French Wine…where to begin? #Winophiles

Map of French Wine Regions

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

French Wine 101

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

Old World vs New World

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

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

French wine names

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

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

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

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

French Wine regions

Map of French Wine Regions
Map of French Wine Regions

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

Loire Valley – Val de Loire

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

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

Muscadet

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

Chenin Blanc

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

Sauvignon Blanc

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

Cabernet Franc

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

For more…

Champagne

Popping a champagne cork!

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

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

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

For more…

Alsace

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

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

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

For more…

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

Chablis

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

Chardonnay

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

For more…

Burgundy (Bourgogne)

Vignoble de Bourgogne
Vignoble de Bourgogne

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

Pinot Noir

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

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

Chardonnay

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

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

For more…

Beaujolais

Gamay grapes in Beaujolais
Gamay grapes in Beaujolais

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

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

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

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

The Rhone Valley

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

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

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

Syrah

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

Viognier

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

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

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

Red Rhône Blends

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

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

White Rhône Blends

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

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

For more…

Bordeaux

Vignoble de Bordeaux
Vignoble de Bordeaux

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

Left Bank Reds (Cabernet Sauvignon based)

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

Right Bank Reds (Merlot driven)

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

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

Sweet wines of Sauternes

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

For more…

Provence

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

Rosé

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

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

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

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

For more…

Other regions

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

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

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

For more…

More from the Winophiles!

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

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

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

12 Days of Wine Day 9 – Wooldridge Creek

We are sticking to Southern Oregon today, but…we are into a white wine. Viognier is a white Rhône variety that has found a home in the new world. It is thought to be the leading white variety in Virginia, where it does very well. You will find it in California where it can vary in style from a more full bodied style in warm climates to a more elegant style in cool climates.

Last year we did a Viognier from Maryhill Winery near the Columbia Gorge in Washington. This year, we bring you a Viognier from a bit further south in Oregon.

Wooldridge Creek

Wooldridge Creek The Scenic Route

We visited Wooldridge Creek this past summer and did a tasting and pairing. The property is a beautiful farm with goats and a garden in addition to the vineyard. They make cheese here on site also, as well as other delicious things from the garden.

Our tasting at the time took us through the gammit of their wines, as well as a tasting array of cheeses, charcuterie, mustard and chutneys, all produced on site. It was a treat for the senses as we sat on the crush pad with a view of the vineyards and gardens and enjoyed this feast.

Wooldridge Creek The Scenic Route

Wooldridge Creek 2018 Viognier

This wine is fermented and matured in stainless steel. They noted flavors of peaches, creme, candied orange zest and vanilla. It sits at 13.5% abv and runs $25.00.

The Tasting

The nose on this gave me wet stone, white peach, mineral and citrus zest. On the palate it had great acidity and I got tart white peach that was still a little crisp. The body is medium and the alcohol heats your mouth and makes your gums tingle.

The Pairing

Wooldridge Creek Cheese Pairing
Wooldridge Creek Cheese Pairing

We paired this with roast chicken, butternut squash and mac & cheese. The acid allowed it to cut through the fat in the chicken as well as the mac & cheese to pair well. I found that it also paired nicely with the bleu cheese we had.

More on Wooldridge Creek

We included Wooldridge Creek in a piece we did earlier this year The Scenic Route – Flash Tour 2019 – Part 1 Vegas to Southern Oregon

Wait, is it almost Day 10? How can that be?

Stick with us! We have 3 more wines to share with you!

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

Illahe Vineyards – Stepping back to a simpler time

Illahe Vineyards, Tasting Room

Well, I suppose “simpler” is all about perspective.  They have a wine here called 1899 that they do with all the conveniences that could be had at that time.  That means no tractors, no electricity, no motorized vehicles. 

Illahe means “earth” or “place” or “soil” in the Chinook local dialect.

Illahe Vineyard
Illahe Vineyard

We visited Illahe this past July and spent the morning with Lowell Ford, the owner and grower.  He and their Hospitality Manager Kathy took us through a tasting and a tour of the Winery and Vineyard. 

The proposed Mount Pisgah, Polk County AVA

The winery and vineyard are located in the middle part of the Willamette Valley, West of Salem near Dallas Oregon.  This area is part of the overarching Willamette Valley AVA and Illahe winemaker Brad Ford (Lowell’s son) has started the process of creating a Mount Pisgah, Polk County AVA. 

The AVA covers 5,850 acres, 15 miles west of Salem and home to 10 commercial vineyards, including Freedom Hill, and two bonded wineries: Amalie Roberts Estate and Illahe Vineyards. Mount Pisgah, named by settlers in the 1800s in honor of a hill back home in Missouri, has 531 acres of vines — mostly Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay — planted from 260 to 835 feet in elevation.

https://www.oregonwinepress.com/gaining-ground

The Vineyards at Illahe

Grape Varieties

Illahe Vineyard
Illahe Vineyard

While the Primary focus here is Pinot Noir, they have planted Pinot Gris, Grüner Veltliner, Tempranillo, Viognier and then small bits of Lagrein, Schioppettino and Teroldego.

