Southern Rhone Wine: Wineblog #40

Sénanque Abbey, a Cistercian Abbey near Gordes in Vaucluse, Provence

Sénanque Abbey, a Cistercian Abbey near Gordes in Vaucluse, Provence

“This Châteauneuf du Pape estate has been at the top of its game for many years and any partisan of Rhone Valley wines who has not yet tried a wine from Domaine Roger Sabon should make every effort to do so.” -Robert Parker

 

It has been said by certain friends that I know and respect, regarding their opinions on all things related to wine, that Grenache based wines, particularly Châteauneuf du Pape fall flat when tasted on their own merits. I happen to not share that opinion, and in fact, feel quite the opposite about these fantastic wines.  The purpose of this wineblog is to provide a top ten list of reasons why I like these wines so much.

 

Galets in a Grenache vineyard in the Southern Rhone

Galets in a Grenache vineyard in the Southern Rhone

1) The vineyards have Rocks (galets roules- which reflect sunlight to the under surface of the vines during the day, and warmth into the vines throughout the night), the vineyards also consist of stone, limestone, sand, and clay.  These are miserable conditions for growing anything except for grapes.  Fortunately, they are fantastic for growing wine grapes.

A vineron tending his field

A vineron tending his field

2) Some of the oldest vines in all of Europe are in the southern Rhone.  Most of the vines in all other regions of France were planted after World War Two.  Even in burgundy, the growers say that the average effective life span for Pinot Noir is 60-80 years.  For Grenache, it is a different story all together.  These old, 100 plus year old, vines give low yields (two tons hectare – about one ton per acre), which increase the phenolic compounds and skin tannins, and contribute to the varietal’s character and flavor.

Mistral Winds

Mistral Winds

3) The Mediterranean climate, combined with Rhone river influences, and mistral winds, which achieve 60-70 mph, for more than 100 days per year, remove excess water, insects and disease.  The wine professionals say that Grenache grows best when it grows in a stressed fashion within its region.  The Southern Rhone is located at the absolute northern region for its more traditional Spanish growing latitude.  Grenache doesn’t do well growing even one hour father north in the Northern Rhone, and this also contributes to the unique character of Rhone Grenache.

Valley floor of Gigondas

Valley floor of Gigondas in Provence

4) 100% Grenache wines can be too alcoholic, too pale in color, and too low in acidity.  The balance often is off and the wines can feel flabby and poorly structured.  This is a common problem with Spanish Garnacha wines, which are usually 100% single varietal.  The Rhone valley is one of the few places in France where the grapes can fully ripen year after year- this great weather helps improve the weak spots for Grenache based wines.  The great Provence weather has produced a decade long string of great to exceptional years in the Rhone.

The author and tour guide Mike Rijken of Wine Safari tours, examining goblet style head pruned vine

The author and tour guide Mike Rijken of Wine Safari tours, examining goblet style head pruned vine

5) All the varietals are grown in head prune fashion (goblet style), except for Syrah and Mourvèdre, which are trellised (more fragile and so the grapes don’t touch the ground).  The reason for this is multifactorial.  This growing technique is old.  Millennia old.  This is the way all vines were grown at one time. It is nice to retain some history in wine making. Next, this goblet style of vine management can resist the Mistral winds more effectively than traditional trellising. The vines have to combat significant wind each year for a significant part of their growing cycle.  It has been shown that there can be a 5-10% loss of vine canopy due to wind, and the goblet style seems to curb that loss.  Next, there is a lot of sun in the Rhone.  The goblet style seems to keep the grapes shaded for a greater part of each day, over and above what trellising can do.  Finally, the stalk of these old Grenache vines get quite thick- much thicker than Syrah vines, and the vines have seemed to well tolerate this form of growing over the centuries.

Karl, Heather, and winemaker Didier Negron of Roger Sabon Winery

Karl, Heather, and winemaker Didier Negron of Roger Sabon Winery

6) Châteauneuf du Pape blends are what make the wines.  Officially, there are thirteen grape variables that can make up these wines, although the locals here say there are actually eighteen. The primary three are Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre.  Syrah for smoothness and acidity, Mourvèdre for tannic backbone and elegance. Grenache gives a depth, fruitiness, and richness.  The other red varieties allowed are CinsaultCounoiseMuscardinPiquepoul noirTerret noir, and Vaccarèse (Brun Argenté). White and pink varieties are BourboulencClairette blanchePicardanPiquepoul blanc, Piquepoul gris, and Roussanne.[6] (The varieties not specifically mentioned before 2009 are Clairette rose, Grenache gris and Piquepoul gris).   These red wines can actually contain up to 20% white wine varietals! This is especially true in years with lower acidity in the Grenache grapes.  All these varietals are the winemaker’s spice rack.  And even though Chateau de Beaucastle is the only one that regularly uses ALL of them in each wine they make, the artistic license given to the winemaker in this region is unique in all of France.

Heather, Mike Rijken at a wine tasting among the Foudres in Chateauneuf du Pape

Heather, Mike Rijken at a wine tasting among the Foudres in Chateauneuf du Pape

7) The vinified Grenache juice is aged in Foudres (large extra thick wooden containers that hold 60 hectoliters- 1600 gallons); Syrah and Mourvèdre are aged in new oak.  The reason for this is that Grenache is highly susceptible to the negative effects of oxygenation (even the micro oxygenation that occurs through traditional barrels.  The Rhone winemakers have figured this out, and account for it with their winemaking techniques.  These Foudres are amazing to look at in the caves!

Châteauneuf du Pape

Châteauneuf du Pape

8) There is no cooler bottle than these bottles with their Châteauneuf du Pape contrôlée embossed seal above the label.  It is the only style of wine I can think of that has a mandated bottle designation on it.

9) These wines taste amazing!  Grenache contributes a preserved fruit raspberry jam flavor.  The Syrah brings color, acid and spice, and the Mouvedre- backbone and elegance to complete its structure.  Aging these wines bring an earthiness with old leather and notes of tar.  It is undeniable!  The complexity of these wines is present even in younger vintages.

Roger Sabon Châteauneuf du Pape from 1959

Roger Sabon Châteauneuf du Pape from 1959 and 1964

We had an amazing tasting in Châteauneuf du Pape at Chateau Roger Sabon, who can trace their winemaking roots to 1542.  We had the tasting in the cave among the Foudres.  They produce four award winning red Châteauneuf du Papes, and one white. The first is called Olivets, and is made principally of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault. The second is their reserve, and is made from the same three as Olivets, but with a lower percent of Grenache.  The third is called Prestige and was my favorite. This one adds a significant amount (10%) of Mouvedre, and assorted other varietals, and consistently scores in the mid 90s for Wine Spectator magazine.  The first word that comes to mind when I sampled it was opulence. Their top of the line is called Le Secret de Sabon, and is simply a rock star.  We didn’t get to taste it because it is made in such small quantities, but James Mollesworth gave the 2011 a 99 rating.  Needless to say, I am bringing several bottles of this one, and also the 2007, home with me – to drink in a decade or two.  Don’t worry, I am bringing plenty of the Prestige home as well.

Rhone Rangers

Rhone Rangers

10) There is the existence of the Rhone Rangers in California. The Rhone Rangers are a group of winemakers who created a non-profit organization to promote the Rhone varietals in America. The group includes around 200 winery members (including wineries such as Martinelli, Tablas Creek, Ridge and Landmark), 110 professional growers, and over 2,000 supporters who have the common attribute of loving the wine varietals that originate in the Rhone.

There are many more things I could say about the fine wines of Châteauneuf du Pape, but I have rambled on long enough.  The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and like with the wines from Bourgogne, Châteauneuf du Pape will win all naysayers over by drinking these harmonious, herbal wines of freshness, dark fruits and great structure.

