Friday, February 23, 2018

WIYG? Vino-Sphere Tasting Team Answers The Question

Corley 2008 CabernetIf you frequent wine social media sites, you might see “WIYG?” What’s that, you may ask – it’s What’s In Your Glass. Our indispensable tasting team answers the question.

Tasty Napa Cabernet

Josh (aka Dr. J) Kessler, reports the following: Casey and I recently shared a bottle of 2008 Corley St. Helena, Yewell Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. 

This is a New Year's Invino clearance score from two years ago.  (This year kind of stunk for deals.)  A big, full-bodied wine, the oak was apparent on the nose with additional hints of cherries and chocolate.  There was also a touch of eucalyptus that we so very much enjoy in a heavy Cabernet.  On the palate, the wine is velvety and lush with more red berries, coffee, and dark chocolate.  The tannins are firm and there was a good amount of life left in this one!

Publisher – We’ve seen this bottle listed for $60 to $90, so looks like a good score!

White From A Favorite FLX Winery

Lakewood ChardonnayStephanie Wise (Wine Chick), sent in the following bulletin: Lakewood Vineyards 2014 Chardonnay was in my glass this week. This is one of our favorite wineries in the Finger Lakes Region and the first one that Patrick (Sax Man) ever took me to.

As you know I love a good Chardonnay, and this one doesn't disappoint. Not only is it oaky and buttery the way I like it, I think it's also for those who don't typically care for the oakiness. The nose is slightly metallic and the first sip tends to be more stainless steel in nature with hints of vanilla and then a buttery finish. I opened it strictly for drinking, but think that it would go well with any chicken or white fish entree as well as a meat and cheese tray with some fruit.

Needless to say the bottle was all mine as Patrick goes more for the Rieslings.

Publisher – The Finger Lakes is one of our favorite regions and its crisp whites are sensational.

Mac Forbes Pinot NoirPinot Noir From Australia’s Yarra Valley

Green Dragon and I uncorked – actually, unscrewed! -- a 2016 Mac Forbes Pinot Noir from Yarra Valley, Australia. As you might guess, we opened it on Mardi Gras night.

At first I wasn’t overwhelmed by this wine. One glass was enough. I opened it again the following night, and found I really enjoyed it. It has earthy notes with wafts of eucalyptus and flavors of tart cranberries. It is a light garnet in the glass with a lot more complexity than revealed at first sip.

This wine is $19.99 and is available at Lidl grocery stores (they provided this sample).

Publisher – Our jet-setting tasting team members Cabernetor and Glorious T will also provide a WIYG update, but it wasn’t ready by press time – so we’ll share it when it becomes available. Meanwhile, raise a glass!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Three Wine, Cheese And Food Books To Savor

Food Cheese Wine Books

Need a good read to tide you over to the spring thaw? We found three three books that should be on your bookshelf now.

The Winemaker Cooks: Menus, Parties and Pairings by Christine Hanna, Photos by Sheri Giblin

I couldn’t use a photo of my copy of this cookbook by Christine Hanna of Hanna Winery and Vineyards in Sonoma. That copy is stained by aioli sauce, noodles and unidentified meal ingredients. We received this book during a recent visit to Hanna’s Alexander Valley tasting room. We had the opportunity to meet Chris Hanna and have a sensational meal overlooking the vineyards.

Caviar with creme fraiche on brioche toast pointsWhen we got home, my wife (aka Green Dragon) used the recipes in the book for a wine pairing bash we hosted. The recipes were as promised, “wine country style with its hallmark of casual elegance.”

The book is organized by seasons. Each season has dinner menus followed by recipes, plus there are menus for other occasions, such as springtime brunch, summer dinner under the stars, harvest picnic in the vineyard and holiday open house. The picnic includes recipes for French Lentil, Prosciutto and Pepper Salad as well as Pan-Seared Five-Spice Duck Breast with Balsamic Jus. There are many recipes to try and love – sprinkled with bites of knowledge from the winemaker.

The book is published by Chronicle Books and can be found on Amazon.

The Winemakers of Paso Robles by Julia Perez, Words by Paul Hodgins

This splendid book is one to be savored a chapter or two at a time, like sipping a glass of fine Paso Robles red. Paso Robles is a region that has a long history in wine, reaching back to the 1840s, but in the last two decades it has emerged as the Mecca of ultra-premium California wine. When the AVA was founded in 1983, there were 17 wineries. Today there are more than 200 and over 32,000 acres of vineyards.

