Friday, December 8, 2017

Mercer Trio Delivers Value And Flavor From Atop Horse Heaven Hills

Mercer Horse Heaven HillsThe Mercer family settled in southwestern Washington in 1886. For more than a century they’ve been stewards of the land in what is now the Horse Heaven Hills AVA.

Family Tradition

The Mercer family has a long tradition of family farming that spans five generations. Our family has a tradition too. For holidays like Thanksgiving we get together, cook way too much food, watch football and generally have fun.

This year it was our turn to host the holiday festivities in our new home in North Carolina’s Triangle area. We had plentiful poultry and also volumes of vino. Our holiday entertaining was made easier by a threesome of wines from Mercer.

Heaven For Horses – And Wine Lovers

Washington state has huge wine regions. Columbia Valley alone has 33,000 acres under vine (some does edge over into Oregon). Mercer has large holdings totaling 2,000 acres in Horse Heaven Hills, Columbia Valley and Yakima Valley. In Horse Heaven Hills, Mercer vines represent 18% of the total plantings.

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We’ve been devoted fans of Horse Heaven Hills for many years. It’s the home of many of the state’s top rated wines. The steeply sloped hills and tempering wines create just the right environment for flavorful grapes.

As part of our Thanksgiving gathering, the Green Dragon’s sister was visiting. This was the perfect opportunity to uncork the 2015 Mercer Sharp Sisters Blend. The bottle has a photo of Carma Sharp-Mercer and her sisters. Our present day sisters gave two thumbs up to this blend of 29% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Syrah, 18% Merlot, 14% Petit Verdot, 10% Grenache and 2% Carignane.

Taming The Wild Boar

The Merlot for the blend comes from Dead Canyon Vineyard and the Cabernet Sauvignon from the Eagle & Plow Vineyard, which is the source for Mercer’s new ultra premium wine. This wine offers ripe blackberries with a dash of vanilla. Like many Washington state reds, it overdelivers with delicious fresh fruit flavors.

We enjoyed the Sharp Sisters with a wild boar sausage, mushroom and cheddar appetizer. The pairing was spot on.

The 2015 Mercer Malbec comes from the acclaimed Spice Cabinet Vineyard. It has 22% Cabernet Sauvignon and offers more complexity than expected with earthy tones and coffee interwoven with lush blackberry. The wine gets 18 months in a blend of old and new French oak and malolactic fermentation to a lush, full body.

The 2015 Mercer Sauvignon Blanc was enjoyed as we recovered from the weekend full of holiday guests. The wine is yellow-green in the glass with a grassy aroma. While the wine is crisp and refreshing, the flavor profile was much different than expected. It veered more toward the grapefruit and less toward the tropical fruit. It is bright with good acidity and was an enjoyable wine for unwinding.

This trio is part of the Mercer Estates range, the mid-level for Mercer. The Malbec and Sharp Sisters retail for $25 and the Sauvignon Blanc for $12. The wines are an appealing value. In particular, the Sharp Sisters was a favorite of ours. It’s a wine worthy of a multi-bottle purchase and could become your “go to” red.

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

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Left Coast 2015 Latitude 45⁰ Estate Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley


Good things come from the 45th parallel north. Case in point, this new vintage of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.

In Distinguished Geographic Company

Left Coast Cellars Estate is one of the largest contiguous vineyards in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, spanning 350 acres, with approximately 150 acres under vine including Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meunier, Syrah, and Viognier. Pinot Noir is king in Willamette, and more than 60% of the estate is planted with Pinot.

The line of the 45th parallel north runs through the estate vineyard, like many of the great vineyard properties of France. Left Coast Cellars is a rising star in Willamette Valley, so we were anxious to “travel” to Latitude 45⁰.

Attack Of The Clones

There are about 40 different Pinot Noir clones. Clones are made from cuttings of a vine. Although genetically uniform, slight genetic variations occur. As a result, clones can have different characteristics that result in different quality and taste. In the world of Pinot Noir these subtle differences are to be celebrated!

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For Latitude 45⁰, Left Coast Cellars used Dijon Clones 114, 115 and 667. Dijon 115 is a popular and important clone in California Pinot production.

In addition to dialing in the clone selection, Left Coast Cellars benefits from its cooler micro-climate, owing to its location at the head of the Van Duzer Corridor. The Van Duzer Corridor is an east-west valley that creates a break in the coast range of mountains that shields most of the Willamette Valley from the Pacific Ocean. This break allows cool marine breezes and ample fog to penetrate deeply into our part of the Willamette Valley. That coolness helps preserve the acidity and brightness of the grapes.

