Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Wine and Cheese Pairing

I love cheese. I could have a simple meal made of good cheese, fresh bread, and wine, and be in heaven. So I was enthusiastic when our friend Arnaud announced that the theme of his November wine club meeting was Wine and Cheese Pairing.

For the event, Arnaud chose seven types of cheese from five different countries and carefully paired them with a wine of the same nationality (almost). Here is what he selected for us:

• Brie and Savennières
Brie is a soft-ripened, cow's milk cheese from Brie, a region of France south-east of Paris. With a mild, creamy taste and an unctuous texture, it is a cheese that requires an aromatic wine with some acidity. We tasted the 2002 Savennières Cuvée des Genêts Domaine Laureau. It is a dry white wine from the Loire Valley made from the Chenin Blanc grape. The wine was delicious with the Brie. It had a bright golden with a lively, mineral nose. On the palate, it was crisp with aromas of pear and honey.

• Humboldt goat cheese and Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
Made in Humboldt county in Northern California, this chalk white Artisan cheese has a firm and dense texture and a delicate taste that offers a good balance between saltiness and acidity. A crisp Sauvignon Blanc is a classic pairing with goat cheese and in order to stay in California, Arnaud chose a Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley. The 2004 Honig Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley had a pale straw color and an attractive citrus and floral nose. On the palate, it was crisp with gooseberry flavors. I really liked this goat cheese but I found the wine too fruity for the cheese.

• Manchego and Dry Amontillado
Manchego is a semi-firm cheese from Spain, made from whole milk of the Manchego sheep raised in the high plateau of La Mancha. Traditionally, Manchego is molded with woven esparto grass — a plant with hard, stiff, reed-like blades — strips, which creates a zigzag pattern along the side of the cheese. A red wine like a Rioja or a dry Sherry are usually a good match for the sweet and nutty flavors of the cheese. Arnaud selected a Dry Amontillado Los Arcos from Emilio Lustau. Amontillado is a type of Sherry that is slowly oxidized while aged in porous oak casks. Being slowly exposed to oxygen, the wine gains a darker color and unusual distinctive flavors. From the color — deep amber — and the nose — rich and luscious — it seemed that the wine was sweet. But on the palate, it was surprisingly bone-dry with strong nutty aromas and a long, complex finish. For me, this was the most unusual and complex wine of the evening, although many guests did not like it.

• Parmesan and Brunello di Montalcino
Named after the town of Parma in Northern Italy, Parmesan is a hard cheese made from cow's skimmed milk. It has a granular structure and a fruity and nutty flavor. Like most hard cheeses, Parmesan goes well with red wines. To go with Parmesan, Arnaud selected a Brunello di Montalcino from Tuscany. The 2000 Brunello di Montalcino Poggiarellino is 100% Sangiovese Grosso, a local clone of the Sangiovese grape. The wine had a deep garnet color and a generous nose of ripe fruits. On the palate, it was full-bodied and rich with a peppery aftertaste. Both the wine and the cheese were very tasty.

• Munster and Gewürztraminer
Munster is a strong, pungent cheese, native to Alsace, and made of cow’s milk. It has a sticky, orange, washed skin while the interior is semi-soft, creamy and mellow flavored. In Alsace, it is typically served with spices like caraway or cumin seeds. A classic pairing is Munster and beer but aromatic white wines like Gewürztraminer work as well. The Gewürztraminer grape has strong aromas — Gewürz means spicy in German — that can stand up to the cheese. We tasted the 2001 Jean-Philippe Francois Becker Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Froehn. It had a wonderfully fragrant nose of lychee fruit. On the palate, it was full-bodied and off-dry with a long finish. The wine was a perfect accompaniment for the Munster sprinkled with cumin seeds.

• Stilton and Port
Known as the king of English cheeses, Stilton is a cow-milk cheese with moldy blue-green veins, a rich and mellow flavor and a piquant aftertaste, although it is milder than other blue cheese like Roquefort or Gorgonzola. It is only produced in the three counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire. Sweet wines are known to offer a great counterpoint to the pungent and salty flavors of a blue cheese, and in England, Port is the classic drink to accompany Stilton. With the cheese, we tasted a Tawny Port, which is a wood-aged Port that acquired a lighter tawny color, hence the name, and a more gentle flavor over the years. The Warre's Otima 10 Years Tawny Port was still very young, fruity and lively with rich raisiny flavors on the palate, and a long sweet finish.

