The Valley Grove Vineyard and the future of Armstrong Family Winery

Vines running North to South in the Valley Grove Vineyard in the Walla Walla AVA

The Valley Grove Vineyard

It was a lovely afternoon in the Walla Walla Valley and Tim & Jennifer walked us around the property. (You can hear the crunch, crunch of the gravel under our feet in the video). Their Valley Grove Vineyard is located just north of Walla Walla Washington.

From the Blue Mountains to the Ocean

We walked down to where they hope to build their winery. Tim pointed out the tree line, which is the property line. It is also where the creek flows. This creek flows into the Walla Walla River, then into the Snake River and eventually into the Columbia River. Then the Columbia carries this water through Portland Oregon and finally out to the Pacific Ocean. The creek is fed by the Blue Mountains, which we can see in the distance. Over the course of a year the creek rises and falls pretty dramatically. Rain or snow melt will see it rise 5 to 6 feet beyond where we see it now.

The vision for the future

Where the winery will be…

The winery will be built in this area facing the Blue Mountains to the west. They will landscape and add some more vineyard. The idea is to include a porch where people can take in this view. There will be grass. It will be a place where people can wander and take in the splendor. (Oh dear…yes, I have been binging West World)

The park

We walk on to the pond, the area they like to call The Park. It is a man made irrigation pond. Already it is beautiful, with lavender around the edges and some fish. They will landscape here and picture dinners and maybe a band. (They have Wednesday night Jazz at their Walla Walla tasting room, an event we will get to later on this day).

History on display

The bare cliff wall below the Audrey block at Amstrong Family Winery's Valley Grove Vineyard
The bare cliff wall below the Audrey block at Amstrong Family Winery’s Valley Grove Vineyard

We walk on beyond a bridge that straddles the creek and turn to see this amazing exposure of soil, a cliff or ledge of sorts, beneath the Audrey block of Cabernet. Here you can see the layers of wind blown loess that the roots are growing through, and eventually the layers of ancient riverbed.

Nature won't be kept down.  A couple of reborn volunteers in one of the pulled up blocks at Amstrong Family Winery's Valley Grove Vineyard
Nature won’t be kept down. A couple of reborn volunteers in one of the pulled up blocks

We walk to another old vineyard patch. There are a few straggly vines popping up. This used to be a vineyard but with winter damage they determined to pull it up. Still, vines struggles to continue, trying to come back. Eventually they will plant vines here again. They are pondering on Cab Franc, or Riesling or perhaps Gamay. While there is not much of any Gamay planted in Walla Walla, Tim things it might do well. It’s cold hardy and you can harvest it early to make a lighter red or rosé.

The historic barn

  • Armstrong Family Winery Barn at the Valley Grove Vineyard built in 1895 with clouds above
  • Armstrong Family Winery Barn at the Valley Grove Vineyard built in 1895

As we walk to the barn, Tim tells us why he feels the so important.

The thing about it is that it kind of connects this site to the history of this land. This is agriculture and it has been agriculture.  It’s just really neat to have that history here and be able to tell the story about how, it wasn’t grapes, but people have been farming here for a really long time.  We like the historical character that that barn brings to the property and how it ties us to the history.

Tim Armstrong, July 2019

The barn dates to 1895 and they do have it registered with the Heritage Barn Register. Considering the shape it is in, it is probably beyond repair, as far as actually turning it into a usable building from health department standards. Barns were not built for those kind of things. Still the historic character of this building and it’s iconic presence on the property…they will keep it for it’s historic character.

The vines are older than they look

We walk on to the Emily block of Cabernet which you drive past to arrive at the house and cottage. The vines here are almost 20 years old, but by looking at them you would not immediately know this. When they bought the vineyard, there was some extreme winter damage and the vines needed to be retrained. They have spent the last few years doing just that. The vines were cut back to the roots, the new shoots grew to become the trunk and now after 3 years they were going to get their first harvest in 2019. This is different than planting new vines, the grapes have the advantage of a root system that has already had time to dig deep.

When you look closely you can see that the base of the plant is pretty big. Where it enters the ground the base is about 1 foot in diameter. Tim pointed out the suckers at the bottom of the vines.

This is the grapevine basically saying “I’ve got tons of energy in my root system, more energy than the canopy is currently supporting based on the trunk size.”  So it is just pushing up suckers. We’ve been through here to clean this up once this year, an we’ll go through to clean it up again, here in the next couple of weeks.

Tim Armstrong, July 2019

Clones and canopy management

This is all clone 4 cabernet. Clone 4 is the Mendoza clone which was imported from Argentina. This clone is noted for it’s typicality, the herbal character that Cabernet Sauvignon is known for.

Vines running North to South in the Valley Grove Vineyard in the Walla Walla AVA
Vines running North to South in the Valley Grove Vineyard in the Walla Walla AVA

Vineyards here run north south, so canopy management is pretty straight forward. The morning side of the vines will have the leaves thinned to allow the grapes to soak up the sun. On the afternoon side, where the sun will be much hotter, they allow the vines more sprawl, leaves covering and protecting the bunches of grapes from sunburn.

Other sources

While this year they will make their first estate wine from the Valley Grove vineyard, they have been making wine since 2010. In that time they have connected with several vineyards where they continue to source fruit. They are making wines that are both Walla Walla AVA as well as Columbia Valley AVA.

Tim tells us about Discovery Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills.

they have this amazing vineyard site that sits up above the Columbia River, literally on the bluff above the river, looking into Oregon. It’s just this gorgeous site with the wind coming up the river all day long. 

Tim Armstrong on the Discovery Vineyard in Horse Heaven Hills, July 2029

In addition, they pull fruit from Walla Walla’s Seven Hills Vineyard. Seven Hills is one of the 1st commercial vineyards in Walla Walla. From the Yakima Valley they source from Dineen, outside of Zillah and Sugarloaf. The Bogie’s blend we tasted with them on the patio is a Syrah/Cab Franc blend that comes from Elephant Mountain. (add the link to elephant Mountain)

Visiting them

While they work toward building their winery on site, they work out of a Walla Walla custom crush facility. But don’t worry, there are lots of ways to experience their wine. They have tasting rooms in both Woodinville (outside Seattle) and in Walla Walla. The Walla Walla tasting room is charming with a great staff and Jazz on Wednesday nights. If you want to see the barn and the beautiful Valley Grove Vineyard, you can book a stay at the Armstrong Vineyard Cottage. This beautiful vacation rental on the property has two bedrooms and a wrap around porch, a full kitchen and a fireplace. You are likely to meet Bogie, their beagle or the resident cats, while you take in the breathtaking views.

  • Armstrong Family Winery tasting room in Walla Walla Washington
  • Winery tasting room Located at 14 W. Main Street in Walla Walla
  • Beautiful exposed brick and the backdoor to the Armstrong Family Winery Tasting Room in Walla Walla

Armstrong Family Winery

The Walla Walla Tasting Room is located at

14 W Main St
Walla Walla, WA
509-524-8494

The Woodinville Tasting Room

19151 144th Ave. NE, Ste. I
Woodinville, WA 98072

If you are interested in staying at the guest house check out this link https://www.armstrongwinery.com/visit/guesthouse/

You can see more on the history of Armstrong Family Wines here

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Yakima Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with JB Neufeld

Justin of JB Neufeld at Gilbert Cellars in Washington's Yakima Valley AVA

We’d been up early, catching sunrise in Naches Heights, just outside the city of Yakima. After a quick bite to eat we went to meet Justin Neufeld, to talk about his JB Neufeld wines. We met out at Gilbert Cellars where he is the winemaker. Soon we were to find that there was a connection there. He had grown up in this area.

Justin Neufeld’s journey to wine

Justin graduated from High School in Naches Washington, just outside of Yakima in 1998. Unlike many in this region, he did not come from an agriculture family. His father was a carpenter and his mother a nurse. Like many he was ready to get out of the valley. So he went on to U Dub (University of Washington or UW) to get a degree in molecular biology.

During his junior year, he got the wine bug. UW did not have a oenology or viticulture program at that time. So he did a bit of reading and researching on his own. This pull of viticulture was also the pull of home. Seattle is great, but it takes getting away from rural lands to appreciate them. He returned to the Yakima Valley.

Justin is currently the winemaker and manages the vineyards for Gilbert Cellars as his full time gig. Still, he always knew he wanted to have his own winery. He and his wife Brooke (the B in JB Neufeld) created and run JB Neufeld.

JB Neufeld and Cabernet Sauvignon

Justin didn’t start out planning to make Cabs. Early on he had a couple of Bordeaux wines. That gradually led to exploration into those blends and finding that he was intrigued by the Cabernet Sauvignon in them. Of course there are a lot of cabs in Washington, so he started tasting them. The Yakima Valley is diverse with multiple microclimates. Justin began by doing vineyard designate Cabernet Sauvignons, working to show the differences in climate and site through the wines. Eventually he found he could craft a better wine by blending these sites. He would use Red Mountain AVA fruit as a base with it’s structure and ripe fruit. Then blend in cab from cooler areas that are softer with almost chalky tannins and more complexity. Then there is Red Willow fruit….

That’s a really unique site.  It doesn’t fit that upper valley, cooler site profile of the chalkier tannin and floral notes.  You know I’ve only worked with fruit now for 2 vintages, but so far it’s really unique, it takes on a more earthy minerality type character on the nose.  There’s still some dark fruit for sure, but almost a similar structure to the Red Mountain.  It’s pretty cool.

Justin Neufeld, July 2019

We second the love of Red Willow Vineyard fruit. It’s an amazing site. You can read more about our visit with Mike and Jon Sauer at their beautiful vineyard here. You can look forward to seeing more on our visit to this stunning vineyard run by some truly wonderful people.

New clones

Washington State started with Clone 8 and it continues to be the most widely grown clone in the state giving consistent fruit and yields. But there are other Cabernet Sauvignon clones making their way into Washington. Justin is pretty excited about some of these.

337 I’ve kinda been geeking out about.  They’re still really young vines, but they have a different profile from clone 8, they are a little more red fruit.  A little bit grittier of a tannin and rather than being vegetal when they are picked green they are more herbaceous.  So I’m really excited.

Justin Neufeld, July 2019

I found an interesting piece by Shannon Dininny on goodfruit.com about Cabernet Sauvignon clones in Washington State. Most of the discussion was regarding yields and reliability, as opposed to flavor. None-the-less it’s an interesting discussion if you want to nerd out about that stuff. https://www.goodfruit.com/wine-grape-growers-weigh-in-on-cabernet-sauvignon-clones/

When it comes to the clone Justin is speaking of, clone 337, it came up from California. It is a clone that can make very extracted wines and lacks the typical herbal character when picked late. In a comparative tasting of clones from Bell Wine Cellars, they noted that 337 had the most lush profile when compared to clones 6,4 & 7. What does all this mean? It’s like Justin said, you can blend Cabernet from different clones and different sites to create a more complex wine.

Cabernet a “stubborn” grape

We spoke a bit about Cabernet and how it expresses terroir. Syrah and Pinot Noir are notably varieties that express location. They are wines that take on notes of their climate, soil and anything the winemaker throws at them. Kind of like a person with a full closet in tons of different styles.

