Saturday, March 16, 2019

Blue Rock Wines Deliver Old World Style And Memorable Taste

Blue Rock Vineyard Wines - Photo by Dave Nershi

Blue Rock Vineyard was first settled by Italians who worked at a nearby winery. The winery maintains that Old World character and even the original olive trees, which are now more than 140 years old.

Sonoma Smooth

Over the last oh-so-many years of uncertainty in the world, one thing has remained sure: Baby Blue is a remarkable Sonoma blend. I first discovered this sterling Blue Rock Vineyard wine during a board meeting in Orlando.

As executive director, I was in charge of making dinner arrangements and selecting the wine. Baby Blue, a blend of the five five Bordeaux grapes plus Syrah, caught my eye and was ordered up for the notoriously thirsty board members.

Baby Blue was silky smooth and, at less than $30 (although liberally marked up at the restaurant), was an astounding value. Since then, we’ve enjoyed this wine frequently.

Beyond Baby Blue

We recently had the opportunity to taste three current releases and one was quite a surprise. I like Blue Rock for a number of reasons. Paramount is the great wine and I also dig the minimalistic packaging. Elegant, clean and striking – like the Blue Rock wines.

New Orleans crayfish with Blue Rock Cabernet
Sauvignon and Baby Blue Blanc

Until recently, I’ve thought of Blue Rock mainly as a red wine producer, but they have white wine in their portfolio. For the first time, we tasted a Blue Rock white wine – the 2017 Baby Blue Blanc. This is a blend of 91% Sauvignon Blanc and 9% Viognier.

We popped open the Baby Blue Blanc and the 2015 Cabernet at our Mardi Gras party. Lesson One: Baby Blue Blanc goes quite well with crayfish and other spicy Cajun food!

This is a clean, precise wine. The acidity is softened by the Viognier, which also adds some nice aromatics. Barrel fermentation and whole cluster pressing give a nice complexity.

It’s an appropriate partner for the original Baby Blue – approachable and each glass beckons another. It retails for $24.

Baby Blue’s Big Brother

Blue Rock Cabernet is an impressive wine. Get this. The 2015 Cabernet is 98.9% Cabernet Sauvignon with less than 1% each of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Malbec and Syrah. I’m not sure what 0.05% of Malbec contributes, but who am I to argue with the delightful final results?

There were 934 cases produced. Grapes all come from the Blue Rock estate vineyards in Alexander Valley.

Blue Rock Cabernet Sauvignon is more substantial that its Baby Blue sibling. There is an emphasis on dark fruit, blackberry and cola. The tannins are silky and so this wine is ready to drink now or age for a few years. SRP is $49.

The 2016 Baby Blue is a blend of 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 6% Syrah, 6% Malbec 5% Petit Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Franc. The pieces fit together for a wine that is impressive with rich flavors and a sinfully smooth texture.

Blue Rock Vineyard wines are memorable and the perfect pick for your next special occasion.

Full disclosure: These wines were received as a marketing sample.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Dry Creek Vineyard 2014 The Mariner, Dry Creek Valley

Dry Creek Vineyard's 2014 The MarinerA blind tasting reveals The Mariner as a top pick among red blends.

The Captain Wore A Mask

When it was our turn to host the local wine group’s tasting we decided the theme would be red blends. A fun twist to the tastings is that these are done blind. We usually feature four different wines.

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I selected Tannat blend from Uruguay, a Super Tuscan and a Washington State Merlot blend. For the fourth spot, I rotated three different wines. One was a Bordeaux and the other two were from California. Each wine was snuggled inside a cloth sack with a letter: W, I, N or E.

This was the perfect opportunity to share one of our favorite wines – The Mariner from Dry Creek Vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley region of Sonoma.

Navigating Great Flavor

The Mariner is a proprietary blend that Dry Creek Vineyard debuted in 2004. Like a mariner keeping the ship off the dangerous rocks during a billowing storm, so a winemaker has to successfully navigate through the ups and downs of a vintage. In the case of 2014, Sonoma was experiencing the third year of the California drought. Although the grapes ripened at sugar levels lower than normal, the fruit tasted beautiful. In December, well after harvest, the winery had 20 inches of rain in less than two weeks – a welcome relief.