We’re fans of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. In our reckoning, no place does it better. The Latitude 45⁰ has aroma of tea and cinnamon. On the palate it has a starts smoothly and then becomes more bold. There are notes of dusty strawberries with touches of leather and spice. The aging regimen is 18 months in French oak, 75% new.

The 2015 Left Coast Cellars Latitude 45⁰ Pinot Noir retails for $38. It is one of four Pinots produced by Left Coast. Latitude 45⁰ is eminently enjoyable and should pair well with braised meats and root vegetables. No matter your location, we recommend a visit to Latitude 45⁰ in your near future.

Full Disclosure: We received this bottle as a marketing sample.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Plonk Wine Club Focuses on Hidden Gems

Plonk Wine Club offers small batch discoveriesWant to enjoy small-batch artisanal wines without sifting through dozens of humdrum bottles?  Read on.

Top Tastemaker Unleashes Talent

Etty Lewensztain is a bona fide wine talent. She was named to the Wine Enthusiast “Top 40 Under 40 Tastemakers List” and Wine & Spirits “30 Under 30 List of Top Young Talent in the Wine World.” That’s nice for her – but even nicer for you, because she wants to share her expertise.

Plonk Wine Club is the brainchild of Lewensztain. Based on our experience, “plonk” it isn’t. It’s a great gift idea just in time for the holidays.

Plonk is a somewhat dismissive term for inexpensive, unremarkable wine. The Plonk Wine Club, on the other hand, has assembled some wines designed to mesmerize the adventurous wine lover. We recently sampled a Plonk shipment and have become fans.

Our package included:

2016 Matetic EQ Coastal Sauvignon Blanc, Casablanca Valley Chile

2015 Lusenti Gutturnio Frizzante, Emilia-Romagna, Italy

2016 Macchialupa Beneventano Falanghina, Campania, Italy

2015 Santomas Refosk, Koper, Slovenia

Pick A Plonk

The wine club is focused on organic, biodynamic and truly authentic wine. Club members can choose from a number of options ranging from two bottles to a case, shipped monthly. You also have choices on the type of wines you receive: mixed, white, red, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blanc. You can go monthly and cancel whenever you choose. If you lock in a longer duration, you get a discount. A four-bottle mixed red and white plan is $95 per shipment, but goes down to $90 if you commit to a full year.

This is a great opportunity to try wines you wouldn’t normally experience. One of the Sauvignon Blanc choices, for example, is a Rogue Valley Sauv Blanc by Leah Jorgensen. Only 120 cases were made.

Fantastic Voyage

The selection we received is eclectic and cool. Casablanca Valley is an exciting region for white wines in Chile. The flavors are crisp and distinct from the New Zealand version. I’ve been wanting to explore the whites from this area. The Matetic EQ is organic and biodynamic.

Falanghina is one of hundreds of native Italian grapes that you won’t find outside of the “boot.” The Lusenti Gutturnio Frizzante is made with Barbera and Bonarda. To add to its uniqueness, it is a red wine finished in a slightly fizzy “frizzante” style designed to drink ice cold.

If those three wines weren’t intriguing enough, perhaps you’d like the Santomas Refosk. Refosk is a grape I’ve never had before – and I’ve tasted more than 100 different varieties. We served this Slovenian wine at a recent dinner party and several guests rated it above a pricey Napa Cabernet. It’s expressive with notes of blueberry and a healthy dose of pepper.

If you enjoy traveling the globe by the bottle, or discovering treasure wines closer to home, Plonk Wine Club is recommended.

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

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Holiday Gift Ideas: Trio Of New Cookbooks

Cookbook Gift Ideas

Looking for a gift for the foodie in your life? Try these tasty cookbook selections.

Taste Of Home 365 Days of Cookies

Yes, the title grabbed my attention. 365 Days of Cookies sounds like heaven to me – although my waistline and wife may not agree.

This cookbook is published by Trusted Media Brands, although cooks will be more familiar with the Taste of Home magazine, which has a circulation of 2.5 million. The book features gorgeous full color photos and a lay-flat spiral-bound format.

There are cookies for all occasions, including Waffle Day (March 25), Rootbeer Float Day (August 6) and, of course, Groundhog Day (February 2). The book is divided into seasons with an ample selection for each. The “most wonderful time of the year” gets special treatment with its own section. Also appreciated are a sprinkling of specially marked “short and sweet” recipes for when from-scratch baking doesn’t fit your schedule.