 

Cheers,

 

Karl

 

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Burgundy Travelogue Part two: wineblog #39

The Corton Hill, Savigny les Beaune

The Corton Hill, Savigny les Beaune

“The First Duty of wine is to be Red…the second is to be a Burgundy” – Harry Waugh   “There is no other region in the world that can rival Burgundy for purity of expression of single varietal wines made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir” – Karl Olsen   Our time in Burgundy was short lived, only two days, but as the story is told between this blog and the previous one, our time was well spent with great food and tastings and sites of Burgundy, and left us wanting more. Though we were able to taste some wines from the Cote de Nuits, all our time was spent in the Cote de Beaune.

Map of Burgundy

Map of Burgundy soils

There are two other great Burgundy tastings to tell about, but before I get into that, I need to digress into the reason why the terroir of Burgundy is so special. No information regarding what makes Burgundy great would be complete without a little more discussion on Terroir. imagesMuch of the ensuing information comes from the Bureau Interprofessional des Vins de Bourgogne (BIVB) located in the town of Beaune. 200 million years ago there was a tropical sea over the burgundy area. The multitude of shell fossils contributed to the substantial limestone and the existing marl in the subsoil. The western hills were created by the Alps and ensuing glacial movement through the area. Burgundy is exposed to a semi-continental climate, and the vines sit at altitudes of around 200-500 meters (the mountainous Haute regions are a bit higher). In the summer growing months, the vines benefit from wide temperature fluctuations (50-80 degrees). The growers seem to have moved as organically as possible in their cultivation techniques, even to the point of Biodynamic methods (even Domaine Romanee Conti is biodynamic!). Humans have played a big role in helping the land to achieve its potential in producing great fruit. There is evidence of Gallo-Roman vine cultivation, from the 1st century, up through the 4th century. At the end of the first millennium, the regional Cluniac and Cistercian monks were formalizing early vintnering processes, and in the 15th century, the Dukes of Burgundy greatly expanded the wine’s influence throughout France and Europe. The beginning of the 18th century had Napoleon I, privatizing the vineyard plots away from the church.  In 1855, Napoleon III classified Bordeaux in the five-growth classification that is still followed today. The status quo remained pretty much unchanged in Burgundy for almost four hundred years. In 1936, however, the AOC first registered the distribution of the Burgundy Crus, as we know them today. The current cultivating practices in Burgundy are renown for their gentleness in every aspect of winemaking – from the soil to the glass. There is no other region in the world that can rival Burgundy for purity of expression of single varietal wines made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Burgundy Climats

Burgundy Climats

“Climats” are precisely delimited plots in the region with particular geological and climactic conditions that help to define the plot’s specific terroir. This differs from “Clos” which is a walled vineyard within a climat that historically belonged to a specific landowner.

The Clos of Beaune

The Clos of Beaune

Today the walls still exist, but because of inheritance laws it is not unusual to have one vigneron taking care of 4-5 specific rows of vines separate from the next 4 and the next 4, all within one Clos! One last note, it was surprising to learn that no novel yeast is added to the fermentation anywhere here- it is all the natural/native yeast on the skins that begins fermentation. So basically, the Burgundy vignerons rely on immaculate fermentation! Additionally, all red and white wines undergo a secondary malolactic acid fermentation, in order to smooth out the wines. These northern vineyards have naturally higher acidity due to the relatively shorter growing season. The malo fermentation is also a natural process that occurs in the barrels.

Listening to the Malo fermentation

Listening to the Malo fermentation

We actually pulled off the bungs in the caves and heard the bubbling from the secondary malo fermentation occurring in the barrels!

Domaine D'Ardhuy

Domaine D’Ardhuy

Now to the last two tastings. Our second vineyard was at Domaine D’Ardhuy, just over the border into the Cote de Nuits. This winery is fully biodynamic, and had impressive caves that dated back to the 1600s. Their vineyards are all over the region, and here is where we tasted our first Grand Cru. I won’t give the details of every wine we tried, at the risk of putting anyone to sleep. The highlights were first a 2008 white burgundy from Pulingy Montrachet “Sous Le Puits”. Light in color, very mineral aromas, and very complex with just a hint of oak tannins. 2008 was a great year for white Burgundy (2009 was best of the decade for red). The second highlight was the 2007 Corton Renardes Grand Cru. Darker in color than any other red we have had, I could really taste what is meant by ‘forest floor’, and ‘preserved fruits’. Not spicy, but overall well balanced. The winemaker told us that this should be drunk now at 6 years old, and not cellared.

The tasting room at Domaine Henri de Villamont

The tasting room at Domaine Henri de Villamont

The last vineyard we visited was actually a winery operated by a Negociant (Domaine Henri de Villamont). A Negociant is basically a wine merchant in the Savigny les Beaune region, that assembles the finished (or sometimes unfinished) wines from a smaller grower or winemaker, and sells the result under his own name. This gives the advantage to the little guys of sure sales and broader exposure with less risk, no advertising budget, and even not having to buy expensive equipment for wine pressing, bottling, labeling, etc. Henri de Villamont specializes in Grands Vins de Bourgogne. We had our best tastings offered here. These ranged from a 2011 Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru white Burgundy, (which was rich and round, with excellent mineral notes), to a Pommard 1er Cru “Les Rugiens” red burgundy (exceptional preserved black fruit aromas and flavors), to a 2006 Fixin (pronounced “feezaugn”) 1er Cru “Clos du Chapitre” from the Gevery Chambertin area, that was the best red of the day that we tasted. We didn’t get to taste, but I bought several 2009 Grands Echezeaux Grand Cru Burgundies for drinking back home. As an aside, while we were here we witnessed a very tragic occurrence- a hailstorm. There has been hail the last three years, which decimates the grape clusters. The hail was really hard on the Meursault and most of the southern Beaune, but thankfully had minimal effect on the Cote de Nuits. It can be very difficult for the small growers to make a living when your entire years’ efforts are destroyed in 15 minutes! It is easy to see why there are so many US expatriates who have taken up permanent residence in the Burgundy valley and devote their entire livelihood to the wines of this great wine region (i.e. Winehog, Burghound). It has been said before; all wine lovers eventually come home to Burgundy. The 2,000 years of winemaking heritage that exists here is difficult to surpass. I can’t wait for the next time I can come home to this place- next time, Cote de Nuits… stay tuned! That’s all for now. Cheers, Karl

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Burgundy Travelogue Part one: wineblog #38

Clos Vineyards in Beaune

Clos Vineyards in Beaune

“… all the winegrower is trying to do is to put the land in the glass” – Joy Pygott

 

It is one thing to write about wine made in different parts of the world. It is an entirely different matter all together when one can actually visit the places where great wine is created. In June of 2014, my wife and I had the opportunity to travel to France and visit the Beaune region of Bourgogne, or as we like to say, Burgundy. I have written previously on several regions that I have visited, but I must admit, visiting Burgundy was like coming home. Burgundy as a wine region has had a profound effect on manywine lovers as being the place in the world where arguably the best and most complex wine, and most difficult grape varietal (Pinot Noir) to grow comes from. To finally be able to put names together with places, and to taste these wines in the actual place they are created is an experience not soon forgotten. This is a two part wine blog (travelogue) , the first part highlighting the regional and village wines from the Cotes du Beaune, and the second part geared towards 1er Cru and Grand Cru.

