Shopping for wine…..

I spent the afternoon at Total Wine.  I know…it’s a big corporate wine store.  But I find I am lacking on small wine shops on my side of the valley.  Khoury’s, you know I love you, but you are on the other side of the planet.  And Marche Bacchus..well, I wasn’t planning on lunch and I can’t resist that if I stop by.

So, I’m wandering the aisle at Total Wine.  This is because I need a bottle of wine to enjoy tonight.  Michael is working and I can’t just pop a bottle from the cellar!  That wouldn’t be fair.  So I am off to find something else, something meaningful, but not so expensive that I feel guilty drinking it without Michael.  I find myself drawn to the domestic wines.  I really want to be a “buy local” kind of girl!  So I stroll though and find myself only looking at the top shelfs.  Well, there are two things about this.  First, those are the more expensive wines.  But second, that is where you find the smaller vineyards and wineries. I’m looking to avoid the giant consumer conglomerate wines.  No Constellation or even Terlato for me!  I look for names that I know or recognize as smaller vineyards.  I found a Tablas Creek wine over in the Alternative reds today!  I was drawn to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay today, because of my current infatuation with the Sta. Rita Hills AVA.  There was a Sanford Chard and Pinot, but…they are owned by Terlato.  I found a Grgich Hills Chardonnay and Fume Blanc (the Fume Blanc came close to hitting my basket!).  On the Pinot Noir aisle I look longingly at a Trisae Pinot Noir, as well as a Monkey House from Argyle, both vineyards I love in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

I was looking for a smaller winery.  Who I support is important to me.  I must admit a little disappointment in the recent Wine Enthusiasts Awards.  Barbara Banke, Rodney Strong and Paso Robles….well, this is a little establishment based.  Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoy Kendall-Jacksons wines as well as Rodney Strong and I have spent quite a bit of time in Paso.  But this seems extraordinarily mainstream.  There is so much more out there!  My current infatuation is with Sta. Rita Hills and the entire amazing Santa Barbara County.  And I do love Paso…the Adelaida district has my heart….But I’m looking for more.  Yes, I am a sucker for the story.  I am not a wine reviewer.  I don’t need blind tasting.  For me the experience is part of the tasting, the atmosphere, be it restaurant, winery or home, has alot to do with how I enjoy the wine.  I return to my favorite wine quote:  “I like drinking wine made by people I like!”  (this fabulous quote I got from John Hilliard, as he repeated a comment by a winemaker he met at a major tasting…forgive me for not remembering her name…I’m sure she is very well known and I should!).  This is the bottom line.  I don’t like or dislike varieties or wines by their alcohol percentage, they just need to be balanced.  But I do like wines better when I like the people who make them.  If I have a bad experience in the tasting room, the wines won’t taste as good (keep this in mind when you hire tasting room staff!) and an educated winemaker who is passionate about what he or she is doing will always make the wines taste better to me.  I cannot separate these things.

I left with a Chenin-Blanc Viognier blend from Pine Ridge in Napa.  They were the last vineyard we tasted at on our trip that way and a favorite of my friend Kathy. I remember pulling up at the end of the day and strolling through their demo gardens out front, then wandering in to the lovely tasting room and having a pleasant tasting.  Not the best ever, but quite pleasant and knowing how much my friend Kathy and her husband love this place has warmed my memories of it.   I had a pasta with shellfish blend in a red sauce planned to curl up with for dinner with a side salad, so this should be perfect.  I ended up with Orecchette with the shellfish blend in a marinara sauce with a little lemon zest and some chipotle dusting to kick in a little spice.  This went beautifully with the wine.  I ended up skipping the salad…no one was home to see me enjoy two bowls of just the pasta, and you won’t tell, right?

 

 

The Joy of Vouvray!

I had the best Secret Santa this year!  I got Yoga Socks, a beautiful plant, an exceptional healthy dinner and…two bottles of wine.  One of those bottles I popped on my own while Michael was working and enjoyed with a solo dinner, snuggled in a blanket on the couch.  The other, I saved to enjoy with Michael.  It was a 2010 Les Trois Argiles Vouvray.

Vouvray is a region in the Loire Valley in France and is east of the city of Tours.  Vouvray  is typically 100% Chenin Blanc, but the grape Arbois is also permitted, though rarely seen.  Vouvray itself is versatile in that it can be made in multiple styles from dry to sweet.  Sec is dry with less than .4% residual sugar, from there you move to Demi-Sec, Moelleux and finally Doux which is the sweetest with 4.5% residual sugar.  It can also be made into a sparkling wine.  Traditionally  Vouvray is made with neutral barrels or stainless steel and does not go into malolactic fermentation.  This wine is bottled early and ages in the bottle.  Many fine Vouvray’s especially those that are Moelleux or Doux can age for decades.  The Sec or Demi-Sec have potential to age for 15-20 years.

This region is actually very cool and harvests are often late here, sometimes the latest in all of France falling into November. If a year is very cool more sparkling wine will be made as there is higher acid in the grapes, whereas in warmer years they will lean toward making more Vouvray.  The finest Vouvray’s are the product of Noble Rot much as Sautermes are.

