Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Mercer Canyons 2014 Red Blend, Horse Heaven Hills

Mercer Canyons Red BlendWhen the Little Dragon is in town, she demands fruit forward wines. This red blend from Horse Heaven Hills fills the bill – and then some.

Going Up The Canyons

Our daughter is a vegan baker with a heavy dose of wanderlust. If she’s not cooking at a Colorado ski slope, or exploring a Central American country, she’ll pop in for a visit.

She recently did so. While she isn’t as fiery as her mother, the Green Dragon, she can be demanding. She also is developing a love of wine.

Her appreciation of premier cru wines from Bordeaux will come in time. Right now her taste runs toward wines that are easy to drink and to understand.

Recently to pair with an organic, vegan, funky, Bernie Sanders approved meal, that she prepared, she wanted a red wine. I uncorked this bottle of 2014 Mercer Canyons Red Blend.

H3 = Satisfaction

We’re huge fans of Washington State wine. What’s not to like? You can expect bold flavors, innovative winemaking and a great price point. In particular, the Horse Heaven Hills AVA produces some of the state’s most highly rated wines. The area is near the Columbia River and benefits from steep slopes and tempering winds.

Mercer Estate Wines produces a range of wines from Horse Heaven Hills. Last year we sampled the Sharp Sisters blend from Mercer Estate Wines and really enjoyed it. That is from the Mercer Estates line, which is in the middle of the top shelf Mercer Reserve line and the entry level Mercer Canyons label.

I don’t like to make blanket statements – but in this case, I will: If you buy a wine from Horse Heaven Hills, you’re going to like it. The fruit is just that good.

The Mercer Canyons Red Blend is no exception to my audacious statement. The grapes come from Mercer’s Spice Cabinet and Dead Canyon vineyards in Horse Heaven Hills. This is rich fruit in the Washington tradition. The dappled sunlight of the site allows the grapes to fully ripen and develop deep flavors.

This is a grab-bag of great grapes: 59% Merlot, 16% Syrah, 10% Grenache, 7% Sangiovese, 6% Petit Verdot and 2% Viognier. Yes, Viognier is a white grape. Adding a dash of Viognier enhances the aromatics and is in the Rhone tradition where it is common to add to their Syrah-based wines.

Little Dragon was pleased with the full flavors of the Canyons Red Blend. For a wine that costs $13.99, there is a lot going on in the glass. Black cherry dominates with spice flavor notes. The wine is aged in a combination of French and American oak for 12 months, adding caramel and smoke complexity. The wine undergoes malolactic fermentation, adding to the full mouth feel.

I sensed a smidge of sweetness to the wine, due I’m sure to the lush fruit flavors. This is a wine that will appeal to a large segment of wine lovers – especially those whose faces begin to shrivel when sipping a bone dry wine with heavy tannins.

This wine is a fine accompaniment to a light meal of pasta, pork or beef. It’s Little Dragon approved for drinking all by itself too.

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

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Blue Rock 1999 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley

Blue Rock 1999

Maybe that’s what Dione Warwick had in mind when she sang the song, “That’s What Friends Are For.” And by “that” we mean incredible wine – like this standout Cabernet from Alexander Valley.

We Get The “Blues”

One of our favorite bottles is Baby Blue, a Bordeaux style blend from Blue Rock Vineyard in Sonoma’s Alexander Valley. I don’t think we have every had a bad wine from Alexander Valley – and Blue Rock keeps some pretty nice company.

Blue Rock’s 100 acre estate is located next door to the iconic Silver Oak winery. Blue Rock is named after the soils found in the vineyard, which contain a high percentage of Serpentine, a blue colored rock high in magnesium. The soil contributes a unique flavor profile to the wine.

Although we love Baby Blue, it is still the “baby” and the big daddy is the Blue Rock Estate Cabernet.

Entering The Way Back Machine

What’s more fun than opening a bottle of great wine? Opening a nicely aged bottle of vintage wine.

We were treated to just that as we paid a visit to tasting team members The Cabernetor and Glorious T. While Glorious T had the food covered with aplomb, The Cabernetor was determined to live up to his name – and he certainly did.

He emerged from the cellar with a 1999 bottle of Blue Rock Cabernet Sauvignon. Although typos are not unknown in the blog – this is not one! This was an 18-year old bottle of premium Sonoma Cabernet.

