Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Paso Robles Grand Tasting

The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance visited the San Francisco Bay Area on April 22 to present the Grand Tasting of Paso Robles wines. In addition, they hosted a special seminar, “Paso: The High/Low Split”, moderated by Sara Schneider, Wine Editor of Sunset Magazine. This seminar explored the wine ranges of Paso Robles, the largest single non-county appellation in California.

Paso Robles wine country is located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. This dynamic region has seen explosive growth over the past decade growing from 35 to 180 bonded wineries, ranging from major national brands to small boutique wineries. Some features that make this region unique are the huge diurnal swings in temperatures of almost 40-50 degrees in a day during the peak growing season, a longer growing season than many other California appellations, and more calcareous soils than any other California AVA.

Grapes important to this region include Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Rhone varietals. In addition to the Paso Robles wineries, you will find Paso grapes in wines from many wineries throughout the state.

Winemakers enjoy the friendliness of the area, where winemakers often will work with each other as needed to improve their wines. It is a heavy agricultural area and many of the winemakers got their start in the fields, growing grapes and managing vineyards producing the fruit used in wines around the Golden State.
Steve Lohr of J Lohr Vineyards

Three Paso Robles winemakers shared wines that depict the range available in this region. Steve Lohr of J. Lohr Vineyards and Wines brought in their 2007 Los Osos Merlot from the Los Osos Vineyard in Creston and the 2006 J Lohr Hilltop Cabernet Sauvignon in Paso Robles. J Lohr, one of the largest wineries in Paso, has been a player in the region for decades, currently with over 2000 acres of vines. The 2007 Los Osos Merlot represents the values available in Paso Robles, producing a fine wine with crimson color and intense aromas and flavors of dark cherry, blackberry and cranberry. The low amounts of Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon give it a balance and structure to make it enjoyable with a variety of foods. Price is $15.

The J Lohr 2007 Hilltop Cabernet Sauvignon represents the other end of the scale for J Lohr, providing a premium quality full bodied, enticing wine with a complexity of dark fruits and spices and aromas of vanilla, cedar, cola, coffee and cocoa. While it is delicious now, it has the structure to age for 10-15 years. Price is $35.
David Frick, Winemaker, Clayhouse Wines

Winemaker David Frick of Clayhouse Wines brought a couple selections of wines from their Red Cedar Vineyards in the Shandon area of the East side of Paso Robles. This area tends to be the driest and warmest area of Paso and is dependent upon underground aquifer for water. The Middleton family, owners of Clayhouse, has been involved in red cedar forestry in Washington for years until they sold their forests and purchased the property in Paso Robles, entering the winegrowing arena. This unique area has 15 different soil types with elevation from 850 to 1250 feet. The calcareous soils help make more water available to the vines and displace the sodium for improved vine balance.

The Clayhouse 2008 Malbec (with 2% Merlot) has an intense nose with bright plum characteristics and spice. On the palate you are pleased with the acidity with hints of vanilla in the flavors of dark plum, raspberry and cranberry. It has a long soft finish. The price is $15.

The Clayhouse 2007 Estate Petite Sirah “Show Pony” is produced from a single block of older Petite Sirah fruit in the Red Cedar Vineyard. The 2007 was particularly special resulting in a wine with intense aromas of dark fruits and an earthiness, bramble quality. The palate delivers a wine that is particularly softer than the tannin bombs you have come to expect with many Petite Sirah wines. The same fruits evident on the nose carry through in the flavors with a variety of rustic spices. This is definite a “Show Pony” of the quality produced in Paso. The price is $40.
Mike Sinor, Winemaker, Ancient Peaks

Mike Sinor, the winemaker of Ancient Peaks Winery has spent many years in the wine industry of Paso Robles, first working for the Mondavi operation and then with Ancient Peaks Winery based on the Santa Margarita Ranch in the southernmost section of Paso Robles at the top of the Cuesta Grade. Santa Margarita Ranch is a 14,000 acre property with 900 acres in vine. Mike particularly enjoys the Wild West family atmosphere of Paso Robles where so many of the friends he grew up with moved into the wine industry.