Cabernet is noted for being, as Justin calls it “stubborn”. It does not show site as dramatically as Syrah or Pinot. With Syrah or Pinot Noir, when you pick, at what ripeness level, can also have a dramatic affect on the wine that you bottle. Cabernet on the other hand has a wider picking window that won’t show a great difference. It can also handle oak better without being overly influenced.

He noted a tendency to pick late to avoid any vegetal notes. Justin feels that causes you to lose complexity in the finished wine. He prefers to pick a little earlier.

I think, personally, my opinion is that a lot of Cabernet Sauvignons are pushed a little too far.  They go to ripe and then a little past because they don’t want any vegetal character.  I’ve found that when you take it to that next level, a lot of that wonderful complexity is sort of gone.  So that’s what I’m trying to shoot for, timing wise, with picking at a point where there might be a little bit of vegetal. I’d rather it be herbaceous.  You just get a lot more complexity in the nose and I think the terroir shines through a little bit more.

Justin Neufeld, July 2019

Soils and microflora

Parts of the Yakima Valley sit in the Missoula Flood Plains. This was the tremendous floods that spanned 2000 years after the last ice age. This flooded the Columbia Valley and down into Oregon. You can read more about these in our post with Rudy Marchesi at Montinore Estate. For more about how it affected the Yakima Valley see our conversation in the vineyard with David O’Reilly with Owen Roe.

The floods deposited soils and the levels in the Yakima Valley get to 1200 to 1300 feet. Above that are older soils. These soils affect the wine, but Justin is digging deeper. He is interest in the microflora. Microflora you hear about these days regarding your gut (kombucha and keeping the micro flora in your gut healthy). But you find them in soils also. Microflora are defined as: bacteria and microscopic algae and fungi, especially those living in a particular site or habitat.

Justin is fascinated by the microflora which has a symbiotic relationship with the plant. These microflora would also be affected of course by the composition of the soil. It’s yet another factor in “terroir” or the sense of place that you find in a wine.

Terroir and all it’s variables

We had discussed the difference in micro climates and soils, and it’s interesting to see all the variables. Red Mountain is hot and early. Bloom can happen here 2 or 3 weeks earlier than the rest of the Yakima Valley. This gives Justin more hang time on that fruit. He spoke with Fred Artz in Red Mountain and discussed the wind they get there. Wind can stress the vine and delay ripening. But if it’s a sustained wind it causes thicker skins, which give you more accumulated tannins. So wind is a significant part of the terroir in Red Mountain.

The full time gig at Gilbert

Being the head winemaker at Gilbert Cellars is Justin’s full time gig. He works with Assistant Winemaker/Oenologist Dusty Jenkins. Other than some extra help at harvest, between the two of them they do most everything regarding wine making.

Gilbert is primarily from estate fruit and they focus on Bordeaux varieties. They do have a wide variety of vineyards from Horse Heaven Hills AVA, Wahluke Slope AVA and the greater Columbia Valley AVA. The River Ridge Vineyard in Horse Heaven Hills AVA is the one with the new Cabernet Sauvignon clones Justin is really excited about.

In addition to Bordeaux style wines they are doing a Rhône white blend of Grenache Blanc and Viognier, called Vin du Vallee. They also do a Rhône red called Allobroges which is a GSM.

Gilbert is a busy spot in the Summer. They do a full concert series on the beautiful grounds that you see behind us in the videos. Music in the Vines celebrates it’s 10th season in 2020.

Getting ahold of some JB Neufeld wine

JB Neufeld Cabernet Sauvignon
JB Neufeld Cabernet Sauvignon

JB Neufeld can be found through a variety of distributors. You can check out their distributor page.

You can also order direct from their site and feel free to contact Brooke for more details!

It’s Taste Washington Wine Month, so we will be featuring some great Washington wineries and vineyards throughout March. So check back as we visit some other regions in the state! Here are a couple of links in case you want to dig a little deeper into Washington wines.

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Mudgee Region with Cara George

Riesling vine at Robert Stein Vineyard Mudgee NSW Australia

While visiting Australia in October of 2019 to attend the Wine Media Conference, we had the opportunity to meet and speak with Cara George the CEO of Mudgee Region Tourism.

We visited Mudgee before the conference and soaked in the feel of this wonderful inland town where they are growing so many different varieties of wine grapes. We tasted Zinfandel with David Lowe of Lowe Wines, Italian varieties sipping Prosecco with Col Millott at First Ridge, did a morning visit to Robert Stein where they make some astoundingly good Riesling and sipped Spanish varieties with Sam at Vinifera. Yes, that’s a wide range of wines! Mudgee has a little something for everyone.

The town itself makes you want to disconnect from everything. It’s a place to stroll, eat great food, find a great shop and of course enjoy some great wines. You will want to keep your phone handy though, for photos. Picturesque spots abound. You’ll be ready to send pictures to everyone you know, but you won’t want to leave.

This is Australia, and this year (2020) they are struggling. Unless you have been living under a rock, you are aware of the fires. Well the fires are a result of drought and this has been tough on the vineyards.

The thing is, they are still open for business and you can support them by getting out to visit. What? You are not in Australia you say? Well get yourself to a wine store and buy some Australian wine. Ask for wines from wineries other than Yellow Tail! Increase the demand for these wines. Drink them and talk about them. That’s what we plan to do. Wine is a product that takes months to years to be ready for sale, so you will find these wineries have white wines available that were bottled this spring and reds that may be anywhere from the 2013 to the 2018 harvest, not to mention older bottles of sparkling or sweet wines. There is plenty of wine that they have ready for you to enjoy.

Cara George CEO of Mudgee Region Tourism, told us that they are doing a campaign in February around Valentine’s Day called “Feel the Love in the Mudgee Region”.

#Feelthelove

Visitors are encouraged to live their own love story in Mudgee Region – sharing experiences with their friends and families and on social media using @mudgeeregion #feelthelove

Feel the Love experiences and packages are available from 14 February through to 30 June. To view all the FEEL THE LOVE experiences and packages, and to create your own love story, visit mudgeedeals.com.au
For more information on Mudgee Region visit visitmudgeeregion.com.au

Mudgee Region is loved as a contemporary country destination, infused with art and music, serving quality produce and wine and shaped by a strong sense of community. Visitors are encouraged to connect right across the region, including the townships of Mudgee, Gulgong, Rylstone, Kandos and beyond, to enjoy a vibrant yet intimate setting. Located less than 270km northwest of Sydney, the fuss-free journey is all part of the experience, and what awaits is a stunning mix of charm and sophistication. It’s just a 3.5- hour drive from Sydney, or 45-minute flight from Sydney airport.

mudgee Region Tourism

Get out and explore Australian wines. There is so much more than Yellow Tail Shiraz my friends!

For more information on Mudgee…

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Exploring New South Wales – Mudgee #ouraussiewineadventure

Vinifera Vineyard Sunrise Mudgee NSW Australia

During #ouraussiewineadventure in October we traveled to the Mudgee Region of New South Wales to spend a day exploring the town and the wineries that surround it.

Mudgee, through the fires and the drought, is still open for business!

From the beginning, I want to acknowledge that they are having a tough year, as is all of Australian wine country. Mudgee, like most regions has been impacted by the drought and the bush fires. While the fires are not directly in the vineyards, they must deal with the smoke, the increased lack of water, the slowing of tourism during the fires and on a more personal level, many employees and their families may be directly affected by the fires.

The thing is, they are still open for business and you can support them by getting out to visit. What? You are not in Australia you say? Well get yourself to a wine store and buy some Australian wine. Ask for wines from wineries other than Yellow Tail! Increase the demand for these wines. Drink them and talk about them. That’s what we plan to do. Wine is a product that takes months to years to be ready for sale, so you will find these wineries have white wines available that were bottled this spring and reds that may be anywhere from the 2013 to the 2018 harvest, not to mention older bottles of sparkling or sweet wines. There is plenty of wine that they have ready for you to enjoy.

#Feelthelove

Cara George CEO of Mudgee Region Tourism, told us that they are doing a campaign in February around Valentine’s Day called “Feel the Love in the Mudgee Region”.

We are waiting with open arms to welcome visitors. #feelthelove

Cara George, CEO Mudgee Region Tourism, January 29th, 2020

We will use this post to tell you about this region, to fill you in on it’s beauty, it’s people, it’s wines. But you can expect that we will be following up with details on the struggles that they are facing and how they are dealing with it.

Mudgee

Mudgee is a wine region in New South Wales. It sits inland from the Blue Mountains and on the West side of the Great Dividing Range. The city is the 2nd oldest settlement West of the Blue Mountains, established in 1838.

In the 1870’s two gold rushes swelled the areas population. The downtown area is picturesque with plenty of heritage listed buildings. It is a great place to stroll and enjoy the shops and food, but don’t miss getting out of town to the surrounding vineyards.

Wine in Mudgee

The name Mudgee means “nest in the hills” in the aboriginal tongue. The name comes from the perimeter of hills that create a “nest”. Grapevines were first planted here back in 1858 by German settlers. Most vineyards are found on the gentle slopes, where you get beautiful vistas. This nest does have it’s downfalls as it can have frost prone pockets.

We drove through the Great Dividing Range from the Hunter Valley to get here and the climate here is very different. There is no maritime influence and bud burst is later here due to the cold nights.

Rainfall is lower here. If you are aware of the bush fires and the current severe drought being felt across New South Wales, you realize how much of an issue that is. Irrigation is essential here, and with the drought they are running low on water to irrigate with.

Harvest here will run a full month behind harvest in the Hunter Valley to the east. It’s warm in summer and autumn. They are at 32 degrees south here and prime wine growing regions sit between 30 and 50 degrees, so they are the warmer edge. Luckily, they sit at about 1476 feet, which helps moderate the heat.

You will find a little more than 40 cellar doors in the area and a wide range of wines, from rieslings to zinfandel.

Lowe Wines

  • David Lowe of Lowe Winery in Mudgee Australia
  • Lowe Wines in Mudgee Zinfandel Vines bush trained
  • Zinfandel Vines with leaves just coming out at Lowe Wines Tinja vineyard in Mudgee Australia
  • Lowe Wines in Mudgee Australia Cellar Door

Our first stop as we drove into Mudgee, was a visit with David Lowe at Lowe Wines. David is growing bio-dynamically and is a proponent of Slow wine. We had a fascinating conversation with him in his beautiful and busy tasting room. After wondering the property with the map they provide in tasting room to see the orchard, the compost, the gardens etc…we left with a bottle of Zin. Yep…he is well known for his Zinfandel. You can see some of our interview with David:

The Parkview Hotel, Mudgee

We headed back into town to check into our lodging. We were guided on our choice by the suggested accommodations for the Post Wine Media Conference Tour that we were unable to join. (3 tours…we couldn’t do them all, so we came early!)