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Some of the selections include: Watermelon Slice Cookies, Pumpkin Spice Cookies, Vanilla Glazed Apple Cookies and Cranberry Swirl Biscotti. The classics to holiday masterpieces are all covered. The 448-page hardcover book retails for $24.99 and might be the sweetest gift of the season.

A Taste Of Latin America by Patricia Cartin

Patricia Cartin’s new book, A Taste of Latin America: Culinary Traditions and Classic Recipes from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico & Venezuela (176 pages, Imagine Publishing) covers a land steeped in history and tradition. Organized by country, each section includes historical background and influence for each nation’s cuisine as well as a look at local customs and ingredients.

There are attractive full-page photos and the range of recipes will appeal to novices as well as seasoned chefs. We like that each dish includes a bold listing of the preparation time and difficulty level. Each dish also has the phonetic pronunciation so you’ll not only cook like a local, but you’ll be able to properly say the dish’s name.

There are tempting options for main dishes, vegetables, sides and desserts. Some selections are Charquican, (a Chilean beef stew), Bolinho de Chuva (cinnamon doughnut holes from Brazil) and Papas a la Huancaina (Peruvian potatoes with spicy sauce).

Cartin is a native Costa Rican and has cooked for the president of Costa Rica at university receptions and she shares her knowledge in this easy to read and use hardcover book. Suggested retail price is $18.95.

Pantry and Palate: Remembering and Rediscovering Acadian Food by Simon Thibault

Pantry and Palate combines narrative by Thibault and stunning photography by Noah Fecks to explore the culinary traditions of Acadia. Acadians were among the earliest Europeans settlers in Canada. They arrived in the 17th century and settled in what is now Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Most were expelled from their lands by the English in the 18th century, with the majority fleeing to Louisiana where their cuisine evolved into what we now call Cajun. Thibault takes us through a personal journey of discovery. Sparked by old family recipes in aged notebooks he explores the Acadian foodways, an expression of history, culture and identity.

“Memories of taste are the most powerful,” says Thibault, “and they are linked to our memories of love.” He lovingly explores what he terms the humble, homey, occasionally homely, and very comforting cuisine of Acadia.

Recipes include Fricot aux Poutines Rapees (Chiken Fricot with potato dumplings), Clam Pie and Fring Frangs (potato pancakes). You’ll also find Thibault’s amusing tale of cooking a pig’s head and why he thinks you should cook one too. This fascinating book retails for $34.95, published by Nimbus Publishing Limited in the trade paperback version.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Boutique Wine Sampler Set To Make Splash In California

The Santa Barbara Boutique Wine Sampler is now available

Small Bottles, Big Idea

The Boutique Wine Sampler is small in size, but really, really big in concept. The product is targeted at wine lovers and is launching in Costco stores in California. It focuses on a collection of small production wines in a small format – and we predict the impact will be huge.

We had a chance to speak with Bob Sweeney, who co-founded the Boutique Wine Club with Tim Jones. Boutique Wine Club developed the product to fill an important need. “You have consumers who are seeking high quality wine and can’t get it,’ explains Sweeney. “You also have winemakers with no access to the market. They don’t have a tasting room and they aren’t in restaurants.”

Drawing on his experience in the wine industry as a leading tour operator, he decided that a sampler pack done right would allow small producers access to a wide market. Boutique Wine Club buys the wine from the wineries and packages it in 375 ml bottles, half the typical bottle size. The labels are identical to the full-sized bottles (okay, they are smaller) and are printed under a license with the wineries.

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We like the BWS for a number of reasons. First, we’ve tried other wine sampler packs that feature 50 ml bottles. Sorry, but that is a third of a glass of wine – not enough to get a decent taste and certainly not enough to share. The Boutique Wine Sampler bottles have two and a half glasses each – much better. Also, the Boutique Wine Sampler is focusing on fantastic wine regions, including two of our favorites for starters, Santa Barbara and Paso Robles. Five thousand units of each package were produced.

