Monday, August 31, 2009
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Ryhan Estate Vineyards in Livermore Valley has its own unique history. Mohan Rao Ravulapati the owner of Ryhan Estate grew up in India where wine is a rarity. Even in India he was interested in winegrowing. When he moved to America in the 1980’s he wanted to create the wines he dreamed of long ago. After working in the corporate world and many businesses for 25 years, that passion for winemaking grew and seeing California as one of the most prominent wine regions, he knew that his dream could become a reality.
With his desires to produce world-class wines, he selects fruit from premium growers in various locations in California including Napa, Amador Valley and Alexander Valley. In the meanwhile they began production of quality wines, with the introduction of their two medal-winning red wines, Rouge-Sang and Malbec.
The name of the company comes from combining Mohan’s last three initials of his first name with his wife’s two middle initials of her first name, Surya, forming Ryhan. While Mohan handles the winemaking, Surya handles the administrative side of the business. In addition, their two children Rahul and Ravali handle the marketing. Any visit to their tasting room on East Road will find Ravali and probably Surya working the bar and serving up a selection of the Ryhan wines, including Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Malbec. They also have a Raspberry Sparkling and an Almond Sparkling wine.
Ryhan Estate Vineyards 2004 Rouge-Sang is a Red Blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Refosco, 5% Syrah and 5% Petite Sirah. This blend is from Napa and Alexander Valleys. This is a deep violet wine (from the Refosco). You will detect on the nose strong berry aromas with a touch of spice. On the palate it delivers a unique blend of rich dark berries and tons of black cherry flavors from the Cab along with a hint of white pepper from the Syrah. The Rouge-Sang pairs great with Manchego and with spicy meaty foods such as pork loin roast along grilled veggies and creamy pasta and with aged Manchego cheese.
The 2005 Malbec from Napa Valley is another award winner. You easily detect the ripe berries, black berry and currant with a touch of plum. These same aromas carry on to the palate and the added spice and tannic makes this a great wine for a BBQ meal.
The 2004 Syrah from Amador County has a deep purple color and on the nose the dark fruits shine with hints of smoky oak. On the palate the same dark fruits carry through with added plum and cherry flavors and a hint of baker’s chocolate. This is another great summer wine to share around some ribs and steak with friends.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Cuda Ridge is a small boutique winery run and owned by Larry and Margie Dino. They have been producing some great Bordeaux style wines from wines from the premier vineyards of Livermore Valley. The wines are handcrafted, produced in small lots and primarily aged in French Oak barrels.
The Dinos got started in home winemaking while they lived in Fremont. When they moved to Livermore Valley Wine Country in 2003, where they continued their winemaking in the garage of their home, while Larry commuted by BART to a computer-software job in San Francisco. Encouraged by the many friends with whom they shared their wines, they chose to become a commercial winery less than two years ago. This past year Cuda Ridge moved to their present locale on East Road.
So how did the name Cuda Ridge originate? Is this a new landmark in the hills surrounding Livermore Valley? The first wine that Larry and Margie made in their Fremont home was produced from grapes grown in the Healdsburg area of Sonoma County. As their winemaking became more serious, they were searching for a new home closer to wine country and went to Sonoma County to find the perfect place. They came away without finding that wine country home, but Larry did spy a vintage he did like in Sonoma Wine Country. He found a vintage bright purple 1970 Plymouth Barracuda muscle car, also known by its nickname, ‘Cuda! As we all know, winemakers are a passionate bunch, and Larry’s passion for his purple ‘Cuda lead to the name of the winery, Cuda Ridge. As you look at the label, that background is not an image of a ridge, but rather, a stylized image of the ‘Cuda!
Cuda Ridge specializes in hand-crafted rich Bordeaux style wines. The 2007 Livermore Valley Merlot from Cuda Ridge is a Bordeaux style blend of 82% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. Larry strives for a Bordeaux style with California fruit qualities. It has delicate fruity aromas of Bing cherries and raspberries; also, elegant light smoky oak undertones with a hint of butterscotch. Fruit carry’s through on the palate with addition of dark chocolate. This is a medium bodied, well integrated wine, with nice complexity. This wine is paired nicely with light meats, such as Pork. Retail price for the 2007 Merlot is $22.00.