The catalyst has been a group of unique and unlikely winemakers. Their stories are told in magnificent photos by Perez and engaging narrative by Hodgins. The book is large (15.7 x 13.5 x 2.3 inches), a perfect size to showcase the insightful portraits and striking shots of the vineyards, wineries and wine.

Winemakers featured include the known, like Justin Baldwin of ISOCELES fame, and little known, like former NFL player Terry Hoage and wife Jennifer of micro-producer TH Estates. The story of Tobin James, the maverick winemaker of the region, is related, detailing how he got his start by making wine from Zinfandel grapes the truck driver was trying to dump. James ended up marrying the truck driver’s daughter.

Fifty-six winemakers are featured. We’d suggest a glass of a Paso Robles wine per chapter. This magnificent book is available at The Winemakers Series or Amazon for $85.

Cheese & Wine: A Guide to Selecting, Pairing, and Enjoying by Janet Fletcher, Photos by Victoria Pearson

Janet Fletcher prepares Ricotta cheese at BeringerJanet Fletcher is a food columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and winner of two James Beard Awards for her writing. She also makes a mean homemade Ricotta. During a recent visit to Beringer Winery in Napa during the Wine Bloggers Conference we saw her demonstrate cheesemaking.

Her love of cheese and wine shine through this 143-page book. The heart of the book is profiles of 70 cheeses with origins and descriptions as well as suggested wine pairings. The book organizes the cheeses by cheese platter themes, such as “Salute to Spain” and “Aging Gracefully.” There’s also great information on strategies for harmonious wine and cheese pairings, handling and serving cheese, and a convenient table showing cheese options for various wines.

This is a volume that should be on the bookshelf of any wine lover, and off the shelf at your next party. Published by Chronicle Books at $24.95.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Adorada Wines Aim To Create Fragrant, Sensory Experience

Most wines are crafted to appeal to the taste buds. Adorada is a treat for all the senses with stunning visuals and aromatics.

Adorada Rose

Is It Perfume Or Wine?

When presented with a bottle of Adorada wine, you can be forgiven if you mistake it for a gargantuan bottle of perfume. The label proclaims “Eau de California” and is printed in a style that mirrors high end perfume.

The bottle is also stylish, sealed with an angled coating of black wax. The beautiful color of the contents look remarkably like what you see on the counters in high end cosmetic departments.

We have to stop you right there. We don’t want you dabbing this wine behind your ears. That would be a terrible waste.

Adorada is the creation of winemaker Margaret Leonardi. The wines are meticulously crafted using distinctive aromatic grape varieties. We sampled two Adorada wines during a recent  Wine Studio education session.

Adorada CorkHow To Open A Wax-Sealed Wine Bottle

An initial hurdle was opening the wax-sealed bottle. I’ve had some less than successful attempts with other such bottles – resulting in long, frustrating opening times and crumbly wax in the wine. You can teach an old horse new tricks. I learned that you should hold the top of the bottle in hot water (only as far as the cork so you don’t heat the wine) for about a half minute. Then insert your corkscrew into the cork right through the wax seal. Twist and then pull up as usual – the cork comes up right through the wax.

The Adorada Experience

Our first bottle was the 2016 Pinot Gris. The grapes are 100% Californian, but the actual varieties are less certain. At least 75% must be Pinot Gris, but Adorada has blended a “selection of aromatic white grape varieties from premier vineyards” throughout the state. My guess is that there is at least some Viognier, a Rhone grape know for its aromatics.

Adorada Pinot GrisWe paired the Pinot Gris with Duo of Maryland Style Crab Cakes and Sautéed Lemon Garlic Shrimp with spinach polenta and buttered carrots. The awe-inspiring dish was prepared by the Green Dragon.

Both bottles have a gem-like color and have a touch of sweetness. Like the Oregon Pinot Gris that we favor, the Adorada had the pop of sweetness balanced with natural acidity. The flavor is a mélange of lemon and orange blossom.

A night later, it was time to open our second aromatic jewel: The 2016 Rosé. The color is a dazzling orange-rose-salmon. The aroma is an intoxicating blend of floral and fresh red berries. We drank in this wine with our eyes and noses before we tasted a drop.

Adorada with herb marinated chickenThe rosé was paired with Herb-Marinated Chicken Breast with Apricot Tri-Color Pepper Relish, fresh beet rounds and Mediterranean quinoa medley. The Green Dragon was on a culinary roll!

