bad thing.  It was lighter on my palate, but it was still full of flavor and nuance.  This whole side by side tasting is about finding the nuanced differences in the wines and enjoying each for their uniqueness.  There are differences in soils, in weather, in the clones, in the yeasts…Michael mentions inoculating with BM 35 yeast after the initial fermentation was started with native yeasts.  Tablas Creek is all native yeast and I actually don’t have the details on the yeasts used on the Carhartt, as this is one of the few details that they don’t include on this label.  The choice of when to harvest is dependent on the winemakers preference for ripeness typically, but for Michael Larner was harvesting from 4 vineyards that were not his own, which often can mean that you are subject to being harvested a little earlier or later than your preference depending on who else the vineyard is harvesting for at the time.  Then there are the subtle differences of where the block is located within the vineyard and what time of sunlight and wind it gets.  Really, there are just so many variables.

And that is what makes this beverage so fascinating. The variables all add up to a complex story in the glass.  It’s a story of the place, of the soil, of the season, of the people… and it’s a delicious story.

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Syrah – a Rhone Grape

Panorama of vineyards at sunrise time, Beaujolais, Rhone, France

Originating in Southeastern France, Syrah was cultivated during the Roman Rule.  It is the child of two not so well know grapes, Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche.

Where it’s Grown

First grown in France, and found in particular in the Rhône Valley, it has spread globally and can now be found in Australia, where the call it Shiraz, as well as California, Washington, New Zealand, Argentina, Italy, South African, Spain, Switzerland, Chile and, as I just discovered, Tunisia.

 

(side note on Shiraz…the story goes that the grape was brought to Marseilles in 600BC by the Phocaeans from Shiraz, Persia. Another story has it coming from Sicily with the Roman Soldiers, but UC Davis DNA testing say it was born in Southeastern France)

Climate

Syrah thrives in warm climates where it’s canopies reach for the sky, but it can be grown in cooler climates where it will express itself differently in the glass.  The canes on this vine grown long and will grow down, making it impossible to head train.  It is the one Châteauneuf-du-Pape variety that is allowed to be trellised, otherwise the grapes would be on the ground. The leaves often need to be thinned to let the berries get some sun so they can ripen. In the vineyards it is said, “Syrah likes a view”. Because it is such a vigorous vine, planting it at the top of a hill with poor soils helps to concentrate the berries and temper the rigor of the vines.

Larner Vineyard Syrah

Larner Vineyard Syrah

 

Berries and Bunches

The grapes are typically small clusters with small dark (almost black) berries, but this vine produces them in abundance. The skins are typically thick. Because there are many small berries, when you crush the grape you have lots of skin contact, which can give you bold tannins, and pair that with thick skins and you have a very dark, sometimes almost opaque wine.

Syrah Grapes

Syrah Grapes

Home in the Rhône

Syrah is one of the noble grapes of the Rhône and is second only to Grenache in acres planted in the Southern Rhône. It is of course, the S in a GSM. You find it in the wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape,  and it is the only grape allowed in the famous Côte Rôtie & Hermitage wines in the Northern Rhone. In the Northern Rhone they co-ferment Syrah with small bits of Viognier, adding the beautiful Viognier aromatic and creating a rounder mouthfeel for the wine.

Winemaking Techniques

Syrah is often given an extended maceration, meaning it is often cold soaked for days or longer. This mitigates some of the harsh tannins from those thick skins. It also increases the color, due to the extra time with skin contact, and brings forward the fruit flavors while tempering the herbaceous notes.

 

Oak Aging

Like most reds, Syrah is typically aged in oak.  In American they lean toward French Oak for this, in France and Australia it is often American oak.  In the Rhône, it is more often aged in larger Foudres so it has less oak contact, although sometimes blended with lots that have been aged in small oak barrels.  Quite honestly, this is a beautiful wine and often doesn’t need much oak addition.

 

How long to hold a Syrah?