Sip Santa Barbara Then Pop Paso Robles

The Santa Barbara AVA collection includes the following wines and is now available in select Southern California Costco stores and some California Fresh Market stores:

•           2016 Stolpman Ballard Canyon Syrah

•           2017 Larner Rosé of Grenache

•           2016 D’Alfonso-Curran BADGE Pinot Noir

•           2015 Blair Fox Petit Sirah

•           2016 Carr Cabernet Franc

•           2016 Andrew Murray E11even Chenin Blanc

The Paso Robles AVA collection includes the following wines and will be available in select Northern California Costco stores in early December:

•           2015 Cass Winery Malbec

•           2014 Brian Benson Cellars Kandy Red (50% Zinfandel / 50% Grenache)

•           2017 Alta Colina Grenache Blanc

•           2014 Midnight Cellars Estate Zinfandel

•           2016 Bodega de Edgar Tempranillo

•           2016 San Marcos Creek Rosé of Grenache

The Boutique Wine Sampler 375 ml format is great for group tastings

Why We Like It

During his time as wine tour operator, Sweeney tried to figure out the players in the winemaking business. His network enabled him to pull together a great group of wines. “We are looking for winemaking giants playing small or up and coming winemakers,” he said.

Ballard Canyon is a dynamic Santa Barbara AVA that is making amazing Syrah. Stolpman Syrah is superb. We featured a Midnight Cellars red blend at an event we organized and it was a crowd favorite. Knowing that these two wineries were included is an indicator of the collection quality and sold me on this project.

How can you not love sampler packs that include Tempranillo, Grenache Blanc, Cab Franc, Petit Sirah and Chenin Blanc? The website features interviews with the winemakers accessible via a QR code, so you can watch the videos when buying the wine or hosting a tasting party.

The suggested retail price for the Boutique Wine Samplers is $69.99, but Costco agreed to reduce their margin in order to make it available for $49.99. It’s a great bargain for consumers and also a sweet deal for wineries trying to gain new customers.

“When you consider that each box will have two to 12 people tasting it, you have a chance to have 50,000 people taste your wine,” said Sweeney. He noted for comparison that a top tasting room might get 1,000 people a week.

Plans for sampler packs aren’t limited to Santa Barbara and Paso Robles. Napa and Sonoma are ripe for their own collections, said Sweeney. From there a thrust northwards to Oregon and Washington is possible.

As the sampler packs grow in numbers, you can mix and match bottles from different regions. A nationwide push with a four pack is also a possibility.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Dry Creek Vineyard: Sonoma Winery Visit

Dry Creek Vineyard is celebrating 45 years of family winemaking. We did some celebrating of our own, making the winery our first stop on our recent trip to Sonoma.

Vino-Sphere tasting team outside Dry Creek Vineyard tasting roomA Winery Of Firsts

Dry Creek Vineyard is a groundbreaker in many ways. It was the first new winery established in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley following Prohibition and founder David Stare paved the way for a winemaking rebirth in the area.

Recognized as the first winery to plant Sauvignon Blanc in Dry Creek Valley, the winery also pioneered Bordeaux-style blends. In fact, Dry Creek Vineyard was the first to use the term Meritage (with its 1985 vintage) and the first to coin the term “Old Vines” to describe pre-prohibition Zinfandel vineyards.

That’s a lot of firsts. Enough, in fact, to make it our initial stop in wine country earlier this month.

Satisfying A Thirst For History

Dry Creek Vineyard is certainly a suitable name for this iconic winery, but in this dry valley, the winery is an oasis of flowering plants, growing vines and sustainable farming. We went through the front entrance, which has as much ivy as the outfield at Wrigley Field, and into the tasting room.

DCV Tasting RoomHigh above sun shone into the tasting room through a stained glass window featuring a sailboat, a signature image for Dry Creek Vineyard. Meanwhile we were treated to a glass of chilled Dry Chenin Blanc and Fumé Blanc, both 2016 vintages.

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As we enjoyed these crisp, refreshing wines, Sara Rathbun, the DCV marketing and communications director, related some of the rich history of the winery. Dry Creek Vineyard was the first winery in Sonoma to put “Fumé Blanc” on the label – a fact I found even more interesting as a downed a glass. The DCV Fumé is one of my favorite white wines.

The estate was formerly a prune orchard. Thankfully founder David Stare ripped up the prune trees and planted grapes, including Sauvignon Blanc, which he was told would never grow. Stare not only pioneered Sauvignon Blanc in Dry Creek Valley, he pioneered the Dry Creek Valley appellation itself.

We contemplated an interesting history display while we enjoyed the 2014 DCV2 Four Clones Zinfandel and moved into the vineyard. The wine incorporates four distinct clones (Bradford Mountain, St. Peter’s Church, Primitivo and Dupratt) on St. George rootstock to preserve the heritage and authenticity of these old vineyards.