Napa Cabernets and maybe California Cab in general, are sometimes criticized as being a bad match with food. They can come on way too strong with heavy handed tannins that overpower a meal. Not so with Blue Rock.

Blue Rock is food friendly and a showcase of winemaking artistry. It is one of the most popular wines in Sonoma and has taken home bushels of honors from critics. The aging takes it into a whole different dimension.

It is a blend of several different mature blocks of grapes and may include small amounts of Merlot, Cab Franc, Malbec or, as was the case in 1999, Petit Verdot. With age, the wine is as finely polished like the hood of a car collector’s classic Corvette Stingray. This is smooth sailing with no jarring flavors or high alcohol level – all is harmonious.

The flavors are rich and flowing with red fruit, blackberry and notes of mint. Aging is done in a mix of new and used French oak barrels, so there is structure – but after 18 years, all is integrated into a symphony of flavor.

So, there are a couple take-aways from this experience. First, Alexander Valley and Blue Rock Vineyard in particular, produce smashing Cabernet. Second, your “treasure” bottles of wine only have value when you bring them out and enjoy them. That our friends would do this was as nice a feeling as tasting the incredible ‘99 Blue Rock!

Dust off those bottles and enjoy them with your friends!

Monday, April 17, 2017

It’s A Gas! New Product Brings ArT to Wine Preservation

ArT18Spoiled wine sucks. ArT18 aims to bring the neutral gas blanket preservation technique to the masses at a reasonable price.

Searching For The Holy Grail

For wine lovers, preserving their favorite vino can be a quest that borders on obsession. The problem is that when you pop the cork (or twist the cap) and start pouring, you are exposing the wine to oxygen. That begins the oxidative process, attacking the high qualify molecules and promoting bacterial growth.

Ironic, isn’t it? As you open a bottle of robust red wine, you might put it in a decanter or use an aerator to help the wine “open up” by introducing oxygen. That same oxygen that helps in the initial experience, can take down a perfectly good half-finished bottle you are trying to save for another night.

The wine may taste stale or develop the odor of fingernail polish. We’ve tried various types of corks and other closures and devices that manually or automatically pump the air out of the bottle. We drew the line on one product that required you to insert a floating plastic disc into the bottle – it was designed to minimize contact with the wine. Maybe so, but we decided we didn’t want some funky piece of plastic floating in our bottle.

In general we’ve found that a red wine might last two or maybe three days after the initial opening, especially if it is refrigerated. A white wine can last longer, maybe four or five days if refrigerated.

The gold standard of wine preservation is Coravin, a device which allows you to pour wine without removing the cork and preserves the remaining wine with a blanket of inert Argon gas. However, the price tag of Coravin can exceed $300 –so for most of us, it is just wishful thinking.

Enter ArT18

We were recently introduced to ArT18 a product that promises to bring Argon gas wine preservation to wine lovers at a very reasonable price tag – a mere $9.99 per can. We were anxious to give the system a whirl.

Calling it a system may be a bit presumptuous. It is a can of Argon gas along with a cork. The cork isn’t necessary for the system to work and the ArT18 team specifies that it is for aesthetic purposes only. I misplaced their cork with the dozen or so we had floating around and ended up using the first cork within my reach.

When you first heft the can, you might wonder what’s up. The can feels empty – but indeed it is filled with Argon and can be used up to 130 times. I’m not sure how you tell when it is empty, but I still have more than 100 uses to go.

My initial test was with a bottle of Locations wine. This is a wine label that focuses on producing blends that are representative of an entire country. Green Dragon and I popped open a bottle of Locations I, which is the Italian blend. We each had a glass, maybe a tad more, and then I decided to give ArT18 a whirl.

To use it, you simply aim it into the bottle neck and give a one to two second burst. I then put a cork in it.

Fast-forward five days. I took part in an online tasting of Location wines. This time it was Italy – I, France – F, and Spain (E for Espania).  This was the ideal opportunity to contrast two bottles of Italian red, one five days old preserved with ArT18  and the other freshly opened.

The Verdict?

The ArT18 can proclaims that it can maintain the wine profile for weeks. Would this claim hold up? The first bottle had been sitting on my kitchen counter for five days. This, I felt, would be a true test. I already knew that my refrigerator can help extend wine life. But what about ArT18?

I sampled the just opened bottle – nice juicy berry flavors with blackberry and maybe light vanilla. I then sampled the ArT18 bottle. Whoops. The bottle had started to turn and I could taste the oxidation. My first effort was not a success.

