Sparkling Vermentino – “tears of laughter and joy”

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

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

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

Bonny Doon 2017 Sparkling Vermentino

Bonny Doon 2017 Sparkling Vermentino

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

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

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

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

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

The back label entertainment

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

Back label of the Bonny Doon 2017 Sparkling Vermentino

Pairings

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

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

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

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

Fish Tacos

Fish tacos to pair with the Bonny Doon Sparkling Vermentino

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

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

Ingredients

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

The fish

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

The rest

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

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

Fish tacos and the Bonny Doon 2017 Sparkling Vermentino

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

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

  • Bonny Doon Vineyards A Proper Claret
  • Bonny Doon beach

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Bubbles to start the day – at Gloria Ferrer

So we find ourselves on the Vista Terrace at the beautiful Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards. It’s a comfortable morning where the clouds have not yet burned off, so the view is soft and the vines look happy.  And it’s time to get down to some tasting.  5 flights were available on the list including the Winery Exclusive Flight which included 3 sparkling wines that were exclusive to the winery (you can’t purchase them anywhere else), a 90 Point flight of their sparkling wines that have been rated at 90 points or about, the Glorious Flight which comes with a chocolate pairing, a Pinot Flight and a Ferrer Family Passport which includes 3 still red wines.  There are other wines available by the glass.

We chose the Winery Exclusive Flight.  I mean why wouldn’t you?  If we can taste the other wines elsewhere, this was the flight to go with.  This flight included the 2009 Extra Brut, the 2013 Brut Rosé and the 2005 Carneros Cuvée.

2009 Extra Brut

This is a blend that is 67% Pinot Noir and 33% Chardonnay.  This is a “late disgorged” wine.  This wine cellar aged for 7 years.  The “late disgorging” enhances the bubbles.  This vintage, 2009 started mild, with ideal summer temperatures so the fruit was able to ripen and develop deep flavors.

With Green apple and brioche for your nose and then, citrus, honey and black cherry for your taste buds.

$50

2013 Brut Rosé

92% Pinot Noir and 8% Chardonnay. This wine has strawberry and brioche on the nose, Watermelon and peach on the palate with some ginger notes at the end.  This is a festive wine that is a real crowd pleaser.

$50

2005 Carneros Cuvée

53% Pinot Noir and 47% Chardonnay.  This is their flagship sparkling wine.  The 2005 vintage started out cool and wet with a late bud break.  The summer was sunny and dry and the temperature were mild going into harvest which meant more hang time between veraison and harvest.

This is made from the premium estate fruit.  It has 9 years en tirage, and 6 months on the cork.  It was indeed our favorite wine of the tasting. What is en tirage you ask? this is the French term for how long the wine rests in the bottle on the lees (the dead yeast sediment) from the secondary fermentation. This allows the flavor of the autolyzed yeast to develop in the wine.

This was my favorite from this tasting, with floral notes, apple, honey, ripe pear and a bit of mineral which keeps it clean even with it’s long finish.

$75

2014 Blanc de Blancs

We were lucky to taste the newest Blanc de Blancs their 2014.  It was a beautiful bright color and was crisp with green apples and pears and meyer lemon.  It had some lovely yeasty brioche and a creamy mouthfeel.

$50

In Addition we tasted the 2008 Royal Cuvée and the 2015 José Ferrer Chardonnay ($40).

2008 Royal Cuvée

The Royal Cuvée has a history.  The inaugural vintage of the “Royal Cuvée” was in 1987 and was first served to King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia of Spain when they visited California.

It is 67% Pinot Noir and 33% Chardonnay.  These grapes are handpicked and brought to the winery in small bins and only the first press of gentle whole-cluster press is used.  It ferments in stainless steel.  It is blended after 6 months then bottled and aged sur-lie in the wine caves for 7 years.  It is then disgorged and finished with a dry dosage and aged an additional 6 months before being released.

This has peach, ripe apple and honey on the nose with black cherry and pear on the palate.  It is bright and crisp with a hint of ginger at the end.

$37

2015 José Ferrer Chardonnay

The only still wine that we tasted, this 100% Estate Chardonnay, is whole cluster pressed very gently.  It is barrel fermented and aged in French oak with 25% of that being new oak, for 9 months.  They put a third of the wine through malolactic fermentation.  The barrels were stirred monthly for 6 months to mix the lees and create the full mouthfeel of the wine.

This wine had some tropical fruit and green apple, but what stood out to me was the spice.  When I described the wine at the tasting, my first thought was “spicy”.  This is not heat or pepper, but more baking spices.

$40

The wines were lovely.  On our next visit I look forward to tasting the olive oil also.  They have multiple tastings to choose from as well as experiences.  I was tempted by a flight that had a chocolate pairing.  They also have 3 guided tours daily that should be reserved in advance.  There are several other experiences: Pinot Journey, Bubbles and Bites, A Taste of Spain, Glassware Exploration, Gloria’s Wine Country Picnic and Reserve Tour that are available with advanced reservations.

This beautiful winery is definitely the perfect way to start a day in Sonoma. If you missed our post on some of the history of Gloria Ferrer, you can find it here Gloria Ferrer – A little history.

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

Flash tour Central Coast Wine Country and Beyond – Day 2 Sonoma

Gloria Ferrer Vineyard Carneros

We continue our 6 day journey through Central Coast Wine Country and a little beyond with Day 2, which is the beyond part.  After driving from Vegas to Santa Barbara and making our way up the coast through San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles, we ended Day 1 in Monterey.  Our 2nd day takes us to Sonoma.

Day 2 Monterey to Sonoma

Sky at Marina Dunes

Morning Sky at Marina Dunes

 

The sky was lit up beautifully behind the clouds as we headed out from Marina California, just south of Monterey in the morning.  We hit the road to make the drive to Sonoma.