Value And Spectacular Specialization

Dry Creek Vineyard is committed to sustainabilityWalking in the vineyard garden (which is also an insectary) we also sampled another standout Zin, the Heritage Zin. Together with the Fumé Blanc, they are a pair of great values that overdeliver enjoyment and craftsmanship.

The Heritage Zin is the result of a special project wherein old vines from a pre-Prohibition vineyard were grafted onto young phylloxera-resistant rootstock. The result -- a “young” vine with “old vine” Zinfandel characteristics.

We had a chance to savor four different Zinfandels, displaying the DCV mastery of this signature Dry Creek Valley grape. In addition to the Four Clones and Heritage Zin, we tasted the 2014 DCV7 Wallace Ranch and 2014 Vogensen Ranch Western Slope single vineyard Zins.

Each of the three single vineyard Zins retails for $40. Each had its own unique flavor profile – and fans in our tasting group.

DCV Winery TastingThe Four Clones had an amazing balance between acidity and dark fruit. Wallace Ranch had notes of caramel and cola while the Vogensen Ranch offered raspberry, floral and anise flavors.

Triumphant Trio

Crisp, refreshing whites – check. Superlative single vineyard Zins – check. Now we were ready for another strong suit for Dry Creek Vineyard: Bordeaux-style reds.

One of our favorite red wines, and one we readily recommend to friends, is The Mariner. The Mariner is a Meritage and the 2013 vintage is a blend of 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot and 8% Cabernet Franc.

Just as the trusty Mariner pilots the ship through rocky waters, so the winemaker is the captain of this wine, picking just the right blend.

Dry Creek Vineyard The Mariner - award-winning MeritageThe 2013 vintage is another winner, with blueberry and vanilla and a dash of spice. Enjoyed at a picnic table on the beautify winery grounds, there are few finer wine experiences.

Something completely new to me was the special 45th Anniversary 2014 Cabernet. This is made in the style of founder David Stare, with a 3% dollop of Spencer Hill Zinfandel added to the wine. American oak is used in another nod to the winery’s roots. The bottle is badged with a retro label featuring the original winery logotype.

This anniversary bottle is only available to wine club members or at the winery. It is a rich, rollicking wine – flowing smoothly on the tongue with a lingering finish.

We were then treated to a rock-star wine: the 2014 Endeavor, the winery’s high end Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes are grown in the Lytton Springs district of Dry Creek Valley and it includes 10% Petit Verdot. The terroir has a distinctive stamp, resulting in notes of cedar, strawberry and toast. This is a wine to savor. Dry Creek Vineyard has been quite innovative in their packaging, and Endeavor takes it to a new level with a striking yet subtle painted design.

An exclamation point was added to mark the end of our visit: a taste of the 2009 Mariner. Far from being a crusty old seafaring soul – the Mariner has mellowed with time. The years have polished the tannins, rounding all the edges into a smooth luxe experience. This almost makes me wish I had aged all my Mariner bottles. Almost, because each was quite delicious and enjoyed with the best of friends.

Dry Creek Vineyard has a remarkable history. It was a treat to drink it in first hand at the winery. We suggest you make it a stop on your next visit to Sonoma. Even if California isn’t in your travel plans, you can enjoy a taste of the family tradition at your nearest wine shop.

Monday, November 20, 2017

California Wine Strong: A Postcard From Wine Country

View from Hanna Winery in Alexander Valley. Photo by Dave Nershi

We took a 10-day trip to California wine country. We returned with many bottles, scores of photographs and two pads of notes. There is much to say and show about Sonoma and Napa – but nothing is more important than this post.

Eyewitness To Disaster

George Rose is a former LA Times photographer who now devotes most of his time snapping bucolic shots of Napa and Sonoma vineyards and wine estates. At 8:30 on the night of October 8, he was on a shooting assignment with a group of sommeliers but things were about to change in a hurry. He noticed a glow over the hilltops and less than three hours later, the most destructive wildfire in California history was raging, aided by Diablo winds gusting to more than 70 miles per hour.

JP at Lambert Bridge in Dry Creek shows remains of a fire-melted metal platter.Part of a panel on the California wildfires at the recent Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Rosa, CA, George switched to journalist mode and became an eyewitness to disaster. For three straight days he shot photos and posted 78 original stories. A fire such as this was never seen before. The fire covered 15 miles in four hours.

The toll is staggering. There were more than 40 deaths and 100 injuries. In Sonoma and Napa counties, 37,000 acres were burned. Sonoma County bore the brunt, with 12,000 homes destroyed or damaged.