Adora WinesIn our Wine Studio session with the winemaker, I tried getting the specific grapes used in the rosé, but no dice. I was told the information is proprietary. However, there are a lot of proprietary wine blends out there – but many of them still list the grapes (just not the percentages).

Since Adorada is located in Mendocino County, my guess is that this is a rosé of Zinfandel or Pinot Noir. Whatever the composition, this is a drinking experience that pleases the eye, nose and palate. The rosé is medium bodied, which is fuller than many blush wines. The aromatics “primed” our palates – loving it before the first sip. Juicy honey and strawberry flavors made this one of the best rosé wines we’ve had in months.

Adorada means “adored” in Spanish, and the wines are worthy of that name. This wines are a sensory experience and the price point is an affordable $20 each.

Not only are these wines suitable for special dinners and events at home, they would make excellent gifts. The packaging is so beautiful, that a positive impression is made even before the cork is popped. We sense the smell of success!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Raffaldini Vineyards: Yadkin Valley Winery Visit

Chianti in the Carolinas? Yadkin Valley’s Raffaldini Vineyards aims to inspire with Italian excellence.

Raffaldini Vineyards Villa

Wine Tasting in Carolina Wine Country

We are big believers in drinking local – patronizing local wineries who are crafting vino in our own backyards. Just like the farm to table food movement, there’s a lot to be said about the “locopour” movement. Regional wineries are members of the community, caring for the land and often producing great wine. Frequently they fly under the radar, without the benefit of the huge marketing budgets of national brands.

With a break in the winter weather, Green Dragon and I set out for North Carolina wine country. Wineries dot much of the state map, but Yadkin Valley has a reputation for producing the best wine in the state. We targeted the Swan Creek AVA, which is located 35 miles west of Winston Salem and includes seven wineries.

Our first stop was Raffaldini Vineyards and Winery. The Raffaldini name harkens back to 1348 in Lombardy, Italy. As we neared the estate, we beheld a striking villa silhouetted against the light blue winter sky that would look right at home in Tuscany.

Italian Pleasure In The Hills

Raffaldini is the choice of "Rod Stewart" and top entertainersWalking to the tasting room, we were struck by the beautiful surroundings. Perched on a hill overlooking sloped hillside vineyards, Raffaldini’s tasting room and large terrace have a commanding view of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.

Entering the tasting room, decorated in Tuscan yellow and dark wood, we had a surprise. There was world famous singer Rod Stewart!

Actually, we discovered it was Rob Caudill, who performs a tribute to Rod Stewart called “Tonight’s the Night.” He was joined by friend Helen Anthony.

Already impressed with the first class surroundings and clientele, we were ready to taste some wine.

The cost for a tasting is $12 per person for eight wines and includes a high quality Riedel glass. We started our tasting journey with the whites.

Kicking off was the 2016 Pinot Grigio. We had been driving for several hours, so the refreshing bouquet was welcome. We also sampled the 2016 Girasole Rosato, an orange-hued rosé made with Sangiovese and Motepulciano grapes.

Our favorite of the opening trio was the 2016 Vermentino Superiore. Raffaldini was the first winery on the east coast to plant Vermentino and this is a full-bodied white. Most of the grapes come from the oldest block of Vermentino on the estate. The soil has schist and mica, adding a delightful minerality to the wine.

Chianti in the Carolinas at Raffaldini

Carolina Chianti – That’s A Big Yes!

Reds were next in line and we were ready to see if the “Chianti in the Carolinas” etched on our tasting glasses was only an idle boast. The 2015 Bella Misto is a beautiful mix of four grapes that is light ruby in the glass. The blend is Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Petit Verdot and Malbec. This is juicy and rewarding at an SRP of $19. We bought a bottle of this and drank it at the hotel’s hot tub that night.

We next sipped a pair of Sangiovese, the 2015 and 2014 Sangiovese Classico. Chianti is the world-famous Sangiovese wine from Tuscany and Classico designates wine made in the historic center of the region. The Raffaldini Sangiovese is some of the best I’ve had from the US. The Vino Nobile clone (there are several Sangiovese variants) is used, but the main difference is the use of the appassimento process.

Drying Grapes – For What?

Appassimento involves partially drying grapes on a rack to concentrate flavor. In fact, Raffaldini is the foremost practitioner of appassimento in the US and dries more fruit than any other vineyard.This gives weight and complexity to the wine. The 2015 was our favorite with juicy sour cherry flavors, soft tannins and a nice acidity. The Sangiovese retails for $29.