Hold the phone! My testing wasn’t over. I had three nice bottles of Locations wine and that was beyond the capacity of me and the Green Dragon to finish in a day – so I “gassed” the bottles up. This time I made sure to give it a full two-seconds.

The next day, we had an impromptu wine tasting at our house. I had a couple of whites and a reserve Cab France. I set out the Locations wines, but was ready to grab other bottles if these had gone bad. I opened the trio of bottles and the wine was as fresh and aromatic as when I opened them the previous day.

This obviously wasn’t the same as our five-day test – but normally there would be some degradation over a 24-hour period, especially when the bottles are sitting on the counter in a 74-degree kitchen. This made me wonder if during my initial test I didn’t give a long enough spritz.

My conclusion is that ArT18 can indeed have a significant impact on wine preservation. By placing an inert blanket of Argon gas between the wine and air, the wine gets a degree of protection. ArT18 won’t replace Coravin. Coravin is a more ideal process, with the cork firmly in place the whole time, the effectiveness of the Argon is increased. For $9.99, however, this is a very affordable entry into a scientific method of preserving your vino.

Another interesting claim is that the aromas are preserved as well as the flavors. Also of note is that the ArT18 system can be used for coffee beans, spices and other items that benefit from reduced oxygen exposure.

Why does this all matter? Ryan Frederickson, the GM of ArT18, points out that this will allow consumers to explore higher price point wines. It also allows you to enjoy wine by the glass without the fear of the remainder spoiling.

ArT18 will continue to undergo testing here at Vino-Sphere world headquarters and we’ll provide an update on what we find. We’ll just have to wait until we find an unfinished bottle of wine – a rarity around here. Initial results are positive and at about 8 cents per use, I’d encourage you to purchase and experiment yourself.

Full disclosure: We received this product as a marketing sample.

Monday, April 10, 2017

San Simeon 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, Paso Robles

San Simeon Sauvignon Blanc 2

It’s always time to celebrate when a winery launches its first vintage of Sauvignon Blanc. Even better when the vino is coming from Paso Robles…

3… 2… 1… Liftoff!

The Riboli family is no newcomer to the wine business. They started making wine in California in 1917. The enterprise has grown from the initial winery in Los Angeles to multiple brands.

The San Simeon label focuses on two diverse California regions: Paso Robles and Monterey. They recently recorded a first, with their debut vintage of a Sauvignon Blanc.

Batonnage Complexity

The 2016 vintage of San Simeon Sauvignon Blanc is a great example of why Paso Robles is proving to be an ideal home for whites – not just robust reds. The grapes come from a San Simeon estate vineyard, specifically the Margarita Vineyard. The hillsides are steep and the warm days and cool nights of Paso Robles enables Sauvignon Blanc to thrive.

In 2016 the weather was almost perfect, with a long growing season that provided great “hang time” enabling the grapes to develop more depth of flavor. Fourth generation winemaker Anthony Riboli paired with French-trained winemaker Arnaud Debons for this vintage. They use traditional techniques in crafting the wine including long, cool fermentation in steel tanks to preserve the delicate flavors of this white wine.

After fermentation, 10% of the wine was transferred to neutral French oak barrels and batonnage was used. Batonnage is the stirring of the lees (dead yeast cells and grape solids) to add texture and depth. This is a step that adds life and character to a white wine.

In The Glass

The San Simeon Sauvignon is a natural partner for seafood and the winery specifically mentions swordfish. Outstanding! Also suggested is Pesto Di Basilico, a traditional Italian dish of basil pesto over linguine. The bright acidity and liveliness of the Sauvignon Blanc pairs well with the aromatic garlic and basil characteristics of the dish.

We tried this as an after dinner wine sans food. Like with Riesling, acidity is the key to a vibrant wine or a ho-hum experience. The acidity here provides a nice crispness to the wine without being jarring. There are hallmark flavors of pear and lime in each well-balanced glass.

The price point for the 2016 San Simeon Sauvignon Blanc is $18.95, a very good value. San Simeon also offers two other whites at the same price, a Paso Robles Viognier and a Monterey Chardonnay. If you’ve only quaffed Paso Robles reds, this is a prime opportunity to expand your wine horizons.

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

Friday, April 7, 2017

Montessu 2013 Isola dei Nuraghi IGT, Sardinia


Looking for a perfect pairing for your Easter meal? Try something different – like a wine made with Carignano…

Learning To Love IGT

Chances are the initials IGT mean nothing to you. Or perhaps you think it stands for International Gaming Technology – not on this blog! IGT is Indicazione Geographica Tipica in Italy’s wine hierarchy. It’s a level below the prestigious DOC but above the simple table wine.

