Sparkling Vermentino – “tears of laughter and joy”

As I went looking for a bottle to open for a simple evening dinner, a small celebration of the end of a work week, I came across a bottle of sparkling vermentino in the wine fridge.

I love vermentino and today was one of the first really hot days this summer, with temps hitting triple digits. Those kind of temps call for something bright and vermentino certainly fits the bill. On top of it, it was a sparkling vermentino. Well I am always down for bubbles!

It was from Bonny Doon and I flipped it over to read the back label. Randall Grahm always has enchanting lengthy back labels. The description ended with ” -tears of joy and laughter”. Well…now of course I was going to pop this bottle! I really needed that at the end of this week!

Bonny Doon 2017 Sparkling Vermentino

Bonny Doon 2017 Sparkling Vermentino

This wine is a blend, 77% Vermentino and 23% Grenache Blanc from Beeswax and Cedar Lane Vineyards in the Arroyo Seco AVA within Monterey County. This AVA sits in the Santa Lucia mountain range.

Soils are Arroyo Seco gravelly loam, with river stones that absorb the heat during the day and radiate in the evening. The vineyards are nearby to each other and closer to the valley floor between 300-500 ft. The valley has a cool climate with Pacific ocean breezes every afternoon.

https://shop.bonnydoonvineyard.com/product/2017-Sparkling-Vermentino

The label on this wine is deep green and yellow which inspired the bottle shot, out back on the grass with the fallen blossoms from our desert museum palo verde, Dulcinea-Sophia (yes, I name my trees).

A bit of Dulcinea-Sophia in bloom, our Desert Museum Palo Verde

The back label entertainment

I mentioned that Randall’s back labels (and really anything he writes) are enchanting. He is a thoughtful writer, and while often the words are many, they are all entertaining. This is actually one of his shorter back labels.

Back label of the Bonny Doon 2017 Sparkling Vermentino

Pairings

While not included on the label, a quick visit to the Bonny Doon site, set me up with options for pairings. Sometimes, I go off the rails with pairings from what is suggested, but Bonny Doon’s suggestions are always tried and tested. The suggestions were

Oysters on the half shell, Dungeness crab, fish tacos, prosciutto-wrapped melon.

https://shop.bonnydoonvineyard.com/product/2017-Sparkling-Vermentino

So we did some prosciutto-wrapped canteloupe and I whipped up some fish tacos.

Fish Tacos

Fish tacos to pair with the Bonny Doon Sparkling Vermentino

The description of the wine on the site mentioned citrus, lemon balm, lemon-lime, and an herbal note of possibly rosemary…so my fish tacos riffed on this.

Fish taco w/ cod bits en papillote with lemon & rosemary

Ingredients

  • 4.5 lbs of Atlantic Cod bits defrosted
  • 2 lemons
  • 4 sprigs of rosemary
  • medium to small tortillas (I used flour tortillas)
  • guacamole
  • 1 lime
  • spring greens (or cabbage)
  • rice
  • salsa (I like green salsa)
  • salt
  • pepper

The fish

Cod bits en papillote with lemon & rosemary
  • Preheat the oven to 425
  • Cut two large squares of parchment
  • place 6-8 thin lemon slices to one side of center on one sheet of the parchment
  • arrange half the cod on top of the lemon slices
  • sprinkle with salt (I used pink himalayan salt)
  • add a grind of pepper
  • top with 2 sprigs of rosemary
  • zest a bit of the lemon on top
  • repeat with the other sheet and the rest of the fish
  • fold up the edges (here’s a video from @Cooksmarts)
  • place both packets on a cookie sheet
  • pop into the oven for about 20 minutes (or less)

The rest

I typically get a plate and a damp dishtowel and wrap my tortillas in the towel and pop them in the oven to warm for 5 minutes. This steams them so that they stay soft.

Then I gather all the other stuff I want on the tacos. Today it was guacamole, jasmine rice, lime wedges to squeeze, spring greens and I had Herdez guacamole salsa, which is medium heat.

Fish tacos and the Bonny Doon 2017 Sparkling Vermentino

All in all a pretty delicious evening! Light-hearted and delicious. That Sparkling Vermentino? Well, they only made 210 cases of it, so if it sounds good to you, you’d best go grab a bottle from their site. It’s set you back $36 a bottle, but the “tears of joy and laughter” make it all worth it.

You can find Bonny Doon online or drive out to their tasting room on the coast in Davenport. The views are spectacular, and the people and the wines in their tasting room will make you want to stay all day.