 

The days tour in Beaune was capably led by Joy Pygott,, of Burgundy discovery tours (www.burgundydiscovery.com). Joy and her husband Robert are expatriots from the UK who love Burgundy so much that they retired early, moved to Beaune, and took over the premiere Bourgogne touring company in the region. We had three major tastings from the Cote de Nuits, Cote de Beaune, Cote Chalonnaise. Some wines were pretty good, and some were astronomically exceptional. I will try to give a brief synopsis on some of the highlights.

Map of the Borgogne wine regions

Map of the Borgogne wine regions

First some information on Burgundy that helps with orientation. Burgundy has five appellations (Les Vignobles) that are similar in arrangement to Napa. At the top (actually northwest about an hour) is Chablis. It specializes in bright, minerally, unoaked Chardonnay. Moving south just below Dijon is Cote de Nuits, which is where the most noble red Burgundy (Aloxe Corton, Domaine de la Romanee Conti, Gervrey Charmbertin, and all of the Vosne Romanee), and Nuits St George is located. Below that is Cote de Beaune, which is where the vast majority of red Burgundy comes from, and also some of the whites. Some significant regions here are Pommard, Volnay, and Mersault. Additionally, the first important white Burgundy region (Puligny Montrachet) is located here. Farther south is Cote Chalonanaise (all mostly whites) where Bouzeron, Rully (great whites from here!), Mercury and Givry are located. Still farther south is the Maconnais, and much of the lesser quality but easy drinking whites are from. Too many sub regions here to note, except for Pouilly and Fuisse’. Finally, in the most southern part is Beaujolais, the region known for Gamay and the popular Beaujolais Nouveau, but is not really considered Burgundy. The valley along the road RN74, is where most of the village Burgundy is grown. I have a new appreciation for village wines from this region. The village wines we tasted were complex, and extremely expressive of the local terroir. The 1er cru and Grand Cru vineyards are predominantly found along the western side of the valley along the slope that makes up the Cote d’ Or (golden slope),

The Corton Hill

The Corton Hill

There is one particular hill at the border between Beaune and Nuits called the Corton Hill that was very important to the 8th century emperor, Charlemagne when he ruled here, that is known for producing great 1er and Grand Cru wines. This is where we concentrated our efforts (sorry, no DRC for us today!). My favorite quote of the day was, “… All the winegrower is trying to do is to put the land in the glass.”

Emperor Charlemagne

Emperor Charlemagne

The vines and grapes are really second fiddle, and all the designations come from the quality of the land’s subsoil, which was loosely organized by Charlemagne, but made official only in 1936, when the appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) designated which regions were suitable for growing regional, village, 1er Cru or Grand Cru wines. The type and age of the vine only influences the yield, and to a smaller extent, the end structure of the wine. The French inheritance laws caused much of the vineyards to be divided up between siblings over the years. Often the small farmers don’t have enough acreage to produce a large enough quantity of wine to sell under its own label to any significant extent, without the ability to combine efforts into regional or village wines. It does not mean that the quality is not excellent.  As previously mentioned, much of the regional wines and most of the village wines have bright flavors and balance that appropriately reflect the terroir of the Bourgogne. Lastly, most of the vines in Burgundy are only about 60 years old! Most we’re torn out and replaced after WW 2, because they were too damaged.

Domaine Marcellet

Domaine Marcellet

Our first tasting was at Domaine Marcellet, a small family run Cote de Beaune operation that specializes in wines from the Hautes Cote de Beaune highlands, or wines from the higher elevations found in the slight mountains above the Cote d’ Or, and from the Savigny region, also in Beaune. The other white varietal allowed to be grown in Burgundy, besides Chardonnay, is Aligote. This grape tastes a lot like Sauvignon Blanc, and is a really great summer wine for the patio. The Hautes Cotes de Beaune are regional, and inexpensive ($12ish), but very tasty (fruit forward, strawberries), and a good bet if you can find them. They sell out very quickly locally. The Savigny Les Beaune wine we had was much darker in color, with slight, round tannins and more finesse than the Hautes wines. Also not too expensive ($15-20ish). This mountain area is also where the best Creme de Cassis Bourgogne comes from, and it is simply amazing. Real Kir cocktails are made from this Creme de Cassis and Aligote. Really fabulous!

This first half of the blog on the regional and village wines is important because the bulk of the wine actually made and consumed from Burgundy is made at these levels.   Because of the expense that the great wines of burgundy have achieved over the past thirty years, the Grand Crus and many of the 1er Crus have become unattainable for all but the very few. The reputation of Burgundy may be made from the Grand Cru, but the enjoyment of these remarkable wines comes from the regional and village offerings. I will send the second half of this note on Burgundy at a later date. That is all for now.

 

Cheers,

 

Karl

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Argentinian wine: wineblog #37

Argetinian wines at the foot of the Andes Mountains

Argetinian wines at the foot of the Andes Mountains

There was virtually no knowledge or understanding of viticulture (in Argentina), but my grandfather chose Malbec because even at that time it was considered the best, most reliable variety.’ – Nicholas Catena

 

Wine from Argentina is easy to find in most any wine store.  For the most part, it is less expensive to buy, and it is usually made from Malbec.  Can the whole of Argentinian winemaking be looked upon as a one trick pony; cheap, all Malbec, and vinified to be drunk immediately?  Hardly.  In the last three decades, the world of winemaking in Argentina has moved from producing large quantity, poor quality jug wine, to becoming the fifth largest exporter of wine in the world, with the demand ever growing.  Even though Malbec is still the most commonly grown grape in Argentina, their wines have become so much more.  I recently was in Argentina and was fortunate enough to visit two excellent growing regions:  the Province of Mendoza, and also Cafayete, a winegrowing region in the Northwest Province of Salta.

Argentine wine production has its roots in Spain, from both the Spanish colonization of South America during the mid 1500s, and also from Jesuit missionaries who always seemed to bring wine along with the Word when bringing enlightenment to the heathens.  It was quickly found that the western part of the country, along the Andes Mountains, has proper soil compositions and weather to grow excellent grapes.  The major growing regions include Mendoza, San Juan, Salta, Catamarca, Rio Negro, Northern Patagonia, and just south of Buenos Aires.  These regions are semi-arid, and irrigation from the perpetually snow capped peaks has been a part of vineyard management from almost the beginning.

Mendoza vines have netting over them to help protect from the devastating effects of hail

Mendoza vines have netting over them to help protect from the devastating effects of hail

These areas seldom have frost, but late summer hail can be a problem, and as a result, many of the vineyards, particularly in Mendoza, have complex netting to protect the vines from the potentially devastating effects hail can have on a crop.  The soils are mostly alluvial and sandy, with some substrates of limestone and clay.  Argentina’s most highly rated wines originate in two celebrated regions southwest of Mendoza.  These regions are Lujan de Cuyo and the Uco Valley.  These districts are located in the foothills of the Andes, with the majority of vineyards planted between 2,800 and 5,000 feet.  There are two wineries in the more northern region of Salta that are actually planted between 7,000 and 9,900 feet!  High altitude growth tends to focus Malbec with better balance, greater aromatics and excellent fruit forward character.

Malbec undergoing veraison in the mid-January summer heat in Mendoza

Malbec grapes undergoing veraison in the mid-January summer heat in Mendoza

Argentina’s most important and widely planted red grape varietals include Cereza, Criolla Chica, Criolla Grande, Bonarda, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Temperanillo, and Malbec.  These are all influenced by years of Spanish, Italian, and French immigrants.  While Malbec is born in Southwest France, and is a part of Bordeaux blend French Claret, and is still widely grown in Cahors, Malbec is king in Argentina, and actually looks and tastes differently than when grown in other parts of the world.  French Malbec is one of the Noble grapes, and is usually more of a blending varietal, used for its inky color and intense fruity flavors in Bordeaux style wines.  The Malbec of Argentina is a softer, less tannic, velvety manifestation.  Its grape clusters have smaller sized berries and smaller clusters than those grown in France.  Argentinian winemakers often have to closely manage the proper balance of 100% Malbec wines because the warm growing regions often produce riper tannins and lower acidity that have the potential to make the wines taste flabby and weak.