The Ancient Peaks 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon has toasty aromas of dark fruit, plum and black cherry with a touch of vanilla and white cocoa. Tasting the wine, you will love the jammy texture with dark fruit, cassis and blackberry and even some mint flavors. The tannins are present but smooth, leading to a firm finish. The price is $16

Only 29 cases were made of the Ancient Peaks 2007 Oyster Ridge Estate Cuvee, a blend of 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Petite Sirah, 15% Merlot and 15% Petit Verdot. This wine is the epitome of the quality available from Ancient Peaks Winery and Paso Robles. It provides a complex blend of dark fruit aromas plus violets, cola, and juniper berry. This same complex balance of fruits folds over into the taste with hints of white pepper and oak. This wine has the structure and tannins to allow it to age well, yet very drinkable now. The price is $50.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Review of the Dry Creek Valley Passport Weekend

Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley hosted a great Passport Weekend on April 24-25. Forty-six wineries from Healdsburg to high above Lake Sonoma welcomed visitors from around the country to this great event.

This reporter visited with several winelovers who traveled from such locations as Arkansas, Florida and New York, specifically to participate in this event. Some of these visitors make plans to come for the Dry Creek Valley Passport Weekend year after year. The attraction to this event is not only the great wines that are born in this unique region, but also due the extra effort of the winemakers and their crew to put on a good show.

Organization was a key to the success of this weekend. Many of the wineries in the valley have minimal parking and are located down narrow gravel drives. Staff was there to guide visitors to convenient parking. Each winery sponsored special events at their wineries, including great musical groups, barrel tasting, special wine tastings, futures, and plenty of delicious foods that paired wonderfully with the wines being served.

Themes presented by the wineries were very creative. Bella Vineyards took visitors on a tour of Africa. With African music played all day, jungle camps were dispersed among the grounds and deep into their Wine Caves. Your safari guides directed you along this expedition among the dark Zinfandels produced at this winery with stops to hunt down delicious food pairings.

Gustafson Family Vineyards invited new visitors to go the extra distance several miles up the road from Lake Sonoma to their 1800 foot elevation winery. You could not help but to enjoy roaming the grounds of this estate with stops to look down upon Lake Sonoma while sampling Kobe beef and two vintages of Petite Sirah, or stroll along their deck with a glass of Mountain Cuvee Zinfandel will 30-mile panoramic views north to Mendocino and east to Napa and Mount St. Helena.
Papapietro Perry Winery took you to New Orleans, greeting you at the door with beads as you enter the gaily decorated winery to sample Pinot Noir and Zinfandels along with a serving of gumbo.

Sbragia was a little piece of Italy at the base of Lake Sonoma at the north end of the valley, providing you with a great time, great music, great wine and great food on their terrace overlooking Dry Creek Valley.

Wilson Winery at the southern end of the valley was a lively place with disco music both days and tri-tip sandwiches and Petite Sirah before you stroll back into their barrel room to sample several vintages of their wine.

Since ticket sales are limited for this event there was never serious traffic along the narrow roads of Dry Creek Valley. And of course, they made sure that they ordered up some perfect spring weather. I look forward to next year’s event on April 30 – May 1, 2011!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Mother's Day Wine Tasting Special on Niles Canyon Railway - May 9

All Aboard for the Mother’s Day Wine Tasting Special, a special event for Mom’s on the Niles Canyon Railway in the Livermore Valley Wine Country. The Niles Canyon Railway and Golden Gate Railroad Museum is hosting a special event for Mom’s all over on Mother’s Day, May 9.

Four trains will be running that day at 10:30 a.m., Noon, 1:30 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. On the 10:30 a.m. train you and your mom will enjoy mimosas to great Mother’s Day morning. On the afternoon trains they will be serving a flight of premium Livermore Valley wines for your tasting pleasure, paired with fabulous cheeses. The event starts with a California Sparkling wine and is followed up by a special white wine and ends with a premium red wine.

You will experience the magic of a bygone era as you travel for an hour and 15 minutes through scenic Niles Canyon on a vintage train in the new Southern Pacific parlor-lounge car #2979, newly restored to its elegant 1940s appearance. It is the winner of an Art Deco Society of California preservation award. It features plush lounge seating and a semi-circular mahogany bar framed by etched glass and mirrors. The car is climate-controlled for your comfort, and attendants will be on board to assist in any way you require during your trip. Wine Educator Steve Ferree will be there to provide you information about the Livermore Valley Wine Country and the wines you taste. In addition, each wine will be paired with delicious hors d’oeuvres while you travel along Niles Canyon and enjoy a lovely spring day.

