Monday, July 26, 2010

Travel the seas while enjoying California wine

You can never been to far away from an opportunity to enjoy California wine. On a recent cruise aboard the Princess Cruise Lines Golden Princess to Alaska, this reporter was very pleased to see Princess Lines have taken an extra effort in wine in the last few years.

Golden Princess and many of her sister ships now have a wine bar aboard called Vines. This comfortable wine bar offered a very respectable selection of wines from Opus One to Woodbridge. Sitting near the Piazza, the three-story tall center of entertainment, shopping and dining, you are able to enjoy the comings and goings of shipboard passengers off to one side while enjoying the view out the windows to the ocean on the other.
Vines Wine Bar on Golden Princess

The bartender at the Vines was very attentive to providing you the service you would expect in a fine wine bar. In addition to a wide selection of wines from California and around the world, they also offer a selection of sushi, seafood and other hors d’oerves.

In the dining room, the Golden Princess now has a certified sommelier, Chris Costas, on board to help you with your wine selection. Some of the California wines available include Kiara Reserve Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon wines from Paso Robles, Cuvaison Chardonnay from Napa, Silverado Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley, Opus One Cab from Napa, Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon, Ferrari-Carano Merlot form Dry Creek Valley, Calera Pinot Noir from San
Vines Wine Bar on Golden Princess
Benito, Murrieta Well Red Blend from Livermore, and Duckhorn Paraduxx from Napa. 

These California wines along with the wide selection of international wines can keep you happy for quite a while!
Finally, if you are anxious to spend some of your time learning more about wines, you can attend one of two wine tasting events on board. One is at no charge covering a few basic wines, and the other has a small charge but includes tastings of a nice selection of California and International wines including Cuvaison Chardonnay, Silverado Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa, and Opus One from Napa. 
For more info:  Princess Cruise Lines

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Taste of Terroir in Livermore Valley - a great food and wine pairing experience

The Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association held their sold-out Taste of Terroir on Thursday, July 22. Sixteen Livermore wineries paired up with 16 Tri-Valley restaurants to provide the 500+ visitors with a great wine and food pairing event.

The judges for Taste of Terroir this year were:
  • Leslie Sbrocco – television host of “Check Please” (PBS), author, wine consultant and educator, judge and writer for San Francisco Chronicle, New York Times, O Magazine and other publications.
  • Jessica Yadegaran - a wine writer, educator and judge who believes wine is the true marriage of art, science and spirit. Her work has appeared online and in newspapers and magazines around the country for the past 10 years.
  • W. Blake Gray - a freelance wine writer and author of California Winetopia. He currently writes for the Los Angeles Times, Food & Wine, Wine Review Online, Palate Press and other publications, including his own blog, The Gray Market Report.

Award winners for the evening were:

Best Expression of Local Ingredients
: Wente Vineyards and The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards
: 2007 Nth Degree Syrah, Livermore Valley and Nicolau Farms goat cheese Pana Cotta with black pepper, estate garden smoked tomato jam, and tiny purple basil

Judges’ Best
: Occasio Winery & Izzy’s Steaks & Chops
: 2008 Petite Sirah and Petite Sirah marinated skirt steak served over flak steak, ragu and bourbon yams

Most Innovative:
: Ruby Hill Winery & Casa Real at Ruby Hill
: 2008 Estate Reserve Zinfandel, Peacock Patch, and rabbit terrine inlaid with dried cherry and pistachio, garnished with locally grown herbs and cherry demi-glace jam presented on butter toasted Challah with Estate Reserve Zinfandel-infused mustard.
Ruby Hill also one the People’s Choice award voted on by the guests.

There were other great pairings at this event, showing the skills of the chefs and the winemakers.

Steven Kent Winery 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon was paired with a Spiedino with Pancetta, Provolone, & Polenta with Pork Osso Buco Gremolata from Terra Mia. The food really brought out the flavors of the Cab.

Zephyr Grill and Bar offered a grilled pork tenderloin with Santa Rosa castanada and chili adobo, a fried roasted salsa and roasted garlic on jalapeno Indian fry bread. It paired well with a 2007 Syrah from Page Mill Winery.