We found the Parkview Hotel, just off of the main area of town overlooking a quiet park. This historic building, originally built in the 1870’s, had recently reopened after extensive renovations. It retains it’s historic charm while adding modern conveniences. They have a cafe, which sadly was not open when we were there mid week. Our suite was easily accessible on the main floor, a boon as we needed to do some repacking! There is a lovely wrap around veranda on the 2nd floor, which they made us aware of upon check in and encouraged us to enjoy. We did. With a bit of time before our sunset meeting, we sat and enjoyed the quiet of the park, with blossoms dropping from the trees and scattering and drifting across the floor of the veranda. It’s was the perfect peaceful break in the afternoon.

First Ridge Wines

  • First Ridge Wines in Mudgee NSW Australia
  • First Ridge Mudgee NSW Australia
  • The drive to the cellar door at First Ridge Mudgee NSW Australia
  • Sipping First Ridge Prosecco with Col in Mudgee NSW Australia
  • The last rays of sunset from First Ridge in Mudgee NSW Australia

Sunset found us at First Ridge, taking in the amazing views over Prosecco with Col Millott. Here they focus on Italian varieties; fiano, vermentino, pinot grigio, sangiovese and barbera. Col, the viticulturist, met us as their cellar door on the vineyard. It was after hours, being at sunset and he kindly drove back to the property and opened up their modern cellar door, that is made from 2 shipping containers.

They are located South East of the city of Mudgee and from their location you can truly see the “nest” that this valley is. Michael set up cameras to catch the views and Col opened up the walls of the cellar door and poured some Prosecco for us to sip while we chatted.

You will have to watch for our interview with Col that will be coming out later.

The sun set, and as the light began to fade, we gathered up the equipment and let Col get home for the day.

Dinner at the Red Heifer

We had planned a spot for dinner, but Col suggested the Red Heifer at the Lawson Park Hotel. It was a beautiful evening and the walk felt good.

The town of Mudgee is really a bit enchanting. By the time you get here, you have driven through quite a bit of bush and for me at least, it was a relief to see civilization. As we pulled into Church Street the town oozed charm. In the mid day sun, the parking spots along the streets were full and the town hummed with people making their way from shop to shop. Now in the evening it was quieter. The streets were mostly empty and the dark sky was pierced by the light of the clock tower. We strolled, taking it all in, until hunger pushed us to move a bit faster.

We arrived at Lawson’s and found the Red Heifer. The bar and restaurant are separate, so we grabbed a glass of local wine from the bar and, too tired to grill our own, (which is what the place is known for) we went simple with some fish and chips. It was seat yourself, casual and comfortable with the wall painted to show you all the best cuts of beef.

Full and happy, we strolled, a little more slowly now, back to the hotel.

Sunrise at Vinifera

  • Sunrise in Mudgee over the vines at Vinifera
  • Sunrise at Vinifera in Mudgee NSW Australia
  • Spring Vines at Vinifera
  • New green on the vines at Vinifera Mudgee NSW Australia
  • The winery at Vinifera Mudgee NSW Australia
  • Vinifera's award winning Cabernet Sauvignon Mudgee NSW Australia
  • The Giant Corkscrew in front of Vinifera that matches their logo Mudgee NSW Australia

Sunrise was out at Vinifera Vineyards, which is near Lowe Wines and across from the airport. We shivered in the cool morning, arriving early as always to catch the first rays over the vineyard. It was cloudy, so we caught bits as it broke through the clouds. Some of the vines were just hitting bud break here. We ventured back later in the day to do a tasting with Sam, daughter of Tony and Debbie McKendry who planted the vineyard in 1994 and still run it today. She has stepped in as the second generation here at the vineyards. But first…there was breakfast to be had.

Alby + Esthers

The Wine Media Conference would return here with a group after the conference. We could not join them, but we did grab their itinerary as a guide. They would be breakfasting at Alby + Esthers so we figured we would give it a try.

The entrance is a brick archway down an alley between shops. You feel like you are sneaking into a spot others might miss. The space opens to a courtyard between the buildings with small seating areas next to an open door into the cafe proper. There are a few seats inside, but why on earth would we not want to enjoy this enchanting garden. Words, don’t do the place justice. You’ll have to settle for some photos.

In addition to being a great spot for breakfast, they are open as a wine bar in the evening. With the lights strung over this cozy courtyard garden, I image that would be pretty amazing.

Now it was time to try to fit in another tasting or two, before heading back to the Hunter Valley.

Robert Stein – Riesling

We headed north out of the city to Robert Stein. It was still early and we were likely to be the first people in the tasting room. We pulled up out in front of the rustic looking cellar door, and took in the cloud filled sky, then strolled down to visit the vines.

Robert Stein is known for Riesling. I know, when you think of Australian Riesling, you might think of the Clare Valley and Eden Valley in South Australia, but you will find some award winning riesling from this Mudgee winery. The Stein family brought the first cuttings of Rhine Riesling to Australia, that actually survived, back in 1838, planting them south west of Sydney.

In 1976 the Stein family took up wine again, establishing Robert Stein vineyard here in Mudgee. The vineyard grew with the help of their son Andrew and now the 40 year old vines continue to thrive with their grandson Jacob Stein at the helm as chief winemaker.

  • The Robert Stein Cellar Door under a beautiful sky Mudgee NSW Australia
  • Riesling vine at Robert Stein Vineyard Mudgee NSW Australia
  • Stein's Wines cellar door entrance at Robert Stein Mudgee NSW Australia
  • Inside the Cellar door at Robert Stein
  • So many varieties and styles at Robert Stein
  • Robert Stein's award winning dry riesling. Mudgee NSW Australia

Stuart in the tasting room took us through a wide range of their wines, which include styles for every palate in varieties including: cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, chardonnay, semillon, pinot noir, gewurztraminer, riesling, sparkling wines, dessert and fortified wines. Their dry Riesling is the star, with multiple awards and medals.

They also have a motor cycle museum and the Pipeclay Pumphouse Restaurant, which we sadly did not have time to visit. We packed a couple of bottles (sadly the suitcase is only so big), and got ready for another drive.

More information on Mudgee

Our drive then would take us back to the Hunter Valley for the Wine Media Conference, where we had an opportunity to speak with Cara George, the CEO of the Mudgee Region Tourism. We look forward to sharing with you our interview with her, where she gives us an overview of the Mudgee Region. For more information visit:

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Though the mountains may crumble…Apremont and some Alpine pairings #Winophiles

Apremont and morbier from Valley Cheese and Wine

Inspired to find some “Godforsaken Grapes”

At Cam’s suggestion, I picked up Jason Wilson’s “Godforsaken Grapes” to read for this month’s French #Winophiles piece. I’ve been devouring it whenever I have a moment free.

Godforsaken Grapes by Jason Wilson and a cup of tea
Godforsaken Grapes by Jason Wilson and a cup of tea

On Saturday February 15th, the #Winophiles will gather on Twitter to talk about indigenous french grapes, “godforsaken grapes” if you will, at 11 am EST. I can’t wait to see what other grapes that I’ve never tasted that the other #Winophiles find. You will find a list of their pieces at the bottom of this post!

As a wine lover who geeks out over obscure and underappreciated wines and grape varieties, this book turned out to really be my jam. If you are into those kind of things, I suggest you pick it up too. It’s uber fascinating!

Now that I was into the book, I needed to locate a wine from one of these “Godforsaken grapes” that was from France. *reminder…Vegas can be a wine desert, and I was really determined to try to buy from a local shop. Solenne at Valley Cheese and Wine came through for me with a Jacquere from Apremont, as well as a bit of morbier cheese to pair.

  • Our visit to Valley Cheese and Wine to pick up an Apremont & some morbier cheese
  • The cheese counter at Valley Cheese and Wine

Little did I know that the #winepw crew was diving into Savoie this month! I’ll link at the bottom to a place you can find all their posts if you want more information.

So now I have the wine and some cheese. Time to dig in deeper to the region, this Jacquere grape and perhaps some foods to pair with it.

Savoie

First things first, the pronounciation is “sah-VWA” This is not like the Benny Goodman song (Stompin’ at the Savoy) or the London Savoy Hotel, although sometimes you see it spelled that way.

Savoie is a French Department on the eastern edge of France bordered by Italy and Switzerland. Switzerland dips into France a little here with Geneva.

This is region known for it’s beauty, with vineyards, lakes and of course the alps. These are considered the Rhône Alps, and were inhabited by a Celtic tribe who fought back the Romans, until finally being overtaken in 121 BCE. The area since then has been a part of multiple kingdoms and in the middle ages was controlled by the House of Savoy. Savoy became a permanent part of France in 1860. Most of the land is mountainous, with farmland between the mountains and the lakes. The farmland is devoted to cattle, dairy, apples, grains and vines.

Apremont

Vineyard in front of mount Granier of the Chatreuse mountains, Apremont, Savoy, France.

My title for this piece is in honor of Apremont. This region had what is thought to be Europe’s largest landslide back in 1248 which created this environment at 1150 feet for vineyards. Soils here are chalky and they catch the morning sun. The name means “Bitter Mountain” in honor of the many lives lost in this landslide. From the Les Rocailles site

This appellation takes its freshness from the typical ground of Savoy, composed of calcareous rocks, consequence of the landslide of the mount Granier in 1248

http://www.lesrocailles.fr/en/cuvee-apremont-les-rocailles–5.html

Apremont is one of the Cru Villages in Savoie. The AOC dates to 1973. The landslide left it barren for decades. The wine scene here began in the end of the 18th century.

Jacquère

Jacquère, the wine grape, is thought to be of french origin. This white wine grape variety, like the others in this region does not reach as high alcohol levels as other varieties. Hence, the 11.5% abv on the bottle I have. It is one of 10 grape varieties allowed in AOC Vin de Savoie and must make up 80% of the wine. It is the most widely planted grape in the region accounting for 50% of the plantings.

Wines from Jacquère can are dry and can range from floral and fruity (think peach, pear and maybe grapefruit) to mineral. These wines are typically meant to drink early.

There is a beautiful piece in the Decanter on this grape and region.

Pierre Boniface

The biggest producer in Savoie, Pierre Boniface’s Apremont is their signature wine, making up 70% of production. Pierre took over the business from his father, starting with just 20 acres of vineyard. Sadly, his children did not want to go into the wine business. Guillame Durand and Alban Thouroude bought the business from him. They are from Savoie and were college friends. You can read more on their story below in an article in France Today, as well as some information on their Les Rocailles vineyard.

Pairings

What to pair with an alpine wine? The region is huge for cheese, and potatoes are in plentiful supply as are cured meats, fresh water fish, mushrooms, apples and fruits. This is a place where you live out of the cupboards, while the ground is snow covered. So we dipped into recipes from the region that were variations on those winter ingredients.

Raclette

Of course raclette was the first pairing that came to mind, but as Solenne at Valley Cheese and Wine was out of raclette from Savoie at the time, I picked up a beautiful morbier from her. She suggested I try it plain as well as melted, as it really changes the flavors in the cheese. I picked up some raclette from the Murray’s cheese counter at the grocery store and then started digging into typical Savoie dishes.

  • Our raclette pairing with an Apremont from the Savoie region
  • fossil and Fawn, with potato chips and cheese
  • Potato chips with cheese

This alpine dish is simple, boiled potatoes topped with the melted cheese, a side of cured meats and gherkins. You can buy a raclette machine, which has trays over candles to warm the cheese.