IGT wines includes those wines that have a typical style for the region. In some cases the looser regulations on grape varieties and production methods give the winemaker freedom to experiment outside the bonds of tradition. That’s how the world renowned Super Tuscans were born.

Sun Drenched Sardinia

Italy has two island wine regions: Sicily and Sardinia. Sardinia, surrounded by the Mediterranean and Tyrrhenian seas, basks in plentiful sunshine and high temperatures.

When we attended a dinner party with tasting team members Cabernetor and Glorious T, we brought along a bottle of 2013 Montessu IGT wine. It impressed as a tasty partner for a meal that included a variety of appetizers plus shrimp, beef and mushrooms.

Montessu comes from the southwest of Sardinia in the Sulcis Iglesiente region known for its brown, sandy soil. The warm, well-exposed terrain is ideal for great red wines. The predominate grape in Montessu is Carignano, also known as Carignan. It is mostly known as a blending grape, but in the Montessu it provides great depth and richness.

The climate in Sulcis Iglesiente is also optimal for international grape varieties. This bottle is packed with some of these international varieties, specifically Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Each year the percentages of each component vary depending on the outcome of the harvest. For 2013, the winemaker had it dialed in just right.

Something For Your Easter Basket?

For your Easter dinner, you might plan on cooking up ham, lamb or maybe chicken. For lamb and chicken, the Montessu will be spot on.

On the palate the Montessu is full and rich. The tannins are soft, giving it an elegant texture that is food friendly. Unless your nickname is “the Cabernetor” a Cabernet Sauvignon would be too heavy for a typical Easter meal. In contrast, the Carignano blend of Montessu delivers ample berry flavors in a style that is a crowd pleaser with aficionados and newbies alike.

This comes highly recommended for a special occasion. If no special occasion is on the horizon, we suggest you invent one. Montessu has a retail price of $31.

Full disclosure: We received this wine as a marketing sample

Monday, April 3, 2017

Dry Creek Vineyard 2016 Dry Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg

Dry Creek Vineyard has produced 45 consecutive vintages of Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc is a grape that made its reputation in France’s Loire Valley. But there is one – and only one – American winery that has produced 45 consecutive vintages of dry Chenin Blanc…

French Goodness Finds A Home In California

Even before we knew much about good wine, we loved Chenin Blanc. That’s because we came to enjoy Vouvray, a French wine made with the grape. Chenin Blanc can produce some incredibly complex wines.

While South Africa produces a large amount of Chenin Blanc, much of it is high volume and low quality. That has unfairly tarnished the reputation of this sublime grape with some drinkers.

I was surprised to learn that family-run Dry Creek Vineyard in California has produced 45 consecutive vintages of dry Chenin Blanc. They are the only American winery to do so. The “dry” part of the equation is important. Chenin can be finished bone dry or as sweet as a dessert style. Our palate runs to the dry to off-dry part of the sugar spectrum.

DCV 2016 Dry Chenin Blanc with swordfishSwordfish Surprise!

If you are like me, you’ve probably run into this situation before. Your spouse surprises you with a wonderful gourmet dinner entrée of swordfish skewers and you are in a quandary about which wine to serve. OK, actually it wasn’t a surprise – but rather a party for a group of friends. But it would have been nice if it was a surprise.

At any rate, I was still left with the question of what to serve with swordfish. Swordfish is interesting because it is “meatier” than the typical fish fillet. I had a bottle of the 2016 Dry Creek Vineyard Dry Chenin Blanc chilling and this turned out to be a spot-on pairing.

Our skewers had mushrooms, peppers and other veggies along with the swordfish chunks. It was served over a bed of couscous and accompanied with asparagus.

The Dry Creek Vineyard Chenin is done in the Loire style – meaning the accent is on fresh, bright flavors and no oak aging. The wine is fermented in stainless steel. That’s just how we like it.

It offers flavors of lime, white flowers and pear. This is a dry Chenin Blanc, but the acidity is low – so the overall effect is a full, juicy taste. There is no teeth-rattling acid.

I also had a nice bottle of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir on the wine list for the evening, but one of guests who was in from Minnesota couldn’t get enough of the Dry Creek Vineyard Chenin Blanc. As a result, I couldn't get enough either – literally!