Cabernet Franc is often a difficult wine to get just right, but Larry knows the way. His 2006 Cabernet Franc uses fruit from the west side of Livermore that tends to have a cooler climate. But 2006 was a very hot year, resulting in higher sugars and the resulting higher alcohol. This wine is 90% Cabernet Franc with the balance being Merlot, Malbec and Petite Verdot that enhance the flavors and complexity of the wine. The result is a wonderful wine rich in aromas and flavors of maraschino cherries with a hint of olives, vanilla and oak. Larry hit the mark with this excellent wine. This is a great value at just $26.
Petit Verdot is not often found as a single varietal wine. The Cuda Ridge 2007 Petit Verdot is a small lot example of what can be done with this grape that is usually used as a blending grape. Only 11 cases were produced, but the result is a deep purple, inky full bodied wine loaded with aromas and flavors of dark fruit, coffee and chocolate.
A visit to this winery at 5385 East Avenue in Livermore (near Lawrence Livermore Labs) is a real treat. You will meet Larry and Margie at the winery and they will happily share there selection of wines with you that include, in addition to those mentioned above, includes Cabernet Sauvignon and a delicious dessert wine, Cuda Amis. You will see that these are truly hand-crafted wines starting at the hand picked grapes to the gentle handling in the winery and aging with high quality French and American oak barrels. At bottling, Larry and Margie plus their friends get together to bottle the wines and individually cork the wines. The tasting room is open Friday through Sunday, Noon to 4:30 p.m.
Friday, August 21, 2009
In continuation of the survey of Italian varietals grown in California, we will now look at some red varietals.
Niner Wine Estates 2005 Sangiovese from Bootjack Ranch in Paso Robles has aromas of peppery spice, smoke, candied fruit, vanilla, bright strawberry and black cherry. The palate presents luscious cherry pie and white chcolate, with ample texture and good tannin structure. The finish is long with tart cherry flavor. The price is $20.
The grapes are grown at Bootjack Ranch, located on the east side of the Salinas River in Paso Robles. The wine was aged in a mix of French and Hungarian small oak barrels to enable completion of malolactic fermentation. Try this with cheese Ravioli with basil pesto sauce.
August Ridge 2007 Barbera from Paso Robles is a complex wine that is already showing many layers of flavors from the first sip to the long, lingering finish. Flavors and aromas of cherry, plum and anise are complemented with toast, vanilla and caramel. This Barbera tastes delicious with grilled meats and game, spicy sauces and sharp cheeses. The price is $30.
From the beginning the goal of August Ridge was to produce wines that combine the robust styling of the best California wines with the restrained elegance of the classic wines from northern and central Italy. John Backer’s family has been growing grapes for four generations dating back to the 1800’s while Jill’s family brought over robust Italian cooking and the traditions from a small town just outside of Rome, Italy.
Falcor Wines produces a great 2005 Sangiovese from Napa Valley. Rich aromas of cassis and licorice complement this wine’s high fruit tones and earthy, spicy bouquet. On the palate, Sangiovese’s bright red fruit flavors and firm acidity wrap around a dense, cherry-currant core of fruit. Further hints of black cherries, orange zest, and saddle leather are revealed in its long, concentrated finish. This weekend grill up some lamb chops and taste it with this Sangiovese. The price is approximately $35.
Inspired by the “Super Tuscan” red wines of Italy, this smooth Napa Valley Sangiovese was blended with 12% Cabernet Sauvignon and aged in slow-toasted, tight-grained French oak barrels. These special barrels, purchased from the historic Gamba cooperage in Piedmont, Italy, helped create aromatic and textural complexity in the wine.
It is always interesting to study a group of wines and see not only how the wine tastes, but also to look at the passion and love that each winemaker puts into his craft.
As seen in the previous article, Italy has had a great influence on the California wine industry. Let’s take a look at some excellent representation of white Italian varietals.
The 2007 “Grigio e Bianco” from Carmichael Wines is light in color with a very floral bouquet and several layers of complexity. Notes of lavender and lanolin are mixed with with mango and sweet pea. It also contains herb and orange blossom tones and a clean, lingering lemon peel finish. The fruit is from Arroyo Seco in Monterey County.
The Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc (88% of the blend) were cold fermented in stainless steel tanks. The Chardonnay (12%) was fermented in neutral French oak barrels. This wine is ready to drink now or over the next 1-2 years. It pairs well with lighter pasta, fish and chicken dishes.
Laird Family Estates 2007 Pinot Grigio from Cold Creek Ranch in Carneros has a nice straw color and lively fruit aromas enveloped by rich coconut and vanilla. The palate exudes fresh flavors of apricot, peach and creamy orange temper- ed by green earth and straw. Lively acidity and a lingering finish make this wine an excellent match with many different foods.
The Carneros district is considered one of the world’s premier Pinot Grigio producing regions. The Cold Creek Ranch extends 300 acres along the Carneros Highway. This wine is ready to drink now and pairs well with fruits, salads and fish.
David Noyes Wines produces a great 2008 Tocai Friulano from Sonoma Valley. This wine shows bright acidity with aromas of honeysuckle, peach, and white pepper. Light on the palate, it has a slightly mineral finish. It pairs well with seafood, fruit and soft-ripe cheeses, or try it with popcorn!
“Tocai Friulano” is traditionally grown in Friuli located the Northeast corner of Italy. Since 2007, wines made in Italy from this grape have been known simply as “Friulano,” (or possibly “Tai” among the hipper set) because Hungary objected to the use of the word Tocai, fearing confusion with their native sweet Tokay wines. This varietal is also grown under the name “sauvignon vert” here in California and in Chile. As neither export to the European market, they continued to honor the grape's Italian roots.
A very refreshing wine is the 2007 Muscat di Canelli Frizzante from Benessere Vineyards in St. Helena. This semi-sparkling Muscat wine is pleasantly light-bodied and slightly effervescent, combining bright fruit, crisp citrus and floral notes. It is perfect for sipping on a warm afternoon and should be served well-chilled and enjoyed while young and fresh. This extremely versatile wine can be opened before, during or after any delicious meal. “Frizzante” means sparkling in Italian.
Italy has had a great influence on the California wine industry for over 120 years. Just look at the names of some of the major winemaking families over the past century, names like Mondavi, Martini, Sebastiani and Seghesio and you can really see the connection. There is no doubt that the California wine industry would not be where it is today without the contribution of Italian-Americans.
Italy is the largest grower of wine grapes in the world, with more varietals than any other country. Many of these varietals grow well in California because the growing conditions here are very similar to that of the different regions of Italy.
Major white Italian varietals planted in California include Malvasia Bianca, Moscato Bianco, Pinot Blanco, Pinot Grigio, Tocai Friulano and Trebbiano with a total of over 13,000 acres under vine.
Major red Italian varietals include Barbera, Charbono, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Primitivo and Teroldego with over 9,200 acres planted.
Most of these varietals were brought here by Europeans immigrating to the United States between 1850 and 1910. Today, these grapes are planted in all the major wine growing regions of California.
In terms of volume, Barbera and Sangiovese account for 80% of the red Italian varietals crushed in 2007 and Pinot Grigio accounts for 80% of the white Italian varietals crushed in California.
Italian varietals tend to go great with food and especially Italian food. The Italians have coined the phrase “La Dolce Vita” which means “the Sweet Life” which indicates their love of family, food and friendship. Partake of this sweet life by enjoying a bottle of fine wine made from Italian varietals planted here in California.
The next two articles will describe some California wines produced from Italian varietals.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Greg and Teri Peterson have had a passion for wine most of their lives, making wines for families and friends for over 25 years. They even had 10 vines growing in their suburban San Jose home while dreaming about the future vineyard. In 2000 the family moved to a ranchette in San Martin and immediately began to plant small blocks of vines while learning more about vineyard management at UC Davis. Their home wines began to win awards at various venues. The final bold step was taken in 2005 when they bonded their winery and became commercial winemakers.
Handcrafted wines is almost an understatement for this family run operation, their hands are involved in all aspects of this winemaking adventure. Like many winemakers in Santa Clara Valley, they closely manage their small vineyard and know each and every vine. Throughout the winemaking process, from harvest and crush; to fermentation and aging; and to bottling and labeling, Greg and Teri handcraft their wines with finesse.
Their 1.5 acre vineyard produces much of the fruit used in their wines, while they also purchase grapes from local premium winegrowers in the Santa Clara Valley and Monterey County.
