Wine with friends – A California tasting & pairing

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

Laetitia Brut Cuvee

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

Tablas Creek 2014 Vermentino

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

Margerum 2014 Riviera Rosé

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

Carhartt 2012 Pinot Noir

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

Carhartt 2012 Sangiovese

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

Tobin James 2009 Fat Boy Zin

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

Carol Shelton 2008 Black Magic

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

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

Wine Party with Friends

Wine Party with Friends

Wiens Reflection Vertical, wine tasting and pairings

Wiens Reflection Vertical

Wine is terrific, and when you pair it with food you can take it to another level.  Learning how to taste, decant and pair can be an exciting adventure.

The journey today is with a Vertical of three vintages of Wiens Reflections red blend.  There are differences because of the actual blends (they use different varieties of grapes each year), differences because of the climate in each year and then differences because obviously the older vintages have aged longer!  We taste the wines right out of the bottle and then decanted and watch as the flavors evolve. Then we pair them with meats cheeses and other foods and the flavors change again, enhanced (or not) by contrasting or complimentary flavors in the food.  It’s an exciting journey, join us and then try a tasting of your own! See original Post.

Reflection Tasting in Vertical from Wiens Family Cellars

Wiens Family Cellars was having a Vertical tasting of their Reflections red blends and we couldn’t go…so we put together a vertical of our own.  We had the 2008, 2010 and the 2011.  These are of course blends, so they are all a little different, so this a little different from a typical vertical.  Typically you would have a single variety of grape or a fairly set blend that you would be comparing from year to year.  You would get the differences in the climate and season that affect each year’s harvest.  You would also be able to see how the wine ages.  We were able to do those things, but the field for comparison was a bit more wide open.  Let me take a minute to give you the breakdown on these three vintages.

  • 2008 Reflection is 30% Sangiovese, 28% Barbera, 28% Merlot, 14% Petit Verdot  with Alcohol 15.1  and Residual sugar .6%
  • 2010 Reflection is 63% Sangiovese, 14% Cabernet, 14% Syrah, 9% Zinfandel with 14.5 Alcohol and .5 % residual sugar.
  • 2011 Reflection is 42% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot, 14% Zinfandel, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Primitivo, 2% Montepulciano, 2% Cabernet Franc, 2% Dolcetto with 12.5 Alcohol! and .2 residual sugar

So as you can see this blend is Sangiovese based, but that’s about where the similarities end.  This makes for a brilliantly exciting tasting!  At the winery they are doing “Reflections of the Decades” and they are tasting 6 of these wines, 2006-2011. We somehow can’t find the 2009 so I must have already enjoyed it!  At the winery they are doing a decade theme starting with the 60’s for the 2006.  I perused their pairings and then went back to the suggestions with the wines. We picked up some Spanish meats and cheeses (yes I know, I could have picked up Italian!).  We did a tasting upon opening and then let them breathe for a bit and tasted each with the meats and cheeses.  For the pairings we went a little out of order and cooked them for each course.  I know it sounds tough, but…we have Trader Joes.  So here’s the run down for the pairings:

  • 2010 Reflection with a goat cheese and basil pizza, to which we added a little sage and thyme.
  • 2008 Reflection with Eggplant Parmesan
  • 2011 Reflection with meat lasagna and a spinach salad.

Then we had chocolate cake for dessert and tasted it with all 3.

 

We found that the wines opened up quite a bit over the course of the evening.  I had e-mailed the winery to ask decanting recommendations.  Bob was kind enough to get back to me and suggested decanting the 2010 and 2011 straight down into a decanter on the counter top to add as much oxygen as possible.  For the 2008 he suggested carefully pouring it down the side of a tilted decanter to give it some space to gently open up.   Thanks Bob!  Unfortunately, I do not yet own a nice decanter.  So…we took the advice the best that we could.  We opened up the 2008 and gently poured into glasses and let it air.  The other two we got the aerator out and poured them through to add oxygen.  On to the tasting!