Tickets are $44 each for the morning Mimosa tasting train and $49 for the afternoon wine tasting trains. Tickets can be purchased at the Niles Canyon Railway ticket site.
For more information:  Niles Canyon Railway website

Santa Cruz Mountains Spring Passport day is Saturday, April 17

The Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association invites wine lovers to enjoy Passport day on Saturday, April 17 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. This is a great way to spend a pleasant spring day, cruising this extraordinary mountain appellation and enjoying fine wine, delicious food, and entertainment. Spring passport gives you the opportunity to visit the vineyards as the buds are breaking, the vines come alive and the winemakers are anxious to meet you and tell you all about their newly released vintages. Fifty wineries from A (Ahlgren) to Z (Zayante) welcome visitors to sample the wide variety of fine wines available in this nearby winegrowing region.

Santa Cruz Mountains wineries are spread over a large area from Half Moon Bay to Gilroy. With only 1500 acres of vineyards planted and over 70 wineries, many are small family-run operations handcrafting wines that maximize the potential for grapes grown in this area. It is famous for its Burgundian style grapes, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on the cooler western side but the warmer lower elevation wineries on the eastern side are known for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Many of these wineries are only open to visitors on the four Passport days held each year making it a great opportunity to sample these wines.

Several restaurants in Santa Cruz and Santa Clara Counties also offered special discounts for holders of the Passport, including Michael’s On Main in Soquel which offered tastings on several small wineries who could not accommodate visitors.

Many of these wineries pour special wines or barrel samples on these days. A lot of these wines are simply not available anywhere else, so if you find a wine that you like, please buy a bottle or two. Without sales, these special tastings cannot take place.

The Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers website provides you with a map of the wineries and a full list of participating wineries. Passports can be purchased at any of the participating wineries for $40.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Boutique wine tasting and seminar in San Jose - April 12

Angeles Wine Agency provides restaurants, wine bars and wine retailers with boutique wines from around the world. On April 12, from 5:00 – 8:00 p.m. at the Silicon Valley Capital Club, the host a Boutique Wine Tasting, sharing a selection of these wines to wine lovers in Silicon Valley. This is a great opportunity to sample more than 100 wines from 15 boutique wineries and importers paired with special appetizers by Executive Chef Michael Miller, formerly of Trevese in Los Gatos.

The winemakers will be there to tell you more about these wines. In addition, from 5:00 – 6:00 p.m. a Spanish Wine Seminar will be sponsored by Ole Imports. You will learn more about the popular Spanish regions of Rioja and Ribera del Duero, the premium wine regions of Spain. At the seminar you will taste a flight of fabulous red wines from these regions paired with tapas!

The California boutique wines that will be featured include:
  • Anglim Winery – Paso Robles– a family owned winery in downtown Paso Robles producing vineyard-designate Rhone varietals
  • Ceja Vineyards – Napa/Sonoma – founded as the American dream of a Latino immigrant family in Napa Valley, perfect wines to pair with foods (check out earlier article on Ceja)
  • Chock Rock Vineyard – Monterey’s Santa Lucia Highlands – established by famous Monterey winemaker Dan Karlsen, they specialize in Pinot Noir
  • Costa de Oro – Santa Barbara – developed by a long time Santa Maria farming family producing wines with old world style and new world premium grapes, specializing in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
  • DeRose Vineyards – San Benito County Cienega Valley – founded on land that has been growing wine grapes since 1851, they nurture 100 acres of dry-farmed land, producing premium grapes, fermented in native yeasts, aged in oak and bottled with minimal filtration
  • Heart O’ the Mountain – Santa Cruz Mountains – founded on land originally owned by Alfred Hitchcock; this small family run winery produces a limited selection of hand-crafted Pinot Noir
  • Moshin Vineyards – Sonoma County Russian River Valley – the dream of a San Jose State math instructor, this winery was founded in 1989 in the heart of one of the premium Pinot Noir regions of the world
  • Palazzo – Napa Valley – a small boutique winery founded by a winemaker in love with the great Bordeaux blends of France. Producing Napa Valley red wine blends fashioned after the great chateau blends of Pomerol and St. Emilion of France, the Palazzo Red Wine has come a long ways in its short history.
Imported wines for this event include wines from France, Spain, Italy, Argentina, Chile and New Zealand.

Check out their website for more information and registration information.
Price for the wine tasting is $50, or for the wine tasting and Spanish Seminar $60. In addition, these wines will available at special prices for these tastings.
The Silicon Valley Capital Club is located at the Knight Ridder Building at 50 West San Fernando, 17th floor in downtown San Jose.