Gloria Ferrer

We started the day with some bubbly at Gloria Ferrer in Carneros. The wine, the view, the gardens and the service all started the day off beautifully. We will do a detailed post on our tasting later…for now, just soak in some of the beautiful scenery and bubbles.

Viansa

This is the southern end of Sonoma and we made one more stop in the area at Viansa. The grounds here are beautiful and the views phenomenal. They are committed here to preserving the wetlands habitat that surrounds the vineyards.  After soaking up the views, it was time to head into the city of Sonoma.

Sonoma Plaza

We had time for a visit to the Sonoma Plaza to relax and watch the ducks and take in some of the art.

At the center of the plaza is the City Hall built in the early 20th century.  It was built with all 4 sides identical, so as not to offend any of the merchants and businesses on the surrounding square.  It has a beautiful duck pond on the corner where I rested soaked in the calm and enjoyed some of the wonderful large art pieces.

Corner 103

Now it was time to head across the street to Corner 103 where we had a 2pm Cheese Experience Scheduled. This is a great way to start a wine trip, they will guide you through a tasting of Corner 103 wines, paired with cheeses and help you to find our what your preferences are. Schedule in advance and allow at least an hour and a half. (And watch for an in-depth posting on our experience here)

Day 3 has us exploring Napa, more of Sonoma and taking a trip out to the Livermore Valley!  Come back for more of the trip!

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

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Natural Prosecco – Costadila Bianco Vino Frizzante da Tavola

Natural Prosecco

Of the wines that Mathieu told us about at the Farmers Market (the call of natural wine) I was initially most excited about the Natural Prosecco, the Costadila Bianco Vino Frizzante da Tavola from Italy.  I have been reading about Pet Nats and was curious about this wine of a similar style.

First…Pet Nats:  Petillant – Naturel, a natural way of making a sparkling wine.  Rather than adding yeast and sugar to create the secondary fermentation that creates the bubble in Champagne,  (Methode Champenoise) this method called Methode Ancestrale just allows the initial fermentation to finish in the bottle without any additions.  The lees (dead yeast) are left in the bottle where they settle to the bottom.  If you turn the bottle upside down it will make the wine cloudy (think Kombucha).

We opened this bottle on New Years Eve and I will admit, that while I was excited to taste it, New Years probably had me primed for bubbles.  The bottle was capped and had a plastic insert which popped out as soon as the bottle cap was released.  The wine itself was orange tinted and cloudy with savory bits on the nose.  The bubbles quickly dissipated, but the wine still retained that fizzy feeling on your tongue.  The nose was both familiar and strange and at first off putting (again, I think my brain was stuck in Champagne mode).  As the wine opened up, the nose rounded with a comforting waft of barnyard and a bit of warm wet leather.  In my mouth it sat like a light cider with warmth and tartness and a lingering hint of spices and that light tingling sensation on my tongue.

Costadila Bianco in the glass

Natural Prosecco Method Ancestral in the glass

This wine sneaks up on you.  You begin drinking it, contemplating it, and then quietly your mind drifts and you just continue comfortably enjoying it.  It’s like your most comfortable shoes or your favorite pajama’s, or like an old friend, the one you don’t dress up for, the one you don’t mince words with and often sit with comfortably in silence.

So, lesson learned.  I opened this bottle at the wrong time!  Everything has a place. This is not fireworks and New Years Wine, this is curl up in your favorite pj’s with your favorite movie that you are going to watch for the 30th time wine.

Check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on natural wines and details on the Farmers Market Wine Club!   You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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Sparkling wine or Champagne

In honor of #ChampagneDay…here is a little primer on Sparkling wines and Champagne that we put together as we planned our Sparkling pairing for our Crushed Grapes and Open Minds Event.

The Sparkling Wine

As we planned for our Crushed Grapes and Open Minds event we knew that we wanted to begin with a sparkling wine.  Bubbles are celebratory and a great way to get an event off to the right start.  We also knew that with our sparkling wine we would serve it in glasses rather than flutes, which would not keep the bubbles as much, but would allow guest to smell the aromas behind the wine. We looked at many different sparkling wines, and it was important to me to find something with some yeast or bread on the nose, to give us a chance to talk about how Sparkling wine is made in the traditional Champenoise method.

Quick lesson on Sparkling wine:

There are two methods of making a sparkling wine. One is the “Charmat” or “Tank” Method, the other is Methode Champenoise.

The Charmat Method

The Charmat method is a less expensive way to make a sparkling wine. The secondary fermentation (the one that causes the bubbles) is done in a large pressurized tank instead of in the bottle. Because you can only get 2-4 atmospheres of pressure in this way, the bubbles tend to be larger. Prosecco and Lambrusco are made in this way.

Methode Champenoise

Methode Champenoise or Methode Traditionnelle is more expensive because it is more labor intensive. This starts by making a base wine then adding sugar and yeast to the bottle which starts a secondary fermentation. The bottles are placed in riddling racks, which tip the bottle slightly upside down allowing the lees (the dead yeast cells) to collect in the neck of the bottle. You know that Veuve Clicquot Champagne? Well Madame Nicole Barbe Clicquot was the inspiration behind riddling racks. She hated the cloudy look of champagne, because at the time the lees would settle in the bottom of the bottle and when your poured it, it would get all cloudy (think Kombucha). So she had these racks created which would hold the bottles at a forty five degree angle with the neck down. Several times a week, workers go in and turn the bottle, in some cases giving it a small shake to make sure the lees are not caking or clinging to the glass. Then they freeze the neck of the bottle so that they can “disgorge” the plug of lees that has settled in the neck of the bottle. They then refill the empty space in the bottle often adjusting the sweetness in the process and cork and cage the wine. Because these wines do the secondary fermentation in the bottle (the big heavy champagne bottles) the pressure is higher, at 6-7 atmospheres of pressure which is what gives you those very small fine bubbles.