Sustainability

The vineyard is LIVE-certified and they take pride in working by hand.  They are using native flowers as cover crops, which is good for the soil and makes for stunning vineyard shots.

The winery is built on the hill and is set up to be gravity flow. They also use solar power.

The site and soils

The site is south-facing with spectacular views from their patio in front of the winery.  Their elevation here ranges from 250-440 feet.  They get earlier budbreak and a bit of the Van Duzer Winds. On Mount Pisgah they get a little less of the extreme temps and winds than those vineyards in the proposed Van Duzer Corridor.

Illahe Vineyard
Illahe Vineyard

Soils here are Willakenzie sedimentary clay (Bellpine, Dupee, Wellsdale) with sections of volcanic Jory soil.

They use some Acacia barrels here, and the winery was designed for it’s roof to make you feel as if you are inside a barrel.

The 1899 Pinot Noir

Without electricity for their 1899, they revert to bicycle power to do pump overs.  Everything here is done by hand.  The Percheron’s plow the fields, the harvest is by hand, the bottling, labeling etc.  Then they have a carriage take the wine to the river and there is a two day canoe trip north and then they bicycle the wine to market.  Yep… maybe not “simpler” right.  But worth the effort.

Illahe Vineyard
Illahe Vineyard

To visit Illahe

You can look forward to a journey through the winery and into the cellar with Lowell coming up.  In the meantime if you want to visit them To schedule an appointment email Kathy: [email protected] or call 503-831-1248.

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

On the Second Day a Viognier

Maryhill Viognier With Thai Food

As we move to the 2nd day of our “12 days of Wine” we head to Washington to pair a Washington Viognier with one of our favorite traditional holiday foods, Thai take out!  Yep…Carry out at the holidays always takes me back to “A Christmas Story”.

on the 2nd Day…

Maryhill Winery 2017 Viognier Columbia Valley

We were lucky enough to visit Maryhill back during harvest and get a behind the scenes look at their winery, as well as take in the spectacular views.  This beautiful Viognier was sent to us as a sample for review following our visit.

This wine is 100% Viognier, has a touch of residual sugar and was partially fermented on oak staves. Here is a bit from the winery on the vintage:

“2017 was a warmer than average year and the growing season began slowly. Bud break occurred
a couple of weeks later than usual, especially when compared to the last few harvests. The late
bud break was due to the substantial cold weather that occurred in Washington State during the
winter of 2016. Temperatures then rose dramatically in late June through July. The extreme heat
caused vines to shut down, which further delayed harvest. Some grapes that are customarily
picked early were harvested significantly later than historical dates, although this varied
throughout the state. The upsides to the lengthened harvest were longer hang times and
agreeable flavor development in the red varietals that need more time to age on the vine. In
white varietals, acids were held which resulted in improved balance. Wines from this vintage
will age longer if red, and whites will have more pronounced zing.”

Cassie with Maryhill included a fun fact when she responded to me:

“Fun fact – Maryhill is the largest producer of Viognier in the northwest and best selling in the northwest, also the 2nd best-selling in the nation.”

The winery pulls from the Columbia Valley AVA and this wine is 35% Tudor Hills Vineyard, 26% Gunkel Vineyards (Estate), 23% Coyote Canyon Vineyard and 16% McKinley Springs Vineyard.

Viognier and Asian Takeout

Maryhill Viognier with  Lemongrass & Lime Thai food.
Maryhill Viognier with Lemongrass & Lime Thai food.

In addition Cassie was kind enough to send some suggestions for food pairings:

“Suggested food pairings.. Spicy Asian food due to the natural sweetness in Viognier. Viognier also works in wine and food pairings with a wide variety of seafood and shellfish, roasted or grilled chicken, veal, pork, spicy flavors and Asian cuisine.”

As I said before, my brain went straight to Thai Takeout and there is a new place nearby I had been wanting to try. So…off we went to Lemongrass & Lime  It was cloudy and rainy so soup seemed like a no brainer.

They had a pumpkin coconut milk soup on special so we picked that up, as well as some Tom Yum with Shrimp, Pad Thai with Shrimp, and Orange Peel Chicken.  We went with spice level 3 (the waitress alerted me that 5 was pretty spicy and 10 well…)

The Viognier and the pairing

When you put your nose in the glass it is undeniably Viognier, with beeswax and honeysuckle.  This had some warmth and spice from the oak staves.  It is comfortable with a medium body and it went well with all the food.

I found I enjoyed it to balance the spice in the Tom Yum soup and the Pad Thai and that it really accentuated the flavor of the coconut milk in the soup.

Maryhill Winery Courtesy of Washington Wine Board
Maryhill Winery Courtesy of Washington Wine Board

If you find yourself in Washington, Maryhill is worth looking up, they have spectacular views of the Columbia Gorge, a lovely tasting room and often live music on the weekends.