  • Bonny Doon Vineyards A Proper Claret
  • Bonny Doon beach

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Wine with friends – A California tasting & pairing

After our trip to the Central Coast, my friend RuBen asked if we wanted to do a wine & cheese party with him at his house.  Well of course!  RuBen is the hostess with the mostest and has a beautiful backyard.  He also knows wonderful people, who are always a joy to talk to.  So….RuBen planned the decor, the people and the over-all menu and I planned the wines and pairings.  I spent several days going through and picking wines from our cellar and then finding interesting facts about each and pairing ideas.  Here’s what I settled on…

Laetitia Brut Cuvee

We needed to start with something bubbly, so we pulled out a bottle of Laetitia Vineyard & Winery Brut Cuvee.  The winery is in the Arroyo Grande AVA which is just south of San Luis Obispo. We had recently done an Interview on their beautiful property  with Heather Muran of the SLO Wine Association.  Starting with bubbles is always a great celebratory way to start any event and it’s a great palate cleanser.  This wine is made in the Champenoise method and the winemaker says his favorite pairing with this is potato chips!  So…that’s what we paired it with.  It was fun to talk to people about this wine and have people share with me their knowledge of sparkling wines.

Tablas Creek 2014 Vermentino

Next we moved onto a white wine, but I didn’t want to do a typical Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.  Instead we did a Vermentino from Tablas Creek Vineyards in Paso Robles.  This winery is known for their Rhone Varieties, and while Vermentino is a little out of the Rhone (although it is grown there under the name Rolle) it is a variety of grape that thrives in the soils and climates you find at Tablas Creek.  It is bright and minerally and we put a jar of wet stones next to it for people to smell.  It was amazing to see people dip their nose into the glass then into the jar and watch the look of realization and surprise come across their faces.  People always think that tasting notes sound so snooty with the wild things sommeliers say they can smell in a wine.  Having it right there and smelling it opened their noses to trying to smell other things in the wines!  Vermentino pairs great with many things, but unlike so many other wines, it is great with green vegetables, so we paired this with a pesto.

Margerum 2014 Riviera Rosé

Onward now to a Rosé.  Rosés are coming back into vogue and you find them popping up everywhere.  While you can find rosés made from Pinot, Zinfandel,  and even Merlot…I love a Rhone or Grenache Rosé best, with a little watermelon and strawberry on the nose, but dry.  That is what we got with the Margerum Wine Company 2014 Riviera Rosé. This Rosé is Grenache with a little Counoise and Cinsault.  The Grenache for the most part is done in the saignee method, then a bit of Counoise and Cinsault are added as well as a little barrel aged Grenache.  As Rosés notoriously go well with anything pink, we paired it with a prosciutto.

Carhartt 2012 Pinot Noir

It was time now to go a little darker.  We pulled out a 2012 Pinot Noir from Carhartt in Santa Barbara. The Carhartt’s are the same Carhartt’s you think of with work clothes. The family owned a ranch in Santa Barbara where they raised cattle for years.  Mike Carhartt and his wife Brooke planted grapes on the land and now it is a family affair with son Chase studying wine making and assisting in the process. This particular wine is not grown on their estate but comes from Riverbench Vineyard up in the Santa Maria Valley where they grow some amazing Pinot Noir.  We paired this with cheeses; goat cheese, gouda and baked brie!

Carhartt 2012 Sangiovese

We continued with a little more robust red with a Carhartt Sangiovese.  This wine was estate grown and smells of cherry, fig, cola, all spice, sweet oak and rose petal.  I had a fresh burrata from the Downtown Summerlin Farmers Market that paired perfectly with this!

Tobin James 2009 Fat Boy Zin

I must admit that we don’t drink alot of big reds these days.  Most are just a bit too big to pair with a meal.  At one time we were members of the Tobin James wine club and we have a bunch of great big fat Zins from them, that I have not yet opened.  So…here was an opportunity to open one and see how it was.  Did it mellow with age or would it have gone flat and passed it’s peak?  We opened a 2009 Tobin James Fat Boy Zin.  It is an over the top Zin that Tobin says is “like the best friend you had as a kid; big brash and maybe slightly obnoxious, but always loved!”.  This is definitely big with the alcohol level sitting at 15.8%.  But indeed, this big boy was loved by many at the party.  We paired this with Smoked Gouda, but truly this big Jammy Zin would go best with bold bold BBQ.