Popping a champagne cork!

Popping a champagne cork!

Sweetness levels in Sparkling wine

Yep, this can be confusing. Dry is not really dry. Typically in a wine, dryness is dependent on the amount of residual sugar in the finished wine. In the fermentation process, yeast eats the sugar, in the end, if it eats all the sugar you get a dryer wine, if there is sugar left over…well that is the residual sugar! In Sparkling wines dry comes in the wrong place for my brain on the sweetness scale. Here we go with our rundown of wine sweetness.

This is from Sweetest to driest:

Doux: Sweetest (this will give you over 2 teaspoons of sugar for each glass)

Demi-Sec: a little less sweet (only 1 to 2 teaspoons of sugar per glass)

Dry: Not REALLY dry (3/4 to 1 teaspoon of sugar)

Extra Dry: Well, it’s dryer than dry! (1/2 to ¾ teaspoons)

Brut: Now we are getting dryer (1/4 to ½ teaspoons of sugar)

Extra Brut: Dryer than Brut with (less than ¼ teaspoons of sugar)

Brut Nature: Okay here we go…this is the driest! (less than 1/6 teaspoon of sugar in a glass)

This is important to keep in mind, because unless you go to a great little wine shop where they are smart and knowledgeable, it is unfortunately likely that they will point you in the wrong direction on the dryness scale. (toss this info in your phone for when you go champagne shopping!)

We narrowed our choices to a California Sparkling Wine, a Cremant, and a Champagne and brought them home for a tasting.

The Finalists

3 sparkling wines

Three sparkling wines, Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut, Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne and Champagne AJ de Margerie a Bouzy

The California Sparkling wine was a Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut

I picked this one up because the description said “crisp” and “toasty”. This wine was hand-harvested Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (traditional Champagne grapes) from Sonoma County in California and specifically in the Carneros District. Carneros is the lower part of the Sonoma/Napa Region, closest to San Francisco. They have over 40 selections of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay planted on their estate. This gives them some diversity in the grapes they are harvesting to create a consistent cuvee. With sparkling wines a Cuvee is a non-vintage blend, which means multiple years can be blended together. That means a warmer vintage can be blended with a cooler vintage to make a cuvee that matches the one you put out last year. So year after year, customers can be sure that the wine will taste the same. This blend is mostly Pinot Noir, which has little skin contact so that you don’t get any pink in the wine.

Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut

Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut

Louise Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blanc

The nose on this said ”aromas of citrus and flowers, evolving into butter and brioche notes with age”.

So lets start with the “Blanc de Blanc” part. That indicates that it is a sparkling made from white grapes (blanc is white, so white of white). In this case it is mostly (85%) Chardonnay.

Now the “Cremant” .Cremant (“cray-mont”) is a method champenoise sparkling wine that is made outside of the Champagne region. It can be made from grapes other than the traditional Champagne grapes. It originally indicated that the wine was less fizzy or bubbly than Champagne.

Onto the “de Bourgogne” part…so the region this wine is made in is Bourgogne (Burgundy), a region known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne

Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blanc

Champagne A. J. de Margerie a Bouzy Grand Cru

This wine is from the Champagne region and is 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay. The tasting notes said “Dry, cherry, berry, toast”.

It is from the famed Bouzy is a village in the Montagne de Reims Region of Champagne where Pinot Noir is mostly grown (there you go with why it’s 90% Pinot!)

Champagne AJ de Margerie

Champagne AJ de Margerie a Bouzy

And the winner is…

So we tasted and they were all very nice, but the Champagne had the bread I was looking for on the nose. It wasn’t quite toast and brioche was not a term that I felt would resonate with people. As I continued to smell the visual of hamburger buns came to me. When I mentioned this to Michael, he immediately could smell it. We had our sparkling wine.

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The Pairings for the Party

So now we had our Sparkling wine.  Time to move forward with the pairings!  Since we wanted to “Open Minds” to the aromas and then the emotions that the aromas brought with them, we wanted to set up scent jars, to let our guests compare the scents that they might be getting in the wine with the real thing.  We also needed a food pairing, something to munch on that would spark conversation and of course the art.

The Aromas

The aroma jars with this wine were cherries, berries and hamburger buns.  As cherries were not in season, I picked up a bag of frozen cherries and defrosted them.  Our berries were blueberries, cut strawberries and blackberries.

So why do you smell berries when this is a white wine?  Well, Champagne is typically made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  They do very little skin contact so you don’t get the red color from the Pinot Noir grapes.  So the berries and cherries you smell come from the Pinot Noir as this is a 90% Pinot Noir Champagne.

And the hamburger buns…that would be the dying yeast.  The yeast is eating up the sugar in the wine making it ferment, much like what it does to make bread rise.  So you get that yeasty/bready nose, which on this wine hit me as hamburger buns.

Hamburger Buns

Hamburger Buns

The Food Pairing

Champagne can often seem pretentious, being paired with caviar and fancy things, but it’s really a beverage about celebrating..  The Champagne maker at Laetitia in San Luis Obispo says that his favorite pairing with Champagne was popcorn. So we had movie theatre popcorn and potato chips to pair.  Champagne is really the perfect pairing for food, going great with salt & fat.  Salt & fat are delicious, but the fat will coat your tongue and block up your taste buds, and the salt makes you thirsty.  The bubbles in Champagne are perfect for clearing all the fat of your tongue and quenching your thirst making every bite taste as good as the first.  So, when it doubt as to what to pair with a meal?  Go with something sparkling!

Buttered Popcorn or Potato chips are a great pairing for sparkling wines.

Buttered Popcorn or Potato chips are a great pairing for sparkling wines.

The Art Pairing

RuBen’s Painting for this wine evoked a warmth that for me brought out the bread on the nose.  The painting was bright but also warm and comforting and there was texture on the canvas evoking the texture and bubbles in the Champagne.