So why Malbec?  How did this blending grape from France become the dominant varietal in Argentina?  Malbec was introduced to Argentina in the mid 1800s by a French agronomist named Miguel Pouget, who had been hired to improve the overall quality of the winemaking industry in Argentina.  Malbec was one of many vines he brought from France.  In France, Malbec is difficult to grow.  The vines are at a higher susceptibility to suffer from frost, rot and Coulure (a failure of grape berries to develop after flowering secondary to cold, damp weather, and extreme out of season temperatures).  In the dry heat of Argentina, Malbec flourished and adapted to the varied terroirs, and altitudes.  Argentina subsequently began to produce a wine from Malbec that was better than that produced in it’s original country.  Malbec’s classic flavor profile includes intense dark color, red fruit aromas (cherries and strawberries), cooked fruit, non-aggressive tannins, and excellent fresh fruit character.

Tank tasting wines in Argentina

Tank tasting wines in Argentin

Argentina is unique in the major wine growing regions of the world in that Phylloxera has never been a major problem.  The Phylloxera aphid-like insect is actually present in the soil, but it has been shown to be a particularly weak biotype that does not kill the vine roots.  Reasons for Argentina’s protection are varied, meaning no one really knows, but explanations range from Argentina’s relative geographic isolation, to flood-type irrigation, to the weak Phylloxera biotype being able to successfully out compete its more devastating relative for dominance in the soil.

Nicolas Catena

Nicolas Catena

Nicholas Catena is a third generation winegrower in Mendoza, and the 2009 Decanter magazine Man of the year.  His pioneering Catena Zapata Winery sets the standard for Argentinian wine production.  In the early 1980s, Catena consulted with French vintner Jacques Lurton for help in taking his wines to the next level.  After sampling one of his Cabernets, Lurton noted, “This wine is from a hot region.  It reminds me of the Languedoc.  You have the same problem as they do in Australia.”  Catena came to the conclusion that to have great Argentinian wine, he would need vineyards growing at much lower temperatures.  Establishing vines at higher altitudes was the answer to the temperature problem.  He went against conventional wisdom and planted at different altitudes across varying microclimates, finding that at higher altitude, the lower temperatures and more intense sunlight seemed to smooth out tannins, and increase blue violet aromas.  Today, Mendoza’s Uco Valley is the promised land of New World terroir in Argentina.  For more on Nicholas Catena, check out the Decanter Man of the year interview with Nicholas Catena, from where much of this information was sourced at  (http://www.decanter.com/people-and-places/wine-articles/484979/interview-with-nicolas-catena-decanter-man-of-the-year-2009#rTF0SbTsPuBWYya8.99).

Bodega Yacochuya in Cafayete, province of Salta

Bodega Yacochuya in Cafayete, province of Salta

I went to three wineries in the northern Salta province of Cafayete. This area boast of some of the highest elevations in the world planted with vineyards (3,050 meters). The climate has ultra low humidity-, and the soil is quite sandy. We went to three medium sized vineyards – the largest (Domingo Hernandez) produces 4 million cases per year- yes, in Argentina, that is medium sized. The Bodegas (wineries) specialize in the white Torrontes grape. It is interesting in that Torrontes is very aromatic and floral on the nose, but quite dry in the mouth, and has a short finish. Overall, I did enjoy them, and I think they are worth the price down here ($5-10 US dollars). They remind me of Riesling, and they produce quite a few off-dry Torrontes wines that would really remind one of a California Riesling– not really my cup of tea. Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Bernardo, with Malbec being 90% of what’s available, dominate the red wines produced in Cafayete. I find these wines to be sharp, not complex table wines. My wife came up with baked beans as a descriptor. Now to be fair, we were not able to go to the top producers in the region in terms of reputation for quality, but we had some of these wines at various restaurants. Every “top quality” wine we have had from this region has been good but not great.

 

The tasting room at Bodega Alto Vista

The tasting room at Bodega Alto Vista

We effectively visited five wineries in Mendoza, and we found some truly outstanding Malbecs.  We started out at Bodega Alto Vista, and had many excellent wines, including by far the best Torrontes I had on the trip.  Alto Vista is a very modern winery with a clearly high level of quality control.  We worked our way up through their list of wines- each one better than anything I have had anywhere else in Argentina.  Their flagship wine “Alto” was a blend of 75% Malbec, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and a smattering of other grapes (Bernardo).  Parker rated this one a 95.  Needless to say, I bought a case.

Bodega Casarena in Lujan de Cujo

Bodega Casarena in Lujan de Cujo

The next winery was Casarena, and this was my favorite winery to visit in all of Argentina.  Their winemaker used to be assistant winemaker at Catena Zapata, but left for Casarena because he was allowed more flexibility in winery experimentation and individual expression.

Decanter Award for best malbec- Jumilla's Vineyard Malbec

Decanter Award for best malbec- Jumilla’s Vineyard Malbec

Casarena’s “Jumilla’a Vineyard 2010” Malbec was awarded “Best Malbec in the World” by Decanter Magazine… I bought three cases.

The third winery was “Domingo de la Plata “.  The wines were quite good, but what was great was the incredible lunch we had- paired with their wines.  Really excellent!  This is something unexpected about Argentinian wines; they are great with food.  Slightly lower in alcohol than most New World wines, many of the wines we had on our trip paired excellently with the Argentinian cuisine.

Bodega Catena Zapata

Bodega Catena Zapata

The fourth winery was Catena Zapata.  As previously mentioned, Catena has been a part of the winemaking landscape in Mendoza for over 100 years and four generations.  This winery is one of the largest importers to the USA. Their main winery building was fashioned to look like an Aztec pyramid. Catena Zapata is known for some of the highest vineyards planted in the world (5,000 feet).  The tour was decent but somewhat sterile- given actually by someone from British Columbia, and they poured their middle of the road wines-, which were still excellent.  I bought three of their high end Malbecs.  The last winery was actually the winery at our boutique hotel (Finca Adalesia), located in the region of Lujn de Cuyo.  Every evening they would serve complementary wines from their small production, with Tapas. I have now had several of their Cab blends and their Malbec– both quite good, better than I expected for their production size.  Unfortunately, their wines are not available in the US, but I do recommend Finca Adalesia as a great place to stay for anyone who is travelling to Argentina.

Malbec was a relatively unknown quantity until the demand in the 1990s woke up Argentina to the true value of its star grape. In Argentina, Malbec has come into its own, with a style, flavor profile and texture unique to Argentina and it’s high altitude vineyards.  Argentinian wines can easily compete with the best of the wines in the world, and continue to benefit from enhanced vineyard and winemaking techniques.  I look forward to increasing the presence of Mendoza wine in my cellar.  That’s all for now

Cheers,

Karl

 

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Visiting Northern Sonoma County, part two: wineblog #36

Our travelling wine group

Our travelling wine group

Close friends contribute to our personal growth.  They also contribute to our personal pleasure, making the music sound sweeter, the wine taste richer, the laughter ring louder because they are there – Judith Viorst

The most fun one can have in the California wine country is by sharing their experience of tasting wine and learning about the places the grapes are grown and vinified, with great friends who also appreciate the finer points of good wine.  That trip happened for my wife and I recently in the Northern Sonoma County, with eight other great friends from Colorado.