Typically you can hold a Syrah for up to 10 years.  There are those who will tell you not to even look at the bottle for 5 years, and of course a well made Syrah from the Hermitage might age beautifully much longer, up to 30 or almost 40 years.  And keep in mind that wines can go through closed phases as they age, opening up again later.  This is where owning a Coravin comes in handy.

Tasting…

Adaptable as it is, this grape expresses itself differently depending on the climate. Cooler Climates produce Light-Bodied Syrahs that can have savory notes as well as Olive and Plum. Warmer Climate produce more Full-Bodied Syrahs and you get Cocoa, Licorice and Mint.  But let’s break this tasting down a bit.

Sight

A Warmer Climate Syrah will be dark purple/black and almost opaque.

A Cooler Climate Syrah will be a deep purple burgundy with some translucency.

Aroma

Here we have to break it down a little further.

Primary Aromas (those are the ones that come with the grape which include the terroir)

  • Fruits like Blueberry, Blackberry, black currants or prunes.
  • Spices like black pepper, clove, anise (black licorice) or thyme
  • Floral notes like voilets, geraniums or roses.
  • Herb notes like cedar, eucalyptus, sandalwood or green olive

 

Secondary Aromas (these come from the winemaking techniques)

  • From Oak: Vanilla, tobacco, cocoa, smoke, coffee or coconut.
  • From Fermentation: Rubber, tar, solvents or stem

 

Tertiary Aromas (these come from aging)

  • Leather, cigar box, earth, spices and even truffle

 

Taste

Syrah is considered to be a full bodied wine and is supple.  The tannins (that dryness that you get on your teeth) are medium and it has a medium acidity.

Warm Climate Syrah

  • Dark fruits like blackberry or cherry, smoke, meat, leather, white pepper, licorice, earth.

Cool Climate Syrah

  • Dark Fruits, green olives, black pepper and spice.

Finish

Typical finishes are medium to long in length (that’s how long you can still taste the wine in your mouth)

Pairing Syrah with food

Most often when I have Syrah, I crave bacon.  Salty pork just loves this wine.  Want to have it with desert? I paired a Syrah with dark chocolate bark with fresh rosemary, bacon and a coffee infused sea salt and it was heaven! Pork barbeque is a good bet and if it is a bold Syrah, don’t be shy with the pepper. Stews and braised meats are good if you are drinking Syrah in a blend like a Rhone blend or a GSM.

If you have a lighter Syrah, like one from Washington or Santa Barbara’s Sta. Rita Hills or Santa Maria Valley (where yes it grows very well), think a little lighter. The wine will likely have a bit more acid and can pair with lamb or grilled eggplant.

 

Need a cheese platter?

With a full bodied Syrah look to harder cheeses or stinky cheeses. Bleu cheeses like Gorgonzola, or Stilton and hard cheeses like Parmesan or asiago. Smoked Gouda is one of my favorites with this wine, since the smoke in the cheese often is great with the smoke on the wine. And then charcuterie…well Bacon, and then all sorts of smoked meats.  If you are drinking a Cool Climate Syrah, you might pull out the olives if you get a little of that on the wine’s nose.

 

Quick summary for pairing…

  • Red meats, things that are grilled, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, peppers, black pepper and hard or stinky cheeses!

Syrah is a perfect winter wine, as fellow wine lovers will attest. The kind of wine that you can curl up with. Maybe a nice rich stew, while curled up in a comfy chair, under a blanket with a fire in the fireplace, and a nice book to read. Of course you can enjoy Syrah all year, in the summer with Barbeque is divine, but I love having my nose in a glass, and quietly contemplating it over the course of an evening all by myself.