 

Frangipani, a piece of paradise on the De Portola Trail

Frangipani Winery

Frangipani…for me I immediately think of the musical “South Pacific”.  Frangipani is the word they use for plumeria the island flower that I grew up making leis with in Hawaii.  So…I envisioned a tropical paradise.  I thought, this winery must be owned by someone creating their own paradise.  Well…it’s a bit simpler than that.  The owner/winemaker is Don Frangipani.  He has however created his own piece of paradise here on the De Portola Wine trail.

We stopped by Frangipani on our final morning in Temecula on our last trip.  They had Sunday Brunch advertised on their website and it seemed like the perfect way to wrap up our trip.

Frangipani Dog Frannie

Frangipani Dog Frannie

We were greeting in the parking lot by “Franni” dog and greeter.  After getting a good scratch he led us to the door.  We were early (as usual) and it was pretty quiet when we arrived.  JoAnn Frangipani, Don’s wife set us up with Mango Mimosas with their house sparkling and pointed us to the buffet.  There were fresh muffins and pumpkin bread as well as bagels with lox. The cook made us fresh pulled pork benedicts and we enjoyed the granola fruit parfaits while we waited for that to finish.  Several groups came in while we were there.

Frangipani Patio

Frangipani Patio

They have an outdoor patio with a great view and bocce ball courts.  JoAnn says the patio stays pretty full in the summer.  We didn’t taste here as we were getting on the road to head home.  I look forward to coming back, tasting and enjoying the patio.  The atmosphere here is warm and friendly and JoAnn immediately makes you feel welcome and at home.

Frangipani View

Frangipani View

Don began working with wine in 1995 at Cilurzo Winery in Temecula.  He opened Frangipani in 2003.  He loves red wines and mixes classic French varieties of Petite Verdot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc with old world Italian styles.  They grow Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petite Verdot, Sangiovese, Grenache and Petite Sirah on their estate.

Europa Village, at Temecula CA

Europa Village corks

Europa Village winery endeavors to take you on a quick trip to Europe to enjoy the wines of France, Italy and Spain.  The gardens here are lovely and they have added a covered patio for large groups. They have a tasting room set up in a French café style plus a room set up like a cave for events.  The wines are under 3 separate labels C’est la Vie Chateau for the French wines including Syrah, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier and Savignon Blanc as well as En Vie which is a Rhone Blend of Grenache, Syrah, Counoise, Cinsault and Mourvedre. Bolero Cellars has the Spanish wines including a Muscat Canelli and Albarino and the Libido which is a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre and Tempranillo.  Lastly Vienza brings you the Italian varieties which include Sangiovese, Pinot Grigio, a Grenache Rose, Barbera, Primitivo and the Tuscan style blend Primazia which is Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Europa Village Patio

Europa Village Patio

Cave Music Event

Cave Music Event

There are no shortage of events here at the winery with Music on Friday nights, dinner plays, art events where you can learn to paint while sipping away, culinary classes with the chef from The Inn at Europa Village and wine pairing dinners.  We stopped in to see “Lady Truth” play the last time we were in Temecula.  Due to the cold weather everything was set up in the cave and they had wine by the glass or bottle plus there was a tent outside with a Panini vendor that you could order from.  When it is warmer I am sure that the patio makes for a stunning venue!

Europa Village Inn

Europa Village Inn

The Inn boasts 10 stunning rooms named after their wines, with most rooms enjoying a view of the winery below as well as a two-course gourmet breakfast each morning.  The Inn’s patio includes a fire pit and an eight person Jacuzzi.  You can wake up in the morning to watch the balloon tours float overhead, or get up a little extra early and take one of the Balloon rides yourself as they depart from the winery each morning.

This is a great place for a romantic getaway. Watch for Video Blog Entry coming Soon!