Since I didn’t have one of those, I deferred to the method we had used for our raclette & wavy potato chip pairing we did a Christmas or so ago with that fantastic wine from Fossil & Fawn, that I believe Jim and Jenny called a “Gewürvignintocliniger” . Set the oven to broil, oil a cast iron skillet and put in the slices of cheese. When the slices are melted, use a spatula to slide them out and over the potatoes.

Tartiflette

  • Our single serving baked tartiflette
  • Tartiflette ready for the oven
  • Ingredients for the Tartiflette

I love tartiflette, discovering it a little over a year ago when planning a holiday french wine celebration. My dear friend Arnaud said it was one of his favorite french dishes. So, tartiflette was added to the menu and was a hit.

This time I riffed on a recipe, substituted muenster cheese and made two individual tartiflettes. Here’s how I did my quick version…

Saute some chopped prosciutto and onions, add sliced potatoes and cook for about 30 minutes, spoon some into each dish, topped with sliced cheese. Add another layer of both and then pour in some heavy cream. Bake at 425 for 15 to 20 minutes.

Le Farçon or Farçement

I came across a reference to Le Farçon, a Sunday dish that they make in Savoie. Le Farçon is meant to cook in a special pan (think a straight sided, angel food cake pan) in a bain de marie for 4 hours while the family is at Sunday mass. It is a potato cake with dried fruits and apples wrapped in bacon. Quite honestly it looked like something my friend Will would make for a football watching day!

  • Ingredients for our version of Le Farçon,
  • Our version of le farçon prebake
  • Just out of the oven, our loaf style version of Le Farçon from Savoie
  • An inside peak at our Le farçon our dish from Savoie

Well, without quite that much time at my disposal, I found a video with a version of this dish that was a bit simpler. Every family in Savoie has there own variation on this dish. So, I watched the video (which was all in French), caught a couple of words here and there and then from the visuals, concocted my own recipe. Here is the short version:

Le Farçon sliced, fried in butter and enjoyed with fresh greens. Dish from Savoie
A day later, our Le Farçon sliced, fried in butter and enjoyed with fresh greens.

Peel, cut, boil and mash 4 red potatoes (it’s what I had, and I riced them with Grandma’s ricer). Saute some chopped prosciutto and onions in a pan. Saute 2 sliced apples in butter. Mix it all together, add an egg and a handful of dried currants and cranberries, pour into a buttered glass loaf pan, top with a couple pats of butter and bake at 345 for about an hour. Serve sliced. Incidentally, you will find Le Farçon is even better the next day when you can take a slice and fry it in butter and serve with a fresh green salad.

Rissoles or r’zoles

Now I needed dessert. I found a reference to rissoles, an apple filled pastry that is often called r’zoles. With puff pastry in the freezer, this seemed the way to go.

Rissoles (or r'zoles) puff pastry filled with apple compote from Savoie
Rissoles (or r’zoles) puff pastry filled with apple compote

This one is pretty simple. Defrost the pastry, cut into rectangles, make an apple compote (mine had orange juice, sugar and honey). Spoon the mixture in the center of each rectangle of pastry, fold over, seal, top with an egg yolk wash and bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Voila!

Vin de Savoie 2013 Apremont Les Rocailles-Pierre Boniface

This wine on it’s own was dry with an overwhelming nose of bruised tart apple. By itself…not my favorite wine. Perhaps, it is a bit of an acquired taste. Or maybe this is a result of it’s age. With the food however…it was genius! It paired beautifully with the raclette, with the tartiflette with the Le Farçon and with the rissoles! As a food and wine pairing I will rhapsodize endlessly on this. This is by far one the best overall pairings I have encountered. Truly this is a food wine, destined for the local fare.

The French #Winophiles and their “Godforsaken Grapes”

What other “Godforsaken Grapes did the rest of the #Winophiles come up with! Read on!

More on Savoie

If you are really interested in Savoie, Jill Barth from L’Occasion led the Wine Pairing Weekend (#Winepw) group on a discussion of wines from this region. Here is a link to Jill’s piece which when you get to the bottom will provide you with another 15 articles on wines of Savoie!

Meanwhile…I’m off to find some more “Godforsaken Grapes”.

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Sarah Hedges Goedhart on her journey to winemaking and biodynamics

When we planned our trip to Washington, I was specifically looking for biodynamic vineyards. Biodynamics in wine is a subject I find fascinating and quite honestly, I find I really like speaking to the people who are into this practice. They feel like my kind of people. These people are passionate, care deeply about the planet, they are detail people who are not looking to cut corners just to make a profit. They believe strongly in doing things the right way.

Choosing Hedges Family Estate on Red Mountain

As I looked at the Red Mountain AVA, I searched for a vineyard that was using biodynamic practices. Hedges Family Estate was the only one that came up, so they were kind of a shoo-in. I continued to look into the property (and it’s stunning) and came across a video on their site, that was warm and a bit enchanting. Then I read a bit about Sarah Hedges Goedhart and her approach…and well that pushed it over the edge, I knew I wanted to speak with her.

Sarah’s journey to winemaking

We spoke with Sarah about the history of the winery. It’s come along way from the days when her father started buying and selling bulk juice. Back then, her 12 year old self had no interest in the business and no desire to live in eastern Washington. They came every summer from Seattle, where they lived and as she got older, she got into wine. But her true passion was to be a veterinarian. Her father insisted that she get a business degree. She got that degree in San Diego and then went to Santa Barbara to get the pre-reqs for vet school. It was there that she met her husband. Okay…actually they met in high school, but they reconnected in Santa Barbara.

Getting hooked on wine in Santa Barbara

While going to school she got a job as a tasting room manager at the Santa Barbara Winery. Her future husband was working there in production. It was there that she got hooked. They would pick 2nd harvest grapes and make bathtub wine. They had the bug, and were on the journey to start their own winery.

On to Preston in Healdsburg

They ended up in Healdsburg working at Preston, where she learned biodynamics, organics, in addition to breadbaking and olive production. This was about the entire culture of working with the land.

Preston is a kind of magical place. We visited in 2011, I remember feeling like I’d taken a step back in time. This is simple beautiful Americana with home baked breads and olives in the tasting room. This is a farm and an enchanting one at that.

Returning to the Tri-Cities

California is an expensive place to live for two people just starting out and her brother suggested they come work at the family winery. Sarah started out working on the garden and hosting people and a year later became the assistant winemaker to her uncle, when the position opened up.

When she started as assistant winemaker, Hedges was making about 100,000 cases a year. That’s quite a jump from the 8,000 cases she assisted with at Preston.

Biodynamics at Hedges

In 2007 they started the biodynamic conversion. At this point 3 of their vineyards are biodynamic and 2 are organic. Bit by bit they add livestock. Right now they have chickens and a turkey and they want to add sheep. It’s a gradual process and she wants to be sure that they understand and adapt to each part before moving on.

Native ferments

The first wine they tried to make biodynamically was in 2011, with a native ferment. Native ferments can seem simple, just leave the tank alone right? Nope. Since then they have been using the pied du cuvee method. You get a bucket of grapes and get your fermentation started there.

Soothing tunes for the wines

She has also incorporated music in the cellar. She had a white wine that was a little reductive. It seemed to her that the wine was stressed and struggling, so she asked the cellar crew to play mellow spa music. Of course they thought she was a little crazy, but tasting the before and the after…they became believers.

The Goedhart label

The label had been their dream when they lived in California, but with California costs, it was just not possible. In 2005 they moved to the Tri-Cities and started their label with a winery in the basement of the ranch house they were living in. They both had full time winery jobs and would do this in all their free time as a labor of love. Their focus was Syrah. Not a fruit bomb, but not an old world overly lean wine either. This wine was to be elegant with a bit of restraint. They ran the label for 6 years. On weekends they would be open for tastings and she would make wood fired breads and panini’s.

Kids, a full time job and running their own winery became too much, so Hedges took over the label. Once the kids are raised, perhaps they will try this again. In the meantime, she can continue to make their Syrah in the style they like here.

Sarah on Syrah

Sarah and I spoke about the Syrah they are growing here. They have the Joseph Phelps clone, which was the first clone available in Washington. This clone tends to be lean with herbal characteristics. Then they have the Tablas clone. This is the clone that Tablas Creek brought over from Chateauneuf-de-Pape. She describes this clone as “Wild, savage, and fruity”. They do multiple picks over a few weeks, keeping clones and picks separate and then she can blend these to create that elegant style of Syrah that they enjoy best.

We have recently opened up two different Syrah’s from Hedges and both were pretty exceptional. My palate obviously is in line with the style of Syrah that they are making.

Sarah on the reason for biodynamics

I asked Sarah what was most important to her in biodynamics…

Preserving land for the future, for kids, for everybody.  I think that’s the one thing on this planet that we’re screwing up and we really need to turn it around.  What do we call ourselves?  Stewards of the land it’s our responsibility to keep it around. 

Sarah Hedges Goedhart, July 2019

The property is beautiful. That is reason enough to come. In addition the wines we tasted here were delicious and their was quite a portfolio of wines to taste. Sarah even brought in a couple of barrel samples for us to taste. The topper here is the people. Sarah was a joy to speak with, her father Tom said a hello as he came through the tasting room. They had just finished a morning meeting before Sarah came to speak with us. The volume here is high. They do make quite a bit of Columbia Valley wine in addition to the Estate wines that Sarah focuses on, but it’s still a family business. It has that blend of Washington practicality with the elegance of a French Château, blended with the relaxed biodynamic style that Sarah brings.

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

French Wine…where to begin? #Winophiles

Map of French Wine Regions

This month the French Winophiles are diving into a French Wine 101.  It’s timely as we all enter our comments to the government in opposition to proposed 100% European wine tariffs.  (If you have not heard about this, I’ll post some links at the bottom for more information.) We have done a bit of writing on French wines and you will find links to those pieces. Many of these pieces were written in conjunction with the French #Winophiles, which means there is the extra bonus, of each of those pieces having links to other articles written by the rest of the #Winophiles! If you are interested in French wine, you will have plenty of reading available!

French Wine 101

I’m here to rally for French wine.  If you are new to wine, French wine can be a bit overwhelming so let’s start at the beginning.

Old World vs New World

To be sure, when we say “Old World” in reference to wines, we think first of French wines.  But what does “Old World” mean?  From a scholastic point of view: Old world wines are dominated by terroir, they are defined by place.  Typically these wines are more restrained and elegant.  New World wines, on the other hand tend to be reflective of the winemaker’s style and are often more fruit forward and bold.

That is a really broad definition of the differences, and doesn’t always hold true, but when people say “Old World” and “New World” this is what they are thinking.

French wine names

In France, wines are named for the region they come from, not by the variety of grape as we do in the new world.  This takes us back to that idea of “terroir” which is a sense of place, with soil, and climate.  So rather than speaking about Chardonnay in France, you would speak of Chablis or White Burgundy.  Both of those wines are made with Chardonnay, but the wine is named for the region.

When we think of Bordeaux, we think of age worthy reds.  These are typically Cabernet or Merlot based, depending on which bank of the river the region sits.  And you will notice that I said “based”. These wines are blends of the different varieties of grapes that grow best in this region.