Honor Mansion in Healdsburg, California

Honor Mansion in Healdsburg, California

We stayed at our favorite bed and breakfast, the Honor Mansion, in Healdsburg, CA, which is in the heart of the Sonoma Wine Road.  We had a blueprint for visiting wineries and restaurants, and high hopes for a great experience in the California wine country.

Carrie-Anne Mauritsion pouring wine at our Rockpile lunch

Carrie-Anne Mauritsion pouring wine at our Rockpile lunch

Our adventure began in the Dry Creek AVA (American Viticulture Area) at Mauritson Winery for a winery tour with a glass of their Chardonnay.  No less than Carrie-Anne Mauritson, wife of Clay Mauritson, owner and winemaker, was our charming tour guide.  Crush was just beginning so many of the tanks were bubbling away with grapes being fermented into wine.  We hopped into two suburbans and made our way up above lake Sonoma to the famous Rockpile AVA, where Mauritson has more acreage under vine cultivation than any other grower.  Cemetery Zinfandel is made there, and although the grapes had already been harvested, we saw the vineyard with its well-drained clay-loam soil.

Lake Sonoma as viewed from Rockpile Vineyard

Lake Sonoma as viewed from Rockpile Vineyard

Rockpile is at almost 1,000 feet elevation, and because of the underlying Lake Sonoma inversion, Rockpile never has fog.  The unique climactic conditions with constant wind, poor water retention, moderate temperature, and general maritime climate at elevation, provide for stressed vines that produce excellent grapes for winemaking.

A wonderful picnic layout of food and wine

A wonderful picnic layout of food and wine

As we walked around Jack’s Cabin vineyard, an incredible lunch was laid out for us on picnic tables.  A wonderful spread with various cheeses, charcuterie, Heirloom tomatoes from Carrie and Clay’s garden, prosciutto and Gruyere cheese sandwiches on crusty baguettes, and of course, more wine.  Clay Mauritson rarely submits his wines to any formal wine grading organization such as The Wine Spectator, because it is his philosophy that wines shouldn’t be produced just to garner a superior rating.  It seems like its easier and easier  for wineries to achieve a 90plus rating, but for Clay, the more important goal is to achieve a product that attains the quality characteristic that the land, vineyard and vintner can assemble.  The occasional wine that has made it into a formal wine grading always seems to receive 90 plus scores anyway.  Several brothers in the Mauritson family are in charge of the vineyards, while Clay is in charge of the winemaking.  It is a family affair that achieves a high level of success, year after year.

Mark Blanchard pouring Blanchard Family wines for our group at a memorable afternoon tasting

Mark Blanchard pouring Blanchard Family wines for our group at a memorable afternoon tasting

For a change of pace, our next stop was Blanchard Family wines, located in the self proclaimed Healdsburg ghetto.  This was an urban, vineyardless winery that has a grassroots beginning from two brothers (Mark and James), who found they shared a love of wine and a dream of starting a winery. They finally took the plunge a few years ago and began with a ton of grapes, and old wine press and high hopes.  It took a few years of trial and error (mostly error), but slowly began to expand their mailing list.  James has close ties to the US Air Force (Air Force Academy grad, and current helicopter pilot), and they have become the official US Air Force winery.  They make a proprietary blend called Red Scarf Blend, which is dedicated to the US military Special Forces, and whose proceeds go towards helping the families of those who have fallen while serving in the most elite branches of the Armed Services.  We had a very relaxed tasting and tour of their warehouse and new tasting room, which houses their entire operation.  Mark is affable, full of personality, and seems to love giving out barrel tastings of their latest vintage.  We even did a mini blending experiment with their Zinfandel, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.  They have big plans to continue expanding, and so far, seem to be on the right track.

The next day I was excited to get to our first stop, Martinelli Winery in the Russian River AVA, because it is one place my wife and I have been collecting wine from for quite some time.  Every other time we have visited we have only done tastings at the winery, because that is all they traditionally do for visitors.  However, this time, we were able to get on their rarely offered- only during crush, harvest tour.

A great tasting in the Martinelli tasting room after our crush tour

A great tasting in the Martinelli tasting room after our crush tour

The Martinelli family has a very interesting five-generation story, dating from the late 1800’s when grapes were sold at $5 per ton.  Their most famous vineyard, called Jackass vineyard, is the steepest in the county, with a well-drained slope of almost 60 degrees.  My two favorite Zinfandels produced here are the Giuseppe and Louisa Zinfandel, and the Jackass Hill Zinfandel, although they produce more than 25 different wines.  We had a great tasting and our favorite Zins did not disappoint.

Clos du Bois Winery

Clos du Bois Winery

Our early afternoon stop was at Clos du Bois, which is the largest winery in Alexander Valley, producing over 2 million cases of wine per year.  It is nice see to the contrast in the processes of boutique wineries against wine production on a large scale. Our purpose here was to experience the Marlestone blending seminar.  I love these classes, because I do believe that the proper blend of different varietals can lead to a final product that is bigger than any respective component.  Any wine varietal can have slightly different color, tannic backbone, finish, structure, smoothness, and mouth feel, depending on how well the growing season went.  The winemaker’s job is to create a product denoting all the choice characteristics of the best varietal component any given winery can produce.  When I drink wine from my favorite wineries, there is a consistency from year to year that I look for.  The formula to achieve that consistency sometimes can have distinct variances from year to year.  That is why the winemaker’s job is more than just following a cookbook formula to achieve a final product.  Our blending class had us sitting in front of the five noble grapes that make up the Bordeaux blend:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc.  We had 100ml flasks and pipets to combine and test, looking for the formula, which brings out the best of each component.  It was hard to say who’s blend was the winner, but safe to say everyone had a great time.

A view from below of Stryker Winery tasting room

A view from below of Stryker Winery tasting room

The next fine day began at Stryker Winery and Vineyards in the Alexander Valley AVA.  This Estate is near and dear to my heart, because the owner, Pat Stryker, still resides in my hometown in Colorado.  The winery is beautiful, and the tasting room has won many awards for best tasting room in Sonoma.

On tour at Stryker Winery

On tour at Stryker Winery

The Stryker wines are lush, and very drinkable, and they have 95 years old Zinfandel wines that some of their estate wines are made from.  We had an excellent tour of the winery and vineyards from Brian, the winery manager, and the pours were plentiful.

A great tasting at Chaulk Hill Vineyards

A great tasting at Chaulk Hill Vineyards

Our next wine tasting of the day was at Chalk Hill Estate, a large and beautiful winery dominating the Chalk Hill sub-AVA in Alexander Valley.  The specialty here is white wine, particularly Chardonnay.  The volcanic ash based soil restrains the fertility of the vines, which allows for concentrated fruit.  The beautiful wines are cerebral in their complexity, and good to drink, even for those who think they only prefer red wine.  They have a culinary food and wine pairing hosted by Chalk Hill’s resident chef, which takes place in the beautiful equestrian building overlooking the Chalk Hill hillside vineyard. The setting for this lunch is something special and this event is certainly one not to be missed.

A wonderful tour of the olive pressing room at Tratorre Farms Olive Oil Company

A wonderful tour of the olive pressing room at Tratorre Farms Olive Oil Company

We ended the day with something different- a wine and olive oil tasting at the Dry Creek Olive Oil Company.  Our tasting commenced with several offerings from their sister winery “Trattore Estate winery” which was actually quite excellent and affordable.  We had a nice tour of their olive mill and processing center, with which they do quite a bit of olive processing from many of the surrounding estates, in addition to their own olives.