Due Forni – So much more than a pizza place

Due Forni Bar

In searching for great places to enjoy wine and food in Vegas you come across plenty of list of “Best Of”.  In a list of “Best Wine Bars” in Vegas I came across a name of an off strip restaurant that I had not heard of.  Due Forni specializes in pizza.  They have 2 special ovens to create Neapolitan and Roman style pizza.  Neapolitan has a soft heavy crust, while Roman is thinner and crisper and cracker like.  So you start with amazing crusts and then add amazing toppings like bufalo mozzarella, prosciutto, black truffle, roasted mushrooms or duck confit…  yeah…this place is awesome.

And…more than pizza they have amazing salads, appetizers and a mozzerella bar.

And…it gets better.  They have a series of Enomatic wine dispensers so you can get over 40 amazing wines by the glass.

And…the music here is upbeat Italian jazz and they have TVs playing classic “spaghetti westerns”.  There is a patio, dining room and bar and great atmosphere.

So on a cool (I’d say cold but those of you on the east coast would just laugh at me) and cloudy early afternoon, we headed out to give this place a try.

Duck Confit pizza in a Neapolitan style

Duck Confit pizza in a Neapolitan style

We headed straight in and sat at the bar.  I find the bar at lunch the place I am going to get the most information about the wines (and I got to stare at all those bottles in the Enomatic machines.  Then we started the process of staring at the menu.  We settled on the Duck Confit pizza in a Neapolitan style.  This pizza is topped with oven roasted duck, bufala mozzarella, fresh spinach, red onions and an over easy baked egg.  Then we turned to Annie at the bar for advice on pairing.  She suggested the Zenato Valpolicella Superiore 2009 and the Cavalchina 2009 Bardolina Chiaretto Rose.  Both of these wines come from the Veneto region of Italy, the home of Amarone.  It was really interesting to try the Valpolicella a deep red wine and the rose with the duck.  The Valpolicella had a lighter mouthfeel than I had expected, but the played nicely with the duck adding a richness.  The Rose was really lovely with it, the acid cutting through the fat of the duck and the egg.  So…both were great pairings!  We finished all of that off and then went back to the menu for more.

Semolina Gnocchi

Semolina Gnocchi

We chose to split the Semolina Gnocchi appetizer with smoked nueske’s bacon, peas and black truffle creme.  Michael looked for a Riesling on the menu (his favorite pairing) and chose the SA Prum Blue Slate Kabinette Riesling 2007 (he got to compare it to the SA Prum Essence he tried the other day).  I opted for the Pricipessa by Banfi Gavi 2011.  Again both paired nicely.  The Pricipessa cut through the fat in the gnocchi without simply cleaning my palate.  It mixed and added to the flavor of the gnocchi.

After that we were stuffed, but I look forward to going back and trying the Mozzarella bar and more of their amazing wines!  They offer tastings on the wines at 20% of the glass price.  They also have a selection of beers and list on the menu the option of buying the cooks a beer for a dollar!

Okay…now to geek out on the wines.

Valpolicella is made in the Veneto region of north-east Italy.  It’s signature tart cherry aroma has caused it to be thought of as Italian Beaujolais.  Typically these wines are light bodied and served at room temperature or slightly chilled and often sit at about 11% alcohol.  If they are labeled Valpolicella Superiore they must be aged for at least one year in oak and reach an alcohol level of 12%.

Valpolicella is made of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes.  Corvina is thought of as the best of these grapes and produces wines with more body than is typical of a Valpolicella, when the grape is grown on warmer, well-drained slopes.

Valpolicella

Valpolicella

The Zenato Valpolicella Superiore 2009 is 80% Corvina, 10% Rondinella and 10% Sangiovese all grown in Sant’Ambrogio di Valpoicella on a southeast facing hill. The soil here is chalky and calcareous and the vines are cordon trained and spur-pruned. There are 5,000 vines per hectare and the yield is 10 tons per hectare.  Hand picked in October the grapes are de-stemmed and macerated for 10 days in stainless steel fermenters (I warned you that I was going to geek out on the wines!).  They age this in Slovinian oak for one year.  While this wine is ready to drink now, you can also age it for a number of years.