There is one exception to this. In Alsace, the white wine region on the German border in the North East of France, wines are often labeled with the variety.  This comes from the German culture and this area throughout the ages, has bounced back and forth between French and German control.

Without going too deep into the wine labels (that’s a rabbit hole best saved for another day), let’s talk about some of the most well known French Wine Regions, and I’ll give you a translation for what varieties you will see from each.

French Wine regions

Map of French Wine Regions
Map of French Wine Regions

I love maps.  It gives you a better sense of the geography and influences on a region.  I could dive into the climates and soils in each of these regions (I do love to get geeky on these things), but this is French Wine 101!  So let’s put together some dots for you, on what varieties you will find in each of these regions and what you might want to eat with each of these wines!

Loire Valley – Val de Loire

Map of the wine regions of the Loire Valley
Map of the wine regions of the Loire Valley

This is white wine country!  You will find a bit of red, but the white wines are likely to be the ones you have heard of.

Muscadet

On the West end of the Loire Valley closest to the Atlantic Ocean. Melon de Bourgogne, which you will hear called Muscadet, is most prevalent here. This is a dry white wine that pairs really well with seafood. You will get citrus, and green apple and pear along with a lovely note of salinity. Go for shellfish with this wine

Chenin Blanc

Moving east Chenin Blanc begins to shine. Vouvray and Saviennières are well known Chenin Blancs from the regions of Touraine and Anjou-Saumur respectively. The two can be very different. Vouvray can be made from dry to semi-sweet to sweet, and you will find you need to do a bit of research to determine which sweetness level you are getting. Saviennières has been called the “most cerebral wine in the world”. These wines have depth of flavor, great acidity and minerality.

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc, is mainly found in the Upper Loire, the area furthest east and inland. Here you hear of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. These wines are crisp and high acid. Pair them with fish or poultry. With cheeses these are wonderful with goat cheese or other creamy cheeses (think brie).

Cabernet Franc

Not to be overlooked is Cabernet Franc which in this region is the primary red wine. Chinon or Bourgueil in the Touraine region produce elegant Cab Francs. These wines can be slightly spicy with raspberry and violet notes and are a favorite at Parisian Bistros.

For more…

Champagne

Popping a champagne cork!

Well you know what Champagne is!  This region and it’s soil and climate produce some of the world’s finest sparkling wines primarily from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.

These wines, while often looked at a just for celebrations or just with the hors d’oeuvres at the top of the meal actually are perfect during a meal. The bubbles and acidity clean your palate making every bite taste as amazing as the first.

There are plenty of classic pairings, but try potato chips, buttered popcorn or fried chicken! The bubbles and acid with the fat and salt are heaven.

For more…

Alsace

Famous wine route in the Vosges mountains Alsace France
Famous wine route in the Vosges mountains Alsace France

This region sits on the German border and as I mentioned earlier has bounced back and forth between French and German control. The names and architecture here reflect that mixed heritage and the wines do as well.

These bright aromatic white wines are perfect to keep your nose in all day or dab behind your ears. But…if you must move on to drinking them, pair them with fish, aromatic cheeses, schnitzle, salads…there are so many great pairings. These are also wines known for pairing well with spicy foods like Thai! You will find riesling, pinot gris, muscadet and gewurztraminer lead the pack on varieties.

For more…

There are a few other varieties including Pinot Noir, but you are less likely to run into them.

Chablis

Chablis Premier Cru Mont de Milieu Simonnet-Febvre 2013 and Pôchouse
Chablis Premier Cru Mont de Milieu Simonnet-Febvre 2013 and Pôchouse

Chardonnay

This is Chardonnay land, but not those big buttery California Chardonnays that your Aunt might drink.  These are sharp and bright with great mineral quality! Pair with fish or chicken, oysters or other shellfish, mushrooms or cheese (think goat cheese or Comté). The sharp acid makes this great with creme sauces.

For more…

Burgundy (Bourgogne)

Vignoble de Bourgogne
Vignoble de Bourgogne

Chablis, above, is in Burgundy sitting 80 miles northwest of the rest of Burgundy.  Burgundy is known for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir

The Côte de Nuits is the Northern part of the Côte d’Or and is the region that Pinot Noir calls home. It ventures further afield, but this is it’s homeland and you will find some of the most expensive Pinot Noirs on the planet, hail from here.

Pinot Noir is perfect for red wine with fish. It is the go to wine to pair with salmon. Many Pinot Noirs also have earthy notes and pair beautifully with mushrooms.

Chardonnay

The Côte de Beaune is dominated by Chardonnay. These are likely to be aged in oak. They will be richer and more buttery than those lean Chardonnays from Chablis, but they are still dry. Try this wine with pasta, chicken, risotto, shellfish or salt water fish and with cheeses like gruyere.

There is more to the region, the Côte Chalonnais and the Mâconnais, but we will leave those for another day.

For more…

Beaujolais

Gamay grapes in Beaujolais
Gamay grapes in Beaujolais

Just south of Burgundy you find Beaujolais.  This is a wine you will know better by the region name than by the grape, Gamay, that it is made from.  Beaujolais Nouveau is the first wine released each year on the third Thursday in November.  These early release wines are fresh and fruity, but the region does have other Gamay’s that are meant to be deeper and more age worthy.

Beaujolais Nouveau will be fruit forward and downright perky! Sometimes you will hear people say that they smell bubblegum or bananas in addition to raspberries and cranberry.

Aged Beaujolais might have notes of forest floor, mushroom, violet, tart cherry and smoke.

These are lighter wines and can pair across the spectrum from salmon to barbeque. Visit the Beaujolais site for a great graphic to assist with pairings for all the varied wines from this region.

The Rhone Valley

M.Chapoutier Crozes Hermitage vineyards in Tainl' Hermitage Rhone valley France
M.Chapoutier Crozes Hermitage vineyards in Tainl’ Hermitage Rhone valley France

I am a lover of Rhônes. Guaranteed…many of mine come from the Rhône Rangers that you find in California, and many of which were brought from Chateauneuf-de-Pape in the Southern Rhône.

The region is broken into the Northern and Southern Rhône. The Northern Rhône is the land of Syrah and Viognier and typically very pure and expensive versions of these.

Syrah

The Côte Rotie is known for some of the most amazing Syrah on the planet. I’ve heard it described as bacon and violets. Which sounds pretty amazing to me.

Viognier

Condrieu is well known for 100% Viognier. This white wine is full bodied and round with notes of apricot, pear and almonds.

There are other appellations like Crozes Hermitage above and Cornas, there is more to explore here, if you have the budget.

The Southern Rhone is warmer as it heads down the Rhone river to the Mediterranean and you will find blends of multiple varieties.  The famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape is here with blends of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre and more. Wines here lean toward blends.

Red Rhône Blends

These will have berry notes (think raspberry and black berry) baking spice, and maybe some garrigue (think underbrush), lavender, dried herbs. The more Mourvedre, the more likely you will have meaty notes to the wine.

These go well with mediterranean foods, like olives and red peppers, and herbs like rosemary or sage (or herbs de Provençe).

White Rhône Blends

Marsanne, Roussanne & Viognier make up the body of most white wines in this area. These blends are medium bodied and have notes of beeswax (I love that), as well as moderate citrus, like a meyer lemon, then stone fruits like peach and apricot.

Pair them with richer dishes with white meat (chicken or fish or even pork) and perhaps with fruits that are stewed or roasted. Dried apricots are a definite must on a cheese plate with these wines.

For more…

Bordeaux

Vignoble de Bordeaux
Vignoble de Bordeaux

If you have heard of any region in France other than Champagne, it will be Bordeaux. This is the region that Napa Valley wants to be. It is the big daddy of French wine with bottles that can be very pricey and many that need considerable aging. When people pull out dusty bottles from their wine cellar, typically they are Bordeaux wines.

Left Bank Reds (Cabernet Sauvignon based)

Red wines here are classified by which bank of the river the vineyards sit on. Left bank wines are west of the river in Médoc and Graves. The reds here are Cabernet Sauvignon based.

Right Bank Reds (Merlot driven)

The Right bank wines are on the other side of the river in the Libournais. These wines are Merlot driven. The Entre-deux-mers, the area in the middle between the two, has much more fertile soil producing less concentrated (but more affordable) wines.

The bold reds of Bordeaux are perfect with rich meaty dishes, like a big steak.

Sweet wines of Sauternes

Down in Graves you find the region of Sauternes. These are my friend Corinne’s favorite wines. These are sweet wines made from grapes with “Noble rot”. The botrytis fungus takes hold of the grape and dries them out considerably. They are pressed into tiny amounts of wine that when fermented becomes sweet and delicious. These are wines to pair with bleu cheese or with desserts.

For more…

Provence

Emotion, Urban Provençe and Inspiration rosé from Provençe
Emotion, Urban Provençe and Inspiration. Emotion and Inspiration come from Château de Berne and Urban Provençe is from Ultimate Provençe

Rosé

This is Rosê country, more than 1/2 the output of wine from this region is rosé. The mistral wind that whips down from the mountains keeping the vines in this Mediterannean region dry and free from disease. The landscape is dotted with lavender fields. It’s pretty dreamy.

In addition to those delicate ballet slipper pink rosés you will find Bandol, which is a rich red wine from Mourvedre.

Pair pink with pink. It’s delicious and pretty. Smoked salmon, ham, prosciutto, crab, lobster….you get the picture.

Yes…these wines are great in the summer. Their high acid and bright flavors are perfect to help you cool down on a hot day. But don’t overlook them at other times.

For more…

Other regions

Is there more to French Wine?  Why yes…so much more, there is the island of Corsica, the black wines of Cahors, Picpoul de Pinet from Languedoc-Rousillon…and then there are the wines that I have yet to discover!

Oh and did I mention Crémant? That would be sparkling wine from any region outside of Champagne! You want bubbles and value? It’s your go to!

Dive deep into the links and the links in the links and take a little vacay to France sans airfare!

For more…

More from the Winophiles!

There are so many ways to dive into French Wine, I have only scratched the surface. Why not check out the other #Winophiles and their approaches to the subject! You can join us for the conversation on Twitter on Saturday Morning January 18th (8 am PST, 11 am EST) by following the hashtag #Winophiles!

Remember I said I would include more about those potential tariffs.

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

How to measure a year – 2019, specifically..

Calendar

Years….they used to take forever! No longer. Now they often seem to speed by in a blur. The coming of the New Year makes me nostalgic. I sit warm, happy with a full belly and I remember that this is not to be taken for granted. Time for a little reflection and gratitude.

I head to social media to reflect on the year. Remember the days when we had journals or diaries or a box of photos? Well, technology has allowed us to share those memorable moments, both big and small.

Instagram is my go to photo journal. So I’m sifting through to give you an idea of my year…holy crap there are alot of wine photos! LOL!

The Quiet Time

My photo essay of the beginning of my year…snow, studying, a Valentines Day on the ice, new Ramen places, hiking at Mount Charleston, beautiful sunsets, reading by the ocean in Carlsbad, high tea with friends, the super bloom in San Diego, a blind tasting event and of course, Loki. Okay…that gets us through the quiet months.