Goldendale
Tasting Room

9774 Hwy 14
Goldendale, WA 98620
Open Daily 10am – 6pm
Phone: +1 (509) 773-1976

Want more?  Click through to all of our 12 Days of Wine posts!

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

Blenheim Vineyards in Virginia Wine Country

Blenheim Vineyards Patio space

The day started as overcast.  We began with the amazing views from Monticello, without the sun, but without actual rain also.  The world was covered in the gorgeous bright green of spring.  It’s that shade that pops against the gray, turning even a completely overcast day into something bright!  It was spring in Virginia, with the ground covered in pink petals washed from the trees.  It’s especially magical for those of us who have been so long away from the green.

That changed as we drove our way to Blenheim Vineyards.  The sky started to leak.  Not a full on rain storm, just steady inconvenient rain.  But that was okay. We didn’t get to sit outside at the outdoor tasting bar at Blenheim, but wandered down into the main tasting room.  It is an A-frame building with the front full of windows as well as windows along the peak of the room. When you walk in you can also look down through the glass floor at the center to see the winery, it’s tanks and barrels.  The windows here allow for natural light even on this rainy day.

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The end of the tasting room holds the bar so you can enjoy your tasting looking out through the huge windows overlooking the vineyard.  The bar was full, so we were guided to a table.  I asked if we needed to go to the bar for our tastings and was assured that we did not.  They have pourers assigned to the tables who come around.  The staff, which seemed to be all female were helpful, friendly and knowledgeable about the wines and the vineyard.  Out came the glasses and the tasting menu.

The pours here were generous and the atmosphere was relaxed.  It was a place you could come and enjoy a tasting with friends, which was what we were doing.  Those types of tastings lean more toward conversation with your friends, and less about in-depth tasting and contemplation.  This of course is rather new to Michael and I, wine geeks who typically taste with just the two of us and take copious notes.  I did manage to scribble a few down and when I did ask about the blends, the staff were quick to pull out the vineyard map and show us where each block was located.

– A map of the vineyard blocks with all the varieties at Blenheim Vineyards

The grapes of Blenheim Vineyards

They are growing 13 varieties of grapes here.  You have the standard Cabernet Franc and Viognier which are the varieties that seem to grow best here in Virginia.  In addition they grow, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Roussanne and then surprisingly (at least for me) Pinot Noir.  Yes, I’m still two short.  They also have a block of Teroldego and a block of Garganega which are new and have only been in the ground for 3 years.  Teroldego is a deeply colored red grape from northern Italy in the Province of Trentino.  Garganega is a white grape also from Northern Italy from the Provinces of Verona and Vicenza.  It will be interesting to see how these grapes do.

The tasting at Blenheim Vineyards

I fell in love with the Rosé ’16.  It does 48 hours on the skins.  This is a blend of 46% Merlot, 31% Cab Franc, 12% Pinot Noir and 11% Syrah.  It was complex on the nose and tart on the palate. ($17)

The Chardonnay ’15 was partially (30%) aged in Hungarian and American Oak for 5 months.  While you got a little oak on the nose, the palate was clean and bright. ($17)

The 2015 Painted white has a totem on the label.  It is 58% Chardonnay, 21% Viognier, 12% Albarino, 9% Sauvignon Blanc aged for 9 months in French and Hungarian oak with 35% tank aged. ($25)

Petit Verdot ’14 was 10 months on mixed oak; 75% American Oak and 25% French Oak.  It had a yummy nose, was milder on the palate with a quick finish but was very nice. (My dear friend Mess, has discovered that she likes Petit Verdot and after searching for a term, decided that they were chewy!)($24)

The Painted Red ’15 also features a totem.  The Painted Red 2015 was 44% Cab Franc, 31% Petit Verdot, 13% Merlot, 12% Cab Sav, 76% aged for 10 months in French, American and Hungarian Oak. This was very nice but our favorite of the reds remained the Petit Verdot. ($30)

They also sell “growlers” here.  Yep, they have 2 wines, the Claim House White (83% Chardonay, 10% Pinot Noir and 7% Viognier (un-oaked) and the Claim House Red 84% Cabernet Franc, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot (un-oaked) that are available at $6 per glass or you can buy a growler for $7 and fill it for $19. The growlers are becoming popular in this area.  You buy the growler itself once and then can return to have it refilled!  These wines are not all estate, but include fruit from some other vineyards.  Both are NV (non vintage).

Doesn’t Somebody Famous own this winery?

So here I am two thirds of the way through this post and I have just gotten around to telling you that Dave Matthews owns this vineyard.  I am a Dave Matthews fan from way back and was lucky enough to see them play on Brown’s Island in Richmond with Widespread Panic back in the ’90’s.  Dave draws the totems on the labels for the blends.

Blenheim Vineyard

The posters of the labels for the Blenheim Vineyard blends, drawn by Dave Matthews

Dave designed the winery with William Johnson and finished it in 2000.  The winery, that you see though the glass floor in the center of the tasting room is nestled into the hillside to help with climate control.  The place is made from reclaimed wood and those south facing windows mean that they don’t need to use lighting in tasting room at all in the summer.