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The 2014 blend for The Mariner is 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petit Verdot, 9% Merlot, 8% Malbec and 2% Cabernet Franc. That’s the highest percentage of Cab I’ve tasted in a Mariner.

The poor blend from Uruguay and even the Super Tuscan were completely blown out of the water, so to speak, by The Mariner. The Mariner gave a good broadside of complex spice flavors woven with dark, rich fruit.

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The tannins of the 2014 The Mariner give enjoyable structure and the promise of an even more beautiful wine in five to eight years. The Mariner is aged in French and Hungarian oak, 40% of it new, for 19 months.

The Fuquay-Varina Wine Tasting GroupWith an SRP of $50, we consider The Mariner to be a standout value among quality California reds. We suggest laying a few bottles down to age. If you don’t have the patience, that’s fine because it drinks beautifully right now. We suggest decanting for 45 minutes or so.

Tasting blind or with eyes wide open, our tasting party guests are ready to join The Mariner’s crew. One bottle and we think you will be too.

Full disclosure: This wine was received as a marketing sample.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Australia Vacation: Daintree Rainforest

Famed Clohesy River Fig TreeThe Daintree Rainforest, on the northeast coast of Queensland, Australia, is part of the oldest continuously surviving rainforest in the world.

Journey Through The Past

The second leg of our recent Australian trip was in Queensland. We had a free day before heading to Adelaide, so we decided to go really “old school” and visit the Daintree Rainforest.

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The rainforest, named for Richard Daintree, an Australian geologist and photographer, covers 460 square miles. It is a beacon of biodiversity, with a dozen families of primitive flowering plants and seven ancient fern families. Within the refuge of the rainforest, many of these plants maintain their ancestors’ primitive characteristics.

We booked our tour with Discovery Tours Australia and our tour guide Warren showed up with another couple in a four-wheel-drive vehicle. This is how we like it. No giant tour buses with megaphones and scads of tourists – just a small group splashing and bumping along the backroads of an ancient forest.

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While rainforests cover only about 2 percent of the world’s surface, they include about 50 percent of the species found on earth. Humans rely on rainforests to produce most of Earth’s oxygen. One tree produces about 260 pounds of oxygen a year. The fresh oxygen during our trip was energizing.

Along The Rainforest Road

Our first stop was an overlook of Barron Falls to observe where the Barron River cascades down craggy rock formations. The viewing point is reached by a short trail that passes by a variety of trees and ferns, including the giant King Ferns, a prehistoric species that grows up to 16 feet tall.

The road we were on ranged from a nice wooded path with a shaded canopy of trees and Emerald Doves flittering to and fro. Occasionally it was reduced to a muddy mess blocked by streams one to two feet deep. As responsible passengers we urged Warren to splash through the creeks and gun it up the steeper slopes.

Our highlight was a hike on the Clohesy River boardwalk to view the soaring strangler fig trees. These trees shoot their roots downward while also growing up toward the top of the forest canopy. They envelop the host tree and sometimes, as in the case of the giant we saw, kill it. This leaves a central cavity. In the case of the Clohesy strangler fig, it is big enough to provide a shelter for sleeping or a campfire. Of course, that’s not encouraged.

Mist rises in Daintree RainforestIt’s easy to see how this tree could be the inspiration for the Tree of Life in the movie Avatar, a tidbit related by Warren. Just off the boardwalk, we could view a large earth mound that serves as a nest for the peculiar looking Australian Brush Turkey that we earlier saw along the road.

A Glimpse Of Prehistory

Laughing Kookaburra in an old gum treeSunlight filtered through the towering trees and ferns and exotic bird calls sounded from from somewhere in the foliage. The air was damp and fresh with wisps of mist rising skyward. It is easy to picture this as a prehistoric landscape.

As we emerged from the shade of the rainforest, we stopped at Copperlode Dam, where a scenic lake provides the water supply for Cairns. In the eucalyptus tree the Laughing Kookaburra had a perfect vantage point overlooking a beautiful Australian vista.