Also tasty is the SRP for Dry Creek Vineyard 2016 Dry Chenin Blanc is a mere $15. This is a unique and delicious bottle and represents a sterling value.

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

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Raise a Glass to “Green” California Wines During Down to Earth Month in April

Celebrate at Dozens of Eco-Friendly Winery Events

Malcolm CarlawSAN FRANCISCO — Eco-conscious consumers have many ways to celebrate with sustainably produced wines during California’s 6th Annual Down to Earth Month in April. California wineries will be offering dozens of sustainability-focused events and activities throughout the month from Earth Day wine festivals, farm-to-glass tours and walks with the winemaker to vineyard hikes, VIP eco-tours and more.

Created by Wine Institute — the association of nearly 1,000 California wineries and affiliated businesses — Down to Earth Month raises awareness about the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA) Sustainable Winegrowing Program, one of the most comprehensive and widely adopted in the world, involving vineyards that grow 70 percent of winegrapes and wineries that produce 80 percent of all California wine. California is the world’s fourth-largest wine producer and the scale and comprehensiveness of the program covering vineyards, wineries and communities is a remarkable accomplishment.

“Consumers care about how their wines are grown and made, and our Down to Earth Month celebration is a way for people to learn about California’s world leadership in sustainable winegrowing,” said Bobby Koch, President and CEO of Wine Institute. “In a recent survey, members of the wine trade said that they anticipate consumer demand for wines produced with sustainable practices to grow substantially over the next decade.”

North Coast

On April 22, visit Napa Valley wineries and restaurants and stop by the Earth Day Festival in downtown Napa’s Oxbow Commons. Enjoy local wines and foods, local bands and kids’ activities. Napa Valley Vintners, a sponsor of the event, has committed to having all Napa County wineries 100 percent certified Napa Green by 2020.
Sonoma County Winegrowers are committed to the county’s wines being 100 percent sustainable by 2019. A great way to explore Sonoma wines and green practices is at the Dry Creek Valley Passport Weekend April 28-30. More than 45 wineries are offering themed parties with food and wine pairings, regional chefs and vintners, and vineyard tours that offer a closer look at their winegrowing practices.

In the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, the Celebrate Earth Day in Green Valley festival April 23 offers the chance to taste wines from 10 local wineries pouring at Iron Horse Vineyards. California Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross will discuss the future of food, while Chef Traci Des Jardins will showcase the “Impossible Burger” made entirely of plants. Guests can enjoy a National Geographic food photography exhibit. Proceeds benefit Sustainable Conservation.

Inland Valleys

About 90 miles northeast of the San Francisco Bay Area is Lodi, Wine Enthusiast’s 2015 Wine Region of the Year. The 2nd Annual Lodi Wine & Food Festival on April 1 provides an opportunity to taste wines from more than 30 wineries, many of which use sustainable practices. Food from local restaurants and caterers, wine pairings, blind wine tastings, olive oil tasting and live music are all part of the day.

Sierra Foothills

The Sierra Foothills wine region offers some of California’s highest elevation vineyards. El Dorado Wine Association’s 26th Annual Passport Event takes place April 22-23 and April 29-30 and is a chance to explore 20 of the region’s wineries, including participants in sustainable winegrowing efforts. Guests can sample local wines, buy gifts made by regional artisans and enjoy delicious food tastings.

Central Coast & Santa Cruz Mountains

In the Santa Cruz Mountains wine region, more than 50 wineries will offer special tastings during Passport Day on April 15, one of four times a year when wineries of this region come together to offer their wines. Another area tour is the Organic Wine Trail of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The Santa Barbara Vintners Festival Grand Tasting on Earth Day April 22 is the largest tasting of Santa Barbara County wines of the year. Wine lovers can celebrate with more than 100 wineries and winemakers, more than 30 food purveyors and chefs, regional artists and more.

Southern California

San Diego offers the VinDiego Wine and Food Festival, a fun experience with 70 wineries, including many certified sustainable, on April 8. Known as the largest wine tasting in San Diego, the event offers guests a chance to sip among hundreds of California’s finest award-winning wines and enjoy gourmet bites and live music at NTC Liberty Station arts district.

California Sustainable Winegrowing

California is a world leader in sustainable winegrowing practices. The California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA), established by Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers 15 years ago, is a three-time recipient of the governor’s top environmental award for increasing adoption of sustainable winegrowing practices in California. More than 2,000 wineries and vineyards in California participate in the CSWA program.
Many wineries and vineyards around the state have also earned CSWA’s Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing status with verification by a third-party auditor.