• Roquefort and Sauternes
Enjoyed since Roman times, Roquefort is one of the oldest cheeses in the world. It is made from sheep's milk that is exposed to a mold called Penicillium roqueforti. It is then ripened for at least 3 months in limestone caverns near the village of Roquefort in southwestern France. Ripe Roquefort is creamy, thick and crumbly on the inside, with a rich texture and pungent, piquant, salty flavors. Like Stilton, Roquefort pairs well with sweet wines and Sauternes is a classic match. Arnaud selected the excellent 1998 Château Raymond-Lafon. Château Raymond-Lafon is a property that borders Château Yquem. The wine had a bright golden color, a nose of orange liqueur, a rich palate with candied fruit flavors, and a complex finish.

We usually associate cheese with dry red wines. But looking back at the great wine/cheese combinations that we had that evening, it is interesting to notice that six wines out of seven were white and four were sweet and/or fortified.

We had a wonderful time. The cheeses came from Whole Foods Market and were fresh and tasty. The wines, bought at K&L Wine Merchants, were excellent. And if I had to assign some awards, I would choose:
• 1st place in the cheese category: Humboldt goat cheese
• 1st place in the wine category: Dry Amontillado Los Arcos Emilio Lustau
• 1st place in the wine/cheese pairing category: Munster and 2001 Jean-Philippe Francois Becker Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Froehn (with the cumin seeds of course!)

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Monday, November 28, 2005

Bacchus and Me : Adventures in the Wine Cellar by Jay McInerney

•Which chlorophyll-friendly wine loves broccoli, tubers , and aragula?
•What is the four-wheel-drive, off-road vehicle of the wine world?
•Who said: “Lower yields, ripe fruit, an artisanal approach, less is better. Let the terroir express itself. This is my legacy”?
•What is red, French, costs too much, and tastes like the water that's left in the vase after the flowers have died and rotten?
•Who is Colombo and what is the mystery of the missing socks?
•Why are rosebunches sometimes planted at the end of each row of vines?

You will find the answers to these questions in Bacchus and Me : Adventures in the Wine Cellar by Jay McInerney. Jay McInerney is a bestselling novelist who contributes to Condé Nast House & Garden and The New Yorker. Bacchus and Me is a compilation of his House & Garden wine column. The book is full of witty anecdotes written in a cutting, caustic style, and it is a lot of fun to read.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
Regarding Condrieu: “Perfume is more expensive and it's not potable.”
Regarding Burgundy: “Burgundy is a lovely thing when you can get anybody to buy it for you.”
Regarding Beaujolais: “a Hawaiian shirt of a wine.”
Regarding sweet wines: “All of those who made unlikely vows about calories this year should remember that unlike pastry, pudding, and cake, a glass of vino dolci is super-low in fat and cholesterol.”
Regarding Zinfandel: “Almost any Zinfandel that starts with R is good.”

But the best story is about the rosebunches. Asked why rosebunches often mark the end of each row of vines in Bordeaux, Bruno Borie of Château Ducru-Beaucaillou explained:
“There are three theories about that. One is that the roses were like the canaries in the coal mines — early-warning systems for disease. Another theory is that they were planted so that the horses would know when to turn, at the end of each row.”
“And the third theory?”
Smiling, Bruno Borie answered: “Perhaps they're just there because they're beautiful. We have forgotten about gratuitous acts of beauty.”

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Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!

Herbed Turkey Breast

Corn Bread

Yams and Marshmallow

Apple Tart

2003 Pelerin Pinot Noir Rosella's Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands: nothing better than a pilgrim wine for Thanksgiving! The nose was rather subtle but on the palate, it was rich, sweet and fruity. Perfect with the turkey, the cranberry sauce and the yams and marshmallow.