Champagne

RuBen’s spectacular interpretation of our Champagne – Act2Art by RuBen

What people had to say

We asked our guests for their thoughts, maybe a memory or phrase that came to mind as they smelled and tasted the wine, smelled the aroma jars, tasted the pairing and gazed upon the art.  Here were some of their thoughts…

A perfect first date.

happy – like a picnic in an apple orchard

a field with dandelions and fresh grass

early summer

A beautiful sun shower in late April, early May

movement of life

crisp pears – a cool spring afternoon

 

Of course after the Champagne it was time to move on to the Sauvignon Blanc.  Join us back here for more on that!

Note to wine geeks, I’m kinda excited about a new book coming out called “But First, Champagne: A Modern Guide to the World’s Favorite Wine”. It’s by David White (of the Terroirist the wine blog) with a forward by Ray Isle (of Food And Wine Magazine) and promises to be a perfect book for both the newbie and the longtime Champagne lover. It is available for pre-order on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/But-First-Champagne-World%C2%92s-Favorite/dp/1510711449 and will be coming out in about 8 weeks.

For more on Champagnes here is another blog post Sparkling Wine, Champagne and those tiny bubbles

Oh and for this event I perfected my method of opening Champagne bottles!  Want to look extra cool and professional opening Champagne?  Do want I did and follow Madeline Puckette’s advice!  Visit her blog Wine Folly and check out “How to Open Champagne Safely”

Check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on the details on the wines we paired with the Art and our Crushed Grapes and Open Minds Event!   You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

And you can find RuBen and his gorgeous art at Act2Art or on Facebook

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Wine with friends – A California tasting & pairing

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

Laetitia Brut Cuvee

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

Tablas Creek 2014 Vermentino

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

Margerum 2014 Riviera Rosé

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

Carhartt 2012 Pinot Noir

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

Carhartt 2012 Sangiovese

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

Tobin James 2009 Fat Boy Zin

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

Carol Shelton 2008 Black Magic

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

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

Wine Party with Friends

Wine Party with Friends

Clos Pepe, early morning picking Pinot Noir

Clos Pepe Vineyard

On and early Foggy morning in Santa Barbara, were able to film our first Harvest experience at Clos Pepe Winery.  We were looking for someplace to shoot harvest shots at night or in the morning while in Santa Barbara County. We contacted Morgen, the Executive Director of the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association to help in our search.  She guided us to Clos Pepe Winery who was harvesting a small block of Pinot Noir for a Sparkling Wine project for Flying Goat Cellars.  See a little of our adventure in the early morning fog in the video.

We pulled up in the dark in front of Clos Pepe. I texted Morgen, “the gate says no trespassing, should we go in?”  “Yes by all means” she texted, “I’ll be there soon.”  Morgen is the Executive Director of the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association and she had sent me a message the day before.  We were looking for someplace to shoot harvest shots at night or in the morning while in Santa Barbara County.  It seemed the Sav Blanc in Happy Canyon was already being harvested and everything else was holding until after labor day.  Morgen had been able to find something and sent a message saying to meet her at 5:45 am at Clos Pepe to harvest for a little sparkling project they were working on.

We pulled through the gates and parked by the house and waited for Morgen.  Michael headed down to get some photos, trying to stay out of the way.  When Morgen arrived she asked if I was going to pick.  This took me a little off guard, I would be happy to, I said, but I had never picked before and didn’t want to be in the way or slow things down.  Nonsense, she said and guided me down to meet Wes Hagen the winemaker at Clos Pepe.  Wes proceeded without hesitation to hand Morgen and I gloves, clippers, a headlamp and a bucket and briefed us on how to harvest.

We were harvesting early in the day beginning in the dark.  This has multiple benefits 1st it’s cooler, this makes those picking happier and the grapes happier.  The grapes will be cooler and firmer and the sugar levels will be lower and more stable.

It was late August, just the beginning of harvest season.  We were harvesting pinot noir. This pinot was at about 20 brix, so lower than a typical Pinot harvest because this Pinot was headed for a sparkling wine project for Norm Yost at Flying Goat Cellars.

In harvesting we were looking for full ripe bunches, but in this harvest we were not skipping unripe fruit.  Any green or pink berries could be knocked off or if the bunch was too green it could simply be dropped.  The idea was to pick the row clean leaving no fruit behind. We were also looking for botrytis.  Botrytis cinerea known as botrytis bunch rot by those in the vineyard, but others in horticulture call it gray mold. This comes in 2 forms: “Grey rot” which is the result of consistent wet or humid conditions and “noble rot” which is when wet conditions are followed by dry.  Noble rot can create beautiful desert wines like Tokaji or Sauternes.  Any botrytis that we found was to be pulled out or dropped.

The harvest team we were on was only setting out to harvest 3 rows of Pinot Noir.  We were hand picking and only looking for around 4 bins of grapes for this sparkling project.  Each of the bins were half ton so we were looking for about 2 tons. Our team was about 15 people and we finished 2 rows in about 2 hours.  It was a good harvest, most of the bunches were evenly ripened and 2 rows filled the 4 bins.

As we picked we made sure to keep our buckets  free of MOG (material other than grapes).  Also the clippers should never hang on the side of the bucket.  If the clippers fall in, they could end up in the bin and then in the crusher, which could ruin a very expensive piece of equipment.

We clipped away, first finding the bunches in the light of our headlamps, then turning the headlamps in as the sun rose to light the vines for us.  The early morning fog misted our hair and the drip irrigation dripped on our knees as we tucked in to find the ripe berries.  I worked what Wes refers to as “my agricultural muscles”.  As I tried to fill my orange bucket, I would periodically turn to find it empty again, as the bucket guys stealthily emptied it without my even knowing.  There was little that was green and only bits of botrytis that I came across.  These were firm tight bunches, sometimes they were wrapped around the vines or wires making it difficult to free them, but all in all it was beautiful fruit.