Monterey County - superb wines in an exciting region - part 2

Cambiata Tannat Vineyards
As stated in the previous article, Monterey County is a very unique and special place for winegrapes. The perfect climate, soils and elevations have resulting in a wide range of premium wines.

Sub-appellations in Monterey County include Carmel Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands, Arroyo Seco and Chalone in the north. The southern portion of the county includes San Bernabe, San Lucas, Hames Valley and San Antonio Valley.
Examples of the unique premium red wines from Monterey are the Consensus Rhone Blend from Graff Family Vineyards and the Cambiata Tannat.

The 2006 Graff Family Vineyards “Consensus” Rhone Blend from Chalone is an elegant, yet powerful wine with intense aromas of cherry, spice, black pepper and blackberry. The fruit flavors are stricking with plums and overripe cherrys prevalent but plenty of spices to give it character. The price is approximately $22.00.

This wine has 90% Syrah, 8% Mourvedre and 2% Viognier. The Syrah gives it backbone with dark smoky character and smoky peppery qualities. The Mourvedre provides the mid palate with plums and overripe black cherry notes, with the Viognier delivering the brightness and fruitiness. It will pair very well with smoked or wood-roasted braised meats.

Chalone is on the east side of the Salinas Valley at the west entrance to Pinnacles National Monument
The Cambiata Winery 2005 Tannat from Rocosa Loma Vineyard is a full-bodied wine with aromas that include dark berries, leather and spice. On the palate, it delivers strong dark berry flavors and herbal qualities. It has more acidity and far drier than a Cabernet and goes better with food. It is 100% Tannat and will pair well with grilled steaks or pork chops. The price is approximately $27.

Cambiata Winery favors the less know varietals, focusing on Albarino for the white wine and Tannat for the red. Both have unique flavors and both pair beautifully with food.

The Tannat is from a vineyard in the heart of Santa Lucia Highlands with rocky soils, cool ocean breezes and sunny afternoons to allow longer growing season and riper fruit. Tannat is not very common in California, and originally comes from Southwest France in the Madrian AOC in the Basque area of France near the Pyrenees. It is also considered the national grape of Uruguay.

 For more info: 

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Monterey County - superb wines in an perfect region

Vineyard photo courtesy of Wrath Wines
Start with superb soils; mix in generous warm sunshine with a sprinkle of cool ocean breezes. Let it slowly ripen, with up to 60 days longer growing season than other regions. The result is a perfect place to grow complex and balanced wines that reach their full potential – Monterey County.

Monterey County has a very special “terroir”, which in French means a “sense of place”. Wines from Monterey vineyards tend to have intense varietal characteristics.
While the Spanish missions in the county first planted wine grapes over 200 years ago, the area was rediscovered in the ‘60s when it was discovered that the climate and soils of Monterey were very similar to those found in Napa, Sonoma, Burgundy and Bordeaux.

A wide range of varietals are grown in the county, but Chardonnay is the most popular, accounting for nearly 40% of the acreage planted. The northern county includes vineyards of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Riesling. In the warmer southern portion, you will find Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel.

Monterey’s unique climate is key to the ripening of the grapes. It has a shorter frost season and less unseasonable rains. As air warms in the southern part of the county and rises, it draws in the cool Pacific Ocean air from the Monterey Bay, home to the “Blue Grand Canyon”, a canyon in the center of the bay over a mile deep.

Due to the lack of frosts, bud break in Monterey County is 2 weeks earlier than other areas. The cool growing season stretches Fall harvest season out 2 weeks longer than other regions. This longer growing season and longer hang time helps provide the even ripening.
Sub-appellations in Monterey County include Carmel Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands, Arroyo Seco and Chalone in the north. The southern portion of the county includes San Bernabe, San Lucas, Hames Valley and San Antonio Valley.
Wrath Wines 2008 “Destruction Level” Sauvignon Blanc has an intense nose with aromas of grapefruit and light smoke, with tropical fruit character. The flavors are rich with grapefruit, tropical fruits, grassy and minerality. It has a good amount of acidity to give it the brightness you expect from such a wine. List price is $23.95.