Bardolina Chiaretto Rose

Bardolina Chiaretto Rose

The Cavalchina 2009 Bardolina Chiaretto Rose comes from the Cavalchina district.  Originally Chiaretto was the by product of the Bardolino Rosso.  This was the run off after maceration with the skins.  The harvest time for the Rosso was meant to keep the wine low acid, which is not ideal for roses.  Now the wines are made separately, with the grapes for the Chiaretto harvested 2 weeks before the Rosso.  There is a 24 hr maceration period followed by clarification and 15-18 days fermentation.  They avoid malolactic fermentation and leave the wine on it’s lees until it is bottled.  This wine has a lovely salmon color.

I gave you a little background on S.A. Prum with the  A Cloudy afternoon at the View  now Michael was getting to compare the SA Prum Blue Slate Kabinette Riesling 2007 with the SA Prum Essence.  This wine is named for the blue slate soil on the very steep slopes where it is grown.

I have been a Banfi fan for a while.  Several years ago I attended a wine pairing dinner where they served all Banfi wines.  It was a great experience and probably kick started me into the more intense love of wine that I have now.  So when Annie suggested the Principessa Gavia I was anxious to try it!

Castello Banfi has it’s winery in the Brunello region of Tuscany.  The vineyard is family-owned and they have sister estates in Piedmont, Vigne Regali and Principessa Gavi.  A bit of interesting history; the company is named after Teodolinda Banfi who was the first lay person ever to head the pope’s household staff.   Her nephew John Mariani, Sr was born in Connecticut in 1895, his father died when he was nine and he, his mother and siblings returned to live with his mother’s sister, Teodolinda. In 1919 John Mariani, Sr. opened Castello Banfi winehouse in New York.

The Principessa Gavi is 100% Cortese.  Cortese di Gavi is grown in the lower Piedmont region of Italy.

Due Forni is getting ready to open another location in Austin Texas.  Austin just doesn’t know how lucky they are!

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!

Wiens, Barrel Tasting Room

Wien's Front Entrance

We have long been members of Wiens Wine Club.

Wien's Barrel Room from main room

Wien’s Barrel Room from main room

On our first trip to Temecula it was the last stop of our second day and we loved their wines.   Not trusting ourselves, we went back the next day in the morning to be sure that our consumption of wine the day before had not swayed our thoughts and were reassured that these were wonderful wines.  So…we stop by whenever we are in Temecula but of course we are always there through the week and never had the opportunity to taste in the Barrel Room whichis open exclusively for members on the weekend.  So….since we had a weekend…..

Wien's Barrel Room

Wien’s Barrel Room

The barrel room is stunning, it is warm and intimate and Susan who poured with us felt free to give us lots of information.  We began our tasting with their new sparkling wine done in the traditional medod. The Chanson de Soliel (Song of the Sun) is a beautiful Blanc de Blanc that is 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir and it is done in a Brut style.  I got citrus and lime and a little yeast.  This is leaps and bounds above their Amour de L’Orange in style and sophistication.

Next we tasted the 2011 Solace which is a white blend with Roussane.  It had a dusty nose and nice acid. They mention camomile and lemon grass in their description and I definitely got that.

Now on to my favorite…the 2011 Verdelho.  Another one of those wines that you hear multiple pronunciations of it’s name.  I had been pronouncing it ver-DEY-ho but Susan said ver-DEL-oh, so I guess this ranks right up there with my learning curve for pronouncing Paso Robles (it’s ro-buhls), I was getting too fancy for myself.  Maybe that was just the tricky little joke that this wine started me out with to prime me.  This wine has all the tartness of a Savignon Blanc on the nose and lots of grapefruit ont he palate and it is completely “playful” as Susan put it and unexpected.  This wine also has pear on the nose and it is not overpoweringly tart or sweet.  When you take a sip it rolls up the center of your tongue and dissipates in the back of the palate.  It was enchanting and made me giggle!  I am infatuated with this wine.

We moved on to the 2011 Pinot Noir which is loamy on the nose like soil, green and earthy with good pepper and silky tannins.  It was cool in the mouth with cranberry and tart red fruit.  Yumm…

The 2011 Tempranillo-Petite Sirah Blend was plummy with strawberries and earth.  It was very smooth but had a thick mouth feel.  This is a lovely sipping wine that is warm in the mouth without being hot.  Complex with what felt like low tannins.