Double click on any of the photos for a larger picture and perhaps a bit more information.

The Scenic Route

We did our typical drive a million miles summer vacation. This year it was named “The Scenic Route”. It took us from Vegas to Tahoe, to Mount Shasta, to Southern Oregon, through the Columbia Gorge to the Yakima Valley, Walla Walla and then back through the Willamette, down to the Applegate Valley and finally to Yosemite before traveling home. We met incredible winemakers, saw beautiful scenery and vineyards and while we shared the overall story of our trip this year, you can look forward to many more in depth pieces on the places we visited this year.

Studying

Then we rested…that should be what I write next. But no. This was crunch time for me. I had been studying all year to take my test to become a Certified Specialist of Wine. After a 13 week course and then months of additional study I hoped I was ready. I was…

#OurAussieWineAdventure

Now was it time to rest? Nope. We were off to the Wine Media Conference in October. Social media got to see much of our trip…there are still interviews and articles to be written in the new year. Here is a glimpse of our travels through New South Wales Australia. We dubbed it #OurAussieWineAdventure.

So, exhausted and exhilarated, we returned. At this point the holiday’s approached and our 2nd Annual 12 Days of wine celebration was at hand.

12 Days of Wine

Here is a link to that page. 12 Days of Wine 2019. You’ll find fun video reveals and details about each of the wines there.

Now we’ve come to the end of the year. It was a full year. We have writing to do video’s to create and tons of content to share with you. And…there will be new adventures. For right now…I’m going to relax and then day dream about what the New Year might hold.

Want more details on some of these great spots?

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

12 Days of Wine Day 12 – Syncline

Syncline

Let’s start with the name. Syncline…where does that come from? It was a new word to me. This winery & vineyard in located in the Columbia Gorge AVA. Vineyards are typically in scenic areas. Grapes like a view. But the Columbia Gorge? Come on…this is a pretty stellar backdrop.

View of Mt. Hood from Syncline Steep Ranch Vineyard

So…back to the meaning of the word Syncline, from their website

syn-cline (‘sin-klin)
a trough of stratified rock in which
the beds dip toward each other from either side

http://synclinewine.com/our-history/

The Syncline winery is located on the Washington side of the Gorge on their Steep Ranch Vineyard. West of the property 300-foot cliffs rise up from the Columbia River…this is the Syncline, locally called the Coyote Wall Syncline.

The Columbia Gorge AVA

Views of the Gorge make this Washington Wine delicious
View of the Columbia River and the Gorge from Syncline’s Vineyard

The Columbia Gorge AVA was established in 2004 and is overwhelmingly known for white wines. This is the sweet spot where the rainy western part of the Gorge and the more arid Eastern Gorge meet. Syncline is on the South Eastern edge of the AVA.

Myself & James Mantone walking the rows at Syncline
James Mantone leading me through the Steep Ranch Vineyard

We spent a wonderful morning, talking with Winemaker, Vineyard Manager and Co-Founder of Syncline, James Mantone. Sitting in their beautiful gardens, we spoke about biodynamics which they are putting into practice here on this vineyard as well among other things before we walked the vineyard to take in the spectacular views at the top of the Syrah block.

But alas…in addition to the wines he makes from grapes grown on the estate vineyard, he also sources some fine grapes from elsewhere to make some beautiful wines. Such is the case with this Picpoul.

Picpoul

Picpoul is a favorite of mine. I have enjoyed Picpoul de Pinet which comes from the South of France right on the Mediterranean coast, as well as some lovely California Picpouls. You can read about those in Picpoul from Pinet and California and a seaside pairing. The name “Picpoul” means lip stinger in French. It is a zippy high acid wine.

Syncline 2018 Picpoul Boushey Vineyard Yakima Valley

Syncline Picpoul boushey Vineyard

We tasted this wine in the tasting room with James when we visited. Since I tend to think of Picpoul and ocean, this was intriguing to me. The grapes for this wine are sourced from Boushey Vineyards in Washington’s Yakima Valley. Boushey Vineyard sits at a high elevation (700-1200 feet) on southern slopes of the Rattlesnake Mountains. Dick Boushey is considered one of Washington States top wine grape growers.

Soil and the long ripening time at this vineyard allow for lots of complex flavors to develop.

The fruit was hand harvested and transported to the winery on October 2nd. It was whole cluster pressed and settled overnight. The juice was then racked to one of our stainless steel tanks. Fermentation completed with no malolactic fermentation. It was aged in stainless steel and bottledin March 2019. 300 cases produced • 12.4% Alc. By Vol.

http://synclinewine.com

The Tasting

Syncline 2018 Picpoul flavor profile
Syncline 2018 Picpoul flavor profile

James tasting notes mention “Bright lemon verbena and key lime blossom” as well as “citrus zest and wet stones”. When we opened this wine, the first thing I smelled was chalk and dust followed my notes of tart citrus fruit. It opened further with some floral notes and then lemon zest and yes wet stones. This wine was completely enjoyable on it’s own.

The Pairings

Herbed goat cheese with the Syncline 2018 Picpoul from Boushey Vineyard
Herbed goat cheese with the Syncline 2018 Picpoul from Boushey Vineyard

We paired this wine with herbed goat cheese and olive oil on bread to start. The pairing sweetened the cheese and brightened the wine and was kind of magical.

Mussels with lemon zest
Mussels with lemon zest

Then we went to a classic Picpoul pairing of shellfish. We had mussels in garlic and butter dusted with lemon zest. Which is indeed a perfect pairing with this wine. Often you think of oysters with Picpoul and somehow those didn’t hit me as the right pairing. Perhaps it was me thinking of the photos I had recently seen of the hoarfrost on the vines in the Yakima Valley. None-the-less this wine wanted a warmer version of shellfish and these mussels did the trick, warm with savory flavors and a bit of brightness, they snuggled with the wine and brightened a chilly evening.

Visit them….

I totally told you all about the vineyard at Syncline, but I skipped right over the stunning gardens and grounds at their winery and tasting room. Here…take a look.

  • Entrance to Syncline Winery in Washington's Columbia Gorge AVA
  • Syncline Winery in Washington Win in the Columbia Gorge AVA
  • Syncline Winery
  • The outdoor tasting bar at the Syncline Winery
  • Beautiful Foudre that was being refinished for wine at Syncline
  • The garden at the Syncline tasting room in Washington's Columbia Gorge AVA
  • Perfect spot for a summer tasting Syncline
  • Syncline Wine's tasting garden in the Columbia Gorge AVA
  • Syncline Wine's tasting garden in the Columbia Gorge AVA
  • Syncline Wine's tasting garden in the Columbia Gorge AVA
  • Syncline Wine's tasting garden in the Columbia Gorge AVA

Head up there in the summer, on a weekend. Drive the Gorgeous Gorge and then stop for a tasting and to enjoy the garden.

That’s a wrap!

All the unwrapping is complete on our 12 Days of Wine Celebration. Hopefully you enjoyed the journey and perhaps have a few wines to search for, or a vacation to plan to take in some of these places.

We wish you all a very happy holiday and a wonderful New Year. Here’s to a spectacular 2020!

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

The Multiple Expressions of Vouvray! #Winophiles

Corks from the Styles of Vouvray

Vouvray….it’s a lovely word to say. A french wine, it is named for a region, not a variety. It comes from the Loire Valley. That’s the Val de Loire on the map below.

Map of French Wine Regions

The Loire Valley wine region spans 300 miles along the Loire River from Sancerre to Nantes and is broken into 4 very distinct regions from west to east:

  • The Pays Nantais – closest to the Atlantic that has a maritime influence.
  • Anjou-Saumur – a little further inland
  • Touraine – even further east
  • The Upper Loire – this area furthest east and inland has a more continental climate and follows the Loire River as it begins to curve south.
Map of the wine regions of the Loire Valley
Map of the wine regions of the Loire Valley

The region historically was known as the Valley of the Kings and the river is dotted with tremendous chateaus that are show stoppers. We will focus on the Touraine region which is sometime called the “Garden of France”.

The Touraine

When we speak about the Touraine, there are two primary grapes that come to mind:

  • Cabernet Franc which you find in Chinon, Bourgueil and St. Nicolas de Bourgueil.
  • Chenin Blanc well known in Montlouis-sur-Loire and probably the most well known region in the Touraine, Vouvray.

Vouvray

You have likely seen a Vouvray on a shelf at a wine shop.  It is perhaps the best known of the Touraine appellations.  It sits just north of the Loire River East of the city of Tours. 

Vouvray was one of France’s first Appellations, in 1936.

The area in the “Garden of France” has many Chateaus and gardens. Here is a quick visual trip…

  • Vines and church at Vouvray France - August 2016 - The bell tower of the church of Notre Dame et Saint Jean Baptist surrounded by vines above Vouvray  in the Indre et Loire region of France
  • Chateau Valmer in Vouvray France
  • Les jardins du château Valmer. (The Gardens at Château Valmer) in Vouvray
  • Vines and grapes at Vouvray France - August 2016 -  Vines and bunches of white grapes above Vouvray  in the Indre et Loire region of France

Chateau Valmer (pictured above) does make a Vouvray, but sadly, I was not able to find a bottle. Perhaps a trip to the beautiful Château, built at the beginning of the 16th century is in order.

Styles of Vouvray

Vouvray is a wine of many variations.  It is made of Chenin Blanc, which sometimes in the region is call Pineau de la Loire.  You will find it both Sparkling and Still.

Sparkling Vouvray

Sparkling wines, known here as “fines bulles”, may be made in the Methode Traditionelle – which is the method used in Champagne.   You might find these called Cremant de Loire.  It can also be made Pétillant (Pét Nat), just slightly bubbly in the Method Ancestral. 

In style it can be Brut or dry, or Demi-Sec, which is sweet.

They like their fines bulles here, with sparkling being 60% of the production.  And, they like to keep it here, only 1 in every 20 bottles of Loire Bubbles make it out of the country, as opposed to the still wines, where 1 of every 3 is sold out of France. 

Still Vouvray

In the still wines you have a variety of sweetness levels from Dry, called Sec through Tendre or Sec-Tendre (off dry) to Demi-Sec which is definitely sweet to Moelleux which is a sweet dessert wine.

It can be difficult to tell which sweetness level you are getting. The residual sugar level is not written on the bottle. Sometimes, a wine will specify sec or demi-sec, but it’s easy to be fooled, as I was.

Choosing a variety of Vouvrays

I went shopping for Vouvrays. The sparkling was simple…it was the only one available. Then for the stills I wanted a Sec and a Demi-Sec. I found a house that had both. But I wanted to expand and choose more than one house, so I chose another that I believed was Sec, but was not labeled. I ended up with a wine that was actually sweeter than the Demi-Sec I chose! Lesson learned, and now I share that lesson with you! On to the Wines

Maison Bougrier Pure Loire Sparkling Vouvray

Maison Bougrier Pure Loire Brut from Vouvray
Maison Bougrier Pure Loire Brut from Vouvray

This wine is made in the Methode Traditionelle. They age on the yeast for 24 months. I noted that they age “sur lattes” which means stacked on their sides. The wine is 12.5% abv and it runs a reasonable $19.99 SRP.