The 2015 Montepulciano Riserva is co-fermented with Petit Verdot and gets oak aging. Raffaldini is one of a handful of wineries in North Carolina that grows Montepulciano.

We closed with the 2016 La Dolce Vita, a frizzante style sweet wine similar to Moscato, but made with Traminette. This didn’t flip our switch, but there’s no doubt this would be tasty on the sunny terrace in the summer.

The “big daddy” wine is the 2015 Grande Riserva. This is a blend of Montepulciano, Petit Verdot and Sagrantino grapes. Unfortunately, this wasn’t on the tasting menu. I asked if they would open a bottle if Rod Stewart sang a song – but that ploy didn’t work. Nevertheless, we bought a bottle for $55 and look forward to uncorking it with a nice Italian meal.

Raffaldini checks all the boxes. Their tasting room is first class inside and out. The staff is friendly and helpful and the wine offers complexity and a taste of Italy. We suggest you visit the Raffaldini villa and make a memory.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Soléna 2010 Syrah, Del Rio, Rogue Valley

Solena SyrahWhat happens when an entire valley “goes rogue?” In the case of Oregon’s Rogue Valley, the result is pretty impressive red wine.

Going Rogue

Oregon is a fountain of fantastic wine. Most of the wineries are located in the valley of the Willamette River. This area is cooler than many US vineyards and is well suited for cool climate grapes like Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.

Further south in the state, closer to the border with California, it is a different story. The Rogue Valley is a warmer region, protected from cooling ocean breezes. It’s ideal for ripening red grapes like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

Check out our reports on more than 100 wineries

When we moved from Ohio to our new home in North Carolina, it disrupted the record keeping system for my wine. It was all loaded into Cellar Tracker, but the numbering system was outmoded when I had to switch to a couple of wine coolers in our new home. In the process of re-entering and reorganizing our wine, I came across the 2010 Soléna Syrah from sunny Rogue Valley! The corkscrew came out quickly after that…

Soléna – A Standout Winery

Soléna is a winery that we know best from their lineup of superb single vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. It is owned by husband and wife team Laurent Montalieu and Danielle Andrus Montalieu. They bottled their first wine in 2002.

Solena CapsuleThey also produce Chardonnay and Pinot Gris and also source grapes from select vineyards in other Oregon locations and Washington State as well. That’s the case with the Del Rio Vineyard Syrah from Rogue Valley.

Del Rio Vineyards lies 15 miles northwest of Medford, Oregon at historic Rock Point in the beautiful Rogue River Valley. The rocky slopes of the vineyard face south and drain well, providing an excellent site for producing premium wine grapes.

The wine underwent a cold maceration, keeping the skins in contact with the juice to draw out the beautiful color and flavors. It was aged 15 months in 20% new French oak.

This is a limited run wine, with only 70 cases produced. In the glass, this unfiltered and unfined wine is opaque. On the nose, there is a stew of earthy and savory aromas. On the palate the flavors are concentrated and evoke raisins, warm black cherry and cooked fruit. The finish is medium length.

Soléna reds run from $30 to $55 and their whites from $20 to $75. This is a quality winery with selections that will keep you coming back for more.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Bonterra Organic Vineyards A Sustainable Success

Bonterra vineyards have been farmed organically since 1987, long before organic products were widely available. Does care in the field translate to quality in the bottle? Read on.

Bonterra The RoostOrganic Wines, And Then Some

The growing of organic grapes is booming. Perceived by the public as being of higher quality, they are often in high demand.

Bonterra is the number one producer of organically farmed wine. Practices include using such “partners” as bees, chickens and goats to promote native plant growth, reduce pests, fertilize and reduce weeds.

Check out our reports on more than 100 wineries

Bonterra has a wide offering of organic wines plus a trio of wines from their biodynamic ranches. Biodynamic farming is a holistic view of agriculture with high awareness of the inter-connectivity between earth, plants, animals, humans, the moon and planets.

Taking A Sip, Naturally!

We’re big boosters of sustainability and environmental awareness. Since winemaking is an agricultural undertaking, it just makes sense to show care in the use of land and resources.For this reason, we’d have to tip our cap to Bonterra even if we never opened one of their bottles.