We worked the rows following the tracker the was hauling the bins.  As the sun came up the large lights on the top of the tracker were turned off.  Two people rode on the sides of the bins, doing a second sort for MOG and Botrytis as the buckets were dumped in.

By the time we reached the end of the row, the bins were full and the sun was up.  We walked back down the rows checking for any missed fruit.  It was my first harvest and while it was only 2 hours and 2 rows, I could not have asked for a better place.  What could be better than picking Pinot Noir in the Santa Rita Hills on a gorgeous morning in late August.  Thank you Wes and Clos Pepe for an amazing experience.

Remember, “Every grape wants to make wine”

See more of Wes in his Blog very informative. Visit Clos Pepe Site

Santa Barbara Wines- the Highlight Reel!

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural Central Coast Wine Country

We are back from our trip to Santa Barbara County and Paso Robles and I wanted to quickly get the highlights out and give some shout outs to people and places that made this an exceptional trip.

Pierre Lafond Wine Bistro SB

Pierre Lafond Wine Bistro SB

We started the trip in Santa Barbara, walking the beach, exploring the murals in the funk zone and then heading up to beautiful State Street for lunch and a flight at Wine Bistro Pierre Lafond.  This beautiful café has great sidewalk tables that let you take in the romance that is State Street while enjoying great food and wine.  There is great history here, more about that in a later blog.

 

Grassini Tasting Room

Grassini Tasting Room

Our next stop was Grassini Family Cellars.  This winery is located in Happy Canyon and they specialize in Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Their tasting room is located in the historic El Paseo shopping center near Au Bon Climat and Margerum.  This is a beautiful space and Katie Grassini stopped in while we were there and we had a wonderful conversation about their wines, the winery and the sustainable practices they are using there.

 

Carr SB Tasting Room

Carr SB Tasting Room

From there we headed off the beaten track a little to Carr and we tasted through their line up.  The space here is a converted Quonset hut giving it a feel of the inside of a barrel.  They also have wines available here on tap.

 

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

Now it was back into the Funk Zone proper to AVA Santa Barbara, previously known as Anacapa Vintners.  This beautiful tasting room features wines from each of the Santa Barbara AVA’s.  On the entire wall behind the tasting room bar you will find a huge Elkpen mural that shows the AVAs and describes the climates, soils and topography.  They have soil samples on the counter to look at and the staff is incredibly knowledgeable.  For wine geeks that get into the soil and climate this is heaven.

To finish our day we headed down to Stearns Wharf to Conway Family Wines Deep Sea Tasting Room.  This beautiful tasting room is on the 2nd level on the Wharf with beautiful views of the coast and the ocean.  Their Deep Sea Wines are made with coastal grapes.  Shout out to Lauren for a great tasting!

Conway's Deep Sea Winery

Conway’s Deep Sea Winery

 

We finished the day with some sunset shots followed by dinner on the end of the Wharf at Santa Barbara Shellfish Company…tiny and perfect!

Santa Barbara Shellfish Co.

Santa Barbara Shellfish Co.

 

Just before bed I realized I had a message from Morgen McLauglin from the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association, she had been searching to see if anyone was harvested so we could go get some harvest shots.  Well she found a small harvest happening at none other than Clos Pepe.  So we were up early the next morning to meet her at the vineyard at 5:45.

Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills

Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills

This unexpected boon turned out to be so much more than we expected.  Michael jumped in getting shots and Morgen and I chatted and she walked me down to meet Wes Hagen, the winemaker.  Wes handed us gloves, clippers, a bucket and a head lamp and directed us on the finer points of harvesting pinot noir.  The harvest was for a sparkling project that he was working on with another winery. We spent about 2 hours helping to harvest 2 rows of beautiful tight clusters of pinot noir and watching the sun come up.  And…we were lucky enough that Wes invited us to tag onto a tour and tasting he was doing later that day.

 

Vines at Carhartt

Vines at Carhartt

After a quick cleanup and breakfast at Succulent in Solvang, we headed to Carhartt for a winery tour with Joe the new Wine club manager.  We got to see all the new buildings the harvest prep and then head up to the ridge to see the vineyards as well as the newly planned vineyard site.

 

Saarloos & Sons

Saarloos & Sons

We headed back into Los Olivos for a little wine and dessert!  “Enjoy Cupcakes” has cupcake flights available daily to pair with Saarloos and Sons tastings.  If you are here on a weekend, this is really something you shouldn’t miss.

We managed to have time for one more shared tasting at Presqu’ile.  This is a stunning tasting room that they unfortunately closed after Labor Day.  Don’t be too sad though, they have a tasting room open at their new winery in Santa Maria.  Everyone I have spoken to says the new winery is beautiful.  The wines here I found to have a unique flair which seems to come from their winemaker.  I look forward to stopping by the winery on our next trip.

At this point it was time to head back out to Clos Pepe.  I will have an entire post about our visit here.  Wes Hagen opens his mouth and fascinating facts fall out.  The wines were spectacular and the information and knowledge shared was beyond expectations.  If you are in the area and love wine, you should schedule a visit with Wes.

We ended our day in the world’s tiniest tasting room at Carhartt’s which becomes quite the gathering spot at the end of the day.  They are open an hour later than the other tasting rooms and end up being quite the industry gathering spot. And then caught a light dinner at Avant in Buellton.

 

Hilliard Bruce

Hilliard Bruce

The next morning we were off to Hilliard Bruce.  As I was tweeting about our upcoming trip, I had a tweet from them saying, “If you can, you’ve got to see the canopy management at Hilliard Bruce Vineyards at least once before you die.”  Well with an offer like that…  So we went.  This is a mind bogglingly beautiful property.  John Hilliard and Christine Bruce are both Certified Master Gardeners and they love their plants.  The entire property is beautifully landscaped and truly, the canopy management is beyond anything you will see anywhere else.  Again, you will get an entire blog post on this exceptional property, but let me say that between the wine, the property and the people this was really an amazing visit.