Famille Bougrier “V” Vouvray Grande Réserve 2018

Famille Bougrier 2018 "V" Vouvray Grande Réserve
Famille Bougrier 2018 “V” Vouvray Grande Réserve

This wine, the Grande Réserve “V” Vouvray from Famille Bougrier, is aged for several months in wood. This makes the wine fuller and richer than the regular Bougrier “V” which is made in stainless steel. This wine is 11% abv and I picked it up for $14.99.

Clos Chapon Vourvray Demi-Sec

Clos Chapon 2017 Vouvray Demi-Sec
Clos Chapon 2017 Vouvray Demi-Sec

This Demi-Sec wine does have thermometer graphic on the back of the bottle to indicate the sweetness level. Of course I knew I was getting a sweeter wine as it listed Demi-Sec on the label. The Clos Chapon Vouvray is 13% abv and runs $14.99.

How sweet is this Vouvray?

Tasting and Pairing

Vouvray tasting profile collage
Vouvray tasting profile

I shopped in the afternoon, looking to find things to pair with all the styles. Across the board, I knew the basic flavor profiles would include: lemon, apricot, pear, apple, honey and camomile.

I settled on a cheese plate to cover all the styles with fontina, camembert, goat cheese, dried apricots, honey, apple, pear, prosciutto, and salami.

Cheese and charcuterie to pair with Vouvrays

I made a crab salad to pair with the dry wine, which turned out to be the sparkling. We tested some Thai green curry and Indian Palak Paneer with Rajmah Dal as well as pork chops with apples.

  • Crab salad and pork chops with apples
  • Thai Green Curry
  • Palak Paneer & Rajmah Dal

All of the food paired beautifully. Michael was very happy. He tends to avoid sparkling wines, as he doesn’t find them very flavorful. All of these wines were great for his palate. All of these wines are extremely sipable on their own in addition to being great with the food.

A couple of standouts. The crab salad (which was just olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt and pepper), went best with the sparkling. You want to go dry with this pairing. The Thai Green Curry was best with the Bougrier Reserve, due to the sugar level. This dish was a tad spicy and the sweetness balanced that. The Palak Paneer, went best again with the sparkling. Oh and dessert! We had lemon bars which were genius with the Pure Loire Brut!

Lemon bars with sparkling Loire

The French #Winophiles on Vouvray

The French Winophiles will gather on December 21st on Twitter at 8:00 am Pacific (that’s 11 am Eastern Standard time, so if you are on the East coast you can sleep in a little!) to talk about Vouvray. Just follow the #Winophiles hashtag. You can always join the chat, even if you don’t have a blog.

Check out all the great articles on Vouvray and different ways to pair it!

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Speed Dating for Wine – the Lighter version – White/Rosé Social

White/Rosé Social at the Wine Media Conference 2019 in Australia's Hunter Valley

At the Wine Media Conference, they have an events called “Wine Socials”. Sounds like something you would expect, right? It’s a wine conference, they will drink wine and be social. But if you caught our Speed dating for wine – Red Wine Social at the Wine Media Conference piece, you know that it’s a different play on the word “Social”. Well, they do the lighter version also, the White/Rosé Social.

So today we revisit those wineries and winemakers that we had a brief 5 minutes each to speak with, and share with you again, our instagram posts from this tasting. It was 50 minutes, 10 wines, 5 minutes each for them to tell us all they could about their winery and the wine…and for us to post about it on social media. It’s alot to fit into 5 minutes.

I did my posts on InstaGram, so …

Here we go….

Tulloch 2018 Verdelho Hunter Valley

  • Tulloch 2018 Verdelho #wmc19 White/Rosé Wine Social
  • Matt pouring the 2018 Tulloch Verdelho #wmc19 White/Rosé Wine Social

Tulloch 2018 verdelho one of 5 verdelhos (including a fortified) that you can find at their cellar door #wmc19 @huntervalley @visitnsw

crushedgrapechron IG post October 11

Tulloch Wines poured in the Red wine Social and I told you about them then. Here is the synopsis: early winery – 122 years & 4 generations making wine – vineyard owned by other companies for a bit – 2003 bought back from Rosemount – now again family run.

This wine is part of their Tulloch Range, which sits at a very affordable $16 au per bottle. If you look online, they are now on to their 2019 release. This wine is lush and tropical with a zesty finish.

de iuliis fiano two thousand and nineteen special release

  • 2019 Special Release de Iuliis Fiano #WMC19 White/Rosé Social
  • Mike De Iuliis pouring his Fiano

This fiano was bottled just 10 days ago! From Broke Fordwich…pretty nose! @huntervalley #wmc

crushedgrapechron IG post October 11

So as I mentioned before…(he poured at the Red Wine Social too), we got to hang with Mike a bit during the Dinner Excursion. He had our bus off roading in a vineyard on our way to tasting Semillon and oysters. James Halliday (the Australian wine guru) has only the nicest things to say about Mike. He’s making amazing wine and does not take himself too seriously (I never saw him wear anything fancier than a t shirt).

The De Iuliis Fiano he brought us was under their special release label and had just been bottled. This variety from northern Italy does well here in the Hunter Valley. Mike let this sit on it’s lees (the dead yeast) for 6 months before bottling, which gives it a creamy texture, but it still retains great acidity, with white peaches and herbs on the nose. This sits at 12.5 abv and runs $35 au.

Tyrrell’s Hunter Valley Semillon 2019

Tyrrell's 2019 Hunter Valley Semillon
Tyrrell’s 2019 Hunter Valley Semillon

161 year old vineyard. This glorious sem is just $25. #wmc19 @huntervalley

crushedgrapechron IG post October 11

Tyrrell’s has been family owned since 1858. It is the old dog in these woods.

They are well known for their Semillon. This one comes from 4 blocks in the HVD vineyard (planted by the Hunter Valley Distillery back in 1903). They hand pick and sort in the vineyard and press with a small percentage of whole cluster. This sees very little time on lees, to keep it crisp and fresh and there is no oak use. This sits at 10% abv and runs $25 au.

Thomas Braemore Semillion 2018 Individual Vineyard Hunter Valley

  • Thomas 2018 Braemore Semillon #WMC19 White/Rosé Social
  • Pouring the Thomas Semillon

this one (oops that should have been “was”) one of my favorite wines from last night. 2019 sem! #wmc18 @huntervalley

crushedgrapechron IG post October 11

Okay…the name on this probably needs a little explanation. The Winery is “Thomas” with wines made by namesake Andrew Thomas. Braemore is the vineyard. Sadly, he was one of the winemakers we were unable to meet. We did indeed taste his Semillon, both this and one that was 10 years older, on our vineyard dinner excursion. With Semillon there is often a note of “lanoline”. On a personal level, I find this slightly offputting. Some people enjoy it, for me…I tolerate it. But these wines did not have that note. I found them crisp and clean and with a vibrancy that I really enjoyed.

As I mentioned the grapes for this wine come from the Braemore Vineyard. Planted in 1969, this vineyard is known to be one of the best sites in the region for Semillon (some say handsdown the best). This wine is bright with lemon & lime zest. I’m not sure of the abv, but I would imagine it to be around 10%. It was brilliant with the oysters. It runs around $31 au.

Taylor’s St. Andrews Riesling Clare Valley 2017

Taylor's 2017 St. Andrews Riesling, Clare Valley #WMC19 White/Rosé Social
Taylor’s 2017 St. Andrews Riesling, Clare Valley #WMC19 White/Rosé Social

Stunning Clare Valley Riesling from Taylor’s in the Clare Valley. #wmc

crushedgrapechron IG post October 11

So Taylor’s is one of the few wines we tasted from outside the Hunter Valley. I had met Anna from Taylor’s on the Dinner Excursion and we hit it off. This winery is located in South Australia in the Clare Valley, where they have been making wine for three generations. The area is known for it’s riesling.

This wine is in the St. Andrews line, named after the historic property that was established by Scottish immigrants back in 1892. This is their flagship line and it is only released in the best vintages.

This wine was delicious with great acidity and notes of lemon & lime. It runs around $37 au.

Tamburlaine Reserve Semillon 2013 Hunter Valley New South Wales

  • 2013 Reserve Semillon Tamburlaine #WMC19 White/Rosé Social
  • Aaron Mercer Winemaker Tamburlaine

2013 sem from Tamburlaine poured by winemaker Aarom Mercer #wmc19

crushedgrapechron IG post October 11

Okay…first off, his name is Aaron Mercer…speed tasting leaves no time for spellcheck. I had the opportunity to meet and speak with him at the Welcome event at Brokenwood. He is charming and passionate about his wines.

Tamburlaine is an organic winery and proudly so with vineyards in the Hunter Valley and in Orange. The winery was founded in 1966, but was purchased in 1985 by a group of friends who turned to contemporary organics.

Aaron poured for us their 2013 Vintage Reserve Semillon. This wine recieve 96 points from James Halliday. The nose has floral notes, green apple and a hint of pinapple. It has good acidity with citrus notes and a little creaminess from resting 4 months on the lees. This one is not currently available from the winery, but you can find the 2018 which will run you $33 au.

Scarborough “The Obsessive” Chardonnay Gillards Rd Vineyard Hunter Valley

  • Scarborough 2017 "The Obsessive" Chardonnay #WMC White/Rosé Social
  • Terra Rossa Soil from Scarborough's Gillard's Road Vineyard

The Obsessive chardonnay with Jerome Scarborough from Scarborough wines. #wmc19

crushedgrapechron IG post October 11

We had the opportunity to do an interview with Jerome Scarborough before the conference and did their Chardonnay tasting at their Gillards Road Vineyard. So this was a revisit for us.

The Obsessive from Scarborough is their cellar door exclusive range that is single vineyard. The fruit for this wine comes exclusively from their Gillards Road Vineyard which holds their tasting room that was previously the family home. The soil here is red/brown terra rossa, and Jerome brought a soil sample for us.

This wine exhibits notes of butter, roasted nuts and spice from the 15 months it spends in new french oak. It’s creamy texture comes from the monthly lees stirring while in that oak. It sits at 12.7% abv and runs $40.00 au.

Peterson House 2007 Sparkling Semillon

Peterson House 2007 Sparkling Semillon #WMC19 White/Rosé Social
Peterson House 2007 Sparkling Semillon #WMC19 White/Rosé Social

10 year sparkling Semillon stunner! #wmc19

crushedgrapechron IG post October 11

Okay…I am a sucker for bubbles. These were 12 year old Semillon Bubbles! This Peterson House wine was a Museum Release that they broke out for us. Toasty but fresh, you get all those warm brioche notes and fullness in the mouth and then a clean fresh citrus finish. It is available on their site at $60 au.

Peter Drayton Anomaly Vermentino 2019 Hunter Valley

  • Peter Drayton 2019 Anomaly Vermentino #WMC19 White/Rosé Social
  • Peter Drayton and his daughter Natalie

2019 Vermentino from Peter Drayton they grow 16 different varieties @huntervalley #wmc19

crushedgrapechron IG post October 11

The Drayton family goes back 5 generations in the Hunter Valley and Peter owns and runs a construction company in addition to his winery.