If you are looking for a Syrah:

  • In France, look to the Rhône:  Côte Rôtie, Hermitage, Châteauneuf du Pape, Languedoc-Roussillon
  • In Washington State, look to Walla Walla, Yakima and the Columbia Gorge
  • In Oregon check out the Rogue Valley
  • In California check out the Russian River Valley, the Santa Lucia Highlands, Paso Robles, and then Santa Barbara from the Santa Maria Valley to the Santa Ynez Valley and Ballard Canyon where it is the flagship wine.
  • In Australia you’ll find it in the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale.
  • In Spain in La Mancha
  • In Italy in the Basilicata Region in Southern Italy
  • In Chile try Elqui and San Antonia for Cool Climate Syrah and The Colchagua Valley for a mild climate Syrah.
  • In New Zealand on Waiheke Island near Auckland then on the Coast in Hawke’s Bay and a little further south in Wairarapa and Martinsborough.
  • In South Africa you will find it in Paarl, Stellenbosch, Swartland and Robertson.
  • And in Switzerland in Valais.

Collage of Maps

There are tons of wines out there, but just with this one variety you can explore much of the world.  It’s on my list to do this year.  Check back with us for more information on wine and grapes as we continue our journey, learning and chronicling the journey of the grape from dirt to glass!

Want to know more about Syrah?  Try some of the links below. We attended a Seminar on Syrah in Santa Barbara County and listened to wine makers from across the area (and climates) speak.

Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

2017 The year in retrospect

Wet West Virginia moss

I’ve started this post at least 3 times.  How to sum up a year?  My tendency is to go analytical and spin out the year chronologically.  But remembering a year doesn’t really work that way.  Even scanning through my Instagram feed, I found my mind drifting, one memory taking me to another, rarely chronologically and I would swipe from one end of my feed to the other as the thoughts took me.  The visuals, the photos, were the things that drew me in, so that is what I want to share with you.

A Year of #_______Strong and of people coming together

2017…It’s been a year. It was the year of #(currentdisasterousevent)strong. There were so many, it was overwhelming at times. These events, that used to happen in some far away place, to people we didn’t know, suddenly, as we become a global community, have become things happening to people we know in places we have often seen. I had friends in Florida, Houston, in Sonoma, in New York City, in the Dominican Republic. And then of course there was Vegas. That’s home, and while I was not on the strip that night, many people that I work with daily and care for deeply, were. It was a year of stress and struggles, but also a year of people coming together. These events reminded us what is important, they caused us to be in touch with people who are dear to us and let them know they are dear to us.

Nature and home

As I sifted through the photos from this year, the ones I found the most moving, were those I took on our family farm early this spring.  No, they have nothing to do with wine, but returning to this place during some torrential spring rains, brought some perspective to the year.  The day was wet and rainy, but it only drizzled a bit while we were there.  We watched the creek rush overflowing it’s banks, and trudged from the ridge to the meadow and were soaked to the bone by the the dripping trees and wet underbrush by the time we left, but bits of astounding beauty were everywhere.

Fungus on the Farm

Fungus on the Farm

My Waterfall.

My Waterfall

Friends and Wine in Virginia

While we were on the East Coast we were able to catch up with friends and spent a weekend with my best friend and another friend from college as well as their husbands and did a bit of exploring of Virginia Wine Country.  A few years ago, we did a girls weekend in Virginia wine country and this was a great opportunity to do  Wine Country II,  Electric Boogaloo tour with the boys.

I did a bit of research on the history of Virginia Wine Country before we traveled, and we tried to take in a few different areas starting at Chrysalis and Stone Tower in Northern Virginia.  Chrysalis Vineyards is the Champion of the Norton Grape, a grape native to North America and have their tasting room at the Ag District Center.  The Winery is the vision of Jennifer McCloud who started Chrysalis in the late 1990’s.  This is a from scratch business. In Todd Kliman’s book “The Wild Vine – A forgotten grape and the untold story of American Wine” he talks about meeting Jennifer at the Vineyards and riding out with her in her pickup to see the vines.  She is the heart and soul of this winery.

Norton Grape Vine at Chrysalis Tasting Room

Norton Grape Vine at Chrysalis Tasting Room

Stone Tower Vineyards, is something completely different.  You drive up Hogsback Mountain to find an impressive Estate with a “stone tower” hence the name.  Part of the property had been in the family for 40 years and in 2005 they added to the property when a neighboring farm was available.  Many of their vines are still too young to yield fruit, so their winemaker brings in juice from California for some of their wines, which are labeled under “Wild Boar Cellars”.  Regardless, the wines were all beautifully made and the Estate wines made from grapes grown on site are really exquisite.  The tasting room at the vineyard in Loudoun County is expansive and beautiful and as such is overflowing with wine tasters from the DC area on the weekends, so go early!