Now on to the Crowded (always one of my favorites) and the Reflection.  The 2010 Crowded is a blend of 38% Zinfandel, 26% Barbera, 18% Pinot Noir, 9% syrah, 6% Sangiovese, 3% Petite Sirah.  This leans Italian and is cool and smooth.  The Reflection Michael tasted more tannins.  I really enjoyed the Reflection (and look forward to drinking the 2 bottles that just arrived with the last wine club shipment).

Even though we were already feeling very VIP (there was a cheese tray on the side for everyone and Susan was taking very good care of us) Susan then went to pull a Cabernet Franc for us to taste.  This was cool with fresh black fruit and very soft tannins.  Like a well behaved Cab Franc this wild beast likes to nestle in velvet.

When we had entered the barrel room there were just a few people, by the time we left it was full, but still quiet and thoughtful.  Filled with people who really wanted to taste the wines and learn about them.  The public tasting room outside was packed when we left filled with people, who, if they like good wines, will soon be joining us as members.

Cougar Winery – Italian wines in the Temecula Countryside

Cougar Winery sign

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

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

Cougar construction

Cougar construction

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

Cougar tasting room

Cougar tasting room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baily Vineyard and Winery – Wines worth stopping for

Baily Vineyards Sign

We have been to Temecula several times and I have done lots of research on the area and one of the wineries that our radar just kept missing was Baily.  As you drive on Rancho California Road from Temecula it is on the left  just past Europa Village.

Baily Tasting room

Baily Tasting room

The grey stone building is dotted with vines and houses the tasting room as well as Carol’s restaurant.  This is one of Temecula’s oldest wineries and produces all Estate grown wines.

Baily Vineyards lion sculpture

Baily Vineyards lion sculpture

Walking in you notice the sculptures, the angels and gargoyles and then walking into the restaurant are greeted by a big warm fireplace, suits of armor and tapestries.  It’s a little medieval.  They also have a patio outside for al fresco dining, but the fire looked much better to us on this slightly chilly day.  I had a lovely Sangiovese rose with lunch.  They have Dog Day Sundays where they encourage you to bring your well-behaved pooch to enjoy lunch on the patio. They have music as well as a doggie menu!  Decorated for the holidays the tree was up and some of the gargoyles were wearing Santa hats.  They have a small stage in here for music. After lunch by the fire we headed into the tasting room.

I had no expectations here.  I had read brief descriptions on their website and other than that all I knew was that they had been producing wines here for 25 years.  We were welcomed to the tasting room and Bill took care of our tasting. Bill is full of great information on the Temecula Valley and the winery so we chatted it up during our tasting.

The Baily’s bought this property in 1982 and they mostly grow reds.  All the grapes are estate grown and their wines tend to be dry. They produce about 5,000 cases each year.  They do age in small oak barrels typically for 30 months which is a pretty long time.  The wines were smooth and well-balanced without being fruit bombs or being over-oaked. We tasted the 2010 Montage which is 56% Sauvignon Blanc and 44% Semillon.  This medium bodied white wine was rounded on the palate with a nose of lemon and lime and crisp granny smith apple.  This had been used in my pasta sauce at lunch and was very nice.  The Malbec is from newer self rooted vines planted in 2004.  This wine gave you berries with deep flavor and a long finish.  The 2009 Cabernet Franc was long and smooth and very well-balanced.   Lighter than most Cabernet Francs it had a hint of chocolate.  The 2009 Merlot was especially good and with a $20 price tag is a steal. The atmosphere the information and the wines will definitely bring me back here.  We will also try to stop by their other restaurants downtown.  Their son and daughter in law run Baily’s Elegant Dining and the Front Street Bar & Grill in Old Town.

So put Baily on your radar, these are wines worth stopping for.