It was great to taste the various olive oils at Tratorre

It was great to taste the various olive oils at Tratorre

They offer a wide selection of local (mission olives), Mediterranean blend (Greek and Italian varieties) and flavored olive oils (lemon, grapefruit, etc).   We learned that most of the “Extra Virgin olive oils imported into the USA from Mediterranean countries are actually of quite poor quality.  UC- Davis recently did a study on imported oils and found that over 98% were not extra virgin, and that most were actually blended inferior, non-olive  (i.e. sunflower) oils.  For real extra virgin olive oil, be sure to only look for US and Australian olive oils, which are the only countries with government, required quality control for olive oil.

Lancaster Winery

Lancaster Winery

Our final day of tours and tasting began at Lancaster Estate Winery in the Alexander Valley AVA.  This is one of my wine clubs, and every aspect of winemaking here undergoes the strictest sense of classic winemaking done the right way.  Our guide, Casey, was informative and sassy in a good way, and the wine caves were beautiful. Lancaster’s winemaker, Jessie Katz (lured from Screaming Eagle) and consulting winemaker David Ramey (who has a hand in making the French superstar Chateau Petrus, and who has helped guide the winemaking at Lancaster for more than ten years), is innovative and cutting edge in how he vinifies the wines.

Clear bottom barrels in the fermentation room at Lancaster Winery

Clear bottom barrels in the fermentation room at Lancaster Winery

Jesse is young and boasts numerous awards and scores in the mid-nineties for Lancaster’s Pinot Noir, Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Nicole’s Proprietary Red.  The wine tasting was in their new beautiful wine caves after a vineyard tour.  I believe that after visiting Lancaster, even the most wine savvy connoisseur will come away with new and relevant knowledge.

Karen explaining the process at Garden Creek winery

Karen explaining the process at Garden Creek winery

Our last formal wine tour of the day was at Garden Creek Winery in the Alexander Valley AVA.  The small 1500 case production is a labor of love by owners Justin and Karin Warnelius-Miller.  Justin was busy with the Chardonnay grapes just harvested and Karin gave us an intimate look at wine production on a small scale.

Winetasting by candle light in the aging room at Garden Creek winery

Winetasting by candle light in the aging room at Garden Creek winery

She was absolutely charming, and we had a wonderful winetasting by candlelight in their wine aging barn on site.  Their primary focus is to allow the grapes to express as much of the terroir as possible through minimal manipulation, cold storage carbonic maceration, natural fermentation, and aging in French oak barrels.  The wines are great and this place is worth seeking out.

We had a great time at the Simi Release party

We had a great time at the Simi Release party

We ended this day at Alexander Valley’s Simi Winery for the release party of their 2010 Landslide Cabernet Sauvignon.  This was held at the winery in the midst of a beautiful redwood grove with reggae music and Caribbean food.  An excellent festive atmosphere was perfect to close the day.  In addition to the Landslide Cab,  the Simi staff was pouring library Cabernet from the 1980s and 1990s.

The Northern Sonoma County is a great place to experience the very best of California wine making.  We had cases of wine and memories, packed in our luggage and ready to ship home.  The region is beautiful, and we Americans are so fortunate to have this place and the wines that come from here.  That’s all for now.

Cheers,

Karl

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Visiting the Napa Valley, part two: wineblog # 35

The world Famous Napa Valley Sign

The world Famous Napa Valley Sign

The wine is the reduction sauce and the barrel is the spice rack

 – David Del Dotto

I recently returned from a wonderful trip to the Napa Valley with my wife and newly turned 21 year old daughter. For her birthday, the primary thing she asked for was a trip to the California wine country, and my wife and I were only too happy to oblige. It is fun, beautiful and exciting to vacation in the Napa Valley. When I’m asked about where to go to visit in Napa, I am always happy to impart some knowledge of my wife and my favorite places to visit. I think there is some value in updating what I have previously written (Visiting the Napa Valley; wine blog #11). Some of the information presented here in travelogue form is new, and some is an update on places I have previously written about. There are so many places to visit in the valley, and some have asked me why not visit completely new places every time. This is a good strategy, but for us we find enjoyment in revisiting places where we like their wine, and their familiar winery (often they remember us as well). Or if we happen to have a club membership in their wine club, there are certain perks of membership when visiting in the form of complementary tours or tastings, or sometimes even charcuterie, lunches or dinners that are nice to take advantage of. So read on, and then plan a trip for yourself!

The Cape-Dutch architecture of Chimney Rock Winery

The Cape-Dutch architecture of Chimney Rock Winery

We started at Chimney Rock, in the Stag’s Leap district. Stag’s Leap AVA is the smallest AVA in the valley. It is known for producing high intensity wines that finish smoothly (iron fist in a velvet glove), and Chimney Rock winery is no exception. The beautiful winery is built in the Cape-Dutch architectural fashion seen in the wineries of South Africa, and in fact, is a close cousin to Groot Constantia in Stellenbosch. The original owners partnered with the Terlato family from Chicago who have a long history of winemaking in other regions, who also raised the total number of acres under vine. The philosophy at Chimney Rock is to make high quality, small production handcrafted single vineyard wines, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux style wines, and they succeed well in that endeavor with Ganymead, their flagship wine.

Barrel Tasting at Chimney Rock

Barrel Tasting at Chimney Rock

We did a behind the scenes vineyard tour with barren tasting and formal vertical tasting. Chimney Rock is unique in that they only use free run juice (no pressed juice) in their wines. Also, they have more steel tanks for fermenting than any other wineries their size because they ferment their grapes longer (up to 40 days on the lees which is pumped over), then only use the juice above the lees for their own wines. The idea is to give a truer expression of their terroir without the harshness. They also make a Bordeaux style white that they age in only small steel barrels.

Barrel tasting at the famous historic Del Dotto wine caves

Barrel tasting at the famous historic Del Dotto wine caves

Next up was the Historic caves of Del Dotto. David Del Dotto made his money in the “info­mercials” of the 1980’s and subsequently started his winery in the early 1990’s, to great success. He has two wineries (one in the Atlas Peak AVA and in the Rutherford AVA), but my favorite to visit is the old original wine caves. The tour delves into great detail about the importance of proper cooperage, and the “spice rack” influence the stave toasting in the barrels has on the finished product. We barrel tasted many wines made from the same varietal and the same vineyard, just aged in different barrels (French oak vs., American oak, medium toast vs. high toast), and there is a huge difference! This is a very fun and high sensory experience.

The entrance of Caymus Winery

The entrance of Caymus Winery

This trip was the first time we had done a formal tasting at Caymus vineyards. Charlie Wagner has been the owner and winemaker of Caymus for 40 years, and their wines are among my all-time favorite in the Valley.

Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection

Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection

Their Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection are truly incredible, and are always highly rated. Their price points are always much lower than comparable wines. The Wagner family has greatly expanded their offerings, with the conundrum white and red blends, their MerSoleil chardonnay and unoaked Silver in the ceramic bottle, and Ben Gloss Pinot Noir, all made with the high standards always found at Caymus. The even produce a Caymus Zinfandel that is only available at the Rutherford winery.

Joseph Phelps Vineyards

Joseph Phelps Vineyards and Estate

Joseph Phelps Estate in St. Helena is also a fantastic place to visit. Their winery is off the beaten track, and they been marking the most award winning wines (particularly Insignia) since Phelps started making wine in this spot in 1973.

The magic elixor that blends into Insignia

The magic elixor that blends into Insignia

We did the Insignia blending class, and one really gets the tiniest sense of how the winemaker blends the grapes from the different Vineyard plots and varietals. There really is a difference between the powerful tannic Rutherford vineyard cab and the velvety tannins and smooth finish in the Stag’s leap vineyard cab. Blend this with the floral, fruit forward merlot and the higher acid Petit Verdot, and you have a balanced wonderful blend. Our offering didn’t taste quite like the real thing though- they must have been holding back on some of the components we had to work with.