Explore all of the Down to Earth Month activities at www.discovercaliforniawines.com/d2e or to earn a certificate as a Sustainable Winegrowing Ambassador, take a free one-hour course here.

Photo Credit: Malcolm Carlaw Flickr via Compfight cc

Monday, March 27, 2017

Arts and Cuisine of Montreal Beckon Savvy Travelers

Montreal is the second largest primarily French-speaking city after Paris. This metropolis is considered the cultural capital of Canada and abounds with fantastic cuisine and world-class art.

La Bete a Pain bakery in Montreal

Northward Bound

March isn’t considered the tourist season in Montreal. It’s northern latitude means that chilling temperatures are still common in this cosmopolitan Canadian city of about 1.6 million.

We had some compelling reasons for making our recent visit, though. Montreal is celebrating its 375th anniversary, the world debut of Another Brick in the Wall – The Opera, and Montreal is our favorite Canadian city. Tourisme Montreal hosted the trip as I scouted the city as a prospective site for a future conference.

When we leave Northwestern Ohio at this time of year, it is usually to warmer climes in the south. This time we were greeted with temperatures of 5 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. That in no way slows down this bustling city. With a stylish scarf and a hooded parka, Montreal residents love walking in their city no matter the chill.

Putting On The Ritz

Beet Salad at Maison BouludOur accommodations were at the swanky Ritz-Carleton Montreal. This five-diamond hotel blends the best of historic elements with modern features. The hospitality and service were superlative.

We arrived before our room was ready, so we adjourned to the hotel’s fine dining restaurant, Maison Boulud. This is the bastion of Chef Daniel Boulud and our light lunch was served in the popular greenhouse section of the restaurant. My beet salad was artistic and scrumptious.

Ritz Carlton Dom Perignon barThe Ritz-Carleton was opened in 1912 and one of the best vantage points to enjoy the Grand Dame of Sherbrooke Street is the Dom Pérignon bar. The bar is located in the Palm Court, considered the city’s most glamorous lobby.

Quelus Cab Franc at Masion Boulud barThe luxury and attention to detail that is evident in the food and spirits is on display in the accommodations as well. Our spacious room had state of the art technology, including lights activated by motion sensors, curtains and blackout shades remotely controlled, a deep soaking tub with a handy television plus one more essential. The bathroom featured a multi-functional toilet/bidet with heated seat, automatic sensor and remote control. This baby had more controls that the Apollo moon mission – seat covers that open by themselves, a deodorizing feature and a drier. As you can see, even the smallest detail is not overlooked.

You satisfaction is assured when you stay at Montreal’s Ritz-Carleton.

Our Montreal Visit’s Best Bites

Vitello at GraziellaWith a city that loves food, great cuisine, funky bars and interesting shops are around every corner. In Old Montreal we visited Graziella, which focuses on elevated northern Italian cuisine. We enjoyed Carpaccio de Speck with caramelized pear, hazelnuts, arugula and Pecorino cheese. My entree was Vitello, a milk-fed veal loin with parsnip purée and roasted vegetables. To accompany the meal, there was an ample supply of Dogliani Superiore, a Dolcetto wine from Italy.

Lovers of baked goods and pastries are living the high life in Montreal. For sweet fans, Léché Desserts is an “artisanal doughnut café” in the St. Jacques neighborhood. It has a mind-blowing assortment of doughnuts that include coconut and lime, lemon meringue, white chocolate, s’mores and maple–bacon.

In the Little Burgundy area, delightful restaurants and food shops are springing up, including Patrice Patissier. The shop was opened by prominent pastry chef Patrice Demers. It swims in amazing aromas of fresh ground coffee, dough and crèmes.

Well made bread is essential to life – at least as I see it. I was informed by one of our hosts that baking is a specialty of Montreal and – the city has the best bagels, despite claims to the contrary by New York. Montreal bagels are smaller and typically plain or covered with sesame or poppy seeds – don’t ask for a banana mango bagel in Montreal We visited La Bête à Pain bakery in Griffintown town and tore into some delightful artisan breads.