Stone Tower Winery in Virginia

Stone Tower Winery in Virginia

We ventured south from here to meet my dearest friend at Barboursville Vineyards in Central Virginia.  This Vineyard is on a historic estate between Monticello and Montpelier. On the property lies the remnants of the home designed for James Barbour by Thomas Jefferson.  In 1976 the Zonin Family, who command a portfolio of 9 wineries in 7 regions of Italy, acquired the property.

Barboursville Vineyards

Barboursville Vineyards

We then headed to Charlottesville (this was early in the year, before they needed a #CharlottesvilleStong).  We had a great dinner on the Historic Downtown Mall and then planned our morning trip to Monticello.

Jefferson wanted so desperately to grow grapes and make his own wine.  He was a renaissance man and as such tended to get wrapped up in some things to the detriment of others.  The property is beautiful, the house unique and quirky, with it’s wine elevator among other things and the gardens are lovely, if filled with non native species.  The vineyards speak to the longing to make his own wine and on this spring day, in the mist, they seemed to echo this.

 

Monticello

Monticello

Vineyards at Monticello

Vineyards at Monticello

We had lunch at the historic Michie Tavern and visited a few other wineries, a standout being Blenheim Vineyards, owned by Dave Matthews.

How much California Wine Country can you see in 6 days?

August took us on a Flash Tour of the California Coast and it’s wine regions.  We spent 6 Days traveling the coast hitting Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, Monterey, Napa, Sonoma, the Livermore Valley, and Santa Cruz. You can check out our travels here. The trip was amazing, here are some visual highlights.

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Other highlights

Those are the big highlights, but we were busy all year.

At the beginning of the year I did a tasting of Natural Wines with Matthieu at the farmers market.

We did a Superbowl Wine Party How to pair with Everything!  And we did pair with everything!

In April we did a Virtual trip to the McLaren Vale in Australia with our friend Dean being our Wine Reporter at Large

In May and June we dove into Rosé with some basics and tastings.  July saw us drinking lots of bright whites, as you would expect in the summer in Vegas, and then

We found ourselves back in Santa Barbara again in October and spent time in Lompoc in the Wine Ghetto, Solvang and downtown Santa Barbara.

Beyond that we traveled closer to home and did some amazing at home pairings.  Including a wonderful Grenache Vertical and some Wine and Chocolate bark pairings.

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Onward to 2018

And what about 2018? I love the New Year. It always feels like a clean slate. Will there be good wine and some wine travel? Yes! Adventures and meeting new people and sharing their stories is what we are all about, and we get better at this all the time. Plans are in the works for this year, but who knows where the wind may blow us. I look forward to more spontaneous trips this year.

And I have been inspired seeing people post their “power words” for the new year.  Mine…”Exploration”.  I love research and if I want to be more spontaneous this year, it actually probably means chasing tangents down the research rabbit hole, and I’m okay with that!  I do have a few things on my list.  Expect to see more on French wines and wine regions this year.  Between trips to wine regions, we will be taking some virtual trips to France and digging in deeper to it’s wine regions. There is a reason that when people think of wine, they first think of French wine.  I am also anxious to search out more “natural wines”.  I know, I know, it’s a really open term, but I love pét-nat and I want to explore deeper into this movement and I’m anxious to see how this category of wines develops and evolves.  And then of course there will be the tangents.  I always start the year with plans, and I will be sitting down soon to create my list for 2018.  By the end of 2018 I am sure that I will have happily strayed from it.

Happy New Year!  I’m off to make my exploration planning list.  I should probably pour a glass of wine as I head down the rabbit hole.

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What is Terret Noir?