Daintree Rainforest is a World Heritage site and an outstanding attraction in the Cairns area of Queensland. It’s inspiring, rejuvenating and a reminder why stewardship of our earth’s resources is increasingly important.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Vilarnau Delivers Unique Cava Flavor And Style

IMG_20181201_154133It’s hard to choose just one favorite sparkling wine, but if pressed, we’d say Cava. Here are two new top Spanish picks.

Sparkling Style

One of the reasons we love Cava is that this sparkling wine is made in the traditional method, just like the famous bubbly from Champagne. Having visited Spain and the famed Cava region of Penedès, we also are fans of the people and the modern style that permeates all aspects of life there.

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The Vilarnau family settled in Penedés in the 12th century and has been producing Cava since 1949. It is a small, artisan operation with a winery interior designed by artist Antonio Miró and the outside displaying clean, modern design.

When we opened the package from Vilarnau Cava, it was a delight for the eyes. The two Cava were special Trencadís editions, with splashy and spectacular labels.

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Trencadís is a mosaic created from tiny fragments of broken ceramic tiles, roof tiles or pottery. It was used in the modernist artistic movement in Catalonia. The Vilarnau Trencadis editions certainly should win an award for their design –  if they haven’t already.

Cava Under Cover

You can’t judge a book by its cover – or wine either. The impressive art did put smiles on our faces even before we popped the corks, though.

Romance and rosé from VilarnauWe sampled the Vilarnau Rosé Delicat Brut Reserva and the Vilarnau Brut Reserva. The Brut Reserva is made with 50% Macabeo, 35% Parellada and 15% Xarel-lo. These are the three classic varieties used in Cava, although others have also been approved for use.

This is a wine with a lovely froth and dry finish. There is a creamy texture with a hint of citrus. Both bottles are Reserva wine, meaning it must be aged for at least 15 months and be no sweeter than Brut. The Brut Reserva retails for $14.99.

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The Rosé Delicat is quite different from the Reserva Brut. It is made with 85% Garnacha (known in other places as Grenache) and 15% Pinot Noir. Upon sipping, this reminded me of the Spanish approach to rosé. The wines are often called rosado and have a deeper color than the light salmon color seen in rosé from France’s Provence region.

Like rosado, this has a more powerful fruit flavor than you might expect. It has an intense strawberry flavor mingled with floral notes. This is mixed with the delightful bubbles that tingle and tease. It was a perfect pour for Valentine’s day and, I would suggest, any other romantic evening.

These bottles are perfect sips of Spanish style. They add good taste and beauty to any occasion.

Full disclosure: We received these bottles as a marketing sample.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Scenes From Willamette Valley

We're out on the road right now, visiting one of the nation's great wine regions: Oregon's Willamette Valley. As if having some of the world's most sensational wines wasn't enough, the area is loaded with great attractions including top flight restaurants, great craft beer, cool towns and even a monastery. We'll give a full report in the near future, but in the meanwhile, you can enjoy these photos. The building is the Abbey Road Farm B&B where we're been staying. Yes, that's snow -- a bit unusual for the area, but quite scenic. The rooms are in refurnished grain silos. 

You'll get the full scoop soon. Meanwhile, I've got to locate my snowshoes!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Rothschild L’egende Range Delivers Bordeaux Excellence With Affordable Price

L'egende WinesThe Rothschild family has been associated with the vineyards of Bordeaux since 1868. Best known for wines from their prestigious vineyards, they also produce wines intended for everyday drinking.

From A Legendary Family

On 8 August 1868, Baron James de Rothschild purchased Château Lafite, an estate with a vineyard first planted in the late 1600s. Starting in the 1960s, three more château were purchased (in Pauillac, Sauternes and Pomerol).

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Expansion of the Rothschild wine enterprise moved beyond Bordeaux with wineries in Chile, Southern France and Argentina. Since 2008, Rothschild has been developing a vineyard in the Penglai region of China.