Bonterra MerlotThankfully, that scenario didn’t play out! As part of the Wine Studio education program, we had an opportunity to sample two Bonterra offerings: the 2015 Bonterra Merlot and the 2015 The Roost Blue Heron Vineyard Chardonnay. The Merlot carries a California appellation and The Roost hails from Mendocino County.

The Merlot has a full, round flavor of black cherries with oak and vanilla. It has small amounts of Petite Sirah and Malbec – always welcome additions – to give the bottle a bit of complexity.

Aging is in a combination of French and American oak, about 45% being new. The overall effect is soft tannins and a laid back elegance.This is a $16 buy that will please the crowd.

The Roost is a different sort of bird. The Blue Heron Ranch is farmed biodynamically. That takes the organic practices and adds on some metaphysical elements. The viewpoint is that all parts of the universe, including the vineyard, are connected as an ecosystem.

After those heavy thoughts, we were ready for some wine! Green Dragon had prepared stuffed chicken breasts served with butternut squash and spinach faro and steamed broccoli.

Bonterra Roost Chardonnay and ChickenOnly 200 cases (actually 400 half cases) of The Roost were produced. It sells for $40 and compares favorably to a high quality Sonoma Chardonnay.

The Blue Heron Ranch is cradled between the shore of the Upper Russian River and a Blue Heron nesting site. This is the coolest part of the area thanks to the river and a nightly coastal fog. Prime Chardonnay conditions!

In the glass it is an appealing light gold. Swirling in the glass releases aromas of citrus. Green Dragon doesn’t care for overly oaked Chardonnay and the Bonterra gained her seal of approval. While the wine was aged for 18 months in French oak, only 30% was new. The oak is there in balance with threads of lemon meringue and melon.

The Roost is an elegant Chardonnay. The care in the vineyard is evident in the glass.

Looking to couple your support for Mother Earth with a bottle of wine? Or maybe just looking for a tasty selection for dinner? Bonterra offers some excellent options.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Wine Bloggers Conference Speed Tasting: Hits And Near Misses

WBC17 Speed Tasting (1)

The most popular, polarizing, frenzied and fun events at the Wine Bloggers Conference are certainly the live blogging sessions. Here we uncork some favorites from the Sonoma WBC event in November.

The Live Blogging Experience at #WBC17

Take 300 wine bloggers pack them in a room with 25 winemakers and winery reps. Ring a bell and chaos of the most delightful kind ensues. That was the case at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Sonoma in November.

I’ve been to eight Wine Bloggers Conferences (WBC) and the live blogging events are a highlight each year. The format could be considered speed dating with wine. Bloggers are stationed at round tables and winemakers or their representatives go from table to table pouring their wine, distributing fact sheets and answering questions. The time allotted for each wine is five minutes! The wine bloggers are busy snapping pictures, tweeting, posting to Facebook, sipping and taking notes.

This goes on for 10 or more rounds! It’s like riding the rapids on a raging river of wine -- harrowing at times, but exhilarating in the end.

My opinion of these live blogging sessions has gravitated this way and that over the years. The first few years it was – “this is the most awesome idea ever!” If you don’t approach it right (taking small sips and swirling and spitting as needed), though, it can be difficult to face the receptions or special wine dinners scheduled in the evening. I’ve also reflected that it might be nicer to spend an hour with a couple of glasses of wine from a really good bottle in a more relaxed setting.

Overall my judgment comes down this way. It’s a great way to get introduced to a wide variety of wines in a short period of time. If one grabs me, I can follow-up with the winery or locate a bottle elsewhere. I also want to support the sponsors whose coin helps make the WBC possible. This year WBC scheduled some time after the event to visit with some of the wineries that poured in order to review the wines with less time constraint. This is an excellent feature we hope to see continued.

And We’re Off!

Many thanks to the sponsors who participated in the live blogging sessions. Here are some of the bottles that shined during WBC17. Thanks to the Vino-Sphere tasting team (Green Dragon, Cabernetor and Glorious T) who also rode the wave of wine.

Breathless Brut Magnum, North Coast – This sparkling wine is 50% Pinot Noir, 46% Chardonnay and 4% Pinot Meunier and is vinted in the traditional method. Light, refreshing with apple and citrus notes. $79 SRP for a magnum.

Oh! 2015 Sangiovese, Columbia Valley – We’re not down with the “orgasmic” marketing for their wines, but this 100% Sangiovese is a tart beauty with strawberry and cherry flavors. SRP $70.

Papapietro Perry 2014 Peters Vineyard Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley – This winery specializes in Pinot Noir and produces 10 different ones! A lovely RRV Pinot priced at $58 with a blend of cherry and cola flavors with a bit of earth.