Dave Matthews moved to Charlottesville when he was 19.  He formed the Dave Matthews band here.  Did you know their first concert was on Earth Day in 1991?  Without knowing the connection we had dinner (and great burgers and beer) at Miller’s in Charlottesville where he bartended before he started the band.

The Vineyard and Winery were meant to make good wine, not necessary to make money.  Success had hit and they had the luxury of not needing the money.  So they focused on the wine, and in my opinion succeeded.  Inspired by Farm Aid, he started out with the BOWA (Best of What’s Around) farm outside of Charlottesville that they rehabilitated and had certified organic. He planted Blenheim Vineyards on the remnants of an old vineyard that was on the property.

But why is it named Blenheim Vineyards?

Ok, while it seems like this should be an easy question, I found the answer to be a bit ’round about.

So…John Carter was the Secretary of the Colony of Virginia.  In 1730 he obtained a large parcel of land in what is now Albemarle County Virginia.  His son Edward, of Blenheim built the first Blenheim house, which was named for the Duke of Marlborough who won the War of the Spanish Succession for Britain.  The Duke’s family seat was Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire.  Blenheim Farm & Blenheim Vineyards are located on this property.

It is said that Thomas & Martha Jefferson stayed here when their coach had to stop nearby in a snowstorm.  The house burned down in the mid 1840’s.

The Women of Blenheim Vineyards

I mentioned that the tasting room staff was primarily women.  Well the winery staff is also female dominated, which is a rarity these days.  Their Winemaker and General Manager Kirsty Harmon, graduated from UVA with a degree in Biology in 1998.  She apprenticed with Gabriele Rausse (who has his own winery in Virginia and was the director of gardens and grounds at Monticello and is often referred to as “The Father of the Modern Virginia Wine Industry”).  She then studied at UC Davis in California getting a degree in Viticulture and Enology in 2007.  She spent a bit of time in France and New Zealand working in the industry and then became the Winemaker at Blenheim Vineyards in 2008.

The remainder of the major members of the staff are also female (I’m lovin’ the girl power!).  Tracy Love runs the Sales department, Ellen Houle is the tasting room manager, Amanda Gray is the Event Manager & Mimi Adams is the Vineyard Manager.

So if you are an environmentalist, a feminist and like good music, good people and good wine (like me) than you should definitely stop by Blenheim.  If it is a pretty day you can see the grounds, but even if it’s raining, it’s well worth the trip.

Blenheim Vineyards is located at 31 Blenheim Farm, Charlottesville, Virginia 22902

They are open daily from 11 am to 5:30 pm, tastings are $7 per person and you can bring your dog, as long as they are on a leash and friendly.  They are on the Monticello Wine Trail

It is well worth it to make it a day!  Visit Monticello in the morning, stop at Blenheim Vineyards and have lunch at the Historic Michie Tavern.  Find another winery (there are plenty in the area) and then go for dinner downtown in Charlottesville.  We had amazing burgers the first night at Miller’s (you remember I mentioned the Dave Matthews connection there earlier) and the 2nd night we had an amazing meal at the Downtown Grill  (and a great bottle of Frank Family Pinot Noir from Carneros) followed by drinks upstairs at the Sky Bar.  This is a college town so it is eclectic and busy.  If the weather is nice I highly recommend enjoying a table out on the Downtown Mall which is one of the longest pedestrian malls in the country.  It is located on Main Street and the center is set with tables for outdoor dining for all of the restaurants.

We will be posting more on our trip and of course on lots of other wine related things so stop back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles.  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

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Tablas Creek Vineyard – The Rhones, the new Adelaida AVA, natural fermentation and the use of foudres.

Tablas Creek Vineyard Spring 2015

While on the Central Coast in April we were lucky enough to meet with Jason Haas, General Manager of Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles. Jason graciously took time out of his busy schedule to spend a couple of hours with Michael and I in the vineyard and the winery.

Tablas Creek Vineyard is the collaborative effort between the Perrin Family of Chateau du Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Pape in France’s Rhone Valley and the Haas Family. Vineyard Brands, the wine import company founded by Robert Haas had been the exclusive importer for Beaucastel wines. In 1989 they founded Tablas Creek Vineyard in the west side of Paso Robles to grow Rhone varieties.