 

Ponte Family Estate Winery, a Tour in Temecula, CA

We visited the winery earlier this year in February (see our previous blog post on Ponte here) and enjoyed lunch on the patio at the restaurant and then Fred gave us an astoundingly informative tour, and then a tasting with Michel in tasting room.  We recently planned a trip to Temecula, which we will be posting on shortly while researching our trip we came upon some lost information that we learned from our tour with Fred, an we though we would share.

Ponte Family Vineyard, Christmas 2012

Ponte Family Vineyard, Christmas 2012

Ponte Winery is in Temecula California, just northeast of San Diego.  The vineyard is located where it directly receives the maritime influences of the coast from the Rainbow Gap.  The soil structure here is coarse and poor.  This is ideal because you can then control exactly which nutrients you feed the vines. This nutrient mix is provided through irrigation once each year in March and the blend is different for each vineyard depending on the variety. With poor soil you don’t have to be concerned with nutrients already in the soil so it doesn’t interfere with the ideal nutrients for each grape.  Grape vines have an aggressive root structure, burrowing deep searching for ground water.  The water table at Ponte sits at 50 feet deep. Falker  (a winery down the road) did measurements to see how deep some of their 25 year old vines roots went and found that they went about 17 feet deep.  On the Ponte property are 10 acres 2 blocks of 5 acres each of Zinfandel and Sangiovese that were planted in 1960.  The roots on these over 50 year old vines go down 30 ft.  Eventually these roots will hit the water table and they will self irrigate.  Irrigation in wine country is not like in farm country, you are not looking for big juicy grapes.  Rather than watering daily they stress the vines by doing one 18 hour drip irrigation session once every 2 to 3 weeks. This keeps the grapes small and intensely concentrated.

While there is frost protection with fans and misters for the citrus groves that surround many of the vineyards, the vineyards are not concerned with frost protection as the season for frost is short enough that the vines are always dormant at that time. Bud break happens in March.  Winemakers and Vineyard Managers can tell which vine is which by the flowers in bud break.  By testing the flowers and leaves they can see how much nickel etc. is in the vine and that in turn helps to determine how to mix the formula for nutrients.

We tasted a Dolcetto that was exclusively Temecula. This juice is being staged for blending with material with Paso and Santa Barbara.  This was a tank tasting from of the stainless steel tanks out on the crush pad. It was still decidedly grape juice and was very tart, but you could taste the potential in it!

At Ponte they harvest during the night.  Sunlight affects the sugar levels of the grapes, causing the brix level to change throughout the day. To avoid this variable and have a uniform brix level you harvest at night.  After the grapes are harvested they go through the destemmer, are crushed twice and then the skin seeds and all are put into the large stainless steel tanks.  At Ponte they only process one type of grape at a time. After this comes the settling process where the grape juice settles for 3 to 5 days.  During that time skins rise to the top and seeds sink to the bottom.  The winemaker then checks the acidity etc to see how much yeast to add.  Then yeast is added and here begins the chemical reaction changing sugar to alcohol.  This generally takes 7-10 days for fermentation to be complete.  The winemaker stops at the alcohol level he has predetermined and then pumps off.  All of the skins and seeds sink to the bottom and workers scoop out this “must” which is then put back into the soil.

The barrel room is kept at 60 degrees.  All the red wines are aged here as well as the oaked Chardonnay’s. The Ponte Viognier is not oaked.  95% percent of the barrels Ponte uses are French oak that either come from Vosges near Alsace or Burgundy which is noted for it’s perfect white oak wood.  They have been experimenting with white oak from Hungary and Bulgaria and some American oak.  The difference between French oak and American oak is that the staves in Europe dry for at least 3 years, whereas in America they only dry for about a year and a half.  This creates a coarser product and more intense flavors.  The more aged the staves are the more subtle the flavors.