Lots more fascinating details to come as well as photos and video!

Sparkling Wine, Champagne and those tiny bubbles

Champagne-splash

 

I had the opportunity to go to a Sparkling wine tasting last month.  Michael doesn’t do the sparkling wines so off I went on my own.  The tasting was seated and set up like a class and I did my research ahead of time to brush up on sparkling wines and learn a bit more.  I was prepared to travel the globe tasting Espumante from Portugal, Cava from Spain, Franciacorta, Trento and Asti from Italy, some Champagne and Cremant from France and maybe even some Sekt from Germany or Austria!  This tasting however drifted only briefly outside of France with the start being a Cava, the well known Rondel.  Not what I was expecting, but pretty spectacular none-the-less and as a result I probably tasted a great deal more champagne than my ticket price allowed for!

So…some sparkling wine basics to start with.  The bubbles were first looked at as a flaw, but the Brits got a taste and liked it!  During the 17th century the English glass production used coal ovens rather than wood like the French and were able to create a more durable bottle that could better withstand the pressure in sparkling wine.  Prior to this it was not unusual for a cellar to loose 20-90% of their bottles to instability.Champagne splash

How did it get to England and hook the Brits you ask?  Well Champagne is a cold region and sometimes the fermentation process would be prematurely halted due to the cold temperature leaving dormant yeast and some residual sugar in the bottle.  They would box up the wine and ship it to England, where it would warm up and begin a second fermentation in the bottle and thus when opened in jolly old England it would be bubbly!

There are two methods of making Champagne or sparkling wine.  The first is the Methode Traditionnelle and the second is Charmat.  Let’s hit the 2nd first because it is quick and easy to explain.  In this method the Champagne is made in large tanks and CO2 is added to add the bubbles.  This method is used for less expensive sparkling wines.  The bubbles tend to be larger and “rule of thumb”, the larger the bubbles the bigger the headache.  These bubbles tend to disperse quickly also.  Now onto the more complicated method “Methode Traditionnelle”

The Traditional method “Methode Traditionnelle” is much more complicated and time consuming and therefore much more expensive.  After harvest the grapes are put in vats for the first fermentation which can be up to a year.  Then the wines are carefully blended and may be blended with previous years wines to create the house style.  This is known as assemblage.  The idea for French champagne makers is to create a champagne that is consistent from year to year.  After assemblage the liquer de tirage is added.  This mixture of still wine, sugar and yeast is what will trigger the second fermentation.  The wines are then bottled and capped (with simple bottle caps (anyone remember those?).  Then the 2nd fermentation begins and can take 10 days to 3 months.  After the 2nd fermentation the next step is Remuage.  The bottles are transferred to “pupitres” which are rectangular boards where the bottles can rest almost upside down.  This allows the lees and sediment to collect in the neck of the bottle.  A process known as “riddling “ is applied here.  Originally “Riddlers” would slowly turn the bottles, a bit of a turn gently each day to get all the sediment to settle in the neck, now there are machines that assist with this.  After the riddling the wine will be aged again on its lees for a minimum of one year for non-vintage champagnes and at least 3 years for vintage champagnes.  This aging allows the lees to breakdown which is what gives Methode Traditionnelle sparkling wines their bouquet and flavor.  But we are not done yet…you don’t want all that lees clouding up your beautiful sparkling wine!  The next step is Degorgement where the sediment is removed.  The neck of the bottle is put into a nitrogen solution to freeze it.  Then the bottle is opened and the solid frozen plug of lees is removed.  How in the world did they figure out how to do this?  Well for this tradition thanks the Veuve Clicquot.  Veuve in French is widow and Madame Clicquot’s husband died during the bottling process.  Legend says that she could not figure out how to get the lees out of the bottles and in her frustration threw them out into the snow, where….the necks froze first allowing them to easily remove the lees.  The final stage is to add more sugar and still wine to again fill the neck where the lees was removed.  This last “dosage” as it is called, determines the wines sweetness which goes from Brut to Sec.  Strangely enough, Extra dry is not as dry as Brut.  The Brut labels were added later to indicate a dryer wine.  So there you go the quick version of making Champagne.  It is a bit of work!

ORondel Cava Brutkay on to the tasting.  We began as I mentioned with a Rondel Brut Cava.

This is a great sparkling wine from Spain made in the Methode Traditionnelle.  It is lovely on it’s own or in mimosas and is exceedingly affordable at around $7.99 per bottle.  We tasted a Brut which was lovely, but it is also available in a Demi-Sec if you lean toward sweeter wines.  I picked up a Demi-Sec to take home for Michael to mix in Mimosas.

Our next wine was a Cremant de Bourgongne.  So…a little explanation.  As of 1985 the sparkling wine regions outside of Champagne in Loir, Alsace and Burgundy agreed to no longer use the term Champagne.  This would be reserved only for the Champagne region.  Instead they would now use the term “Cremant”.  Cremant de Bourgogne can by law only be made with  Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grown in the Burgundy region and must be aged for a minimum of 9 months.  The Cremant we tasted was a Louis Bouillot Brut NV.  This was creamy yet dry with a nice finish.  At $15.99 it is a great value.

Now we stepped into Champagne.  The first we tasted was a Paul Goerg Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs.  Goerg is names after a respected 19th century Mayor of Vertus.  The chalky soils of Vertus lend a refreshing mineral quality to this wine.  3 years of aging adds to the wine’s complexity.  I loved the bubbles in this.  The bubbles were very fine and refreshing and the bit of minerality made it very refreshing.  It also had a lovely floral note to the nose.  Blanc de Blancs means white from whites in French, and as such this wine is 100% chardonnay (a white grape).  This was the wine I took home with a sensible $29.00 price tag.