Tamas Estates 2007 Sangiovese Riserva paired very nicely with the fresh Italian sausage from Giuseppe’s Pasta and Grill. It was topped by a medley of parmigiana regiano and Mozzarella over homemade traditional Italian bread, hand rolled and baked to golden brown.

Funds raised at this event benefit the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association. 

La Rochelle Winery in Livermore Valley - A Passion for Pinot

La Rochelle Winery is descended from one of the longest established winery families in America. The Mirassou family has been producing wine in California since 1854, over 150 years of American winemaking tradition. This same wine heritage has been handed down over six generations.

As times changed and the South Bay grew the Mirassou Winery was eventually sold in 2002 and the brothers Daniel and Peter Mirassou started a boutique brand La Rochelle in the old Mirassou winery. As the family gave up the winery property to housing developers the brothers gave up the La Rochelle brand to their cousin Steven Kent Mirassou who already had his Steven Kent Winery in Livermore.

As Steven Mirassou further developed the La Rochelle brand he concentrated on the best that Pinot Noir can be from the premium Pinot Noir vineyards in California.

The 2007 Monterey Pinot Noir is 100% Pinot Noir from the San Vicente, Mission and Cedar Lane vineyards in Monterey County. All three vineyards are located around Soledad. On the nose you are welcomed by aromas of raspberry, dark cherry and cola. You will also detect a bit of toastiness and dusty aromas. On the palate you will enjoy the same fruit flavors and even a touch of citrus. This striking fruity quality continues onto a lingering finish with a nice spicy character.

The 2006 Classic Clones Pinot Noir is from Arroyo Seco in Monterey County and has aromas and flavors of red and black cherry, cola, spice and a touch of rhubarb. This wine is very aromatic with a soft blending of the fruit, acidity and tannins leading on to a medium plus finish.

The 2006 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir is produced from grapes grown in the premium vineyards of the premium Pinot region. Sleepy Hollow vineyards provide 50% of the grapes with the rest coming from Sarmento, Paraiso and San Vicente vineyards. This wine has a wonderful blend of fruits with earthy mushrooms and forest floor. The fruit flavors include cherry, raspberry, cranberry and a touch of pomegranate. The complexity of this wine makes you concentrate on the wide range of flavors you are detecting. The finish goes on forever.

Visit La Rochelle at the Steven Kent Winery in Livermore Valley at 5443 Tesla Road. 

Christian Lazo Wines - family, friends and wine in San Miguel

Steve Christian is dedicated to the land and to his grapes. With his wife Guadalupe Lazo they operate the family-run Christian Lazo Wines. Steve was a math teacher in Paso Robles and Guadalupe was a preschool teacher when they started making wine in their garage. In 2002 they started their first 10 acre vineyard and made their first vintage in 2003. After two years of making every mistake he could in farming, he met Richard Sauret, one of the long time farmers in the area. Richard wanted to slow down after fifty years of farming and Christian soon purchased 10 acres of head trained Zinfandel from Richard.

Christian learned a lot from Richard and the other winemakers in the area while he was producing wine at Paso Robles Wine Services. They now own 25 acres of vines, 15 in Zinfandel, 5 in Petite Sirah and 5 in Barbara on the north side of Paso Robles. This is a family operation and you will often find Guadalupe in the tasting room or at events while Steve is working the fields and producing the wines. Even their young son created the abstract watercolor artwork that became their label. And their daughter helps in the winery.
Christian Lazo Wines

Christian Lazo 2008 French Camp Sauvignon Blanc uses grapes came from the famous French Camp Vineyards in Paso. You will enjoy the crisp acid plus the citrus, grapefruit and pineapple aromas and flavors. This is a delicious wine for summer afternoons. It scored 86 points from Wine Enthusiast magazine, not bad for only being their second vintage of a white wine. The price is $18.

The 2007 Barbera is from Christian Lazo estate grapes. It has a delightfully aromatic nose of dark fruit, with a bit of tobacco and mocha. These carry on to the palate with a blend of dark fruit, including blueberry, blackberry and dark cheery leading on to spice and hints of chocolate. The price is $25.