In our 3rd segment, Jason tells us about all the Rhone Varieties that Tablas has brought in to the United States, we discuss the new Adelaida AVA, he tells us the intricacies of native yeast fermentation and we discuss Tablas Creeks use of 1200 gallon Foudres for aging wines.  Here’s the video, but you can read below for the details

 

The Rhone Grapes at Tablas Creek Vineyard

Tablas Creek brought in classic Rhone varieties directly from Chateau du Beaucastel.  These original cuttings went through the mandatory 3 year quarantine and were grafted onto rootstock.  These were; Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache, Counoise, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc.  Soon after they also added Picpoul.  They planted 1/2 acre of Picpoul and this increased the amount of Picpoul planted on the planet by 50!  In 2003 they decided they might as well bring all the rest of the Chateauneuf du Pape grapes.  Many of these were the first new plantings of these varieties in a decade.  Clairette Blanche and Terret Noir were added and both have been made into single varieties wines in 2013 and 2014.  Picardan was planted and they expect to have a small crop this year for the first time.  3 others Vaccarese, Cinsaut and Bourboulenc are out of quarantine and they expect to be able to plant these this winter.  Poor Muscardin is still in quarantine and may be released next year.  Tablas Creek has wonderful information on their site about all of these varieties Tablas Creek Vineyard Grapes

The Adelaida AVA

Paso Robles Wine was one of the largest unsubdivided AVA in California spanning 40 miles East to West and 30 miles North to South.  This immense area varies from 350 to 2700 feet in elevation, rainfall in different areas can run from 6 to 35 inches and temperatures from one area to another can vary by 15 to 20 degrees.  In November of 2014 this area was broken into 11 new AVAs (American Viticultural Areas).  Tablas Creek is located in the Westernmost AVA known as the Adelaida District.  This is one of the AVAs to be noted by their calcareous soil, which is one of the reasons Tablas Creek chose this location.  How these new AVAs will change the area is yet to be seen.  For Tablas Creek Vineyards, all of their Estate Wines will now list “Adelaida District” on their label.

Native Yeast Fermentation

I have always been fascinated by native yeast fermentation.  Many winemakers find it to be too risky, so I took this opportunity to ask Jason about the native yeast fermentation at Tablas Creek and how they might handle a “stuck” fermentation.  Jason mentioned that often native yeast fermentation is described as “hands off” wine making.  He looks at it more as “fingerprints off” wine making because the process actually makes you more “hands on”.  During fermentation they are closely monitoring each lot and testing to be sure it is perking away.  If a lot is not fermenting well or looks like it is getting stuck, they have options.  They can mix the lot with another lot that is fermenting well or pump it over the lees of something that is fermenting well.  They can build a culture from a tank that is doing well and release it into a tank that isn’t.  So they don’t get “stuck”, they just have to work harder.  Using only native yeast is another way of expressing the uniqueness of the site or the “terroir” which is something that Tablas Creek is passionate about.

Use of Foudres

There are few places in California that you will see foudres used.  Foudres are 1200 gallon barrels (as opposed to a typical wine barrel that holds 60 gallons).  When you walk into the Tablas Creek Vineyards tasting room you can see these beautiful large foudres through the glass windows that surround the tasting room.  As Jason explains it, when you are aging a wine you must determine how much oxygen and how much oak you want.  As they follow the Chateau du Beaucastel style they are looking for very minor but consistent oxygen and very little oak.  As a result, large wood it the way to go.  With a 1200 gallon Foudre you have 20 times the wine and just 4 times the surface area compared to a normal 60 gallon barrel.  This gives you more volume to surface area.  The staves in these larger barrels are thicker also, which makes the penetration of oxygen slower.  This is perfect for protecting Grenache which is prone to oxidation and for Syrah and Mourvedre which are prone to reduction which can cause them to go funky.  The large foudres give a balance allowing the wines to age gently and still progress.

 

While this concludes our formal interview with Jason, we did continue with a vineyard walk and winery tour which concluded with a great conversation about how they blend their wines.  So watch for more videos and blog posts.

 

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Cold Heaven Cellars – Rhone Scent-ual Experience

Cold Heaven Rhone Scentual Experience

Founded in 1996 by winemaker Morgan Cledenen, Cold Heaven Cellars creates cool climate Viognier. Her Viogniers exhibit balance, finesse and bright acid.

In addition to her Viogniers, Pinot Noir and Syrahs, she also produces “Domaine de Deux Mondes”.  This is a wine made from Santa Barbara grapes but done in the style of Yves Cuilleron from Condrieu. These wines are a completely different style from the Cold Heaven wines. The Domaine de Deux Mondes is oaky and riper than the Cold Heaven wines showing the versatility of this grape and Morgan’s winemaking skills.

One of the greatest things about the Cold Heaven Wines is that the wines have great depth and dimension, which….made them perfect for the Rhone Scent-ual event planned in her tasting room for the Santa Barbara Vintners Key to Wine Country Weekend event.

Aroma Wheel, Key to WIne Event

Kara and Liz had the Barrel room set with two tables one set for white wines and one for reds. Each had aroma wheels, a sheet for notes and lots of little blue mason jars filled with wonderfully scented stuff.

We began with the 2012 Le Bon Climat Vineyard Viognier.  This wine has peaches on the nose and a background of white flowers, you also get an earthy minerality which you could match with the diatomaceous earth that Kara and Liz had set on the table.

It was amazing all the fragrances that you could find in the wine. It soon became a little bit of a frenzy with all of us reaching for jars and then wanting to share the fragrance with everyone else. It was a sensory awakening. I think many people are intimidated by tasting notes, thinking that sommeliers just make up all those aromas they say they get on the wine. When you actually have those scents right there to compare, it’s amazing. And then you are adding to your scent memory catalogue for future experiences.