Wine & Cheese Pairing with Tablas Creek Terret Noir 2105

Terret Noir

Terret Noir is a Rhône Valley Grape that is dark but thinned skinned and produces a light colored wine. It is one of the 13 grapes permitted for blending in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, although it totals just 2 acres of vineyard in the region. Like Grenache you will also find Terret Blanc and Terret Gris the other color variations in the grape. Terret Noir is thought to be originally from Languedoc where Terret Gris was once grown widely and used in the production of vermouth.

This grape buds late (which is great, so you don’t have as much frost worry with it), produces abundantly and brings a freshness to other varieties when blended.

Terret Noir in Paso Robles

Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles brought this grape in with their program to bring all 13 of the Châteauneuf-de-Pape grapes to their vineyard.  We had the opportunity to taste a single varietal of Terret Noir in their tasting room and took a bottle of the 2015 with us. (They made this as a single varietal in 2013, 2014 & 2015)

It was indeed a light colored wine, transparent cranberry red, leaning more toward orange than purple in my glass.  On the nose you get bright red fruit and spice with dried strawberries and brambles, like a walk in a meadow in summer after rain as you get all the lush green grasses drying in the sun.

In your mouth it is pomegranate and bright spices and the flesh of a bright red plum.

We paired it with a cheese and charcuterie plate and found it made the parmesan cheese taste sharper and less salty.  The dry Italian salami brightened the fruit in the wine while the wine brought out the savory tones in the salami.

Tablas Creek plans to use this as a blending grape. Watch for it to appear with Syrah and Grenache in a 2016 blend.

I always enjoy exploring those underappreciated grape varieties.  It widens your palate and reminds you that there is so much more out there than Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.

This wine pairs well with braised vegetables, grilled eggplant and salty meats and cheeses.

Come back and see what other great wine varieties we are tasting. Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Albariños from Rias Baixas

Albariño is being grown all over the world, but it originates from Rias Baixas.  We spent some time getting to know a little about the region and then tasting through 3 Albariños from this region and doing a little experimental food pairing.

Where does Albariño come from?

Galicia

This area is the Northwestern corner of Spain, and it’s probably not what you picture when you picture Spain.  Located above Portugal with two edges of coast line on the Atlantic.  It’s called Galicia and it sounds Gaelic for a reason.  This area was inhabited by Celtic people who lived north of the Douro River.  My dear friend Pepe who is from Spain once told me about this area with such passion and longing, that he created a picture of this place for me without my even seeing it.  The area is often wet and cloudy and feels more like Ireland than Spain.  You find it populated with many ginger-haired blue-eyed Spaniards.  Bagpipes are not uncommon and Celtic crosses dot the landscape.

Rias Baixas

Within this green wet corner of Spain you find Rias Baixas.   “Rias Baixas” means “lower Rias” in Galician.  This coastal area encompasses 4 inlets and it is rich in fishing and aquaculture.  Wide beaches and beautiful vineyards, great seafood and wine make this an idealic destination.

Albariño and how it is grown

90% of the wine coming out of Rias Baixas is Albariño, and the grape is thought to have originated in the area.  While it has been proven to be indigenous to Spain, there were legends saying that monks had brought Riesling or Petit Manseng from Burgundy to this region of Spain back in the  12th or 13th centuries. It does resemble Riesling in it’s minerality.

This grape is very good at thriving in this moist environment, but to up the odds of success, the vines here are trained on pergolas. The pergolas are hewed from granite (makes sense because wood would rot in the moisture).  The pergola’s keep the grapes off the ground,  they get protection from the sun and great airflow.  These pergolas can be up to 7 feet tall, so the breezes pass through keeping down mildew and allowing for even ripening.  Harvest is by hand into 40 lb bins and yields here are low, between 3 and 5 tons per acre.