Guadalupe Lazo happily pouring wine
The 2006 Paso Robles Zinfandel is from a small plot planted in 1980 on the original Richard Sauret property. Christian states that this was one of the hardest wines to make and tame to the dark rich result delivering and intense aroma and complex flavors of dark fruits and spices. The price is $20.

Christian Lazo 2006 Paso Robles Petite Sirah is nicknamed Pretty Sarah by Christian due to its lovely qualities. It has a beautiful very dark color with intense aromas of dark fruit. As you taste this wine you will be pleased with its full body and well balance blend of fruit and tannin. It is an amazing Petite Sirah that delivers the fruit and tannin you expect from a heavy duty Petite Sirah yet has a certain softness that makes it easy to drink. The price is $25. 
For more info:  Christian Lazo Wines

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

California Women in Wine - Niner Wine Estates winemaker Amanda Cramer named Winemaker of the Year

Niner Wine Estates’ winemaker, Amanda Cramer, recently won the esteemed Andre Tchelistcheff “Winemaker of the Year” award at the recent San Francisco International Wine Competition. In addition her wines won two double-gold medals including best Bordeaux blend.

In 1997 Amanda left a teaching position in Washington DC to pursue her love of wine. Her background in mathematics and chemistry were important in her pursuit of winemaking. Once, when asked about her life changing experience into the field of winemaking, she said, “I fell in love with the very idea of winemaking – the interconnection between agriculture, chemistry and artistry. And the fact that winegrowing regions are the most beautiful places in the world is certainly a plus!”

She studied enology and viticulture at UC Davis before receiving hands-on experience during harvests in Napa Valley, South Australia and Chile. Soon thereafter, she returned to California to work as Assistant Winemaker at Paradigm Winery under the tutelage of famed winemaker Heidi Barrett. There she polished her skills with Bordeaux varietals. In 2004 she moved to Paso Robles and joining the Niner Wine Estates team. “Given the opportunity to help build a winery from the ground up in this attractive region was something I simply couldn’t pass up,” she says.

Cramer’s worldly experience proved extremely useful when it came time to design Niner’s state-of-the-art production facility. “During my career, I’ve worked at numerous wineries, which all really vary in design,” she says. “My goal was to take the best of what I’ve seen and create a production facility that is very user-friendly.” Features include an indoor crush pad, gravity-driven fruit delivery, stainless steel fermentation tanks that are accessed from a suspended mezzanine.
“I’ve always loved the combination of agriculture, chemistry, and artistry that winemaking represents,” says the former high school math teacher. At the end of the day, however, Cramer believes that quality winemaking begins in the vineyard. “The agricultural aspect is the most important,” she says, pointing out that 2010 will be Niner Wine Estates’ first all estate-produced vintage. “As Winemaker, the most important decision I make is the harvest date.”

That’s not to say that the rest comes easily, especially when your goal is to create balanced, food-friendly wines. Fortunately, Amanda Cramer’s winemaking prowess has helped her do just that. At the 2010 San Francisco International Wine Competition, Cramer’s wines earned top honors as she was deemed Winemaker of the Year.

Her awards at the San Francisco International Wine Competition include:
  • Double Gold Medal and Best Bordeaux Blend: Niner Wine Estates, 2007 Premium Bordeaux Blend, Paso Robles $58
  • Double Gold Medal: Niner Wine Estates, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Bootjack Ranch, Paso Robles $28
  • Gold Medal: Niner Wine Estates, 2007 Merlot, Bootjack Ranch, Paso Robles $24
  • Bronze Medal: Niner Wine Estates, 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, Bootjack Ranch, Paso Robles $17
  • Bronze Medal: Niner Wine Estates, 2007 Sangiovese, Bootjack Ranch, Paso Robles $24
Niner Wine Estates is the visionary initiative of Richard Niner, who believes that a blend of exceptional people, vineyards, tools, and ideas is the key to creating world-class wines and providing a one-of-a-kind experience in the heart of Paso Robles wine country. Since its founding in 2001, the Niner Wine Estates roster of award-winning wines has grown to include Rhône, Italian and Bordeaux varietals, including their flagship Bordeaux blend, Fog Catcher. An independent, family-owned company, Niner Wine Estates is dedicated to making exceptional wines using the best of traditional winemaking methods and cutting-edge technologies. Winemaker Amanda Cramer shepherds estate-grown fruit from Bootjack Ranch and Heart Hill Vineyard into wines that express terroir and elegance.