20170312_201541-01Our course, we wanted to explore the wine scene in Montreal. We visited Pullman Bar à Vin for some small plates and flights of wine. I enjoyed a trio of wine from France’s Savoie region. The first was a sparkling Brut Zero made with the Gringet grape (a new one for me). This was followed by a white still wine made with Gringet as well. The red part of the trio was  Chateau de Merande Arbin Mondeuse Le Comte Rouge made with the obscure Mondeuse Noire grape. Pullman is quite a find. My wife enjoyed a great glass of Nero D’Avola with bison burger sliders.

Montreal Sights and BitesLe Beaux-Arts In Montreal

There are more than 50 museums in Montreal and the fine arts are an integral part of life. We were fortunate to visit during the Chagall: Colour and Music exhibit at Le Beaux-Arts Musee (Museum of Fine Arts). The exhibit runs through June 11, 2017, and is exhilarating to the eye and the heart. Music was pervasive in Chagall’s childhood in Russia and permeates his works on display in Montreal. A pleasant surprise was the display of costumes he designed for numerous ballets, including The Firebird and The Magic Flute. The museum also has a superb restaurant, which means you can happily spend an entire day at the museum.

At the Place des Arts we were guests at an opera happening to mark the 375th anniversary of Montreal. Roger Water’s legendary work, The Wall, was presented on the opera stage as Another Brick in the Wall – The Opera. Pink Floyd fans expecting to see a rock opera and play air guitar to the well-known tunes were in for a surprise. The operatic version composed by Julien Bilodeau with stage direction by Dominic Champagne, was truly an opera. Although the lyrics were word for word, new music was composed for opera.

The experience was spectacular, bringing to life the concept album with soulful music and stunning visuals and choreography. The style, passion and artistry were delivered in true Quebecoise style. Only in Montreal – you’ll need to come and see the city for yourself.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Dry Creek Vineyard Trio Delivers Taste And Value

Three new releases from one of our favorite Sonoma producers score high in QPR. For the uninitiated, this is Quality Price Ratio – or maybe the wine lover’s Holy Grail.

Dry Creek Vineyard Trio

An Intro To QPR

One of the most important concepts in wine buying, at least according to the tasting team at Vino-Sphere, is QPR. Quality Price Ratio basically is your scorecard as to whether you made a good purchase or a bad one.

A good Oregon Pinot Gris for which you pay $15 may have higher QPR than a 90+ rated single vineyard Cab from Paso Robles – if you paid $200 for it. It boils down to how much wine enjoyment you are getting for your dollar.

You might pay $35 for  two bottles of wine – one might have a tremendous QPR, and the other rock bottom. Which brings me to the focus for today – a winery that is always coming through with wines that ring the bell with great QPR: Dry Creek Vineyard.

Enter The Mariner

The Mariner is a high-end Meritage (Bordeaux-style blend) from Dry Creek Vineyard. Dry Creek Vineyard is located in Dry Creek Valley, a magical sub-region of Sonoma in California. At $45 this is a premium bottle for which you might expect to pay double if it came from Napa. The Mariner rocks a great QPR!

The blend for the 2013 vintage is 54% cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, 8% Malbec and 4% Cabernet Franc. These are the five “noble” Bordeaux varieties. It delivers velvety flavors of blueberry, dark fruit and some vanilla. It is aged 20 months in French and Hungarian oak, adding to the complexity.

I recently organized a Beer versus Wine social event and The 2013 Mariner sailed to the rescue. Attendees could sample The Mariner for a small (or large) donation to help prevent child abuse. One sip and donations were flowing like the incoming tide. Not only is that QPR, but GBC (giving back to the community)!

A “Zinful” Pair

Zinfandel is a signature grape in Dry Creek Valley, and Dry Creek Vineyard produces some standout bottles. We recently sampled their 2014 Old Vine Zinfandel and the 2015 Heritage Vines Zinfandel.

Old Vine Zinfandel is an uncommon treat. While the grocery stores may be flooded with California Zin, those made from old vines are on another level in terms of flavor, complexity and winemaker craft. The DCV Old Vine Zinfandel is made with vines that average 95 years in age with some more than 110 years old. As the vines grow, they produce fewer grapes, but each grape is exploding with concentrated flavor.

The OVZ has bold berry and plum flavors and an aroma that says “this is going to be good” even before the first sip. This wine has aging potential, but is ready to provide a pleasurable experience right now. Look for the spicy notes that are a hallmark for these old vines. This is a solid value at $32.