The Wines for today

2016 Luzado Albariño

The first was a 2016 Luzada Albariño. This is an estate grown and bottled wine from Val do Sainés in Rais Baixas. We picked this up at Trader Joes for $6.99. This was to be our low end wine for comparison. Quite honestly it stood up pretty well. The closure on this wine was screw cap, so quick and easy to get into. On the nose I got dusty rocks, minerals, lemon spritzer and pith. As it opened up it blossomed with honeysuckle. On the palate there was a tartness, like an under ripe green apple. It lingers on the palate and we found it to be really nice. Is there a ton of depth and nuance? No, but the nose did evolve and kept me going back for more.

Luzada Albariño with Palak Paneer and Pad Thai

Luzada Albariño with Palak Paneer and Pad Thai

We paired this one night (yes at $6.99 it’s easy to pick up another bottle), with Indian and Thai food, which are go to pairings for Albariño. It was beautiful with the Palak Paneer, the brightness of the wine went well with the greens in the dish. With the Pad Thai, it was nice, but we still got stung a bit by the heat of the dish, so I think I will still prefer Rieslings with Thai.

2015 Alma Terra Albariño

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The 2015 Alma Terra we picked up at Total Wine. This bottle set us back $16.99. This is a “Ponte” which means it is single vineyard. When I stuck my nose in this glass, I got peach pits and dusty honeysuckle. In my mouth it was more tropical with a little pineapple and tart still hard white peaches. (I actually tasted this wine with some slightly under ripe white peaches). There was a bit more nuance to the nose on this wine, but we found that it settled quickly, and didn’t continue to open or change.  This bottle had a cork closure. I mention this because, surprisingly, each of these bottles had a different closure.

2014 La Caña Albariño

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Lastly we had a 2014 La Caña Albariño. This wine again came from Total Wine and ran $19.99. Upon sticking my nose in the glass, I knew we had something different here. The nose was beeswax and honeysuckle and it felt comfortable and round. It opened up to peach and nectarine and citrus blossoms late in the day on a hot and humid day. 80% of this wine is fermented in Stainless and 20 percent in French Oak puncheons. It rests 8 months on the lees before bottling. This wine was not bright and sharp, like the previous wines, but rather comes across like a beautiful watercolor painting, the colors melding and blending softly as they seep into the paper. This perhaps is because it sits on the lees for 8 months. Oh and this bottle had a composite stopper.

While the La Caña was my favorite of the evening, it is also clearly a different style of Albariño.

The pairings

Eggplant was the theme du jour.  We had picked some at Gilcrease Farm and were ready to dive into using it.  I made a dip, with a recipe from my friend Corinne.  It called for roasting the eggplant, scooping out  the insides and mixing it with mayo, yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  I tossed in some lemon zest for good measure.

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Michael pulled up a recipe for Eggplant parmesean.  He had just made several jars of roasted tomato sauce that we used in this.  Pretty simple, slice the eggplant in 1/8 inch slices lengthwise, salt and let sit for 30 minutes.  Then do an egg and breadcrumb dip and fry them.  Then layer like lasagna…a layer of eggplant, a layer of sauce and repeat twice (3 layers), then top with fresh mozzerella slices and bake.

We also made some fried calamari and we had white peaches and nectarines as well as two types of flavored goat cheese and a sampling of spanish cheeses.

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So…as to the pairings;  The Luzado was really wonderful with the eggplant dip.  I attribute this to the lemon juice and zest in the dip.  The Calamari was great with the Alma Terra.  The La Caña blended well with everything, it didn’t make anything sparkle or shine, but it was really easy going playing well with all the dishes.

How was the Eggplant Parmesean you ask?

Homemade Eggplant Parmesan

Homemade Eggplant Parmesan

Well, due to the red sauce, it really didn’t do much of anything with the wine, but, it was tasty on it’s own!

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Wine and chocolate bark pairing ideas

chocolate bark for syrah & Viognier Pairing

I was searching for a nut mix recipe for the holidays and came across a “no recipe” recipe for chocolate bark (so easy it’s not really a recipe, but just a little bit of direction to get you going). I’ve always loved chocolate bark and had just seen an article on pairing wine with chocolate, and not just “a dark red wine with dark chocolate” kinda article but one with some variety. Then I started to think about cheese plates and the nut and dried fruit pairings you could do with each wine, and my imagination took off. So now I am putting together some “toss together” ideas for perfect wine and chocolate bark recipes.

