Friday, December 26, 2008

The Widow Clicquot: it's delicious but you can read it too!

“Because of her willingness to take risks without fanfare, the Widow Clicquot became one of the most famous women of her area. For decade after decade, her name was heard on the lips of soldiers, princes, and poets as far away as Russia. Before long, tourists came looking for a glimpse of the woman whom the writer Prosper Mérimée once called the uncrowned queen of Reims. In the Champagne, she was known simply as La Grande Dame—The Great Lady.”
The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It

In 1798, Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin, the daughter of a prosperous Reims merchant marries François Clicquot, a textile merchant with a small wine business. But in 1805, François dies and Barbe-Nicole, now a widow, chooses to defy convention and take the reins of the fledgling wine business. After multiple political and financial reversals, she becomes one of the first great businesswomen and one of the richest women of her time.

This is a fascinating story about an audacious and intelligent woman, a bold risk taker, a daring and determined entrepreneur, the first woman in history to run an international commercial empire.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Find me on Facebook!

I just released a version of my Cellar Management application for Facebook.

If you're a Facebook user, ManageYourCellar for Facebook allows you to access our extensive database of wines and tasting notes, view and update your wine collection, rate wines, and this from within your Facebook account.

With ManageYourCellar for Facebook, it is easy to share your wine purchases and reviews with your friends, see which wines your friends have enjoyed recently, and get recommendations, as the application publishes stories displayed on the user's wall and friends' News Feeds when users buy, drink, or review wines.

So try it now and tell all your friends about it!

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

More on Thanksgiving leftovers: if you're ambitious, make a Turkey Mole

Two days after Thanksgiving, our friend and gifted cook Catherine was still full of energy and undertook the ambitious project to make a mole.

In Mexican Spanish, mole simply means sauce or mixture (like in guacamole, avocado mole) but in the US, mole usually refers to a specific sauce called Mole Poblano. Mole Poblano is a thick, rich, sweet sauce prepared with dried chile peppers, ground nuts, seeds, raisins, spices, and chocolate, and traditionally served with turkey. This is a recipe that requires long preparation times but the result is totally rewarding.

Mole mixture before being blended

Blended mole cooked with turkey stock

Now, what kind of wine can stand up to those strong, complex flavors? We tried a Zinfandel from Opolo Vineyards, a winery located in Paso Robles. Opolo co-owners Rick Quinn and Dave Nichols own about 280 acres of vineyards, most of them situated in the Adelaide range of the Santa Lucia Mountains. The name Opolo is a reference to Quinn's Yugoslavian heritage, and is actually the name of a blended rose-style wine found on the Dalmatian Coast.

The 2003 Opolo Mountain Zinfandel Paso Robles is a big, alcoholic wine (16.6% ABV) with a opulent, full-bodied mouthfeel and rich, sweet aromas of raisins and other dried fruits. Not the kind of wine that I would drink everyday, but with the mole, it made a interesting pairing.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

After Thanksgiving, what to do with the leftovers? A tortilla soup

Come Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and what do you do with all the leftovers? If you had saved some of the stock that you used for the gravy, you can make a tortilla soup, a tasty soup with vegetable, spices, and fried tortilla strips, which is served with diced cooked turkey, cheese, and avocado, and topped with chopped cilantro and a lime wedge.

It is never easy to choose a wine that goes well with Mexican food. Many would argue that beer should be the beverage of choice but I was pretty happy with the wine we had with the soup: a 2006 A Coroa Godello Valdeorras.

Valdeorras is located in the Galica region in northwestern Spain, close to the border with Portugal. The name, which means golden valley, refers to the fact that gold was mined there in ancient times.The climate is continental, characterised by hot summers and cold winters, with a long autumn season.

The local grape Godello is the rising star of Valdeorras. The white variety produces crisp, fresh, aromatic wines and new planting has been encouraged in the region in the last few years.

The wine had a light straw color and a fresh citrus nose. On the palate, it was fleshy and crisp with a mineral finish. Definitively, a wine with a distinguished personality.

Tortilla Soup

With leftovers from a garnet yams and marshmallows gratin, my daughter made some delicious sweet potato rolls.

Sweet Potato Rolls

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

More comfort food and a gorgeous Vacqueyras

It was getting cold outside and I was craving for something hearty and soothing. The answer was easy: Braised Pork Roast with Prunes and a bottle of 2001 Vacqueyras Domaine Le Sang des Cailloux Cuvée Lopy.