The vineyards of Joseph Phelps

The vineyards of Joseph Phelps

Their main building and tasting room have beautiful views looking over their piece of the valley

Round Pond Olive Oil Estate

Round Pond Olive Oil Estate

F or a change of pace, Round Pond Olive Oil Company is a great place to visit, even as an unplanned drop in site. They have eight different styles of oils to sample, including flavor infused oils that are fantastic. They have several balsamic vinegars which are made from the highly rated Round Pond wines. As drop ins we tasted all of our oils with bread or on their own, but in a scheduled tour, the oils are served on fresh salads.

BPW Wine Merchants in Napa Valley

BPW Wine Merchants in Napa Valley

My favorite Internet site to buy wines is BPW wine merchants, (www.bpwines.com) and they are headquartered near the Napa airport, just south of the city of Napa. It is a fantastic online way to buy pretty much any wines you can think of. The quality control is excellent, and you can be sure the wines you buy (even from older cellars) are checked out to have been cellared properly. Additionally, you can’t beat the $9 per case shipping charge. Stefan and Tom are the ones in charge, and they are laid back guys who would be happy to meet you and share a glass or two especially if you are on their mailing list.

Exploring the "secrets" of grilling at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena

Exploring the “secrets” of grilling at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena

Next up was something different; a cooking class at the Culinary Institute of the Arts at Greystone Castle in St. Helena. They offer a wide variety of ways to get involved. This can be anything from watching a cooking demonstration, or wine appreciating classes to a five day boot camp on Italian cooking or pastry making. This trip we participated in a 2 1/2 hour class on “grilling secrets”- it was just great, and the meal we cooked (grilled eggplant pizza, grilled pancetta wrapped endive and potatoes with cheese and tomatoes, grilled cedar plank salmon, and grilled peaches and dates with crème fraise topping) was incredible!

The Oakville Silver Oak Winery

The Oakville Silver Oak Winery

This culinary diversion was followed by a trip to the Napa Valley Silver Oak winery in Oakville. Silver Oak is one of those wines where people either love it or hate it. Their Cabernet sauvignon and Bordeaux style wines are made slightly less heavy, with high fruit and lower alcohol. They are aged longer in the barrel than any other winery does in the valley (the 2009 is just about to be released now- four years after it was harvested).

Wine tasting at the Napa Silver Oak Winery

Wine tasting at the Napa Silver Oak Winery

The result is a wine that is really easy to drink with a meal, and doesn’t require a lot of aging to be approachable. Their new winery is beautiful, and is a must visit in Napa.

Beautiful vistas from Artesa Winery in the Mayacamus mountains west of the town of Napa

Beautiful vistas from Artesa Winery in the Mayacamus mountains west of the town of Napa

Another frequent stop for us (and this latest trip was no exception) is Artesa Vineyards and winery, high atop the Mayacamus mountains between Napa and Sonoma, This place has Spanish roots, and the wines include all the usual suspects, but they also do a fantastic job with certain Spanish varietals as Albarino and Temperanillo. The winery itself is architecturally quite modern, and is very beautiful to visit.

Veriason and leaves turning  in early fall

Veriason and leaves turning in early fall

Schramsberg Sparkling Winery

Schramsberg Sparkling Winery

The next morning brought us to Schramsberg winery, the first place in the Napa Valley devoted to produce a high quality sparkling wine produced in the traditional champagne method (see wine blog # ,for details on the method champagnoise). When Jacob Schram emigrated from Germany in the mid – 1840s, his winery was the second in the valley. When he died in the early 1900s, the winery stood vacant until 1965 when Jack and Jamie Davies bought the land and the buildings.

Champagne tasting at Schramsberg winery

Champagne tasting at Schramsberg winery

He and his wife were great lovers of champagne, and he lived in France for a year to learn the proper techniques of sparkling wine production. It is the standard American sparkler served in the White House at all State dinners, and for good reason. Schramsberg sparkling wine is fantastic, possessing all the qualities of the best champagne from France. The tour into the caves to see three million bottles aging between 2 & 12 years, and to get the back story on riddling is very interesting.

Heitz Cellars

Heitz Cellars

We had a quick unscheduled stop at Heitz vineyards (It happened to be across the street from Dean and Deluca, where we were having lunch)! Heitz is one of the grand old names of Napa, and their Martha’s Vineyard is still considered by many to be a part of the California “first growth” wines. To my surprise, they offered us a complementary tasting of 6 wines, including their port.

Heather and Ariane in front of Inglenook Estate

Heather and Ariane in front of Inglenook Estate

Our next scheduled stop was at Inglenook Estate, which, like Schramsberg, has a long and storied past, a brief summary of which is worth hearing. Gustave Niebaum was a wealthy sea captain who retired from sailing in the mid 18OOs with something like ten million dollars. He loved wine and wanted to make wine to rival the great wines of Europe, so he built his estate in Rutherford, and within fifteen years of production, he succeeded in winning countless awards for quality in Europe and the USA. When Niebaum died in 1908, his great nephew John Daniel Jr. continued on with Inglenook, even through prohibition and two world wars in producing high quality wines. His profitability was another matter, however, and he lost all his money through bad business practices, so he sold the winery to the Heublin Company (later Constellation Brands).  Heublin was most interested in profits over quality, so they divided the estates and produced a low cost jug wine under the name Inglenook, into the t970s. Now comes Francis Ford Coppola, who was hot after the success of the first two Godfather movies. He was looking for a home in Napa where he could have a hobby winery for himself. Shortly after moving in, being the celebrity that he was, Robert Mondavi came over for dinner, and they proceeded to find the oldest bottle in the still existing wine cellar in his new home. They found a bottle of 1887 Inglenook Claret which they opened and found to be still fantastic. The rest is history, as Coppola has spent more than thirty years reuniting the original properties and dedicating the estate to producing high quality wines, first under the name Niebaum- Coppola, then Rubicon, and now finally Inglenook, as all the pieces are back together. He even lured the winemaker from Chateau Margaux to bring Inglenook all the way back to its former glory. This story, by the way came from our tour guide, which was very worthwhile, as was the tasting.

The author, Heather, Ariane and David Del Dotto at the new Del Dotto Rutherford Venetian Wine Caves

The author, Heather, Ariane and David Del Dotto at the new Del Dotto Rutherford Venetian Wine Caves

Our final stop in Napa was also in Rutherford, again at Del Dotto, only in the new Venetian Winery and marble caves. This place should be on everyone’s itinerary when visiting the valley. We came in at just before 5:00pm, and the opera music had been replaced by loud rock. The usually quiet calm was replaced by a party atmosphere, and David Del Dotto himself was pouring the wine! Simon, our guide from our previous cave tour at the old historic caves, was there and had instant recognition of us, and the wine came pouring freely. The Del Dotto Tuscan Reserve is unique (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Sangiovese), fantastic to drink and a real crowd pleaser. Also fun to drink is the Del Dotto Cave Blend, and the Cabernet from Del Dotto’s sister Winery, Villa del Lago.

Karl, Heather and Ariane overlooking Francis Ford Coppola's home at Inglenook Estate

Karl, Heather and Ariane overlooking Francis Ford Coppola’s home at Inglenook Estate

My wife and I receive great pleasure from visiting the Napa Valley. It is easy to get to, and you can have a great experience in even a long three or four day weekend trip. There are many more activities available that have less to do with wine (hiking, biking, antiquing, hot air ballooning, spa treatments, tennis, golfing, etc.). I will let someone else blog about those activities. In the meantime, plan a trip, stay safe, and have fun. That is all for now.