Vanderpump 2016 Rosé, Cotes de Provence – Television personality Lisa Vanderpump has created a rosé that is a refreshing blend of Cinsault, Grenache and Syrah. Priced at about $19, this is a dry and bright rosé that is an excellent example of the Provence style.

Stone Hill 2015 Norton, Missouri – The Stone Hill winery was founded in 1847 and at one time was the second largest winery in the US. Norton is a native American grape of the Vitis Aestivalis species. It is hearty and savory with a sweet toasty flavor that differs from Cab. We are fans. SRP $19.99.

Paradise Ridge 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, Grandview Vineyard, Russian River Valley – The Wine Country Fires burned down the Paradise Ridge tasting room and production facility – but their estate vineyard survived. They will rebuild and we can’t wait. This is an outstanding single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc! SRP $22.

Gracianna 2015 Reserve Pinot Noir, Westside Reserve, Russian River Valley – Four carefully selected barrels created this limited run of 144 cases. Simply a knockout wine with notes of smoke, oak and red fruit. SRP $72. Our favorite of the red wine live blogging session.

Theopolis Vineyards 2015 Petite Sirah, Yorkville Highlands Mendocino County – Energetic and engaging winery owner Theodora Lee presented this bottle. This PS is velvet in a bottle with swirls of black cherry and cocoa. The finish is smooth as… well, you know! SRP is $38.

Pedroncelli 2015 Mother Clone Zinfandel, Dry Creek ValleyA classic Zin mashup of red berry flavors and spice notes. Most of the grapes come from clones of Zinfandel planted in 1904. Very satisfying at $19 SRP.

Anaba 2015 Turbine White, Sonoma County --  This is a Rhone blend of 31% Viognier, 30% Grenache Blanc, 26% Roussanne, 12% Marsanne and 1% Picpoul Blanc. In case you are wondering, Anaba was the first winery in Northern California to use wind power, hence the name. A complex glass of honey, citrus and herb. SRP $32.

So, you have a list of some of our hits. What about the near misses? In general, the wines we tasted ranged from good to excellent. There were a few bummers, but it is hard to tell whether the place in the lineup (10th wine versus the first) could impact our judgment or maybe the presentation (we love to have the wine presented by the owner or winemaker). So, we’ve focused our bandwidth on bottles you might want to uncork.

There were many more great wines that we haven’t covered here, and some that were offered but never made it to our table due to the nature of the event. You can find a full list of the wineries that participated here, along with other generous WBC17 sponsors.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Domaines Schlumberger 2015 “Les Princes Abbés” Pinot Blanc, Alsace

Domaines SchlumbergerThis Pinot Blanc from Alsace is a great way for Pinot lovers to expand their palates. It wouldn’t be possible without help from some monks.

Pinot Brother From Another Mother

Chances are if someone says they love Pinot, they are talking about Pinot Noir. We are lovers of that devilish grape, to be sure, but there is a world of magnificent Pinot of a different stripe. Case in point: Pinot Blanc.

Pinot Blanc is a white berry mutation of Pinot Noir. This white wine has risen to its highest craft in the Alsace region of France.

After returning from a showing of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, it was vino time. The universe had been saved (at least for the time being) and so Green Dragon and I uncorked a chilled Domaines Schlumberger 2015 “Les Princes Abbés” Pinot Blanc. 

The Monks Fill Our Wine Glasses

Domaine Schlumberger is a rarity – they are 100% estate winegrowers. They don’t buy grapes or juice and vinify exclusively their own harvest. Their estate is located on the hillsides of Guebwiller, with some hills topping 1,200 feet.

Sipping this great white wine from Alsace wouldn’t be possible without the help of a group of monks. Christianity in the region dates back to the 4th century and a community of Benedictine monks dominated the area for 10 centuries. At one point the monks were named Princes of the Holy Roman Empire and given the titles of knights.

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Guebwiller became one of the most important towns in Alsace because of its winegrowing. At the insistence of the Prince Abbots, the wines were exported to Austria and were well known and appreciated. To make sure no one else horned in on the Guebwiller reputation, a certificate of origin was placed on every barrel.The Princes Abbés were the first to sell wine from Guebwiller, earning their place in history and on the Domaines Schlumberger bottle.