Basics to start with

Typically you want your wine as sweet as your chocolate. Dark chocolates seem to be much more forgiving of this with big red wines. And Sparkling wines pull up the celebratory mood and that mood more than anything is very forgiving with pairings. Champagne goes with anything and if it doesn’t people are unlikely to notice. The bubbles will have them too happy to care.

White chocolate

white chocolate

white chocolate

Yes, yes, I know it’s not chocolate, it is cocoa butter, sugar and milk solids.  But butter, is fat so you can see how you can pair this with Champagne or sparkling wines.  Rieslings, or Gewürtraminer work also, as long as they lean to the sweet side. Try Muscats, a fruit forward Chardonnay, or a late harvest white wine.

Milk Chocolate

milk chocolate

milk chocolate

Look to Ports and Sherrys and maybe a Pinot Noir. You can really go with most red wines as long as they are not too dry. Also a Sparkling Moscato works nice.

Dark Chocolate

dark chocolate

dark chocolate

Well big reds love dark chocolate, think Merlot, Cab Sav, Cab Franc, Zinfandel, Syrah or Mourvedre. Or take it the dessert route with a Ruby or Tawny Port. The lighter the chocolate the sweeter the wine should be, so 60% dark chocolates with Ports, 70% with the darker reds.

 

Now when you start to toss on those toppings…

The first thing that came to mind for me was bacon. I know….but dark chocolate and bacon with a Syrah? Yum. Maybe some dried cranberries to pull out the fruit in the wine. Are you feelin’ me here?

Nuts and dried fruits

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Add some dried apricots and orange zest to a white chocolate and pair with a Tokaji or a late harvest white wine.

Add almonds or chestnuts to dark chocolate to pair with a Merlot

Dried cherries and walnuts to milk chocolate for a Pinot Noir.

Hazelnuts to white chocolate to pair with a toasty sparkling wine.

Caramel with Madeira…

Herbs & other flavors

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And then don’t forget the herbs and other flavors.

Lavender in a white or milk chocolate with a sweet Riesling.

Or take it spicy with some chili flakes or chili powder.

Coffee, or espresso powder with a rich Pinot Noir or Shiraz.

Salty potato chips in white chocolate with sparkling wine.

Rosemary and salt with a dark chocolate and a Carignan, Zin or Shiraz.

Try a little coriander in dark chocolate with a Mourvedre.

Or a little cumin in a dark chocolate with a Cabernet or Bordeaux blend.

Finishing salts are great and often are infused…I have a Stumptown coffee infused salt that I love!

White & Dark chocolate Bark ingredients

White & Dark chocolate Bark ingredients & possibilities

Wines to Avoid

Typically you want to avoid:

white wines as they are high in acid

cold wines that will change the texture of the chocolate in your mouth (you want it to melt right?)

and wines that are high in tannins (so check those big reds before diving in)

Of course in the end it all depends on personal taste. So make a mix and let people taste, or just put out the chocolate and let them pair with the extras on their own! I suggest having a nice sparkling wine on the side as a palate cleanser for those who make unfortunate pairings and need to get the taste out of their mouth!

How to put it together?

I love that this part is so easy.

 

overhead cutting chocolate for chocolate bark

Chop or shave some chocolate

Throw it in a double boiler over low (or like me just a pot of simmering water with a glass bowl on top) and stir constantly until it melts.

adding rosemary to chocolate Bark

Sprinkle on your toppings of choice!

Toss it in the fridge (okay, this might be the toughest part at this time of the year, finding room in the fridge for a sheet pan).

Once it has set, break it up and pair!

Our Pairings

chocolate bark for syrah & Viognier Pairing

Dark chocolate with dried cranberries, bacon, rosemary and coffee infused finishing salt. white chocolate with dried apricots, orange zest and pistachios, and a bonus dark chocoalte with cranberries and pistachios.