Besides the cool temperatures, this area is also known for vineyards on cliff tops. The limestone cliffs below were often used for the harvesting of tuffeau rocks used to build Chateaux.  These caves that were created were then turned into cellars.  The entire area is situated on a plateau and most vineyards  face the river.

This is a food friendly wine, like Riesling and goes well with chicken, seafood, pork, soft cheeses, fruit and almonds.  The reviews of the 2010 Le Trois Argiles specifically recommended shrimp, crab or lobster…so…

I threw together a quick Scampi.  When I say quick, I mean take all the shortcuts because Michael just got home and is really hungry!  He tossed some langoustine ragoons in the oven along with the Par baked Ciabatta I had picked up.  I whipped up a salad with herb greens and pine nuts, threw on a pot to boil some linguine and got some butter into a pan on the stove.  We cheated and picked up frozen precooked shrimp, which we defrosted under cold running water and then tossed in olive oil with garlic and salt.  This was a quick cook when the butter was done and then we added a little of the Vouvray as well as fresh parsley.  This was a 15 minute meal.  As a result, the shrimp missed out on picking up lots of the flavors, but all in all it was a good match.  Next time it will be better.

The Vouvray was suggested to drink at 47 degrees, but we found that we enjoyed it more and more as it warmed over the course of the evening.  For me the nose was the spray as you cut into a fresh green apple.  It had beautiful acid that was not overpowering and made you want to go back for more and more.

It is my understanding that it goes beautifully with Turkey or Ham, sooo if your Christmas dinner has either on the menu, I suggest picking up a bottle.  Many very good Vouvray’s can be found between $15 and $20, so they are very affordable.

Shrimp Scampi, Salad, crusty bread and a Vouvray!

Shrimp Scampi, Salad, crusty bread and a Vouvray!

Wilson Creek, so much more than Almond champagne

Wilson Creek Sign Art in Oil

I will admit to a bit of snobbery.  I really had no desire to go to Wilson Creek in Temecula. I mean you find bottles of their Almond champagne in Long’s Drug Stores (well you did when they were around).  I figured how could they be creating wine I would like to drink?  Well… there is a lot more to them then the Almond champagne.

Wilson Creek is located at the far east end of Rancho California Road and it is rare that you will get there and find the parking lot not full.  While the grounds are huge and beautiful, a favorite for weddings and the buildings and event center large and impressive, this is still a family affair at heart.

Wilson Creek View

Wilson Creek View

Gerry and Rosie Wilson acquired the 20 acre vineyard in 1996 with the simple intent of running a fun family business and making great wine. With the entire family, children and grand children as well as 5 golden retrievers who can be seen often on property, they have succeeded in making this a family affair.

The Lower Garden is open to parties of 10 or less for picnicing. They just ask that you don’t come to camp!  No tents or shade covers, ice chests or animals and no outside alcoholic beverages.

The Creekside Restaurant offers a menu for lunch that can be enjoyed around the grounds.  You place your order at the Concert Stage and it will be delivered to you in the upper garden.  You can enjoy this in the lower garden also, but you will need to pick up your order.  The menu includes a variety of lunch items as well as a full wine list, beer and other beverages.

With their Event Center Wilson Creek stays busy with Corporate Events and private parties.  The Event Center includes 3 spaces that can accommodate 50-300 people each with a dance floor.  In addition they have two stages that can accommodate up to 400 guests.  Really this place can be party central for 6 or 7 large parties at time!

Bill Wilson is the son and owner.  He works with his Mom & Dad, Brother & Sister, Wife, brother in law & sister in law.  (Did I mention that this was a family affair?) Bill’s Mom and Dad can often be seen on the grounds with their two golden retrievers. They have 92 acres and grow 12 varieties on the estate and then source some grapes.  The varieties used in their wines include: Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Muscat, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Syrah and Zinfandel.  They also . When you listen to Bill you know that you are not dealing with a corporation, this is a joyful family affair.  They incorporated what they loved about the wineries they visited when they created Wilson Creek.  And it’s not just about their winery, they want to promote Temecula and encourage people to come and taste, enjoy and learn.  Listen to the great interview with him at http://www.temeculawines.org/videos/ and see exactly what I mean.

I didn’t think it was possible that Wilson Creek used Methode Champenois for their almond champagne, and I was right. There is no way they could do that and sell it at that price!  What I was surprised by, was that they do use the Charmat method which is fermenting the wine in bulk in stainless steel tanks!  The final method they actually refer to as “cheating” on their site.  In this method CO2 is injected into the wine.  Typically this method causes very large bubble that can cause Huge headaches!  They do not cheat at Wilson Creek.  They do, by the way have a wonderful section of their website on wine education called Wine 101 that Mick Wilson put together with fascinating information on Barrels, Port, Champagne, Wine Varietals and much more.  http://www.wilsoncreekwinery.com/Wine-101/Default.aspx

Wilson Creek Picnic View

Wilson Creek Picnic View

The next time you are in Temecula, drive all the way out Rancho California to Wilson Creek, taste some wine, stroll the grounds and say hello to the Wilson’s.  You will know them by the golden retrievers at their sides!