Verdict Of The Glass

Sweetness ScaleWe love dry white wines, and that happens to be the specialty of Alsace. Two points were in this wine’s favor from the start. First is a reasonable (about $16) price. Second is a sweetness scale on the bottle that clearly advertises the sweetness level, in this case, dry. If only more wineries would use this simple tool.

In the glass this princely Pinot Blanc is light yellow with golden highlights. On the nose, there are floral aromas evoking visions of white blossoms.

Our glasses were wafting some great aromatics. As we sipped, the flavors were lemon meringue and honeysuckle mingled with refreshing minerality. This is a fresh and lively wine.

Domaine Schlumberger is a winery with a tradition of excellence. We rate this wine highly. It will appeal to Pinot people who prefer premium potations.

Friday, January 26, 2018

1000 Stories Focuses On Artisan Bourbon Barrel Aged Wine

1000 StoriesFinding a Bourbon barrel aged wine is easy. Finding a Bourbon barrel aged wine done right is another story all together. As we discovered, 1000 Stories is mastering the craft.

Bourbon and Wine: A Perfect Marriage?

For imbibing, wine is our beverage of choice. When we start talking about spirits, we are lovers of Bourbon. The pairing of the two, via Bourbon barrel aging of wine, is a technique we whole-heartedly endorse. Just using Bourbon barrels, however, doesn’t transform a so-so wine into an amazing one. Even with a good wine, if the aging process isn’t done properly, it can turn it into a dud.

When the lineup for this month’s Wine Studio educational program was announced, we were pleased to see an opportunity to taste and discuss 1000 Stories. We first sipped and enjoyed 1000 Stories during the Wine Bloggers Conference last fall in Sonoma. That was a “speed tasting” and we looked forward to trying the wine in a more relaxed setting.

Bison Burger Stampede!

1000 Stories 2The Green Dragon usually checks with me when we do a Wine Studio tasting. We typically enjoy the featured wines with a specially paired meal early in the evening, since the Wine Studio “Twitter talk” doesn’t start until 9 PM. When she asked me for a suggested pairing, there was no hesitation: “bison burger!”

The 1000 Stories features a bold bison on the label and a the robust flavor of a Zinfandel or Petite Sirah would pair dreamily with a juicy burger, no matter how the wine is aged.

The resulting meal was a gourmet Bleu Cheese Stuffed Bison Burgers with caramelized onions on brioche bun, herb sautéed zucchini ribbons and hand-cut Yukon Gold frites kissed with truffle oil. This was a culinary work of art that I admired for several long seconds before wanting to devour it!

A Powerful Pair Of Wines

Winemaker Bob Blue points out that using Bourbon barrels to age wine is nothing new. When he was starting out as a winemaker, it was almost unheard of to get French oak barrels for wine and American oak barrels were for whisky, not wine. Barrels were still needed, so he purchased new and used Bourbon barrels. “Today, American and French oak wine barrels are commonplace,” says Blue, “so the inspiration for 1000 Stories is a nod to the way things were.”

1000 Stories currently offers two wines, the 2015 Zinfandel Batch 038 with a California appellation, and the 2015 Half Batch Petite Sirah from Lake County. Both are priced at $18.99 and have a potent alcohol content of more than 15%.

The 1000 Stories Zinfandel is a very good one. Dry farmed Zin grapes from Mendocino County, Lodi and Paso Robles form the basis for this wine, which also has a dash of Lake County Petite Sirah. The wine is first aged in traditional American and French oak barrels – which introduces smoke and vanilla flavors. The wine then is introduced to new Bourbon barrels. This adds another layer of complexity, with roasted caramel and spice notes. This wine had an enjoyable toasted flavor.

1000 Stories CorkThe Half Batch Petite Sirah is a bombastic wine, with intense fruit. This small lot wine has 83% Petite Sirah, 12% Zinfandel and 5% Syrah. The Half Batch moniker comes from selecting 100 of the best Bourbon barrels, half the amount of barrels used on their Zinfandel.

This is a big bodacious wine that has fruit and savory notes. Blackberry, raisin and smoke flavors mix together in this big wine. This needs time to decant and settle down .

Were we trampled by the 1000 Stories buffalo? Maybe just a bit, but in a way where we appreciated the power and finesse of well crafted wine. They paired magnificently with our bison burgers and Bleu cheese.

These wines would earn our favor even without the Bourbon barrel aging, but the BBA, done in just the right way, adds complexity and a unique “story.” You’ll enjoy telling it again and again!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Hanna Winery: An Alexander Valley Winery Visit

Hanna blazes its own path with iconic Sauvignon Blanc and handcrafted Bordeaux and Burgundy wines.