While best known for producing stellar Bordeaux wines with prices that can soar into the thousands, Domaines Barons de Rothschild has also produced a pair of very affordable labels since 1995. We recently tasted a pair of wines from their L’egende range.

Bordeaux Within Reach

I’m often surprised by friends who will plop down $15 to $20 for a middling, mass-produced California wine, while overlooking some great values from Europe and France in particular. France produces wines in all price categories and often the quality is far above an inexpensive domestic wine.

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When you can score a Bordeaux for under $25 produced by the family that produces some of France’s greatest wines, that’s a victory. We sampled the L’egende Bordeaux Rouge 2016, which retails for about $17, and the L’egende Medoc 2016, which lists for about $24.

Actually, I wasn’t expecting much when we opened the Bordeaux. After the first few sips, it was clear that this was an elegant and eminently enjoyable wine. The wine is a 60% Cabernet – 40% Merlot blend and is packed with fresh fruit and well rounded flavors of  raspberry and currants. Forty percent of the wine gets oak aging to lend a touch of toastiness. The finish is long and very smooth.

The Medoc was opened during a wine tasting party at our house. We featured three red blends that we tasted blind. In addition I brought out several special bottles for the group to try, including the L’egende Medoc. The Medoc was a hit with all the guests and one rated it above wines costing much more.

The blend for the Medoc is the same 60% Cab and 40% Merlot. However, there is a noticeable increase in complexity. Fifty percent of the wine gets oak aging and the wine has hints of vanilla and toast. This L’egende is also wonderfully drinkable, with red fruit notes and a touch of spice as well. Both wines are silky smooth.

Bordeaux Blanc, Pauillac and Saint-Emilion are also part of the L’egende range. Each sounds like a good buy.

L’egende is a good glass of Bordeaux – suitable for everyday drinking or a nice dinner. Affordability and charm are no myth as you will discover if you explore the L’egende.

Full disclosure: We received this wine as a media sample

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Monday, February 18, 2019

Australia Vacation: Queensland And The Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier ReefAustralia’s Queensland is called the Sunshine State. The Great Barrier Reef was a highlight of our recent visit.

A Visit To Paradise

After exploring Melbourne and the Yarra Valley, we embarked on the second leg our Australian adventure. Hopping a flight to Cairns (pronounced Cans by the Australians) we were soon were headed to the beach destination of Palm Cove.

Pancakes and smoothie at Espresso and Co. in Palm CoveWe stayed at Paradise on the Beach, a place we thoroughly enjoyed. This 34-unit hotel is in the heart of Palm Cove, right on the beach front. Our room had a balcony overlooking the pool and some giant Melaleuca trees.

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When we went for a dip in the pool, we heard a peculiar cackling call from a bird in a towering tree. It was a Laughing Kookaburra, an iconic Australian bird that is the largest of the kingfisher family. It serenaded (or laughed at) us during our entire visit.

Not only could we stroll along the beach, but we were close to excellent dining. Each morning we enjoyed eating at Espresso & Co, a great breakfast joint with outdoor seating, a view of the ocean and beautifully prepared food. One unexpected addition to their pancakes is a scoop of ice cream!

Snapper with coconut curry sauce and Clare Valley Pinot Gris at Neptune'sWe tried a couple of restaurants during our stay most notably Neptune’s. At Neptune’s we sampled a local seafood specialty: Barramundi. Barramundi is native to the waters in northern Australia all the way up to southeast Asia and India. Neptune’s has a nice upscale, funky vibe and is just steps away from the beach – perfect for viewing crashing waves of the Coral Sea.

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Although we didn’t take advantage of it, Paradise on the Beach has a barbecue grill available for guests. That would have been epic (shrimp on the barbie?).

As much as we enjoyed the accommodations, a key reason we chose it was the location as a staging point for some unique excursions.

The Great Barrier Reef

In my early planning for our Australia trip, I did what you might expect: tried to figure out how many different wine regions we could visit. This however didn’t fly with my wife, who has earned her nickname of Green Dragon. She said we weren’t going to Australia without snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef. She was right, of course.