Our next venture was into Grower Champagnes.  Now I have been hearing about these and was anxious to taste one!  To give a little perspective on this style of Champagne it’s good to know that there are 261 Champagne houses in Champagne.  There are 19,000 growers.  So for a grower to produce a Champagne is a rare thing.  We tasted a Georges Vesselle Grand Cru Brut.  There are 17 Grand Cru Villages with 100% ratings, 38 Premiere Cru Villages with 90-99% ratings and the remaining villages in Champagne are rated at 80-89%.  The ratings are depended on the Village and the soil type there.  This changed the system from one where price was based on the Champagne house to one based on where the grapes were grown. This wine was a bit toastier and had a nutty creamy quality to it.  This particular grower is in Bouzy and it is a small production with 42 acres planed n 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay.  It is a small family production.  This wine sells for around $40 per bottle.

The next wine was by the same grower and was a DeMargeire Grand Cru Burt Rose.  Champagne roses are like regular roses in that they can be made in two ways, you may allow the grapes to have contact with the skins early on to impart the pink color and some additional flavor or you may add pinot noir (or pinot meunier) in the final dosage.  This wine uses the former method and is a light salmon in color.  As with many roses you immediately get strawberry on the nose.  It had a lengthy finish and more than a little toast on the nose.  Roses are only about 3-5% of the Champagne Export so they are a little harder to come by.  This one retails at around $43.

From here we moved on to a Franck Bonville Grand Cru Vintage Brut. (I know there were a lot of wines to taste!).  This estate consists of 50 acres in the  Cremant, Aviz and Oger areas which are all classified as Grand Cru.  It is 100% Chardonnay and was aged for 5 years on it’s lees before release.  This was heavier on the yeast and had more light fruit.  It was medium in body.  More complex than the previous wines.  It goes for $49.99

The last of our dry Champagnes was Mailly Exception Blanche.  This wine is 100% Chardonnay.  This champagne will be great through 2022. It has flavors of tangerine and almond with a hint of minerality.  The bubbles are fine and the texture smooth.  This lovely Champagne will set you back $70.

Our final taste (well of Champagne) was a Mailly Delice Demi-Sec Grand Cru.  As a Demi-Sec it is sweeter so we finished with it.  It is 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay.  It is a blend of the latest harvest with 40% being 10 years of reserve wines.  It is aged 2 yeas more on the lees than the Brut NV.  The extra aging makes this a fuller champagne.  It runs around $45 per bottle.

champagne glassesWe finished the night with some Georges Deboeuf As it was the 3rd Thursday of November and officially Beaujolais Nouveau day!  This seasons had hints of grape candy to me.  Reminded me of the tart smell of the Lik a Stik powdered candy.  Fun and fruity it is a gulping wine!  What a down to earth way to end the evening of sipping Champagnes!

So…I have a new understanding of Champagnes.  Time to make some Bellini’s and Caviar!  And Champagne and sparkling wines go with everything, so…If you don’t know what wine to take to that Thanksgiving dinner… pick up something with bubbles (smaller bubbles to make your head happier) it will go with everything and is bound to bring a smile!

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Wines that I can’t forget, part one

Michael and I do quite a bit of wine tasting on our vacations.  As you know if you have read our blog before, we love to visit wineries taste and get the feel of a winery.  Often you can get caught up in the moment (and the wine) and join a club or buy several bottles to take home.  On other occasions if you have flown in and it’s the wrong time of year to have wine shipped, you go home empty handed.  Today I want to explore the wines I remember and still want and maybe some of the why’s to that.  Was it the location, the people, the wine itself or a combination.

I started this by just going through by memory of some of the wines that as we traveled and tasted stood out to me.  Wines that I want to drink again.

Stoller Tempranillo,  Lange Pinot Noir,  Hart Family Vineyards Syrah and Chardonnay,  Argyle Black Brut,  Longoria Lovely Rita,  Grgich Hills Fume Blanc,  Carhartt Pinot Noir,  Tablas Creek Vermentino,  Terry Hogue Syrah,  Vino Robles Petite Sirah,  Lone Madrone The Will,  Veritas Cabernet Franc, Wildhorse Unbridled Bien Nacido Pinot Noir and Trisaetum Riesling.

As you can see the list is long and this is just me quickly running through this in my brain, not going back (as the wine geek in me so desperately wants to) and scanning all the wineries that we have tasted at in all the different areas we have tasted.  You will also note that I didn’t include  years.  I’m trying to keep my list short and I would have to research to remember the years and that would make my list grow!  So we will try to keep this simple. I have a list of 15 wines that off the top of my head I loved and want to drink again.  My list leans toward Syrahs and Pinots and then expands to many different varietals and includes a blend.  So….with a list this long I will break it up into groups of 5 (cause I will want to wax poetic on each and you don’t want to be here reading all day!).

Stoller Tempranillo

Stoller Vineyard Circa 2011 Dundee Hills Oregon

Stoller Vineyard Circa 2011 Dundee Hills Oregon

Stoller is located in the Dundee Hills in the Willamette Valley in Oregon.  Tempranillo is definitely not the first wine you would think of there.  I was a bit taken about when I heard they grew it right there by the winery.  The climate is much cooler than you would expect for a Tempranillo.  It was enchanting.  Dark and rich and a big contrast to the lighter more delicate Pinot Noirs we had been tasting.  Also my friend Adam was with us and he knew the person doing our tasting.  She was talking about her boyfriends new restaurant that he was opening and telling us about the bee hives they had in the blackberry patch in the middle of the vineyard and the blackberry honey they looked forward to getting.  So….the atmosphere had me pretty enchanted also.  Adam left with 3 bottles of the Tempranillo, so I will have to check with him to see if the wine lives up to the memory I have of it.