2002 Coho Pinot Noir Russian River Valley: The nose was attractive with fresh cherry aromas. On the palate, it was more earthy than the Pelerin and less sweet. This is a style that I usually prefer, but today, the Pelerin worked better with the Thanksgiving dinner.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Coteaux du Layon and Gâteau de Mamy

Is there anything better than a Coteaux du Layon for a sweet ending to a dinner that started around a wines from the Loire Valley theme?

Coteaux du Layon is an appellation located along the river Layon in the Loire Valley, producing sweet white wines from the Chenin Blanc grape. One of the region's best estate is Domaine des Baumard. This is a domaine that consistently produces impressive Chenin Blanc wines from Savennières, Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume.

I chose to serve a Coteaux du Layon from Domaine des Baumard called Clos de Sainte Catherine — in honor of my patron saint. With the wine, we had a Gâteau de Mamy à la Poire, a tasty pear cake from Chocolate and Zucchini.

The 2002 Coteaux du Layon Domaine des Baumard Clos de Sainte Catherine was wonderful! It had a deep golden color with a nose of ripe pear and honey. On the palate, it was fresh, crisp and not overly sweet, with a long and elegant finish.

... And these days, if you're trying to recover from an overdose of pumpkin pie, try the Gâteau de Mamy. It is really easy to make and truly delicious!

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Monday, November 21, 2005

Wines from Chinon: Domaine Philippe Alliet

Philippe Alliet is part of a new generation of quality conscious winemakers from the Loire Valley who work hard in the vineyard and harvest at maximum ripeness. He is a small producer that started with less than 25 acres of Cabernet Franc vines in Chinon. But in 1999, he was able to purchase the beautiful Coteau de Noiré, a steep, south-facing vineyard planted on limestone-clay soil. Now, he is considered to be one of the best Loire Valley producer so I felt lucky when I found his wines at K&L Wine Merchants.

I recently served the 2002 Chinon Domaine Philippe Alliet Coteau de Noiré and the 2003 Chinon Vieilles Vignes Domaine Philippe Alliet at my birthday dinner to accompany the main entree, a boneless leg of lamb stuffed with mushroom, onion and herbs. These wines were both delicious although my preference went to the 2002 Coteau de Noiré.

In Chinon, the 2002 vintage was probably the best vintage since 1997. It produced red wines in a classic Loire style with a good balance fruit/acidity. The 2002 Chinon Coteau de Noiré had a deep red color and an attractive fruity nose. On the palate, it was concentrated with bell pepper flavors followed by a spicy and smoky finish.

2003 was the year of the heat wave in Europe and the earliest harvest since 1893. It produced wines with opulent fruit, higher alcohol, and lower acidity. The 2003 Chinon Vieilles Vignes was sweeter with riper fruit flavors but a notch less elegant than the 2002 Coteau de Noiré.

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Friday, November 18, 2005

Unusual wine labels

If you're still looking for a label to participate in WBW #16 - Judge a Bottle By Its Cover, you can visit the Beyond The Pour: Pairing Art and Wine Label Design exhibition in San Francisco, or you can visit this great site that I just discovered: Unusual Wines - Diversity in Wine where you can browse more than 230 unusual labels.

My favorite is:

Cat's Pee on a Gooseberry Bush

And take a couple of minutes to read Queen of Clubs - Anelia Pavlova's banned bare breasted beauty, the story of a banned wine label.

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Thursday, November 17, 2005

wines from Muscadet, Sancerre, Savennières, and an oyster feast

With its shorter days and longer nights, Fall may not be your favorite season. But for me, not only it is the time of my birthday, it is also the beginning of the oyster season.

For my birthday dinner, I bought three kinds of oysters that we served raw on the half-shell for most of them, and a few cooked on the barbecue. For the wines, I chose a Loire Valley theme that we carried throughout the dinner.

The oysters offered a wide range of interesting flavors. The Miyagi oysters — also known as Pacific oysters — are the world's most widely cultivated oysters. During the years 1920 to 1980, seed oysters from Miyagi Prefecture in Japan were exported in large quantities to the Pacific Coast of North America and to France. These are medium to large size oysters with a mildly briny and sweet taste. The Kumamoto oysters — named for the Japanese prefecture where they were first cultivated — are small and plump with a fresh salty taste. The Belon oysters — the European flat oysters, named for their native river Belon in Brittany — have a round, flat shell, a clam-like firm texture and a stronger, brinier flavor. We cooked the biggest Miyagis, which made them more chewy, with a milder and sweeter taste.