For more information:

Monday, July 12, 2010

Dutcher Crossing new small lot Zinfandel

Dutcher Crossing Winery in Dry Creek Valley is known for its small-lot wine program. They have recently released the 2008 Bernier-Sibary Vineyard Zinfandel made from a 3-acre vineyard block off Canyon Road. “The Bernier-Sibary vineyard is a classic Italian field blend of 75% Zinfandel, intermixed with 10% each of Petite Sirah and Carignane, and 5% Matero (Mourvedre),” said Debra Mathy, proprietor of Dutcher Crossing. The vineyard is owned by Jane and Scott Sibary and farmed by grape grower, Paul Bernier. “Our goal is to capture the sense of place in the bottle by creating a wine that is definitely Zinfandel, but with added nuances from the other varieties,” said Mathy.

The Bernier-Sibary grapes are usually the last Zinfandel to be harvested according to Dutcher Crossing winemaker, Kerry Damskey. “Even in an early, warm vintage such as 2008, the inter-planted Carignane and Matero slow the site’s overall maturity,” he explained.

When harvested the grapes undergo open top tank fermentation with punch down. They have 18 days of skin contact before 14 months in the barrel, of which 32% of the barrels are new French oak.
The 2008 Zinfandel has a dark rich color. The California Wine Examiner tasting panel discovered that this is a wine that needs some air to come alive. When tasted right after opening the wine was not dynamic. But let it air for some time, even a couple hours it comes alive and shows you what a Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel can be. In fact this wine held up well even a couple days after it was opened!

On the nose are dark berry flavors of blackberry, blueberry, anise and a subtle oak characteristic. As you taste the wine, these same berry flavors are intense, bringing in spices of cinnamon and a bit of clove. It has a nice lingering finish. This wine would go well with honey glazed BBQ ribs for a delightful summer meal. The price for this Zinfandel is $39. 
For more info: 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Demuth Winery - a love of wine with a personal approach

Chris Demuth has winemaking in his blood. First learning about winemaking from his grandmother, he finally had the opportunity to pursue this love of wine further when he and his wife Lyn purchased 225 acre former sheep ranch in the south facing slopes above Boonville in Anderson Valley. He loves Burgundian wines and knew that the cool nights and warm days in the valley would be perfect for these grapes.
He is a chemist by training, retired from Bechtel, the long time premium engineering company. This same scientific approach is used in the production of Demuth Winery Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines. They first planted Old Wente Chardonnay clone grapes on a few acres in 1985. While originally selling grapes to other winemakers, Chris was soon making wine in his garage in Santa Rosa and planting more acres of Chardonnay plus Pinot Noir.

Chris and Lyn Demuth

The vineyards are sustainable farmed, with minimal pesticide use. Walking through the vineyards you will find many butterflies and frogs. Often the tiny frogs are so abundant it is had to walk without finding almost stepping on one.
Chris and his son Eric made the first commercial vintages in 2002 in their new red brick winery. In 2004 Eric left to pursue his own winemaker dreams leaving Chris and Lyn to produce the 2004-2007 vintages. This is truly a “mom and pop” operation with Chris and Lyn personally marketing and selling their wines to restaurants and wine shops around the bay area. Their wines are now found in quality restaurants around the area.

Chris and Lyn are a joy to converse with concerning their wines and life in general. If you ever have the opportunity to meet with them at a tasting, be sure to attend. Recently at UNWINED Wine Shop and Wine Bar in San Jose, Chris and Lyn provided a great tasting of the 2004, 2005 and 2006 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
The Chardonnay flight was wonderful, demonstrating the natural progression of the vintages. The 2004 Chardonnay is a clean aromatic wine with a smooth full-bodied mouthfeel complete with aromas and flavors of sour apple, honey, nuts and lemon peel with a note of minerality. It has a smooth distinct acidity that leads on to a long finish.