Sanford & Benedict Vineyard

Sanford & Benedict Vineyard

We moved on to the 2011 Sanford and Benedict Viognier, coming from Sta. Rita Hills this wine comes from Western most AVA in the country and one of the coolest growing regions.  There is more spice on this wine, and our noses got stuck in the ginger jar, there was also white pepper and grapefruit peel in there.

The third wine was the 2009 Saints and Sinners Viognier.  These grapes are also from Sanford and Benedict, but this wine is made in the Yves Cuilleron style.  The 30% new oak adds a warmth to this wine.  It’s like peach or apricot cobbler with baking spices and toasted nuts.

Red Wine at Cold Heaven

When we got to the red wine table we smelled the 2008 Domaine de Deux Mondes Syrah and right off the bat I got olives on the nose and I could pick up the jar of olives and confirm this. There were jars with leather, with spices and peppers with red and black berries, cinnamon, chocolate and even habanero sauce (which would burn your nose hairs if you stuck your nose in too far!).  You get woods and twigs on this wine, “Sous la Foret” which is under the forest floor in French, that bit of rich decaying leaves.  There were dark berries, and cinnamon, and coffee, but the olives were the most surprising.  The olive scent comes from stem inclusion.  This wine was done in a full cluster press, which means the grapes did not go through a destemmer before pressing.  Often this will give you a green pepper note, if the stems are not ripened.  When the stems are ripe, you get a wonderful black olive aroma.

Kara and Liz were there all along the way to answer questions and point you in directions you might not have thought about. This was an interactive event that broke down barriers. People got involved and excited and will walk away with a new understanding of these wines, of tasting notes and of their own senses. Thanks to everyone at Cold Heaven Cellars for a great event and some great wines!  If you are heading to Santa Barbara and want to nerd out on wines…this is the tasting room to come to!

Cold Heaven Tasting Room

Cold Heaven Cellars

92 2nd Street, Buellton (behind Andersons Pea Soup)

805-686-1343

The tasting room is open Friday to Monday from 12-5 (until 4:30 in the winter)

You can find them online at

http://www.coldheavencellars.com

A Conversation with Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards & Winery

Larner Los Olivos Central Coast Wine Country

While we were in Santa Barbara for the Vintners Spring Weekend, I had the opportunity to speak with Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards and Winery.  He graciously took time to speak with us while he was setting up for the Grand Tasting.

Michael LarnerSo we are here with Michael Larner of Larner Winery and you are in the new Ballard Canyon AVA right?  That’s right. We formed last year. At harvest in October we were certified and approved. We are very excited.

Michael Larner was actually instrumental in the creation of the AVA.  After a visit from a group of Sommeliers sent by Sommeliers Journal in 2010 to taste Ballard Canyon Syrahs, he rallied the vineyard owners and contacted Wes Hagen who had put together the Sta Rita Hills AVA to get the ball rolling on creating this new AVA.

What wines are you making with your winery?  We are what we call Rhone Valley varietal specific, so we have Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Viognier, a little bit of an outlier of Malvasia Bianca. Of the 34 acres we have 23 planted in Syrah and that is really our champion of Ballard Canyon. Essentially all of us, Rusack, Jonata, Beckmen, Stolpman we are all really specialized in Syrah more than anything, so that really becomes the champion as well as also becoming the face of Ballard Canyon. We are actually going to do something unique creating a bottle mold that is specifically made for Ballard Canyon producers that says Ballard Canyon on the shoulder and that will be something we can take to the market. The only Caveat is that it has to be A. an estate and B. is has to be Syrah. So we want to go out into the market putting our best foot forward with Syrah. Because the AVA is 7600 acres with about 600 acre planted and over 300 in Syrah, it is definitely our Champion definitely what we want people to know about when we go out into the market.

Larner Winery

Larner Winery

The day before we had taken a vineyard hike at Beckmen’s Purisimo Mountain Vineyard which is North of Larner in Ballard Canyon.  I had an opportunity to speak with Steve Beckmen about how he had chosen to layout his vineyard.  The decisions on where to plant different varieties are based on so many variables, including soil, water, temperature, sun and even wind.  So I asked Michael about how he had made these choices for his vineyard.