Outpost of Excellence In Alexander Valley

There never is enough time to see and do all that you want in California’s wine country. We arrived for the Wine Bloggers Conference a few days early to explore Sonoma, the host for the latest event. Our travels took us from one end of Sonoma to the other, but we didn’t have time to explore one of our favorite AVAs, Alexander Valley.

Not to worry. Our group (Green Dragon and tasting team members Cabernetor and Glorious T) had thoughtfully reserved a pre-excursion trip to Hanna Winery. Our foray into Alexander Valley was a joyful highlight of our WBC experience.

Hanna Winery was founded in 1985 by Dr. Elias Hanna, a world famous cardiac surgeon who wanted to continue the farming heritage of his upbringing. His daughter, Christine Hanna, took over management of the winery in 1991, and guided the winery’s expansion to become an iconic producer of Sauvignon Blanc, as well as handcrafted estate grown Burgundy and Bordeaux varieties.
The winery has 230 acres planted to vines in four vineyards. The vineyards are located in Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley and Sonoma Valley.

An Obscure Grape Experience

We were welcomed by Christine Hanna and a glass of their superb Sauvignon Blanc. After unwinding from the bus trip, winemaker Jeff Hinchliffe led us to the cellar where we were treated to a barrel tasting of 2017 Malbec.

Jeff explained that the focus for Hanna was on balance and technique and that the winery refused to engage in the “nuclear arms race of new oak.” That suits us fine, since overly oaked and tannic wine is a turnoff for us.

The next taste came from left field. Jeff announced that Hanna had planted some St. Macaire grapes and would soon release it as a single varietal wine. We were fortunate to taste barrel samples. St. Macaire is a “lost grape” from the southwest of France, now rarely seen. Only four acres are planted in France. Hanna has a half acre of St. Macaire. Editor’s note: Hanna released its Reserve St. Macaire – the only such release in the US – last month.

The St. Macaire coated our glasses. The flavors are plum and blackberry with savory notes of mushroom and oak. The overall texture is silky.

A Luxurious Lunch

Emerging from the cellar, we returned to the brightness of the tasting room. Chris Hanna is a food writer, cooking teacher and cookbook author. In fact, we recently hosted a wine pairing dinner based on her recipes. As you can imagine, the lunch was wondrous.

The first course was Baby Spinach Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash, Toasted Sliced Almonds, Picked Red Onion and Warm Bacon Dressing. The pairing was Hanna 2015 Russian River Valley Chardonnay. The Chardonnay has nice minerality and flavor notes of lemon and vanilla.

The main course was Porchetta with Salsa Rosamarina, Soft Creamy Polenta with Fresh Corn, Mascarpone, Pecorino and Parmesan with Haricot Vert with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Sea Salt. Whew! What a dish. This plate was accompanied by two wines: Elias 2014 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and the Hanna 2014 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

Hanna is not a large production winery, with about 60,000 cases being produced annually. There were 548 cases of Elias Pinot (named for Chris’ father and the winery founder) made. Russian River Valley is one of the world’s great Pinot Noir regions and the
Elias Pinot did not disappoint with flavors of cherry and violet and traces of earthiness.

The pork entree worked well with the lighter Pinot as well as the Alexander Valley Cabernet. The Cabernet has blueberry and cocoa flavors and brought tremors of excitement to our tablemate, The Cabernetor!

The last wine of the afternoon was another rare treat. The Hanna 2014 Bismark Moon Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon is a 500 case release from Sonoma’s newest AVA. The Bismark Vineyard is on the Sonoma side of Mt. Veeder and features rocky volcanic soil. The area is so remote there are no roads.

To pair with this high elevation wine, was an elevated dessert! The Flourless Chocolate Cake with Fresh Raspberries was a knockout and the deep, rich flavors were the perfect foil for dark and brooding Bismark. The wine packs as much power as the vaunted German battleship Bismarck. The wine is nearly opaque and has big, concentrated flavors of brown sugar and plum with a hint of pepper. This wine was one of the best that we tasted during our week in Sonoma and Napa.

Hanna is a Certified California Sustainable Vineyard & Winery. We’ll also certify that they have amazing wines and remarkable hospitality. We encourage you to seek out Hanna wines in your local wine shop and make the trip to their Alexander Valley or Russian River Valley tasting room.