View from Lange Winery

Lange Vineyard, Oregon 2011

Lange Pinot Noir

Jack_the_cat_at_Lange

Jack the Vineyard Cat at Lange 2011

This particular Pinot that I remember was a blend of several vineyards and had a smokiness that I love.  I had researched Langebefore going there and was exited to see Jack the cat. He actually greeted us at our car.  There had been a blog post about Jack who they had adopted as a stray and named Jackie, only to find he was really a Jack.  They had won Snooth’s winery of the year distinction earlier that year and I was excited to see the small family winery that I had heard so much about.  They are again in the Dundee Hills.

Hartford Family Syrah and Chardonnay

In my research for our trip to Napa/Sonoma I had come across Hartford Family Vineyards who were doing a fund raiser while we were there for a local food bank.  They were serving an appetizer to pair with their chardonnay and the proceeds from the appetizer would go to the food bank.  Great food and wine pairings and for a charity?  I was in.  So we stopped by on a rainy December day to their beautiful Estate and had the crab cakes paired with their coastal Chardonnay.  The pairing was perfect…the wine seemed to have a slight salinity that spoke to the crab cakes.  I actually tried to order this wine once when I found it on a wine list to pair with seafood, only to have the waiter come back and tell me they were out!  In addition we had a wonderful Syrah that smelled like bacon in the glass.  I was enamored.  One of the guys working in the tasting room was full of fantastic information and was so passionate speaking about the wine…I felt sure that we were looking at a future superstar winemaker.  We did leave with a bottle of the Syrah and I long for more.

Argyle Black Brut

Argyle Winery Dundee Hills Oregon

Argyle Tasting room Dundee Hills Oregon 2011

Michael does not like champagnes or sparkling wines usually.  He says that the effervescence mutes the flavor for him and he has been known to allow a sparkling glass to sit and go flat before tasting it.  Me…I like my bubbles.  So Michael tasted Pinots and Chards and I tasted the bubbly when we got to Argyle.  Argyle has great appeal because Rollin Souls is just so cool!  He is microbiologist who was roomates with Lyle Lovett in college.  The tasting room is lovely with a big wrap around porch and the tasting room staff were down to earth.  When they poured the Black Brut for me I was in heaven.  Think cherry cola elevated to an extreme.  I still dream about this deep dark sparkler.

Longoria Lovely Rita

Longoria Tasting Room

Santa Barbara and the Santa Rita Hills are known for great Pinot Noirs and Longoria makes some of the best.  This tiny tasting room in Los Olivos is in a historic building.  I had read about Richard Longoria in Steve Heimoff’s book, “New Classic Winemakers of California”, so my expectations were high.  I was surprised when I enjoyed the Lovely Rita more than the vineyard designated Pinots.  We left empty handed since we had flown in but this is one wine that is on my list to order and have shipped to me this fall!

Okay….that’s a start.  If you enjoyed this and are interested in the other wines I can’t forget, stay tuned for the next couple of posts!

PippinHill Farms, Tasting in Virginia

The countryside in the Charlottesville area is stunning with rolling hills, lots of trees and charming homes. From the Boar’s Head our driver headed south on 29 to Plank Road.

I had read about Pippin Hill Farm online while doing research on the area and discovered that they serve a small plate menu. This seemed to be a good start to the day as it was lunch time and we were all hungry.

The view as you arrive at the vineyard is stunning. This is Charlottesville’s newest vineyard and is part of the Monticello AVA. They have created a stunning atmosphere that reflects the history and culture of the area. You approach the large barn like building which is their events center. There is a wrap around porch with outside seating for tastings and lunch. We went in to the tasting bar and persuaded them to let us order from the small plates menu and sit outside and then come back in for each of our tastings.

Pippin Hills Field

I chose the Reserve tasting at $8. Which included a sparkling wine, a reserve chardonnay, a reserve Merlot and a reserve Meritage. They have also have a White wine tasting or a Red wine tasting each with 4 selections available at $5 each.

My tasting began at the beautiful hand-carved bar inside.

The windows behind the bar allow for stunning views of the vineyard and hillsides. I started with the 2010 Summer Hill Sparkler. This sparkling wine is 100% Cabernet Franc. It has a very yeasty nose but is light bright and immediately put me in a good mood. It spends 8 months in stainless steel sur lees to build the depth of flavor.

After pouring me the 2010 Chardonnay Reserve and taking our order for small plates, we headed outside to enjoy the air and the view from the covered stoned terrace, which quite honestly as a great open veradana. We found a corner close by with couches on 3 sides and a low table. There was an old water pump fountain trickling peacefully nearby and the view…did I mention the view? The 2010 Chardonnay Reserve was fruit forward with light to medium oak and was very pleasant.

On to the food. The Daily Cheese Board had 3 artisan cheeses, I remember a gouda, which was very good a goat cheese and forgive me I don’t remember the last (I was drinking and chatting) but it was good. It came with home made bread that they do in their wood burning oven as well as apricot marmalade, fig mostarda and spiced nuts. Really delicious. We also split a croque monsieur and the local beef sliders with house made parmesan fries. The fries were addictive.

By now we were onto the 2010 Merlot Reserve. This was my favorite here. Aged in new French oak for 13 months this is big and bold with lots of depth. While I enjoyed it now I can only see this wine growing better with age.

Pippin Hills Side Yard View

Our last wine was the Meritage Reserve. I enjoyed this but my friend Kathy really loved it. She loves the Meritage Blends, enjoying the lighter varietals more than the deep smoky ones. It was fascinating to see the difference in our tastes and palates. We could all appreciate all the wines, but our preferences run in different directions. We enjoyed the view and didn’t want to leave, but other wineries beckoned. So we headed onward, our plates not even empty with the generous portions.