With the oysters, I had a Muscadet, a Sancerre, and a Savennières: three different white varietals and three different regions of the Loire Valley.

The Muscadet region is located at the western end of the Loire Valley, close to the Atlantic Ocean. Melon de Bourgogne is widely planted in this cool section of the Loire. It produces a light and crisp white wine that unfortunately, is often acidic, thin, and fruitless. On the contrary, the 2004 Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine sur Lie Domaine de la Pepière Clos des Briords Cuvée Vieilles Vignes is much more powerful that most Muscadets. It comes from the Clos des Briords, a 3.7-acre single vineyard, planted with 75-year old vines whose roots deeply penetrate the granitic subsoil. The wine was hand harvested, made with natural yeasts and left on its lees - a winemaking technique of leaving the juice on the grape remains - until the time of bottling. The wine had a pale straw color and a mineral nose. It was well structured and concentrated on the palate, with a lively acidity and final notes of honey on the finish. I enjoyed the wine with the small Kumamoto that were still full of fresh sea-water juice.

Far away from the Atlantic coast, Sancerre is in the Eastern Loire Valley. Until the late 1800s, Sancerre was known principally for its red wines produced from Pinot Noir. But after the phylloxera ravaged the vineyards, they were replanted predominantly with Sauvignon Blanc, which had a better affinity with the American rootstock. The 2003 Sancerre Les Charmes Domaine André Vatan had a pale yellow color and a floral nose. It had a very aromatic palate with flavors of tree fruit and citrus, and a long crisp finish. This wine was everybody's favorite and it worked perfectly with all the oysters.

From Sancerre, you have to go back west to reach Savennières, a tiny appellation near the town of Angers, where Chenin Blanc is the only permitted grape. Over the centuries, the region has gained a reputation for distinctive wines of great aging potential. The 2000 Savennières Pierre Bise Clos de Coulaine was hand-harvested, hand-pressed, vinified in stainless steel, and bottled unfiltered. The wine had a deep golden color, and a spicy nose. On the palate, it had a rich mouthfeel with white peach and minerals flavors followed by a finish of great finesse. I thought that the wine worked remarkably well with the belons and the cooked oysters.

What a feast! And there will be more on Loire Valley wines in a later post...

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Monday, November 14, 2005

Blind tasting of 1999 Cabernets

Our wine club met recently for a blind tasting of 1999 Cabernets. We tasted five Cabernets from California and one from Bordeaux. Overall, the wines were very good and it was difficult to rank them against each other.

The 1999 vintage

In California, the 1999 vintage is considered to be one of the best vintages of the 1990s. It is characterized by a small crop and a cool, steady growing season that climaxed with a warm fall.

In Bordeaux, 1999 was one of the most difficult vintage in recent years. The weather pattern was unusual, with heavy outbreaks of rain from April onwards and above average temperature. Intermittent storms hit the region in the early half of August, although the weather was hot and dry in the latter half of the month. The end of September was marked by severe hailstorms and 100mm of rain fell on a wet September 20th.

The tasting

We tasted the following wines:

1999 S. Anderson Cabernet Sauvignon Richard Chambers Vineyard Stags Leap District: S. Anderson, recently renamed Cliff Lede Vineyards, started bottling its limited production Richard Chambers Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon in 1989. The Richard Chambers Vineyard is a highly-acclaimed 18 acres vineyard planted to red Bordeaux varieties in the Stags Leap District. It was finally bought by the winery in 2003. The wine exhibited a complex nose with spiced leather and berry aromas. On the palate, the tasters found it young, lively, and sweet. Overall, they appreciated the wine's elegance and balance and placed it in first place.

1999 Viansa Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Sonoma County: Viansa is known as a premier producer of Italian varietals, as well as classic California grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. The wine had an intense fruity nose with some peppery notes, and a sharp, raisiny taste on the palate. Overall, the group felt overwhelmed by the wine and placed it in fourth position.