Peter Drayton and his daughter poured us this 2019 Anomaly Vermentino. I am a Vermentino lover, so I was happy to have this variety in my glass.

The fruit for this wine comes from the Upper Hunter Valley. Made all in stainless this wine has great minerality with notes of citrus and pear. 13% abv and $30 au.

Oakvale 2018 Rosé Hunter Valley

Oakvale 2018 Rosé of Shiraz #WMC19 White/Rosé Social
Oakvale 2018 Rosé of Shiraz #WMC19 White/Rosé Social

A lovely rosé of Shiraz from Oakvale Wines! Beautiful onion skin color! #wmc19 @huntervalley

crushedgrapechron IG post October 11

At last! A Rosé! Oakvale Wines believes in minimal intervention. They also make vegan friendly wines. This winery was founded in 1893 and was owned for generations by the Elliot family. In 2010 the Becker family purchased the vineyard and eldest son James became the winemaker.

This rosé of shiraz is a pale onion skin color. Notes of strawberry and cranberry and a crisp finish. 11.5% abv $26.00 au.

I will admit…the White/Rose Wine Social is decidedly easier than the red. Lighter wines that don’t blow your palate make life much easier. And…having the practice in from the previous day was helpful.

There was more, oh so much more, at the 2019 Wine Media Conference and you can look forward to hearing more…we can only write so fast!

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Fall, Thanksgiving and the flavors of Rasteau #Winophiles

The beautiful embossed Rasteau AOC Cru bottle Photo Courtesy of Inter-Rhône

Rasteau. Perhaps it’s a name you are not familiar with. This region in the Southern Rhône has long been known for their sweet Vin Doux Naturel wines. It was just recently (2010) awarded Cru status for it’s dry red wines.

This post is a sponsored post. In conjunction with the French #Winophiles I recieved 4 bottles of wine from Rasteau as samples to taste and write about. The opinions provided are my own.

Rasteau

The name itself comes from the French word “râteau” meaning rake. The hills and valleys here look like the tines of a rake.

  • The Fortress in Rasteau Photo Courtesy of Inter-Rhône
  • Rolling vineyards showing the altitude in Rasteau Photo Courtesy of Inter-Rhône

The region is east of the famous Chateauneuf-de-Pape. Perspective…it is 21 miles from Avignon, at the very south of the Rhône River and 12.5 miles from Orange. Writing this out made me realize how small this area really is. This is a small medieval village with cobbled streets. Located in the Haut-Vaucluse, this little village faces south and looks to the Dentelles de Montmirail mountain range.

Haut-Vaucluse

The name might not be familiar to you, but this is the region that inspired Cézanne and Chagall. Farmlands with orchards, olive groves and lavender fields cover this area of Provençe. Here you find ancient cities, including Rasteau.

Dentelles de Montmirail

This small mountain chain is just south of the village of Vaison-la-Romaine. Dentelles translated to English is “lace” as the mountains have a scalloped lace like feel as you look at them.

Geography, Climate & Soils

The Rasteau AOC Courtesy of Inter-Rhône
The Rasteau AOC Courtesy of Inter-Rhône

As I mentioned the village faces south. The soils differ depending on the altitude. Lower altitudes have pebble rich soils, a little further up you reach sandy marl (between 525 and 951 feet) and the highest vineyards have red and grey marl with galets, those pudding stones that the Rhône is so famous for.

  • Pudding stones in AOC Rasteau Photo Courtesy of Inter-Rhône
  • Old vines and galets or pudding stones AOC Rasteau Photo Courtesy of Inter-Rhône

As far south as they are you get loads of sunshine and it’s relatively dry. Plus the Mistral wind keeps the vines healthy. All that air keeps the vines dry and free from mold and disease. But…the vineyards on this south facing slope are arranged in a bowl or amphitheatre shape which keeps them safe from the most brutal of the winds. So they get the good breezes, not the damaging wind.

Red Rhône Blends with some rules

The wines here are made up of red Rhône varieties that you are likely familiar with, but with a couple of rules.

  • The blend must be at least 50% Grenache Noir
  • At least 20% of the wine must be Syrah & Mourvèdre (that’s 20% together)

We recieved 4 samples, each with a slightly different blend. Two of which were 2015 vintage and two that were the 2016 Vintage.

All of the wines were food friendly, made to bring to table, to share and enjoy with food and laughter.

2016 Rasteau wines from Domaine M. Boutin and Domaine La Fond de Notre Dame
2016 Rasteau wines from Domaine M. Boutin and Domaine La Fond de Notre Dame

Domaine La Font de Notre Dame 2016 Rasteau Le Chêne

This is an old family estate renamed by the sons in 2016. The Domaine has vineyards in several regions including Gigondas, Sablet and Lirac in addition to their vineyard in Rasteau.

The vineyard sits on the top of a hill at 350 meters between the Ouvèze and Aygue valleys with soil of brown marl and pebbles.Vines here average 80 years old, so they were the oldest of the samples we recieved.

The wine is Grenache driven at 80% with 10% Mourvèdre and 5% each of Syrah and Cinsault. The Grenache is grown in the gobelet style (bush style, untrellised)

The Domaine La Font de Notre Dame was the lightest bodied of the 4 Rasteau wines we tasted and was also the highest percentage of Grenache. It was bright and elegant.

Domaine M. Boutin 2016 Rasteau

Mikael Boutin, the winemaker is a 5th generation winemaker. Domaine M. Boutin is a small operation. His facility is the size of a two car garage size and he works mostly with concrete tanks. He has almost 5 acres of vines scattered over 8 parcels. The vines average 40 years old and are are varied soils and have different exposures. Regardless of the fact that they are scattered, they are all organically certified.

Mikael hand harvests and does wild yeast ferments in his concrete tanks. The wines are kept on the fine lees for 8 months (still in the concrete tanks). Wines are held in bottle for 12 months before release.

Chateau du Trignon 2015 Rasteau

Chateau du Trignon 2015 Rasteau
Chateau du Trignon 2015 Rasteau

This property had been kept for generations as a traditional farm by the Roux family, who gradually turned the focus to vineyards. In 2007 the Quiot family purchased the property, 12 acres are with in the Rasteau AOC.

This is a 60/40 blend of Grenache and Mourvèdre from vines that average 30 years in age. The grapes are de-stemed and after around 3 weeks of masceration do a 3 week indigenous yeast ferment. They age for a year in foudres and concrete.

Lavau 2015 Rasteau

2015 Lavau Rasteau bottle shot
2015 Lavau Rasteau

This wine comes from east facing stony hillsides. Harvests here are small and late. This blend in 50/50 Grenache and Syrah. Destemmed, 25 day masceration and a year of aging in mostly neutral oak.

A little on the 2015 vintage from Lavau

After a wet winter and spring, followed by a few showers in June, the vines were able to withstand the extreme summer droughts due to the water reserves. Ripening conditions were optimal with sunny days and cool nights, accompanied by a light Mistral wind. The harvested grapes showed exceptional concentration and balance.

Groupe Lavau Maucoil www.lavau.fr

Thanksgiving Pairing with Rasteau

With Thanksgiving right around the corner here in the US, I looked at these wines and determined that the flavor profiles would pair nicely with those fall foods we indulge in at Thanksgiving.

The menu

Thanksgiving flavors to pair with the wines of Rasteau
Thanksgiving flavors to pair with the wines of Rasteau

With just 2 of us, we took a simpler route than roasting an entire turkey. I found 2 turkey breast marinated and applewood smoked to cook like a pork loin, roasting it in the oven. This took my cooking time to a little over an hour, rather than the 3 or so for a full bird.

I looked to flavors that would match the wine. Herb de Provençe was a no brainer for this area of southern France and the berry notes of raspberry, blackberry and cherry noted in the wine…well I figured that adding some cranberry and making a sauce would be pretty perfect.

  • Smoked roasted turkey breast with a berry sauce, roasted mashed sweet potatoes with herbs de provençe and sauteed green beans with fried shallots, almonds & balsamic reduction.
  • Rasteau Rouge with turkey, sweet potatoes and seared brussel sprouts.
  • Thanksgiving and Rasteau

I roasted the sweet potatoes (a regular sweet potato and a purple sweet potato with sweet white flesh) in olive oil, herb de provençe, salt, pepper and a bit of nutmeg and then mashed them with butter and a dash of stock. The nutmeg brought out that bit of spice in the wines.

For our green vegetables… we did fresh green beans, cooked in butter and a bit of stock, drizzled with a balsamic reduction and sprinkled with sea salt, as well as boiled brussel sprouts, that I then sliced and pan seared to pull out the sweetness. Both of course got a dash of the herbs de Provençe,

Cheese Pairing with the Rasteau Wines
Cheese Pairing with the Rasteau Wines

We did start with a cheese platter, with a decided feminine feel. I picked up “New Woman” cheese which has jerked spices in it, and Two Sisters Gouda. We rounded this out with dried cherries, blackberries, raspberries, apple and almonds.

Honestly, all the foods paired beautifully with all of these wines. Not a bad pairing in the bunch. Tying in the fruit notes as well as the herbs and spices really made these pairings sing.

Verdict

Michael found both of the 2015 wines to be more weighty and substantial. I would agree. There might be several components to this, the age, the vintage, which as we saw above was very warm and the blend. Both of these wines were simply Grenache and one other variety and the Mourvèdre and Syrah that they used can both be weighty. I did really enjoy the Domaine La Font de Notre Dame, for exactly the reason that it was not weighty. Perhaps I was in a very Grenachey mood. I was also really enamoured by the story of MB Boutin and his 2 car garage size set up and his scattered hand picked vineyards. Mikael’s story definitely influenced my tasting and I savored visualizing his harvest while sipping the wine.

All of these wines were delicious, but they are decidedly food wines. On their own, they were fine, but not wines to sit and deeply contemplate with your nose in a glass. They are wines to pop open and enjoy with people and food. They are not showy, they are complimentary, quietly, each in it’s own way, adding to the meal and elevating the food.

These wines are in the perfect price point. Running from $18 to $25 SRP, these are wines that you can easily bring to the table to enjoy without the pressure of needing to stop and take detailed tasting notes.

For more information on these wines on social media, check out

  • Twitter: @RhoneWine
  • Instagram: @rhonevalleyvineyards, @vinsderasteau
  • Facebook: @RhoneValleyVineyards, @aoc.rasteau
  • Or search for the hashtags: #rhone #rasteau #rasteauwine #rhonewine

Or visit Vins-Rhône.com for details on wines and vineyards throughout the Rhône region

The French #Winophiles

We will be gathering on twitter under the hashtage #Winophiles to talk about the wines of Rasteau on Saturday morning November 16th. It’s early at 8 am if you are in the Pacific time zone, a more reasonable 10 am in the midwest and a luxurious 11 am on the east coast. Join us to chat about these wines and the pairings we all found!

Here is a list of the other terrific articles written on the wines of Rasteau by the other #Winophiles!

Shout out to Michelle Williams at Rockin Red Blog who was terrific in helping secure samples from Rhône Valley Vineyards for some participants (one of which was me!). Thanks Michelle!

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.