Cheers,

Karl

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Judgment of Windsor Food and Wine dinner: wineblog #34

Wines from the 2013 Judgment of Windsor dinner to benefit the Food Banks of Northern Colorado

Wines from the 2013 Judgment of Windsor dinner to benefit the Food Banks of Northern Colorado

“Not bad for some kids from the sticks”- Jim Barrett, 1976

My wife and I have had some very special food and wine dinners at great restaurants across the country. Food and wine pairing dinners have always been near to our hearts, and we recently had an experience that set a new standard for excellence in both the food presented and the wine served. The theme of this dinner was the wines served at the 1976 “Judgment of Paris”, in which Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant, organized to showcase the established gold standard of French winemaking and the up and coming American wine region of California.

Chimney Park Restauranteurs Jason Shaeffer and James GUrley

Chimney Park Restauranteurs Jason Shaeffer and James GUrley

The venue was Chimney Park Restaurant & Bar, where head Chef Jason Shaeffer, cellar master James Gurley, and wine benefactor Ken Severson hosted the “2013 Judgment of Windsor” event, a fundraiser for two northern Colorado regional food banks.

Cover of George Taber's book on the 1976 Judgement of Paris

Cover of George Taber’s book on the 1976 Judgement of Paris

The original competition in 1976 was a blind tasting competition held Paris, in which French judges with impeccable credentials, compared first and second growth French Bordeaux’s with California Cabernet Sauvignon. They also compared French white Burgundies with California Chardonnays. The great significance of the competition was that two California wines (Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars for the red, and Chateau Montelena for the whites) each came out on top, thus establishing the world class quality for American wines, and showing the world that California wine can compete with the very best of Old World classics.

The movie "Bottle Shock" dramatized the 1976 Judgment of Paris

The movie “Bottle Shock” dramatized the 1976 Judgment of Paris

This event was recently elevated via the Hollywood movie “Bottle Shock” which dramatized the event through the eyes of Steven Spurrier (played by Alan Rickman), Chateau Montelena vintner Jim Barrett and his son Bo Barrett (played by Bill Pullman and Chris Pine). The original event had huge implications in the wine industry in the 1970s. There were tasting replications in 1978 in San Francisco, 1986 at the French Culinary Institute in Paris, the Wine Spectator Tasting in Napa Valley, also in 1986, and the 30 year anniversary tasting in 2006, which was conducted simultaneously at COPIA (The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts, in Napa Valley), and at Berry Bros & Rudd in London.

Steven Spurrier

Steven Spurrier

Steven Spurrier was involved in varying degrees in several of these competitions, and tasters included such wine luminaries as Michael Broadbent, Hugh Johnson, and Jancis Robinson. In every competition listed, California wines came out on top over their French counterparts.

Heather and Karl at the 2013 Judgment of Windsor

Heather and Karl at the 2013 Judgment of Windsor

My wife and I have been to several dinners where Old World and New World wines of similar grape varietals were presented. The difference for this dinner is that the special wines tasted at the 1976 Judgment were actually the wines we drank. This included a special tasting of the 1970 Chateaux Leoville Las Cases, the very vintage used in the 1976 event in Paris!

Stag's Leap, Mouton-Rothschild, Ridge Mont Bello, 1996 Leoville Las Cases, 1970 Leoville-Las Cases

Stag’s Leap, Mouton-Rothschild, Ridge Mont Bello, 1996 Leoville Las Cases, 1970 Leoville-Las Cases

These wonderful wines were donated by Ken Severson of NVIDIA, as was the food and serving duties by Jason and his crew at Chimney Park.

Jason Shaeffer of Chimney Park Restaurant

Jason Shaeffer of Chimney Park Restaurant

Jason trained under four separate recipients of Food and Wine Top American Chefs, including Thomas Keller, where he was sous chef at Per Se in New York City. He has won awards from San Diego Magazine, Bon Appetite, and the Wall Street Journal. The Judgment of Windsor event was a fundraiser for the Larimer County and Weld County Food Banks. We are lucky to have his talents here in Northern Colorado.

DSC_0717The dinner for the participants was a French themed blockbuster of gastronomic delights served in family style, with two wines; the French and American counterpart, served with each course.

Hors d’ Oeuvres:

OEufs a la Caviar, Terrine de Fois Gras, Rillettes aux Saumon Furnee.

The champagnes served were 2005 Tattinger, Brut (France), vs. 2010 Domaine Carneros, Brut (California).

Escargots de Bourgogne Pithivier.

Served with 2010 Joseph Drouhin, Chassagne Montrachet, Marquis de Laguiche, Burgundy (France) vs. 2010 Chateau Montelena, Chardonnay, Napa Valley (California).

The Intermediaire was House made Sorbet with Splash of Bubbles.

A food and wine pairing dinner not to be forgotten!

A food and wine pairing dinner not to be forgotten!

Plat Principal:

Gnocchi a la Parisenne, Confit de Canard aux Lentilles, Steak Frites Maître d’ Hotel.

Served with 1999 Mouton-Rothschild Paullac, Bordeaux (France), and 1996 Chateaux Leoville Las Cases, St Julien (France) vs. 1999 Stag’s Leap, SLV, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa (California), and 1996 Ridge Monte Bello, Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mtns (California)

Special appearance by 1970 Chateaux Leoville Las Cases, St Julien (France).

Dessert:

Buffet de Desserts et de Fromages.

Served with 2008 Rieussec, Sauternes (France) vs. 2008 Far Niente Dolce, Sauternes, Oakville (California).

The Champagne and the Sauternes were actually not part of the Judgment of Paris, but were definitely appreciated to complement the pairings offered.

Heather savoring a glass of the 1999 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild Bordeau

Heather savoring a glass of the 1999 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild Bordeau

Everyone had their favorite wines, and for me, my favorite white wine was the 2010 Chateau Montelena, excellent structure and acidity, balanced with tropical fruit and hint of oak, and my favorite red was the 1999 Mouton-Rothschild (a very pleasing Paullac).  It had classic tobacco notes, and black berry fruit highlights.  Excellent balance, and the lower alcohol allowed it to pair well with the Confit de Canard.  I also preferred the Tattinger and the Dolce to their counterparts. The 1970 Leoville Las Cases had smoothness, maturity and uniqueness, with fully resolved tannins as one would expect. I did not prefer its flavors to the Mouton-Rothschild or the Stag’s Leap, because it felt somewhat unbalanced.  It was great to sample,
however, and it felt like tasting a bit of history, with a quite extended finish. Last but not least, another bottle from the 1976 Judgment of Paris list, Chateau Montrose was given out to the winner of a quiz on the facts of the famed 1976 event. I was lucky enough to go home with said bottle in hand- to be enjoyed on another day.

A bottle of the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that wone the 1976 Judgment of Paris in the Smithsonian Institution

A bottle of the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that wone the 1976 Judgment of Paris in the Smithsonian Institution

The night passed quickly and as we all got rides home, a tried to organize my memories of the evening so as to remember the details. Sure the cause was just, the food was great, the wines were fantastic, and the company around the room was engaging. But the history of the event that was the inspiration for our special evening was what my mind kept coming back to.  American winemaking transformed from a backwater second thought garage business into a serious player on the international stage in one day. Our perceptions of what has been must be able to adapt to realities of what is or what will come; and not just as it applies to wine. It is a brave new world out there, and although it’s important to not lose our traditions, like the greatness of Old World wines,  we all need to be ready to examine, and perhaps embrace what is yet to come and impact us all. That’s all for now.

Cheers,

KarlDSC_0710

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