Their newly released 2007 Arroyo Seco Chardonnay is a delicious creation that is ready to drink now. Rich fruity aromas mingle with a touch of spice. The tropical, citrus and banana flavors blend well with the ripe acidity, leading to a soft medium-length finish. The fruit comes from the Ventana vineyards in Arroyo Seco in Monterey County. Greg aged this wine for 10 months in a mixture of 50% new and 50% seasoned White Burgundy French oak barrels. It will pair well with seafood, shrimp and shellfish.
A particular highlight at Creekview is their 2006 Estate Grown Melody, a blend of Santa Clara Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petite Verdot fruit from Greg and Teri’s vineyard. The different varietals were fermented separately, blended, and then barrel aged for 21 months in new French oak barrels resulting in a balanced, smooth wine, rich in cherries and plum with a slight touch of coffee and chocolate. On the nose you savor the aromas of cherry blossoms and violets. Grilled beef or roasted duck would be a perfect pairing with the Bordeaux blend.
The Creekview 2006 Syrah is 91% Syrah with 6% Mourvedre and 3% Negrette. All of the fruit is from three premium Santa Clara Valley vineyards including Creekview, Dorcich and Wolfenbarger. Starting with these excellent grapes, Greg handcrafted the wine and aged it for 18 months in new and seasoned Pennsylvania oak barrels. On the nose this wine reminds me of the dark chocolate cherries I get every Christmas morning. As you taste this wine, the dark red and black cherry flavors blend into dried fig and caramel flavors. Take this wine to your next BBQ.
Creekview Vineyards is open the third weekend of every month and is located at 12467 Creekview Court in San Martin. Heading south from San Jose, take the San Martin Avenue exit and head east. Follow the road around a few bends to New Ave. Turn right on Giampoli Drive and take the first left onto Creekview Court. Creekview Winery is at the end of the court. Follow the signs around to the back where you will get a friendly greeting from Greg and Teri as you sample wines on their patio.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
The Taste of Terroir held the end of July presented the best of food and wine pairing in Livermore Valley wine country. This food and wine experience presented fourteen wineries paired with dishes from local restaurants. The judges were Evan Goldstein, Master Sommelier and author of Perfect Pairings; Sara Schneider, Sunset Magazine Wine Editor; and Jessica Yadegaran, Bay Area News Group Wine Writer.
Wente Vineyards has won this event in the past and their 2007 Nth Degree Pinot Noir was a great choice with the house-cured Duck Prosciutto with Fregola Pasta Salad, corn, garden Basil, red onion, tomato and goat cheese. This pairing was selected as the Best Expression of Local Ingredients award by the judges.
McGrail 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon paired nicely with a cherry and olive tapenade with lavender on a Gorgonzola puff pastry from Campo di Bocce. The dark cherry and rich fruit flavors of the Cab matched the cherry and lavender flavors from the tapenade. This pairing proved successful in winning the Most Innovative award from the judges.
The Judges’ Best award went to Ruby Hill winery’s 2007 Reserve Zinfandel with a jammy, ripe fruit flavor that was paired with braised pork with blueberry-Chipotle BBQ sauce from Casa Real.
The judges made a special award called Most Creamaginative (Creative & Imaginative) to the Mitchell Katz 2007 Sangiovese with cherry and spicy flavors matched up against a muffuletta style Empanada with artisan Mortadella, Toscano Salumi and Piquant Ollye Relish. The food helped smooth out the wine and enrich the flavors.
In addition to the judges awards, the visitors voted for their favorites and the People’s Choice award went to Murrieta’s Well 2007 Muscat Canelli with a jasmine aroma and tastes of ripe melons and citrus matched to Hap’s Original testones with sweet chili prawn, pineapple jelly and Cilantro. The acidity of the Muscat worked very well against this dish.
Other delicious pairings were:
- Concannon Vineyard 2006 Zinfandel Reserve paired with a blackened Prime Rib from Patrick David’s restaurant with sweet potato medallion and wine reduction. This was an excellent pairing, the black raspberry jammy flavor of the Zin paired wonderfully with the Prime Rib.
- Charles R Vineyard 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon paired with Filet Mignon with Cabernet Balsamic sauce with ginger and shitake mushrooms from Bosco’s Bones & Brew in Sunol. The earthy dark fruit flavors of the Cab were a great pairing to the rich spicy flavors from the food.