Our day on the water was orchestrated by Reef Magic Cruises, and they did a nice job. We boarded a large and fast catamaran heading out to the GBR. Green Dragon took some Dramamine to offset any sea sickness. I’ve never had any problems – but then again, it was mighty rough on the water with the water splashing high on the windows and numerous passengers clutching paper bags and darting to the rest rooms.

Inside the submersibleThe destination was Marine World, a floating platform that serves as the base of operations for snorkeling, SNUBA or even helicopter rides. Upon arrival we had morning tea and then went onboard the semi-submersible. The semi-submersible doesn’t go entirely underwater. Rather, it has a V-shaped hull with windows that goes under the waves. The seating is cramped, as you might expect, but the views are great. It gives you a chance to view the coral and sea life without worrying about swimming against the current.

We also found the submersible superior to the glass bottom boat, which was the next on our agenda. The water was choppy during our visit, and so it was difficult for the ship’s captain to position the boat over items of interest.

Into The Waters

We returned the Marine World to enjoy a buffet lunch. The next step was the most challenging part of the cruise for me – getting into the Lycra dive suit. This is a safety precaution due to marine stingers (AKA stinging jellyfish) in the water. I was first given what appeared to be a child-sized medium suit. After confirming the ridiculousness of the size selection, I wriggled into a new dive suit.

Snorkeler watching the fish feedingSnorkeling (and other activity) is limited to a cordoned off area, in a step designed to limit damage to the reef. There were several resting stations, tethered floats that you could latch on to if you became tired. There is also a staff member on overwatch, carefully viewing all those in the water.

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest structure made by living organisms. It can be seen from space and stretches for 1,400 miles. Unfortunately, it is under siege from pollution and warming ocean temperatures.

Where The Heck Are My Photos?

For our underwater adventure, Green Dragon had purchased an underwater camera. It was the first time using it, but I had taken a few snaps on dry land to make sure it worked properly.

As we snorkeled along, I was snapping like crazy, taking what I felt were epic shots. Angelfish, Butterflyfish, the giant Wrasse, surgeon fish and a slew of other colorful fish darted by. Underwater was a palette of blues and greens accented with the yellows, blues, orange and blacks of the fish. The coral shows great diversity with some very cool brain coral and the occasional staghorn and elkhorn corals. Click, click, click.

When we finally surfaced, I went to the camera to view my works of art. WHAT! There was nothing, nada. I hadn’t realized that the camera had an automatic shutoff. It’s a bit tricky getting a good shot underwater. We were kicking our swim fins against the current, I was hanging on to Green Dragon and then I was trying to catch photos with the camera dangling on my wrist.

IMG_20190119_210151I turned around and went back for another dive -- making darn sure  that I could see the shot on the screen clearly before clicking. I wish I had some of my earlier shots, but came away with another great swim and some excellent shots to boot.

Back on Marine World we went up to the sundeck. Around us the waters varied in shades of sapphire blue and lighter aqua where the reefs approached the surface. A nice cooling breeze wafted the Australian flag as we soaked up the sun before boarding the catamaran for our return trip.

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. Depending on your excursion, it also comes with a buffet lunch! We highly recommend visiting this inspiring location.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Australian Winery Visit: Yarra Valley’s Yering Station

IMG_20190117_184605Located in the heart of Australia’s Yarra Valley, Yering Station is Victoria’s first vineyard.

Something Old, Something New

Our last stop on our tour of Yarra Valley wineries was Yering Station. In 1838 Victoria’s first vineyard was planted. Although two grape varieties were planted, the area was primarily used for cattle. In the 1850s the property was developed into the largest vineyard in the area.

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Yering earned honors for best Victoria vineyard in 1861 and then nabbed the prestigious Grand Prix award at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1889.

IMG_20190117_190113The golden age for Victoria’s wine industry faded, however and in 1973 the first commercial vintage in 50 years was produced in Yarra Valley. The region was ready for a resurgence. After changing hands several times in the early 1990s, Yering Station was purchased by the Rathbone family in 1996. Yering continues to be a family owned and operated winery.