1999 Melka CJ Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley: Philippe and Cherie Melka are the co-owners of Melka Wine. Philippe Melka was born and trained in Bordeaux and is now a winemaking consultant to several premium wineries in Napa Valley, while Cherie Melka is a trained enologist. The winery has only two labels: the Métisse Proprietary Red, a Bordeaux blend, and the CJ Cabernet Sauvignon, a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon - named for Cherie and Philippe's children, Chloé and Jeremy, who are also the creators of the wine's label. The wine had a complex woody nose with notes of blackberry. On the palate, it was tannic, peppery, a bit green and young. Overall, the group liked the wine and placed it in second place.

1999 Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville: Groth Winery is renowned for its estate-grown Oakville Cabernets. The wine had the darkest color. The nose was intense with almond paste and woody aromas. On the palate, it was young, tannic and fruity. Overall, the group found the wine too tannic and oaky and placed it in sixth position.

1999 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Bosché: The Freemark Abbey Winery has produced Cabernet Bosché from the 21.4 acres Bosché estate vineyard since 1970. The vineyard is located 1/4 mile north of the town of Rutherford and is well-known for producing wines of distinctive character and excellent quality. The wine had a fragrant fruity nose. On the palate, it was smooth, sweet and fruity, almost candy-like. Overall, it was pleasant with a good balance, and was placed in third place.

1999 Château Branaire Ducru: Château Branaire Ducru is a classified Fourth Growth from the commune of Saint Julien. The Château owns 50 hectares of vines planted with 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot and an average vine age of 35 years. The wine had a subdued nose of blackberry and pepper with hints of venaison aromas. On the palate, it was less sweet than the other wines, with a strong tannic structure and a solid finish. Some tasters liked it a lot while some others found that it did not have enough fruit. It was placed in fourth position.

Now, we had the fun idea to bring two bottles of these wines so that we can redo the same tasting in a couple of years or so. Imagine how interesting it will be to compare our tasting notes from the two meetings and find out how each wine has evolved!

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Thursday, November 10, 2005

Coconut Salmon and Alsatian Riesling

For my daughter's birthday, I made coconut salmon. This is a very simple, Thai-inspired recipe of mine, and one of my daughter's favorite:
1. Bake salmon fillets coated with tamarind paste in fish bouillon.
2. Stir fry vegetables with garlic, ginger, curry paste and coconut milk.
3. Serve the salmon and the vegetables over Thai rice and garnish with fresh basil or cilantro leave.

With the salmon, I opened a bottle of 2002 Domaine Ehrhart Riesling Herrenweg.

Sometimes, I find Alsatian Riesling too dry, mineral and austere for Asian cuisine, but I already had this wine last year and remembered that it was slightly off dry and very aromatic - unfortunately, the amount of residual sugar is rarely indicated on the label.

The pairing was perfect. The wine had a fragrant flowery nose with mineral notes. On the palate, it was medium-bodied, crisp, with just enough sugar to stand up to the creamy coconut milk and the curry spices. The finish was lively and complex.

We also had a delicious Champagne that evening, but that's another story.

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Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Wines of David Noyes

When I was looking for a 250 cases or less wine, I ran by chance into the wines of David Noyes.

David Noyes is a seasoned winemaker. After spending 10 years assisting Paul Draper at Ridge Vineyards, David Noyes has been working for Kunde Estate Winery & Vineyards since 1989, crafting award-winning wines including the Shaw Vineyard Century Vines Zinfandel and the Magnolia Lane Sauvignon Blanc. More recently, he also introduced his own label David Noyes Wines, making a Pinot Noir from Sonoma and an intriguing Tocai Friulano from the North Coast appellation.

Tocai Friuliano is a native white grape from Friuli, the wine region located in the northeast corner of Italy (Friulano was added to the name Tocai to avoid confusion with Hungary's Tokay, made from the Furmint grape). In Friuli, Tocai Friuliano can produce excellent wines of distinctive character, which makes Leo Hansen, sommelier of Healdsburg's Dry Creek Kitchen, believe that “this will be the next gruner veltliner as far as popularity goes.”