For a region that depends on wine production and wine tourism, the fires delivered a staggering one-two punch – personal loss and severe damage to the region’s main industry.

We visited 11 different wineries and met staff from more than a dozen more. With each conversation we learned of the personal impact: burned homes, displaced friends and family, and uncertainty about the future.

Pierre Bierbent, winemaker at Signorello Estates and also part of the panel, was at the winery when the flames caught. He grabbed a hose and with other workers tried putting out the fire until fire crews forced them to leave. The Signorello tasting room, known for its scenic views from Napa’s Atlas Peak hills, burned to the ground.

Despite days of anxiety for Pierre, there was a glimmer of sunlight. The 2017 vintage, already in tanks and barrels, is undamaged.

“We’re Here, We’re Strong, We’re Optimistic”

Patsy McGaughey, communications director for Napa Valley Vintners, had to retreat with her staff from their office, which lost power. The team contacted each member winery to check on the safety of the staff and the status of the wineries. They were puzzled as to why state fire control websites failed to list the percentage of containment. They were to learn later that the racing fires urged on by “wicked and weird” winds had caused emergency crews to focus solely on evacuations in the beginning days of the fire.

The real story doesn’t end with the fire’s containment. It starts there.

Burned hills rise behind the vines at Kenwood Vineyards“We’re here, we’re strong, we’re optimistic,” said McGaughey. She noted that the fires had burned the hillsides, but not the valley and displayed stunningly beautiful aerial photos of Napa Valley shot in the days after the fire.

There’s never a good time to have a devastating wildfire, but thankfully 90 percent or more of the 2017 vintage had been harvested before the flames started. One poignant photo by George Rose shows a harvester machine working in the vineyard at night while a wildfire glows behind the ridge.

Winemakers in general are optimistic about the quality of the 2017 vintage. Grapes left on the vine were mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, a hearty, thick-skinned variety. McCaughey points out that there are many unknowns about the effects of smoke on wine. Wine lovers should have no fear of 2017 wines from Napa, Sonoma or Mendocino counties – winemakers will use rigorous and repeated lab testing to make sure there are no ill effect.

Winemakers worry that the 2017 vintage might get a bad rap by consumers. “Only the best and highest quality wine will go to market,” said McGaughey. “It’s our reputation at stake.”

California Wine Strong

This is the audience participation part of the story. The fires certainly were devastating, but even as the wineries and related industries and employees attempt to recover, they are being hit with another blow – a downturn in winery visits, hotel stays, tours and diners in restaurants.

What you should know:

  • Tell your friends that the Napa Valley and Sonoma are OPEN FOR BUSINESS.
  • Tourism is the lifeblood of the local community.The road to recovery is only possible by visitors returning to Wine Country
  • Virtually every winery, restaurant, hotel, B&B, tour operator and transportation company is OPEN FOR BUSINESS.

Pierre sums it up well:

  1. Come to wine country.
  2. Enjoy a bottle of California wine.
  3. If you want to contribute to wildfire relief, do so.

Let’s pour out a little love to one of the world’s greatest wine communities.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Parducci 2015 85th Anniversary Wine "Limited Edition,” Mendocino County

Parducci 85We love anniversaries -- especially when the celebration is for a winery. Now we have another reason to cheer. Parducci Wine Cellars is marking their 85th anniversary with a special cuvée.

A Mendocino Wine Legacy

Parducci Wine Cellars was founded in 1932 by legendary California winemaker John Parducci and his family. At age 14 John travelled alone with 40 rail cars of the family grapes to sell to home winemakers during Prohibition. He became head winemaker in 1940.

He became a champion of California wines and known as “Mr. Mendocino.” He pushed for varietal labeling, particularly for Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, two signature Mendocino County grapes.

Parducci has earned a reputation for high quality – high value wines. The winery has also been recognized by the state of California for their sustainable farming and land use practices.

85 Reasons To Celebrate

The winery anniversary isn’t the only one of note this year. Bob Swain, the head winemaker, is celebrating his 20th year in that role. He selected the best grapes from the 2015 vintage to craft “85,” the special anniversary cuvée (or blend).

The wine is attractively packaged in an understated bottle with a golden “85” marking the front. That might be all that needs to be said. Parducci packed 85 years of winemaking excellence into this bottle.

We’re always looking for a reason to open a special wine. The Green Dragon whipped up some cellentani (which I learned is an Italian corkscrew pasta) with her hearty meat sauce to pair with this Bordeaux style blend.