The wine world’s tastes have changed too. Cool climate wines, such as those produced in Yarra Valley, are prized for their subtle flavors and excellence in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Tasting Heritage

In the historic 1859 building, we climbed upstairs to a private tasting room with exposed wooden beams and a view to the eucalyptus trees and rolling hills of Yarra. We were ready to taste the wines of this historic estate.

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Our first wine was unexpected. It was a rosé from 70% Nebbiolo and 30% Sangiovese – a couple of Italian varieties. It’s all estate grown and shows the diversity of grapes in Yarra Valley.

We then moved to some wines for which Yarra Valley is well known: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The 2015 Chardonnay has bright and clean flavors of citrus and peach. It is aged in 20% new French oak which lends a nice toasty flavor without being overdone.

Yering Station - Yarra ValleyYering Station produces five different ranges of Pinot Noir – so there is a wine for every palate and budget. The Yering Station 2017 Pinot Noir retails for AU$40 and has earth notes and flavors of black cherry.

Our tasting continued with the 2017 Village Merlot. Village is the entry range for Yering Station wines and this one seemed a simple one. Great for sipping, but not long on complexity.

The 2017 Yering Station Shiraz Viognier was a sophisticated sip.We’ve always enjoyed Shiraz (or Syrah!) when blended with a touch of Viognier. This is a well-used technique in France’s Rhone region. The Viognier adds nice aromatics and a smooth texture. This is velvety with blackberry flavors and a touch of pepper.

Yering Station is also famed for its Yarrabank sparkling wines, made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Alas, we’ll have to sip those on our next visit.

Yering Station is a landmark in Australia’s wine history. While firmly rooted in the past, the wine continues to earn accolades for its innovative cool climate wines. Be sure to pull into the Station on your next visit to Yarra.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Pair Of German Wines Show Dry Defiance

Gunderloch Riesling Alexander Laible WeissburgunderDry German wines are trending and changing perceptions.

Dry January? How About Dry Wine?

I’m note sure where the concept of Dry January came from, but as a wine writer you can imagine I’m not completely on board. I have in the past abstained from wine during Lent, but it was a challenging 40 days.

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A refreshing alternative comes from Germany. Instead of having a dry month, how about some very nice dry wine? That’s an idea we certainly can support. We tried a pair of dry German whites that we found to be outstanding.

The Red Hang

Riesling is one of our favorite grapes and we are partial to the drier style. We tried the 2014 Gunderloch Nackenheimer Rothenberg Riesling Trocken from Rheinhessen. Like many German wines, the long name can appear intimidating, but conveys some important information.

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The Rothenberg Vineyard in Nackenheim is on the Rhine River and is on the north end of what is known as the Red Hang. The vineyard is steep, with slopes ranging from 30% to 80% and the soil is made of 290-million-year-old red slate.Trocken indicates that the wine is dry.

The Grunderloch winery has 28 acres that are planted to Riesling, Silvander, Rulander and Gewurztraminer. They produce about 9,000 cases of wine annually.

Inspired is a good description of this wine. Although dry in style, the flavors are not muted. The unique soils lend a nice flowing minerality and a bright acidity creates a crisp finish. The swirling flavors include citrus and apples with a touch of herb. The wine is light gold with green reflections.

This Riesling is a Grosses Gewächs wine. All Grosses Gewächs comes from a Grosses Lage (‘great site’), the best vineyards according to the German VDP classification system. We’ve found “GG” wines to be outstanding.

Weissburgunder Anyone?

That Germany excels in white wine is not a recent discovery. What is relatively new is the increased production of Weissburgunder, known elsewhere as Pinot Blanc. The grape grows in fertile or chalky soil and ripens late. It is a Pinot mutation, sharing genetics with Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.

In the 1970s, less than 1% of German vines were Weissburgunder. Today that figure is 5%, a noticeable increase. We sampled the 2015 Alexander Laible Weissburgunder from Baden. Baden is the southernmost of Germany’s wine regions.