French barrels are expensive currently running $850 per barrel new.  Each barrel will be used for about 3 agings.  The wine maker earns their pay by also knowing which wines to age in new, medium and late oak to impart the exact flavors they are looking for.  You can tell a late oak barrel in the barrel room by the stain and seepage (angels share).  After the barrels have run their lifespan they are sold at $75 each to wine club members.  Each barrel weighs 100 plus pounds empty because the staves are so thick.  The majority of Ponte’s barrels are done at medium to light toast.  Their Syrah is done with a heavier toast and is probably their smokiest wine. About 80% of their barrels have light toast the rest are at medium toast and then winemaker blends. Each barrel holds 288 bottles or 24 cases of wine.

As the barrel room is kept at 60 degrees people often ask about how they can do events in there? When the barrels are backlit the room is really stunning.  They can warm the room for 1 night to 75 or 80 degrees and it won’t really affect the wine.  If however, it was held at that temperature 4 or 5 days….then you might have a problem.

We tried the 2008 Port out of the barrel.  This will be aged another year and it will release as a reserve port.  It is a Zinfandel port as most of their ports are, but they have made a Cabernet port in the past.  The port had a bit of a bite from the alcohol content, but with an additional year it will be stunning.  A port of this quality should run $85-$90 per bottle. But only their wine club will be lucky enough to get a shot at it!

The reserve room at Ponte is reserved for wine club members and is open on Saturday and Sunday to give wine club members a place to get away from the crowd.  They also do small plates menu.

The restaurant is open Friday and Saturday nights for dinner.  With the Tasting room closed at that time it’s quiet, you can see the stars and enjoy the noise of the romantic frogs.

In addition to the winery, tasting room and restaurant they recently opened the Ponte Vineyard Inn so you can stay in comfort right in the heart of Temecula Wine Country.

Ponte Inn, Temcula in oil

Ponte Inn, Temcula in oil

If you are in Temecula, I highly recommend both lunch and a tour.  Plan ahead and book a room at the Inn!

 

This weekend’s wine…Poggio all a Pietra

My weekend is different from most of yours.  It encompasses Wednesday and Thursday each week.  The great thing is that if we choose to go somewhere it is typically less crowded.  The downfall is that special events in the area typically happen on Saturday and Sunday, so we miss those.  But…as most of your weekends are yet to come, maybe I can share what I did over mine and inspire you for yours.

My weekend was nothing exceptional.  Lots of relaxing with Michael.  Thursday saw us at the Farmer’s Market in the morning, then off to see “The Decendents” and then a relaxing afternoon, reading, researching and playing on the computer and then a nice dinner and finally enjoying our new fire pit out back under the stars.

Before dinner, I heard Michael popping the cork on a bottle of wine, and waited to see what he was bringing out.  He had opened a bottle of Poggio alla Pietra Brunello di Sonoma from Petroni Vineyards.  We were lucky enough to visit Petroni last year while in Sonoma.  A co-worker and friend set up an appointment for us.  I must admit this was the first “appointment only” vineyard I had ever visited.  The grounds were lovely and Elizabeth the Tasting Room and Events Manager graciously greeted us and set us up out by the pool for our tasting.  We had a wonderful time and joined the wine club and the Poggio all a Pietra was one of the first wines we received.  This wine is a rich Sangiovese  made from the high intensity Sangioves Grosso grapes originally from Matalcino Italy.  It is aged in French Oak for 20 months.

We had picked up a quick to fix dinner of steak pinwheels filled with spinach and cheese, butternut squash risotto and asparagus spears in herb butter.  Fresh, healthy and quick from “Fresh and Easy” this romantic dinner for two was under $15, before the wine.  Normally I would not have steak with a Sangiovese, these tend to go best with pasta in a red sauce, but this wine is bigger and much more intense than your typical Sangiovese.  It paired nicely and was a joy to drink on it’s own.  You definitely get oak on the nose along with a coolness that I associate with Eucalyptus.  It was spicy and rich and deep without the big fruit kick.

If you find yourself in Sonoma, give them a call or visit them at the famous North Beach Restaurant in San Francisco.  The vineyards are beautiful and they also produce and outstanding Olive oil!  They are currently working on caves built into the side of the mountain under the vineyard.  On their website you can find a virtual flyover tour showing the steep terracing and the stunning location.