Michael: At Larner Vineyard our slopes are south facing slopes and our Syrah is kind of in the middle section. We actually put our Grenache on top. We are always worried about ripening so we put it at the higher elevation to push it a little, and then on the lower elevations we do more of our whites. Most of our site is sandy compared to Beckmen, so because of that we match soils a little differently than they do. That is probably why we have more of our Syrah in the middle. We are on any given day maybe a degree or two cooler than them. The main thing for us is that Ballard Canyon is defined by the presence of chalk or limestone, and up at Beckmen, Stolpman it’s limestone, you come down to me on the south side and we are more chalk. It’s still the same material it’s just a little more friable in my neck of the woods, where it’s a little more compacted up on the north side. It’s still rendered from the same foundation of bedrock, but ours is basically overlaid by sand so it allows the vines to be stressed enough to produce low quantities, high concentration, but then there is a nice underlay of chalk in our case that also brings a minerality.
I think that was sort of the unique thing about Ballard, the way it formed was essentially 6 of us producers that were pouring wine for Sommelier Journal we tasted through all the wines and looked at each other and thought wow there’s a lot of similarities. We all have our different fingerprint in terms of oak use etcetera, but there was definitely a lot of very characteristic minerality, that we all picked up on. Then when we did the Q & A with these sommeliers, they said “Why aren’t you guys an AVA” and we said okay no brainer, why aren’t we an AVA. So we started forming it in 2010.

We let him get back to setting up as it was closing in the time to open the gates for the Grand Tasting and later came back to taste the wines.  His “Elemental” is a gorgeous GSM blend that is a favorite in many restaurants. They also have a 2012 Viognier that is brand new and a lovely GSM Rosé.

Larner Art

We also met his wife Christina later in the day.  She had a booth with her Wine Art and I picked up one of her stunning paintings of a cluster of Viognier on the vine, painted in Syrah.

They have a tasting room in Los Olivos attached to the Los Olivos General Store, right behind the classic Gas Pump!  You can stop in there and taste all of their wines.

Larner Wine    2900 Grand Ave, Los Olivos, CA 93441

Shopping for wine…..

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

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

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

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

 

 

Shale Oak – a holistic sense of sustainability

Shale OAK Winery

In researching for our trip to Paso, I came across CellarPass.  Cellar Pass provides online reservations for tastings at wineries.  I found Shale Oak through them and scheduled a 10 am tasting.

This stunning tasting room is off of 46W on Oakdale road. The winery released it’s inaugural vintage in May of 2011, and opened their tasting room later that year.  This winery was built to be sustainable and the building is LEED certified.  At least 1/3 of the wineries energy needs are supplied by the solar photovoltaic panels on the building. The redwood used on the building is 100 year old reclaimed wood from Vandenburg.  All the items in their gift shop are repurposed items.

The owner Al Good was raised in Virginia and is an entrepreneurial farmer.  He has developed a holistic approach to the agriculture business.  The sense of land stewardship is what drives Shale Oak.  Their winemaker Curtis Hascall is in his early 30’s and grew up in Watford England.  He graduated from Cal Poly with a degree in food-science.  He worked with Consulting winemaker Kevin Patrick Riley before coming on board with Shale Oak.  Consultant winemaker Kevin Riley is well know in Paso and consults for several wineries as well as owning and running Proulx with his wife Genoa. His adventure style shows in the wines.

Before we began our tasting our pourer got us each a small glass of a palate cleanser called evo that was developed by a couple for their senior project at Cal Poly.  The pH is the same as wine, so it is better than crackers or water.  Our tasting began with the 2011 Sui.  Sui is the second element in Japanese philosophy and represents water, fluidity, magnetism and suppleness.  This blend of Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Albarino, Pinot Grigio is bright and clear with honeydew melon and a nice minerality.  We next moved on to the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon.  I know…Cabernet as the first red on a menu?  Seems a little out of order doesn’t it?  But this is  a lovely approachable soft cab with just a little petite Verdot.  The Cab has a very interesting nose.  It is deep rich and smoky.  On the palate it is lighter bodied almost with a Pinot Noir mouth feel, but still a very deep nose.

The 2009 Syrah had berries on the nose and was meaty and smoky on the palate.  This is a fruit forward new world style wine.

The 2009 Petite Sirah has a sense of caramel, this is a bigger wine, but very approachable.  You get violets on the nose.  Unlike many Petite Sirahs this is not heavy or inky.  It has great aromas and flavors but is lighter on the palate.  They once did a pairing of this with an ice cream with a caramel ribbon (yum).

The 2009 Petit Verdot is dry but not as dry as a typical Petit Verdot.  You get a burst of raisin with this.  This one sits at 16% alcohol but is not hot.

The Cabernet and all of their whites are grown on their Pleasant Valley Vineyard on the East side. Here on the property by the winery they grow Syrah, Grenache and Zinfandel.  The Zin is young and not producing much yet so they supplement their Zin by buying fruit from Willow Creek Farms right down the road.  Willow Creek is owned by Kevin Riley.

Their white wines are aged in stainless, and the reds in oak.  Their 2012 Zin is currently aging in New Oak.

The tasting room is stunning with vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows on the front, clean lines and a sense of peacefulness.

They have a beautiful patio where they have music on the last Sunday of each month.  They sell wine by the glass and encourage people to bring their lunch and enjoy the patio.

Really this place is stunning and the wines were really wonderful.

If you need a little Zen time, this is the place to come.  Bring a snack, get a glass of one of their wines and relax and rejuvenate on the serene patio with the beautiful water features.