DCV’s 2015 Heritage Vines Zinfandel is a leader in QPR with a retail price of just $22. Dry Creek Vineyard has been an innovator in Zinfandel production including their heritage vines project. Pre-Prohibition era vineyard cuttings were grafted onto pest-resistant rootstock starting in 1982. The result is “young vine” wine with “old vine” characteristics.

We appreciate the winegrowing craft that was used. Most important to us, though, is that this is an amazingly delicious wine at a shockingly good price. Raspberries, cherries, cocoa all dance in this rich, smooth wine. Heritage Vines Zinfandel includes 20% Petite Sirah and 1% Carignane, adding to the allure.

Full disclosure: These wines were received as marketing samples.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Meeker Wines Leave A Colorful and Tasteful Impression

Meeker Handprint Merlot

For more than 30 years The Meeker Vineyard has been excelling in winemaking. We never buy wine just for the bottle, but when what’s inside is just as beautiful as the outside, we can make an exception.

Artistry In A Bottle

I’ve always scoffed at those who purchase wine due to a label with cute animals or a gimmicky name. After all, some of the world’s most magnificent wines are packaged with humdrum labels from top estates in France.

There are a few exceptions. I do enjoy Artist Series bottles, like those from Kenwood and Chateau Ste. Michelle. Some wineries have sophisticated and stylish labels. I consider these cool – as opposed to “lame” kangaroos, teddy bears or wines with no flavor, just a catchy name.

One bottle I would buy without hesitation – even if it contained only air – is the Winemaker’s Handprint Merlot by Meeker. The bottle itself is a work of art – not just the label. It is a true beauty and I’ll tell you all about it – just not yet.

Shaking Up Sonoma

Meeker Grenache Meeker wines have been around since Charlie and Molly opened their winery in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley in 1984. Although their Handprint Merlot is their most iconic wine, in the early years they made their reputation with Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. You can learn more about their story in our article from a Meeker wine dinner we attended last year.

Through Wine Studio, an online wine education program, we recently tasted not only the Winemaker’s Handprint Merlot, but the Meeker 2013 Hoskin Ranch Grenache and the Meeker 2013 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Franc. Thanks to the mighty culinary efforts of the Green Dragon we enjoyed each wine with stylish food pairings.

We started with the Hoskin Ranch Grenache and the Cabernet Franc. For this delightful duo, Green Dragon prepared a gourmet mushroom soup with truffle oil and for the entrée, a steak pinwheel stuffed with gorgonzola cheese and asparagus, along with risotto and roasted vegetables.

Starting with some manchego cheese and olives, we sipped the Hoskin Ranch Grenache. This is a light red wine with amber highlights. On the palate the body is silky smooth with a light medium body. The Meeker team has successfully coaxed the complex flavors from the grapes without burying the flavors with harsh tannins. The wine is aged in once-used and neutral French and American oak.

This is an expressive wine with sweet cherry notes and threads of rhubarb. We found that the mushroom soup wasn’t an ideal pairing, but the Grenache continued to provide enjoyment well into our steak.

The Dry Creek Valley (one of our favorite US wine regions, by the way) Cabernet Franc was a revelation. The color is deeper than the Grenache and it was a glorious match with our steak. Up front the wine has herbal notes. Green Dragon is hypersensitive to vegetal flavors and she got some early, but it tapered off. I tasted none and was focused on the cherry cola flavor. This is a FFG – food friendly giant.

Meeker Wines food pairingsWhat’s Up With The Handprints?

First of all, those handprints covering the bottle are from winemaker Lucas Meeker. About 2,000 cases of the Winemaker’s Handprint Merlot are produced each year. At least once a week, a handprinting session takes place. It takes an hour and a half for a team of four to do the handprinting for a pallet and another hour and a half to tissue wrap the bottles.

We surely appreciate the effort. Green Dragon was so enamored of the bottle that she not only cooked an amazing shortrib entrée, brazing it three hours in wine, but also “paired” the wine bottle with color-matched flowers. Our entrée also included Yukon Gold smashed potatoes and pineapple-ginger glazed carrots.

The Handprint Merlot is almost always a blend of Merlot from a vineyard in Dry Creek Valley and one from Alexander Valley. The 2013 vintage also had 7% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Syrah. This is a mellow wine with polished tannins. It has a vibrant acidity and flavors of chocolate and sour cherry.

This wine is a work of art, outside and in. It has an SRP of $45, which is a steal for such a distinctive wine. The pricing on all three bottles is very good with the Grenache listed at $38 and the Cab Franc at $45. C’est magnifique!