Carol Shelton 2008 Black Magic

We ended the eveningstepping a little further north, with a late harvest Zin by Carol Shelton her 2008 Black Magic from Sonoma County.  Late harvest wines are those that are left on the vine to let their sugars develop and often they will leave them to raisin on the vine concentrating the sugars even further.  This dessert wine screams for chocolate and indeed we paired it with that, but also with a lovely Stilton. The sweet wine and the savory cheese are a perfect combination for finishing an evening.

This was an amazing evening with around 20 people just mingling talking about the wines and whatever else came up and meandering around RuBen’s beautiful backyard with little seating areas tucked here and there.  We enjoyed the wine, the company and conversation as the sun set and the stars came out.  Yep, wine with friends…what could be better?

Wine Party with Friends

Wine Party with Friends

A harvest vineyard walk at Tablas Creek Vineyards

Tablas Creek Wine Walk

We gathered in the shade just outside the Tablas Creek tasting room.  You could tell why we were here by our sturdy shoes.  Yes it was almost 100 degrees, but we were wine lovers ready to brave the elements to find out more about this wonderful winery with a vineyard walk and tasting.

Levi Glenn, the Tablas Creek Viticulturist gave us some basics on the winery history before we got started.  The Perrin and Haas families joined to find vineyard land here in California to grow the Rhone varieties that the Perrins’ have long grown at Chateau de Beaucastel in France’s Rhone Valley.  The Tablas Creek property is on the same latitude, the climate and soil are both similar and when they bought this 102 acre property in 1989 they began the process of bringing the traditional Rhone varieties grown on the Perrins’ estate to this country.  The cuttings from France had to go through a three year process to be sure that they were virus free.  In order to have enough vines to actually make wine, they started a nursery, bench-grafting vines to plant on the estate and enough to sell to other vineyards.  While they no longer have the nursery, they partner with NovaVine in Sonoma to create Tablas Creek clones from grafted vines and bud wood.  Many wineries are now raising Tablas Creek clones to create their Rhone style wines.

They grow sustainably, organically and use biodynamic practices.  There is a compost tea that they use to fertilize the vines and they plant sections of the vineyard with insectaries to encourage beneficial insects.

We headed down the drive then past the head-pruned Mourvedre by the gate and continued down to the lambing barn and barnyard.  Levi talked about the animals, they have 2 donkeys and 5 alpacas that guard the herd of 40 sheep. The sheep are primarily used to mow down the cover crops.  Over the season they can cover 30-40 acres of vineyard.  In addition they fertilize as they mow.  Once the vineyards are growing the sheep have to be moved elsewhere and still need to be fed.  Typically they grow legumes as cover crops to add nitrogen back into the soil.  They had some vines that were showing a little too much vigor so instead they planted barley as their cover crop.  This works beautifully as they can then harvest the barley to use as feed for the herd.

While here they poured us a cool and refreshing glass of the 2012 Vermentino, one of only 2 non Rhone varieties grown on the estate.  This was the wine that got me hooked on Tablas Creek when I recieved it as a gift from a friend.  Enjoying this wine as the sun came dappled through the poplars, we took in the animals, the view of the cutting shed and the beautifully ripening Grenache.

Refreshed, it was time to move on up the long hill to the top where Chef Jeff Scott waiting under the oak trees.  The vineyard views are beautiful.  At the top of the hill you have a view of the las tablas creek area including Halter Ranch next door.  Reveling in the shade they poured us glasses of the 2011 Estate Rose, a blend of Mourvedre, Grenache and Counoise. We enjoyed the view and Chef brought out a tray of figs topped with goat cheese to pair.

We headed back down the hill to the  head pruned Roussanne block.  We believe these are the only head-pruned Roussanne vines in the state. The 2009 Roussane is a gorgeous golden color.  Rousanne is often very difficult to grow (NovaVine calls it “the princess”).  This is the backbone to the Esprit du Beaucastel Blanc their flagship white wine adding richness, weight  and honey with a nice salinity on the backend.  Chateau du Beaucastel makes their Roussanne Vielles Vignes which is considered one of the greatest white wines in France. “Roux” is the French word for “russet” which describes the color of the grapes when ripe and gives us the base for the name “Roussanne”.  This is the latest ripening white Rhone varieties that are grown at Tablas Creek.  The vines respond highly to sunlight and bunches that get sun on the western side will ripen faster than those on the eastern side.  This is also a wine that will age well, case in point we were drinking a 2009 and it was rich and stunning.  After Levi gave us the run down on the grape, Chef Jeff pulled out the pairing.  This was a crostini with fresh ricotta and thyme roasted golden beets topped with a piece of candied bacon.  Beets and bacon pair well and both were gorgeous with the wine.

Across from the Roussanne there are scattered fruit trees including some Quince.  Levi supplied me with a quick recipe for quince paste.