Sculpterra Wine & Art – Roaming the sculpture garden

Sculpterra Winery

Sculpterra is located on the East side of Paso off of Linne Road. This unique winery greets you with a magnificent sculpture garden.  Surrounded by gorgeous iron fencing by master black smith Robert C. Bentley the garden itself is filled with the beautiful sculpture work of John Jagger.

Dr. Warren Frankel bought this property back in the 1980’s and moved his family there in 1990.  Paul his son is the winemaker, a graduate of Cal Poly in Viticulture and Enology.  Paul is more than just the winemaker, he also manages the vineyards, deals with fruit and juice sales and occasionally can be found pouring in the tasting room.

As we were here on a Saturday, the winery was busy and had an accordion player playing live in the tasting room.  In addition to making their own wines, they also sell bulk fruit and juice to small independent winemakers.  They do a wide variety of wines here, including Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay, Grenache, Pinot Noir, Primitivo, Mourvedre, Merlot, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The wines are lovely and it is a wonderful place to come grab a glass of wine and wander the sculpture garden for a little art fix.

Enjoy a virtual stroll through their amazing sculpture gardens…you’ll have to provide your own wine, I recommend a rose.

It’s a Viognier kinda day (with a little Chard on the side)

Viognier Night

It was Thursday and our night for pairings, so I pulled out Sid Goldstein’s book “The Wine Lover’s Cookbook” and pulled together a menu that will pair a little with Chardonnay and a little with Viognier.

We are having Chilled Corn and Sundried Tomato Chowder, Crab Jicama and Mango Salad with Lemon-Curry dressing and Chicken Paprika with dried apricot and almond relish.  The Chowder will pair with a 2007 Miramonte Chardonnay, the Crab salad will pair with both the Chardonnay and a 2010 Zaca Mesa Viognier (Happy 40th Zaca Mesa!), and the Chicken Paprika will pair exclusively with the Viognier.

Farmer's Market vegetables

Farmer’s Market vegetables

So this morning I got up early, hit the gym and headed to the Molto Vegas Farmers Market at the Springs Preserve to pick up the produce!

As you can see I scored fresh desert corn, butter lettuce, garlic, onion, a Meyer lemon, a mango, and two regular lemons.  I raided my pantry and freezer for chicken stock (we had some frozen that I Michael made), cumin, coriander, paprika, olive oil, honey, turmeric, chili powder and tarragon.  Hit the garden for chives and green onions and made a trip to Whole Foods for the rest.  I figured Whole Foods would be a one-stop shop for the varied items that I needed.  We picked up organic chicken breasts, blue crab meat, sour crème, dried apricots, sweet paprika, caraway seeds, sliced mushrooms, sundried tomatoes and pasta.  I picked up slivered almonds from the bulk area since I just needed 3 tablespoons, season croutons for the soup and jicama.  So I have seen sliced jicama in the produce section but they didn’t have any so I had to have someone come and help me find it!  It is a bulbous root that runs around $1.49 lb. and the one I picked ran me $2.79.  I only used about 1/3 of it.

So I started with the soup since it needed to chill for 3 to 4 hours.  Olive oil, onions, tarragon, cumin, turmeric and lemon zest get going in the soup pot then you add the corn, corn cobs, chicken stock and white wine.  I used a Viognier that I had already opened.  This boils, and then simmers a bit then you pull out the cobs and add the roasted garlic, lemon juice and sour crème and then process it in the blender or food processor.  Add the rough chopped sundried tomatoes and toss it in the fridge for 3 to 4 hours.

While that is chilling I jump onto the crab salad.  Crab meat, diced mango, diced jicama and then a dressing with Meyer lemon juice and zest, champagne vinegar, mayo and a homemade curry powder with cumin, turmeric, chili powder and coriander.  Mix it all up and pop it in the fridge for 2 hours.  (there is a chillin’ theme here!)

On to the relish for the chicken.  Dice the dried apricots; add champagne vinegar (it called for raspberry, but I wasn’t buying a whole bottle for ¾ teaspoon!), honey, green onions, caraway seed, lemon zest and toasted almonds.  Then chill this for an hour!

Plating of DinnerFinally the chicken.  I pound out the breasts season with salt, paprika, sage and lemon zest and brown them in butter and oil then drain them on paper towels.  Then cook the onions add the mushrooms, marjoram, sweet paprika, caraway seed and roasted garlic (I had this left over from the previous recipe and it gave a sweeter flavor to the dish).  Once this is cooked up I added the chicken stock and sour cream and then put the breasts back in.  I cooked up some buttered noodles to serve this on.

 

Now for the pairings.  The Chardonnay was beautiful with the Chowder.  And this chilled soup just develops more flavors the longer it chills.  (I enjoyed it for lunch for several more days!).  The salad was fine with the Chard, but the jicama really came to life with the Viognier.  The Chicken and the Viognier were spectacular on several levels.  The earthiness of the mushrooms and the sauce were really lovely creating a new depth when paired with the wine and then the apricots and the relish really popped.

 

All in all, I was pretty impressed with myself. Thanks Sid for the help!  I look forward to cooking my way through this book!