We settled on two pairings.  We had a bottle of 2012 Reserve Syrah from Larner Vineyards in Santa Barbara’s Ballard Canyon AVA.  The Tasting notes for this wine included: “Black fruit, cedar, licorice, smoked meat and leather with silky tannins.”  This Larner Syrah is the 4 best barrels of Syrah from 2012.  It spends 36 months on 50% New French Oak. There were only 97 cases of this wine produced.

We opted to do a dark chocolate bark with dried cranberries, bacon, rosemary and a coffee infused finishing salt.

Larner Reserve Syrah with choclate Bark ingredients, rosemary, cranberries, bacon, coffee finishing salt

Larner Reserve Syrah with chocolate bark ingredients: rosemary, cranberries, bacon, coffee finishing salt

And to go with dessert, a limited release 2013 late harvest Viognier from Cold Heaven Cellars (again Santa Barbara).

Cold Heaven only produces a late harvest Viognier in years when the conditions are just right.  200 cases of this wine were produced.  It was 50% barrel aged for 4 months in 2 year old French Hermitage barrels.

For this wine we went with a white chocolate bark with dried apricot, orange zest and pistachios.

Late Harvest Viognier from Cold Heaven with white chocolate Bark

Late Harvest Viognier from Cold Heaven with white chocolate bark with orange zest and dried apricots

Explore!  Pick your favorite wines then choose complimenting or contrasting flavors.  An easy go to, is to find the tasting notes for the wine and choose ingredients from that list!  Have fun and let us know what amazing combinations for pairings that you come up with!

Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

 

Winter in the Vineyard

winter-vineyard

Winter in the Vineyard. It’s the quiet time. Harvest is over, the cellar has done their thing and now the wine sits quietly and ages. The leaves in the vineyard turn red or golden and then fall, the vines are going dormant. They will get pruned mid winter, cutting back the vines to ensure a healthy crop for next year.

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Fertilizing the vineyard

Now is the time to compost the vineyard. Many vineyards save the unripe fruit and/or pomice (the skins from the grapes after the wine is pressed off) to use in their compost. Sometimes additional fertilizers will be added. (We like when they used the natural kind). Then the soil is disked to get the nutrients mixed in with the topsoil. This way when the rain comes the soil can soak up all these nutrients.

Grapevines and mustard growing in California's Napa Valley

Grapevines and mustard growing in California’s Napa Valley

Cover Crops

Cover crops will also be seeded, and coming up, likely making the vineyards look green in early winter. Cover crops help with keeping down erosion, adding nutrients back into the soil and help lure in those beneficial insects. Vineyards with sheep and other animals may have them out grazing in the vines. This helps keep the soil loose and adds natural fertilizer.

Pruning

Pruning may seem simple. It’s just cutting back the vines of course, but there is strategy involved.

A weaker vine may be pruned more deeply than a healthy vine.

Pruning also has some determining factors for harvest. As you prune you determine the number of spurs per vine (the knubs left of the pruned branch which will bud out in the spring). Each spur will have a shoot in the spring that will probably hold 2 clusters. So when you prune you can calculate your crop size for the next vintage (of course accounting for frost, shatter, birds, rot and rain, LOL).

There is also the matter of timing in pruning. All the vines of a varietal that you prune at the same time are likely to ripen at about the same time. So spreading the pruning out a little, changes the pacing of your harvest. And Pruning will stimulate the vines causing them to push out earlier. So depending on your forecast for spring, you might hold your pruning until later.

The pruning typically removes most of the canes leaving just those spurs. As you prune you can see how the sap is flowing. The sap flows stronger as you close in on bud break

These vine cuttings can be used to graft to new rootstock to plant again.

Pruning is often done by hand and it is laborious work. There are Pre-pruning machines that can cut the larger parts of the canes back, making it easier to get in and finish the job by hand.

As winter ends we will head toward spring and as the sap starts to flow and we get closer to bud break the sleepless nights when freeze warnings happen. But that’s for Spring (and you thought spring was all bright greens and flowers?)

 

find out more of how the Seasons work in Wine country.