As we had walked down I noticed a large rack with netting and asked Levi when they netted before harvest.  He said that they no longer net.  There are so many vineyards locally that the birds no longer descend and feast, but rather just stop in here and there for a snack which is not an issue.  They still have air cannons when needed.

We headed back up the hill to the head trained Tannat.  This is the other non Rhone variety grown on property.  Levi said that it has been called Tablas Creek Zin, as it is so rich, deep and flavorful.  This grape thrives in the Tablas Creek climate and soils.  Levi says that it takes almost no work and produces consistently good fruit.  Tannat is found most notably in the Basque country on the Spanish border.  Growing this at Tablas Creek was actually a little bit of an accident.  The Perrins’ French nurseryman included cuttings when he packed up the Rhone varieties in 1990 even though it was not requested.  His instincts told him that this grape would do well in Paso Robles and I for one would like to thank him!  The berries have very thick skins which add to the tannins in the wine.  It is fermented open top to allow more oxygen to soften the tannins and then is aged in small barrels again to introduce more oxygen.  In 2010 most of the 248 acres of Tannat planted in California came from Tablas Creek cuttings.  This wine is beautifully balanced with acid, fruit and tannin.  Chef Jeff Scott then had to figure out a way to do a cold red wine pairing out in the vineyard!  He succeeded overwhelmingly with this small bite, which still makes my mouth water whenever I think of it (and I think of it often!).  He prepared Rillettes in the style of the south of France. The pork is slow cooked for 6 hours in it’s own fat then sits in olive oil, thyme and garlic to soak up some more goodness.  This is placed on crostini topped with caramelized onions, drizzled with a pommerey mustard aioli and sprinkled with fleur de sel and black pepper. The fat in the rillettes paired with the acid and tannins in the wine were perfect.  We enjoyed the wine, watched the sun set, had some great conversations and suddenly turned around to find that only 1/3 of the group was left!  We headed back down to the winery and tasting room in the slowly dimming light, sated and fulfilled.  There’s really nothing like being part of the Tablas Creek family.  The staff was incredible and the other wine club members we met share our love for great wine and fascinating wine facts.  Levi was extremely patient as we all pummeled him with questions, answering and enlightening us.  All in all it was a glorious evening.

Cougar Winery – Italian wines in the Temecula Countryside

Cougar Winery sign

The Cougar Property is in the midst of lots of change with construction surrounding the winery, but they are still open and happy to take care of guests in the tasting room.

The winery is owned and operated by Rick and Jennifer Buffington.  17 years ago while in Texas the Buffington’s began making wine.  They later moved to Seattle and continued making wine in Washington and labeled under the Cougar Mountain Winery label named after Cougar Mountain in Belleview Washington.  After moving to southern California they eventually purchased the winery property in Temecula planting Sangiovese, Aglianico, Montepulciano and Vermentino.  At La Vigna e Destra they also have Primitivo, Arneis, Malvasia Bianca and Pinot Grigio.  They are making estate wines as well as some wines with purchased grapes that they do not grow.  They do beautiful Italian wines.

Cougar construction

Cougar construction

The last time we were here we did not taste but drove up to see the winery.  It was a large metal warehouse that held their winery and tasting room.  Situated on an a hillside on the De Portola Wine Trail they have a great view.  Since our last visit they have begun their expansion.  They are siding the current building as well as building out for a new tasting room.  Upon entering the building you are greeted by the life size cougar sculpture and then the tasting bar to your right.

Cougar tasting room

Cougar tasting room

The warehouse is segmented by barrel racks, with one section for public tastings, a separate section with tables for club members and music on the weekends and then of course their production facilities.  There was a steel drum artist playing the day we were there and while we couldn’t see them (they were in the member area playing) we could enjoy the music as it filled the building.  We found a place at the tasting bar next to the free coffee and Dani set us up with our tasting.

We began with the 2011 Vermentino.  This was a dry wine, a little dusty on the palate with a little effervescence.  You get lime, light minerals and lime leaf.  It is a refreshing white that leaves your palate clean. I am a Vermentino lover and I enjoyed this wine.  They actually use this for a white sangria base as well as for bloody mary’s here in the tasting room.

We continued with the 2010 Miscuglio de Circulo, which is a blend created by their wine club members.  This blend was a light red blend that would make a great summer wine.  It had pepper on its long lasting finish.

The 2009 Estate Bella Rossi is a blend of 25% each Aglianico, Primativo, Sangiovese and Montepulciano.  You get pepper on the palate but the nose is light and fruity with a medium mouth feel.