The 2005 Chardonnay provides similar fruit flavors as the 2004, but a little rounder in style and a mid-palate that is bursting with the pear and pineapple flavors. The minerality of the wine is a bit stronger than the 2004 vintage but, as with the 2004, the long balanced finish was a delight.

The 2006 Chardonnay definitely has a younger style but continues with the Demuth tradition of producing wines that have the California New World fruitiness but with a quality, balance and minerality you often find in Old World Burgundies. This wine had more pear and melon aromas and flavors with butterscotch overtones. It also had a nice creamy mouthfeel and long finish.

The Pinot Noir flight found three Pinots that each had their own distinctiveness rather than a simple progression from year to year. The 2004 Pinot Noir has a soft nose, but on the palate the fruits did shine with strawberry, raspberry and black cherry and a soft toastiness but with the minerality and spiciness that is typical of Demuth’s wines.
The 2005 Pinot Noir gives a nice aroma with bold fruits and only a slight hint of toast. The bold fruits were blended well with vanilla and a mixture of spice. However, this interesting wine really came to life after you let it sit for about 20 minutes, when the aroma changes from simply nice to a wonderful bold intensity. The same bright fruitiness continues in the mouth with a nice lingering finish.

The 2006 Pinot Noir has a bright Burgundy color with a nice balance of acid, tannins and fruit. This is a wine to savor as you delve into the dark cherry, raspberry, currants, and floral notes.

The price for each of the Chardonnays is $32 and for the Pinot Noir it is $40.

Olson Ogden Wines - Three new handcrafted wines just released

Olson Ogden Wines is a small, artisan wine company in the Russian River Valley area of Sonoma County. They specialize in small production, handcrafted wines, primarily focused on Rhone varietals and Pinot Noir, with an emphasis on vineyard designated Syrah’s. Their goal is to produce balanced, complex and delightful wines that express the terroir and vintage from which they came.
Winemaker Tim Olson and business manager John Ogden have succeeded in producing a range of wines that are authentic and honest while rich and complex. They have recently release three new wines.

The 2008 Marsanne, “Margaret’s Mandate” from famous Stagecoach Vineyard high above Napa Valley. Stagecoach Vineyard is famous for producing grapes that result in some of the greatest wines. The vineyard is at an elevation that ranges from 900 to 1700 feet above sea level and the soil is red, orange, brown and littered with stones. Tons of boulders were remove to prepare this vineyard.
The California Wine Examiner tasting panel felt this Marsanne has an intense nose with aromas of apricot, pear, grapefruit and vanilla. It also has a slight buttered toast aroma. As you taste this wine you are pleased to see these same fruits shine through with a beautiful texture and acidity plus a pleasant amount of cedar and oak. The lingering finish strikes you with the minerality and tropical fruit flavors. The price is $35.

The 2008 Pinot Noir is produced with fruit from the Manchester Ridge Vineyard in Mendocino County. This vineyard is located in the Mendocino Ridge AVA above Anderson Valley. The cool night temperatures cool down the fruit from the hot days, retaining the natural acidity.

The tasting panel was particularly pleased with the interesting smoky/hickory/bacon aroma. In the mouth the fruity flavors included dark cherry, strawberry plum and blackberry. Spices included cinnamon and allspice. That same toasty bacon flavor came out in the long finish. Based on the strength of the flavors and tannins you can expect this wine to age well. This is a young wine that needs a bit of air to bring it all together. After it was opened for a few hours the flavors came together well into a balanced, yet complex structure. The price is $38.

Olson Ogden’s 2008 Red Wine Persuasion is a blend of 69% Syrah, 13% Grenache, 12% Pinot Noir, and 6% Marsanne from the North Coast area of California. The aromas are rich in dark fruit, leather, coffee, violets and spice. On the palate you will detect dark cherry, strawberry and a nice cranberry flavor and a pleasing vanilla. The blend of spices includes black pepper and white pepper plus nutmeg. It has a medium intense finish with a nice well blended structure that makes it ready to drink now. Price is $19 making it a great buy for the price. 
For more info:  Olson Ogden Website