In antiquity the wrath of a victorious army often left cities burnt to the ground, the charred remains of a once great civilization. Thousands of years later, these events show up in the archeological records as a dark carbon-filled strata, or destruction level. The subtle smoky quality of the Wrath Sauvignon Blanc, which utilizes 30 percent new oak is an ode to the smoke-filled smell of victory that greeted the victorious generals of the past.
La Rochelle Wines 2006 Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands is a complex, mouth-filling wine with abundant dark fruits and aromas of dark cherry, mushroom, soy and forest floor. In the mouth you will savor the dark cherry, raspberry, pomegranate and rich round tannins. The finish goes on forever. Suggested list price is #34.95.
La Rochelle wines specialize in Pinot Noir, producing many vineyard specific and appellation specific selections. This Santa Lucia Highlands wine is produced with grapes from Sleepy Hollow, Sarmento and Paraiso Vineyards, all premium vineyards in the appellation.

More Monterey County wines will be covered in a later article.
For more info: 

San Luis Obispo Vintners "Roll Out the Barrels" weekend - April 29 to May 2

The San Luis Obispo Vintners Association is inviting all to visit your favorite wineries in San Luis Obispo County during their “Roll Out the Barrels” weekend April 29 – May 2. This 20th annual event consists of three events packed into a busy weekend.
  • Barrels In the Plaza – Thursday, April 29th 5:30 – 7:30 - San Luis Obispo’s historic downtown Mission Plaza features the “grown here, made here” with the Perfect Pairing. Local growers and food producers and each SLO winery will partner up with a restaurant or caterer to give you the ultimate pairing of wine and food in the heart of the county. Prices are $20 if purchased prior to April 20th and $30 after the 20th.
  • Winemaker Dinners – Friday April 30th Winemaker dinners at participating San Luis Obispo wineries around the county provide special culinary adventures with the winemakers giving you the opportunity to meet the key players who shaped the SLO wine industry. Prices vary.
  • Roll Out the Barrels Passport Weekend – Saturday May 1 and Sunday May 2, 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. – Over 20 San Luis Obispo wineries are opening their doors to the public, offering wine tasting, food/wine pairings, reserve barrel tastings, entertainment and special discounts. Some of these wineries are not normally open to the public so this is your chance to sample the best the county vintners have to offer and talk to the winemakers. Weekend passports are $55 each with special designated driver passports at $40.
You can purchase tickets for any of these events at the SLO Vintners website.
Participating wineries for passport weekend are listed below. Those marked with ** are also participating in the Winemaker dinners.
For more information:

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Earth Day Food & Wine Festival - Paso Robles April 16-18

The Earth Day Food & Wine Festival April 16-18 in Paso Robles is a benefit event supporting farmworker education and sustainable agricultural research by the Central Coast Vineyard Team. The Central Coast Vineyard Team is a collaboration of 300 growers, wineries, consultants’ researchers and other professionals dedicated to sustainable winegrowing on California’s Central Coast.

As an Earth Day event the festival is proud to being a zero-waste event, in 2009 only two bags of trash was generated for over 1,000 visitors. The food from local chefs and farmers is served with recyclable and compostable plates, bowls and utensils and with the help of on-site volunteers and the San Luis Obispo Integrated Waste Management Authority, disposal waste containers around the site properly sort the material. Even the entertainment stage is solar powered compliments of Pacific Energy Company.

The Food & Wine Festival begins in the afternoon of Friday, April 16 with a Private Barrel Tastings at Hahn Estates Winery in Soledad and J Lohr Vineyards and Wines in Paso Robles. In the evening Ancient Peaks Winery in Santa Margarita hosts a “Sustainable Feast” with a gourmet meal prepared by The Range. Also happening that evening is “The Art of Wine” at Studios on the Park in Paso Robles where you can enjoy the fusion of art and wine in downtown Paso Robles while touring artists’ studios, tasting fine wines from local boutique wineries and locally sourced hors d’oeuvers and cheeses.

On Saturday, April 17 the event starts with the Saxum Wine Tasting with winemaker Justin Smith at the Saxum winery. Unfortunately this event is sold out. But in the afternoon the Earth Day Food & Wine Festival opens on Santa Margarita Ranch at 1:00 p.m. Later that evening the fun moves to D’Anbino Vineyards for live music by the D’Anbino family and their musical friends at their tasting room turned jazz club.

Sunday, April 18 starts with a vineyard tour at Halter Ranch with a picnic brunch by Chef Michele Knecht. Halter Ranch on the Westside of Paso Robles is a beautiful 250 acre vineyard surrounded by oaks, hawks and wildflowers. In the afternoon Margarita Vineyard hosts the “Secrets of Sustainability” Tour of their vineyards.

You can purchase tickets at the Earth Day Food & Wine Festival website.

For more information:  Earth Day Food & Wine Festival