The 2009 Aglianico had pepper, eucalyptus and mint on the nose.  The cool mouth feel accentuated the mint taste.  There was a little underlying metallic rusty taste that was not unattractive.  Medium tannins hit the top of my teeth.  This was considerably lighter than the Kenneth Volk Aglianico that we had.  I have tasted very few of this varietal and this was a new interpretation of this grape for me.

On to the 2008 Montepulciano which they have called “The Full Monte”.  This red had big smooth tannins.  This was filled with strawberries and had a little heat on the finish.

I finished off with some of their mulled wine.  It was beautifully done with the spices not overcooked (my home mulled wine making experience did not turn out so well).  The spice on the nose was perfect and the warm wine filled my mouth with gorgeous warm fruit.  It was really lovely.

This winery is old school and the owners are hands on.  We saw Jennifer in the tasting room, picking up bottles for the wine club members area.

I look forward to returning to see the new tasting room when construction is complete. Check out the blog on their website to see the construction updates!  The new tasting room will have beautiful views as well as views into the winery itself. They also have tours and classes available by appointment.

Wines I can’t forget, part two

More on great wines that I can’t forget.  We started this in the last blog with my list of the 15 wines that I want to drink again.  These are wines that stand out in my memory.  Most were tasted at the winery and perhaps some of why I like them is because of the atmosphere or the day.  Any way we are back with 5 more of those wines and today we begin with

Grgich Hills Fume Blanc

Grgich Hills if I remember correctly was only the 2nd winery we visited in Napa.  The experience was good and informative (when I say informative you can read: Robin liked the people in the tasting room!).  We left with a split of the Fume Blanc and directions to Gott’s Roadside with directions to pair with the Ahi Burger.  It was raining and we were in the tent with tables behind the place and I was very happy.  Perhaps I was just really hungry, perhaps it was that I love ahi, perhaps because I was just learning about pairings and the guidance made me a little giddy.  At the time I only new a little about Mike Grgich (like that when you watch bottle shock…he was the winemaker behind that historic wine!) and I knew nothing about Joel Gott.  This was a memorable wine for me, I think, due to the place and time in my wine education.

Carhartt Pinot Noir

Carhartt Vineyards patio at the "Worlds Smallest Tasting Room" Los Olivos California

The tiniest tasting room on the planet is in Los Olivos, CA and I have waxed poetic on this place quite often.  So yes…the atmosphere and the people play a big part in why I love this wine.  But this one I will go on the record for saying, even if you take all that away, I would still be enamored by this wine.  I love bold Pinots with smoke, meat and barnyard.  This Pinot on the other hand was elegant and delicate and smelled of violets.  I was completely taken off guard and transported.  I adore this wine and cherish the experience of this tasting.

Tablas Creek Vermentino

Tablas Creek Tasting Room Paso Robles, CA

 

So this wine we did not taste at the vineyard!  I love Tablas Creek and we have been there twice and are very proud to be wine club members, but this particular wine was given to me as a gift from a friend.  I cannot thank Laurie and Al enough for giving me this glimpse into Vermentino.  This simple Italian white is not fancy but really fulfilling.  We make sure to pick up a bottle whenever we visit now.

Terry Hoage Syrah

View from Terry Hoage Vineyards Paso Robles CA

We stumbled upon this vineyard at the recommendation from someone in another tasting room.  The property is lovely as you can see by the vineyard view. They are on a hilltop with chickens running free and a lake on the property.  Terry Hoage played footbal at the University of Georgia in the 80’s and then played 13 seasons in the NFL as a free safety.  They moved to Paso to build a home and put in a small vineyard for landscaping.   That evolved into a love for growing grapes and then making wine. The tasting room was elegant and the staff well educated on wine.  This was the last wine we tasted that day and we left with a split that I covet in my wine cellar.  I’m afraid to drink it!  I don’t want it to be gone!

Vino Robles Petite Sirah

Vino Robles Paso Robles CA

 

It’s a struggle to get me on the Petite Sirah bandwagon. I find it often inky and sometimes cloying.  Our tasting at Vino Robles included the cheese pairings and that might have set me over the edge.  It was heaven.  I know it is here in a previous blog post, but we had a cheese with coffee and lavender that was stunning and this Petite Sirah was gorgeous.  Was I affected by the elegant surroundings, by the informative and friendly staff, by the gorgeous cheese, by the comradery with other patrons during our tasting?  Perhaps, but I still want to drink this wine again.

Stay tuned for the last 5 of my wines I can’t forget in the next post!