This was a pleasurable wine to sip. The flavors are subtle peach and white flowers with a dash of herbs. The Laible Weissburgunder is perfect for any light chicken or seafood dish or, as we did, just enjoying in the evening. It is medium bodied and refreshing.

If you have to endure a “dry” month or winter, we suggest that you do it with some dry German white wine!

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Australian Winery Visit: Yarra Valley’s Rochford Wines

Considered a must-see destination in Yarra Valley, Rochford Wines is a spectacular setting to enjoy award-winning cool-climate wines.

Rochford has outstanding single vineyard ChardonnayGo Big Or Go Home

Australia’s Yarra Valley is less than an hour from Melbourne, but the contrast is striking. Melbourne’s skyline is dominated by modern architecture and its neighborhood streets closely lined with Victorian houses.

In Yarra Valley, the scenery is filled with flowing hills and valleys. During our visit in January, the fields were painted with the yellows, browns and light greens of Australian winter. Our next stop on our tour was Rochford Wines, a landmark in this famed wine region.

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The winery was founded in 1985 as Yarra Vale. In 1992 it was purchased by current owner Helmut Konecsny, who had already established a reputation growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. That reputation has been further burnished as Rochford regularly garners top awards for its single vineyard wines.

Rochford is a true destination winery. In addition to the cellar door, there is the acclaimed Isabella’s restaurant, meeting space for any type of special event, and an outdoor amphitheater and facilities capable of hosting concerts for up to 7,000 people. Everything about Rochford is truly first class.

Rochford Wines

Oyster blade of beef at RochfordWe had a couple of stops after the trip from Melbourne, so we were hungry and thirsty when we arrived at Rochford. First things first. We entered into the light and airy restaurant for some lunch.

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My dish was new for me, an oyster blade. This is actually a cut of beef below the shoulder blade. It was served crusted in black pepper and coriander with heirloom carrot, almond cream and harissa. Fantastic!

Unfortunately, I was sipping a Rochford Sauvignon Blanc. I thought we’d have a glass of white to be followed by a red. Only one glass was included with our lunch -- and I couldn’t flag down the server to change my wine. That couldn’t detract from the great meal and the Sauvignon Blanc was quite good -- but I longed for the Syrah.

My wife and I ascended the spiral staircase to the top level, where we had an open air view of the winery grounds. After viewing a brief shower from the crow’s nest, we headed to the tasting bar where I opted for the premium tasting.

Cool Climate Mastery

Superb cool climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir mean there is plenty of great sparkling wine in Yarra Valley. I started with the 2016 Blanc de Blanc. Nutty with a touch of citrus, this is 100% Chardonnay and made in the Methode Traditional. It is sealed with a crown cap which, I’m happy to say, stayed perfectly in place during its trip home in my luggage.

Rochford WinesRochford has an impressive lineup of Chardonnay and we sampled a trio from the 2017 vintage. The Dans les Bois Chard has nice grapefruit notes, a smooth texture and a nice pop of oak. The Terre Chardonnay doesn’t get malolactic fermentation and the minerality and acidity are more evident. The latest addition to the Chardonnay family is Isabella’s Vineyard, which retails for AU$75.

The wines we sampled were all 2017 vintage, even though the Rochford wines, including the Chardonnay, can be cellared for years. The reason is China. China is now Australia’s largest wine export market, and they are buying it as fast as Rochford can bottle.

We sampled three Pinot Noirs, the Dans le Bois, Terre and L’Enfant Unique. Yarra Pinot has unique flavors of underbrush, earth, cherry and dark fruit. L’Enfant Unique is unfined and unfiltered and spends 10 months in French oak and time on the lees. It’s a powerful Pinot with notes of spice.

We wrapped up with the Estate Syrah and the Garrigue Heathcote Syrah. This is a rich, dark wine that isn’t fined, and so had sediment. It is whole cluster fermented, adding extra complexity and depth. Grapes are sourced from Victoria’s Heathcote region, renowned for great Syrah. A very nice bottle at AU$86.

Rochford is a great choice for your Yarra Valley wine tasting experience, dining or special event.