85 is a mix of 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc. It’s a blend that is dialed in expertly! In the glass 85 is a deep purple. On the nose there are brambly, earthy aromas. On the palate the wine is medium to full bodied.

This is a robust wine that had strong tannins at first sip. As the meal progressed, the wine smoothed out and offered a lush texture and notes of dark fruit and cola.

The special anniversary 85 blend is a limited edition with an SRP of $45. It is a solid value at that price.  We suggest you pick it up while its still available, perhaps one or two for now and a couple to age. If you can’t find it in your local store, it’s available online from Parducci Wine Cellars. Happy anniversary!

Full Disclosure: We received this wine as a marketing sample.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Prosecco Superiore From Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG A Shining Star

Nowhere does Italy’s famous bubbly shine brighter than the hilly region between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. It was the first sparkling wine district in Italy and is the leader in crafting superior Prosecco loved around the world.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG

Head To The Hills For Quality

Our latest exploration with wine education program #Winestudio is the hilly terrain of the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG of northeast Italy. Conegliano Valdobbiadene is part of the Veneto wine region and was named Italy’s first DOCG for sparkling wine in 2003. We eagerly drank in the step up in quality with DOCG (Italy’s highest classification) Prosecco. The difference between “regular” DOC Prosecco and that produced in Conegliano Valdobbiadene was eye-opening.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene has a unique microclimate particularly suited to growing grapes and vineyards have flourished here since ancient times. The region is situated between the sea and the Prealp mountains ensuring a mild climate.

Constant breezes enable the grapes to dry off quickly after rain. The hills run east to west and provide a south-facing slope, benefitting the vineyard with ample exposure to sunshine. The hills allow for good daytime and nighttime temperature differences, which promotes aromatic qualities in the grapes. Glera, grapes almost exclusively used in Prosecco, has found an ideal environment here. There’s plenty of rain, but the hills provide good drainage.

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Until our tasting of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG wines, we were unaware of the quality nuances of Prosecco. We've had quite a bit of Prosecco over the years. It’s produced primarily using the autoclave method (also called cuvée close or Charmat method) whereby the wine’s second fermentation takes place in a tank as opposed to in the bottle. This is one reason why Prosecco is less expensive than Champagne.

The Charmat method is used on all quality ranges of sparkling wine, including high end wines. We were delighted to discover that the traditional method, with the second fermentation in the bottle, is used on some of the premium Proseccos.

Kaleidoscope Of Prosecco Quality

We had always thought there was one flavor profile for Prosecco – which we happened to like. Silly us! We were exposed to a variety of styles through our Wine Studio tasting.

We started with Bortolomiol Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Dry Millesimato "Banda Rossa" 2016 and Conte Collalto Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut. In the world of sparkling wine, Dry isn’t necessarily dry. Of the three styles we tasted, Dry was the sweetest, followed by Extra Dry and then Brut. The Conte Collalto had nice froth with decentralized bubbles and was our first indication that we had been missing out on a higher tier of Prosecco tasting.

Our next round of tasting exposed a gap in my Certified Specialist of Wine studies. Nowhere in my studies for CSW did they cover the Rive sub-category of Prosecco. Rive is the local term for the steep sloping hills upon which Prosecco grapes are grown. There are 43 different Rive districts, each with its own unique microclimate. All wines are vintage dated with the grapes hand picked.

Malibran CredamoraWe rolled out some pheasant pate and parmesan crisps and sampled three Rive Prosecco. The Val d'OcaValdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut Nature "Rive di Santo Stefano,” packaged in a unique squat bottle, had a nutty taste and a steady perlage. Masottina Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Dry Rive di Ogliano 2016 was crisp and clear in color with notes of tropical fruit. Tenuta degli Ultimi Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut Rive di Collalto "Biancariva" had minerality and a twist of lime.

While 95% of Prosecco is made using the autoclave, the 5% done with the second fermentation in the bottle are special indeed. Our two tastes were Bellenda Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut "Sei Uno" Rive di Carpesica 2015 and Malibran Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG "Credamora" Rifermentato in Bottiglia 2015. The Sei Uno offers tastes of toasted brioche and energetic streams of bubbles. The Malibran is aged sur lie which gives it a complex yeasty flavor with a dollop of lemon cream. This was one of our favorites.