- Eagle Ridge Vineyards 2005 Petite Sirah paired with lamb with jalapeno pesto from Blue Agave restaurant. Both the Petite Sirah and the lamb were delicious and rich and full of flavors.
- Garre Vineyard 2008 Sauvignon Blanc paired with a very interesting coconut Mile and wine based broth over a Basmati rice with scallops, Mahi Mahi, prawns and Dungeness crab. The nice acidity of the wine worked very well against the white sauce and seafood.
- La Rochelle 2006 Pinot Noir was paired with Casa de Cobre tacos. The tortillas were hand made on the spot and the rich spicy slow braised pork belly meat was an unexpected delight with the Pinot Noir.
- Les Chenes Estate 2007 Primitive is a great, rich wine with ripe dark fruits and was paired with a braised short rib with blue cheese tortellini from Porter’s Restaurant at Poppy Ridge Golf Course. This was simply pairing the best with the best.
- Many believe that wine varietals from a specific region should be paired with food from the same region. Tamas Estates 2007 Barbera did that well with a Gnocchi Romana Amarone with Gorgonzola and Rosemary from Amarone Cucina.
- White Crane 2005 Estate Chardonnay was a good taste match with the grilled Atlantic salmon from Fuzio topped with Basil, pine nuts, Kalamata olives and sun dried tomatoes in a butter wine sauce.
The Taste of Terroir is a great event located in nearby Livermore Valley and I encourage you to attend it next year for a wonderful wine and food experience.
Friday, August 7, 2009
At Elliston Vineyards, you can truly taste history. Just the drive to the tasting room is a trip through history. Located in the unique village of Sunol, you turn off Interstate 680 and drive 100 years into the past to arrive at Sunol. As you enter the small compact town you are amazed to find such a quaint village like this in the heart of the Bay Area. Downtown Sunol is highlighted by the Sunol station for the Niles Canyon Railway that still uses steam power to transport its passengers between Sunol and Niles. Turn up Kilkare Road past the station and you drive past beautiful Victorian homes as you travel about a mile to Elliston Vineyards. As you pull into the drive, you are struck by the beautiful neo-Romanesque Elliston Mansion.
The Mansion was built by Henry Ellis who earlier was a sea captain supplying goods to fast growing San Francisco after the Gold Rush began. He delivered everything from the stones that were used to build Fort Point to hundreds of cats to help San Francisco fight the rat population. When he married, he gave up the seafaring life to settle down in San Francisco. Ellis joined the fledgling San Francisco Police force in 1855 and served for 22 years eventually becoming Chief of Police during the turbulent times of early, rough times of San Francisco. He later became a merchant in San Francisco and also Consul to the Turks Islands in the East Indies. Between 1885 and 1890 he built Elliston, a stately 17 room, three-story mansion in the agricultural town of Sunol. Celebrities including Prince Kuhio of Hawaii visited Elliston. In 1890 he planted a vineyard at Elliston.
In 1969 the Elliston Estate was purchased by Ramon and Amy Awtrey and restored and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. The original carriage house was converted into the winery. Since 1992 the winery and estate have been owned by the Awtrey’s daughter, Donna Flavetta, who is the winemaker.
Elliston produces a wide range of white and red wines. The 2005 Pinot Blanc is a new release and has aromas of apple, butterscotch and hazelnuts with a hint of vanilla. Try this wine with crab or lobster.
The 2005 Pinot Gris is a wonderful wine with plenty of prevalent acidity with the aromas and tastes of juicy Kiwi and spices typical of Pinot Gris. It would go well with a Caesar salad, summer vegetables and Mediterranean dishes.
Their 1999 Merlot was very tasty with juicy blackberry and cherry flavors balanced with ripe tannins and the oak gives it smoky overtones. It would go well with BBQ ribs or grilled lamb.
Elliston is also a popular place for weddings and events. With the many events, wine taster dinners and dinner theaters, Elliston has their own exclusive Executive Chef, Joe Rodriques, who brings two decades of experience to Elliston, and can make any event at Elliston a historic event!
Visit Elliston Vineyards at 463 Kilkare Road in Sunol. The tasting room in the historic Elliston Mansion is open Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.