Tocai Friulano is little known in California with approximately 130 acres planted today. But David Noyes found two acres of low-yielding 80-year-old Tocai Friulano vines across the street from where he was making his Pinot Noir. After the success of his 2003 Tocai Friuliano Pagani Vineyard, David Noyes added Mendocino grapes to the Pagani Vineyard fruit to produce the 2004 David Noyes Tocai Friulano North Coast. The wine had a light straw color. The nose was fragrant with citrus and mineral aromas. The palate was slightly fizzy and well-structured, followed by a refreshing grapefruit finish. It was delicious with a baked halibut.

This is the first year that David Noyes has released a Pinot Noir blend from different Sonoma County vineyards and not only from the Dutton Ranch vineyard. For this wine, he used simpler winemaking techniques and a majority of Hungarian oak for aging, with 30% being new. I found the 2004 David Noyes Pinot Noir Sonoma County to be a lighter style California Pinot Noir and a good food-friendly wine. The wine had a forward nose with peppery and smoky aromas. On the palate, it was medium-bodied with earthy flavors and a good balanced finish.

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Friday, November 04, 2005

Dr Vino's Wine Bloggers Map

Check out our Wine Bloggers Frappr!I just added myself to the Wine Bloggers Frappr Map that Dr Vino created.

What a fun idea! Now, let's wait and see how many bloggers will add their balloon-shaped pushpin to the map, and where.

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Thursday, November 03, 2005

Lunch and wine tasting at Clos LaChance

For his wine club October meeting, our friend Arnaud proposed to have lunch at the Clos LaChance winery. It was a great idea. If you've never been to Clos LaChance and live in the Bay area, now is the perfect time to visit the place. The weather is still warm, the sunlight is getting softer, and the vineyard foliage has bright, fall colors.

Clos LaChance is located in San Martin, California, 20 miles south of San Jose. Its name comes from co-owner Brenda Murphy’s maiden name (LaChance), whereas Clos is a French word meaning a small fenced-in area encompassing a vineyard. The hummingbird was chosen as the winery's symbol because it's a beautiful bird and it can keep other birds away from the grapes.

Upon our arrival, we were directed to a large, south-facing terrace overlooking the estate vineyard and the Santa Cruz Mountains. On one of the tables, various wines - including some 2005 barrel samples - had been selected by Rick Toyota, Hospitality and Tasting Room Manager, and were waiting for us. Once the group was finally complete, we started snacking on the food that Arnaud had brought while Rick was pouring the wines. We enjoyed Rick's knowledgeable presentation of the wines and the additional details regarding the vineyard and the winemaking process.

The 80-acre estate vineyard was planted in 1999 after some extensive soil testing. The climate was found favorable as well: during the growing season, the site enjoys hot sunny days and cool ocean breezes in the evenings, which delays ripening and allows long hang time for the grapes. The land was originally covered with field-crops and high levels of fertilizers were used. The soil is now being slowly repaired with organic matters and the winery is moving toward sustainable farming.

Around 20 varietals were planted in the vineyard, including Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Viognier, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Rick explained that there is now more estate fruit available because the vines are getting older, and the need to buy grapes from external sources is decreasing.

Overall, I was pleased with the quality of the wines we tasted, especially their freshness and nice acidity. Here are my notes:

2005 Clos LaChance Estate Sauvignon Blanc (barrel sample): non filtered, pale color, intense grapefruit nose, fizzy and very crisp on the palate. Very promising.

2004 Clos LaChance Estate Sauvignon Blanc: 24% Sémillon, 70% fermented in stainless steel tanks, the rest in oak. Attractive white flower and citrus nose. Crisp and well-balanced on the palate.

2002 Clos LaChance Vanumanutagi Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains: the grapes came from the Vanumanutagi Ranch, named and owned by Fanny Stevenson, the widow of writer Robert Louis Stevenson. Vanumanutagi is a Samoan word, meaning valley of the singing birds. Each vineyard block is named after a Robert Louis Stevenson novel, including Treasure Island, Jekkyl and Hyde, and Kidnapped. Vinified in 100% oak barrels, this is a rich-style Chardonnay with oaky, tropical fruit and butterscotch flavors. Well-balanced with some nice acidity on the finish.