The “Grand Cru” Of Conegliano Valdobbiadene

Without a doubt, the pinnacle of Prosecco is Cartizze. It is produced only in a tiny 264-acre region, where the southern exposure allows grapes to ripen to a higher sweetness. This is balanced by the minerality of the ancient soil. Cartizze was typically produced in a Dry style, meaning sweeter. Now Brut Cartizze is being made by more producers. We tried one of each style:  Colesel Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG Brut and ​Le Colture Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG Dry.

Cartizze is complex sparkling wine that will please any lover of fine wine and grab the attention of those who stick primarily to Champagne. The wafting flavors of apples and pears, with nutty undertones and a creamy froth of fine bubbles made these wines a delightful experience.

If you see Cartizze online or on the shelf, buy it! The same goes for any Prosecco from our new favorite sparkling wine region. It is sensational wine and the perfect expression of the people and terroir of Conegliano Valdobbiadene.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Montes Gives Wings To Chilean Wine Quality

Montes 2

At the entrance to Montes Winery stands an angel. It is a symbol of the winery’s commitment to be a positive force and influence. Those wings have also lifted the quality and reputation of Chilean wine.

An Introduction To Montes

Our eye opening introduction to Montes Premium Wines took place in Ohio. We were putting together a special “south of the equator” wine tasting at Zinful Wine Bar.

Montes TrioThe owner allowed us to select the lineup from their stock and we had some great selections. There was none better than the Montes Purple Angel, which was a special bonus wine at the end. Purple Angel is the best example of Carmenère I’ve ever experienced.

As the Malbec grape is to Argentina, so Carmenère is to Chile. It is the iconic grape of the country and perhaps nowhere else does it shine so brightly.

We had a chance to revisit Purple Angel and two other Montes wines during a recent Wining Hour Chat online tasting.

The Wine Revolution

Viña Montes was born in 1988, founded by Aurelio Montes and Douglas Murray. Murray’s survival of two near fatal automobile crashes led to his faith in angels and their images now grace the Montes labels.

Montes and Murray believed that Chile had wine regions capable of producing premium wines, not just inexpensive bulk wines. Montes proved this by crafting high-quality wines that revolutionized the local industry and set a positive course for Chilean wine over the next 25 years.

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The granite-filled foothills of the Apalta Mountains in western Colchagua were cleared and they planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot vines grown from pure French clones. They selected the best fruit, aged the wine in new French oak, and in 1988 debuted their first signature wine – Montes Alpha M, a Bordeaux-style red. Purple Angel, a luscious Carmenère crafted from Chile’s top grape, soon followed to wild acclaim.

Montes flagship Alpha range, comprised of single varietal wines, were the first premium value wines from Chile. They have since launched several lines, including Outer Limits wines from an untouched new terroir, Zapallar, located more than 100 miles northwest of Santiago near the Pacific Ocean.

The winery is committed to sustainable farming and maintains local plant and animal biodiversity. Its vineyards are home to foxes, hog-nosed skunks, ferrets, lambs, llamas and horses. Social responsibility is also key, and Montes has a program to help employees with their academic studies and partners with a school in the local village of Apalta.

Purple AngelTrio At The Top

We sampled three outstanding Montes wines: Montes 2014 Purple Angel Carmenère, Montes 2015 Alpha Carmenère,  and Montes Limited Selection 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon – Carmenère.

The Cab-Carmenère blend is from the Limited Selection line, which aims to provide universally appealing but serious wine. We have to agree with its appeal. This is a wine that should delight just about anyone, with rich fruit flavors of blackberry and plum. It has 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Carmenère. It retails for about $9 but drinks like a much more expensive wine.

The Montes Alpha Carmenère is a step up in quality and oak aging. There is 10% Cabernet in the blend, 55% of which is aged for a year in new French oak. This wine has aging potential for a decade or more. This has a nice smooth texture and notes of cocoa to go with ripe berries. You’ll find it a nice match with a steak or spaghetti. Retail is about $21.

As you know by now, Purple Angel is a favorite wine of ours. The vineyards are in the Marchigϋe and Apalta sectors of the Colchagua Valley, with granite and clay soils. The 2013 growing season was cooler than normal. As a result, the grapes ripened slowly and had a tremendous concentration of flavor.

To add to its heavenly flavor, 8% Petite Verdot is added to the Carmenère. This wine has several layers mingling rich red berries and a dash of toast and tea leaves. The 18 month aging in new French oak contributes the aroma of vanilla. The finish seems to go on forever – and we wish it would!

Purple Angel retails for about $61. We highly recommend it. When you taste it, you experience the magic of Montes and Chilean winemaking at its best.

Full Disclosure: We received this wine as a marketing sample.