2003 Clos LaChance Estate Grenache: this wine may still need some aging. Fruit and pepper aromas on the nose but a little bit edgy on the palate.

2005 Clos LaChance Cabernet Sauvignon (barrel sample): very young baby wine. Very dark purple color. Peppery and sour.

2003 Clos LaChance Ruby Throated Cabernet Sauvignon: named after the ruby-throated hummingbird, which is a lovely tiny bird with a bright red throat. Berry fruits, complex, and elegant with a good tannin/acidity balance.

2003 Clos LaChance Estate Petite Sirah: A blockbuster of a wine, with a deep purple color, a lot of concentration and opulence.

2002 Clos LaChance Zinfandel El Dorado: bright ruby color, cooked fruit flavors, spicy and smooth finish.

We had a great relaxing time. The place seemed so peaceful. But suddenly, people started to be busy: the winery was hosting a wedding that evening. When we finally left, there were fresh flowers all around the terrace.

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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

WBW #15: Not a small challenge!

The fifteen edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday was proposed by Fatemeh of Gastronomie, and is about small production wines.

Well, thank you so much for giving us this challenge: finding a wine with a production of less than 250 cases! And there is a bonus if the producer's total production is under 1000 cases.

I decided to hunt for this rare bird at my local wine shop, Vino Locale, in Palo Alto. This is a friendly place that specializes in wines from the Santa Cruz Mountains. And there, I found what I was looking for: the 2001 Chaine d'Or Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Cruz Mountains (199 cases) from Chaine d'Or Vineyards (400 cases total production) (do I get a bonus then?)

Chaine d'Or Vineyards is a minuscule winery producing around 400 cases of wine a year in Woodside, at the heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The owners, Jerry and Anne Anderson, grow their own grapes in their two-plus acre vineyard, and sell their wines to their neighbors and members of the surrounding communities. With a farming and ranching background from his youth in Texas, Jerry is in charge of the vineyard. Anne, a graphic designer by profession, is in charge of the winery and is dedicated to a natural approach to winemaking.

The Chaine d'Or (Golden Chain) is actually the name that was given to the region by California winemakers more than one hundred years ago. They believed that the “lands of the Chaine d’Or had unsurpassed potential for the production of premium wines” (Like modern Edens by Charles L Sullivan)

The Chaine d'Or vineyard is at a location and elevation that place it within the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation. This is a cool mountain vineyard at the northern end of the appellation, where the coastal fog cools down the nights during summertime, and where the growing season is much longer than in the Napa Valley. The vineyard is just under two acres in size and is planted with approximately 50% Chardonnay, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, and smaller amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot that are used for blending. Both white and red wines are aged in French oak barrels; whites for about 9 months and reds for nearly two years.

The 2001 Chaine d'Or Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Cruz Mountains (199 cases) is primarily Cabernet Sauvignon with small quantities of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot to add complexity and smoothness to the wine. The wine is fermented with natural yeasts and then aged in 50% new barrels combined with one and two year old barrels. It recently won a Gold Medal at the 2005 Santa Cruz County Fair. I found the wine absolutely delicious. The color was dark purple, with an appealing nose of blackcurrants, pencil lead, and licorice. On the palate, it was full-bodied and smooth for its young age with polished tannins. The finish was well-balanced and elegant.

The winery also produces a Chardonnay. The Chardonnay grapes grow on a sunny hill at an altitude of 1400 feet above the fog. The grapes are fermented in Burgundian barrels and undergo malolactic fermentation. I found the 2004 Chaine d'Or Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains (200 cases) at Roberts Market in Woodside. I liked this wine a lot too. Showing a bright straw color, the wine had a fragrant, toasty, and nutty nose. The palate was medium-bodied and lively with notes of baked apple and butterscotch, followed by a clean and vibrant finish.

I have not been able to visit the winery yet. They are not open to the public and are not taking appointments during the harvest. But I am looking forward to eventually meeting the passionate Anne and Jerry Anderson.

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