The Domaine Le Sang des Cailloux, which literally means blood of the stones, is a 17 hectare estate in Vacqueyras, a small appellation in the southern Rhône Valley not very far from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Almost 11 hectares are planted to Grenache with smaller plots of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault. The white grapes are Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Rousanne, and Viognier. The domaine is farmed using organic techniques. The cuvée Lopy refers to the name of the farm where the winemaker was raised. The blend is 75% 65 year old Grenache and 25% 40 year old Syrah.

The 2001 Cuvée Lopy had a dense, dark color and a sweet, forward nose of black fruits. On the palate, it was rich, luscious, silky with a long lasting finish. And absolutely sensational with the prunes.

My braised pork with prunes (and potatoes)

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Second Guess The Wine tasting party

Earlier this fall, we had our second annual Guess the Wine tasting party where guests are asked to identify the varietal, region, and vintage of the wine. To add to the fun and ensure that the tasting was completely blind, each wine was transferred beforehand into a completely random bottle. That evening, we tasted 6 different single varietal wines from different regions including Australia, California, France, and New Zealand. Here they are:

• 2006 Pouilly Fuissé Les Folles Vieilles Vignes Domaine des Nembrets: located in the south of Burgundy, Pouilly-Fuissé is one of the best known appellation of the Mâconnais. It is a white only appellation producing wines from the Chardonnay grape. Domaine des Nembrets is a tiny estate west of the town of Mâcon. The wine is made from 50 year old vines from a south-west facing vineyard called Les Folles. Grass is left to grow on the vineyard to force the roots of the vines to dig into the deep topsoil. The wine is fermented and aged in 100% stainless steel. My notes: light golden color, peach, tropical aromas on the nose, light to medium-bodied, good acidity on the palate, grapefruit notes and minerality on the finish. Because of its crispness and minerality, some guests identified the wine as a Sauvignon Blanc.

• 2006 Georges Vernay Viognier Le Pied de Samson: the Domaine Georges Vernay is a 16 hectare family owned winery with vineyards mostly in the Condrieu and Côte Rotie appellations. Georges Vernay (now retired) is renowned for having almost single-handedly resuscitated the Condrieu appellation as well as Viognier the local grape. The cuvée called Le Pied de Samson comes from vines growing on the upper slopes of Condrieu (above 300 meters), an area excluded from the appellation because of the elevation. The wine is aged in stainless steel vats. My notes: light yellow color, fragrant nose of litchi fruit and rose petal, fat mouthfeel with fresh raspberry notes on the palate, spicy finish. Not everybody was familiar with the Viognier grape but those who had tasted it before were able to recognize it.

• 2006 Amisfield Pinot Noir: Amisfield is a New Zealand producer of Pinot Noir, aromatic whites and sparkling wines. It is located in Central Otago, the most southerly wine producing region in the world where Pinot noir is the leading grape variety (approximatively 70% of plantings). The estate consists of 60 hectares of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. My notes: medium red color, raspberry, vanilla on the nose, medium-bodied on the palate with some acidity, rather short finish, slightly disappointing. Many guests were confused about the wine and few identified it as a Pinot Noir.

• 2001 Joseph Swan Zinfandel Mancini Ranch Russian River Valley: located in California's Russian River Valley, Joseph Swan Vineyards is a small family-owned winery specialized in vineyard designated Pinot Noir and old vine Zinfandel. The Mancini Ranch vineyard was planted in the early 1920's on the Santa Rosa plain of the Russian River Valley. Although the majority of the vineyard is Zinfandel, it is interplanted in the old traditional Italian style with a mix of varietals. My notes: red-brick color, attractive floral nose with notes of cinnamon, medium-bodied on the palate with complex berry flavors. Some guests mistaken it for a Pinot Noir. Personally, this was one of my favorite wines of the evening.

• 2005 Buehler Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley: Buehler Vineyards is another small family-owned winery located in the mountains east of St. Helena in Napa Valley. The Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from grapes grown on hillside estate-owned vineyards (35%) blended with grapes from other Napa Valley vineyards located on the valley floor. My notes: deep garnet color, blackberry and plum aromas on the nose, medium bodied plate with a good balance between acidity and tannins, tasty fruity finish. A very good wine but not showy, which is what confounded some of the guests.

• 2005 Kurtz Family Vineyards Boundary Row Shiraz Barossa Valley: Kurtz Family Vineyards is located in the Barossa Valley, South Australia. The name Boundary Row refers to the fact that vineyards in the Barossa Valley traditionally have no fence lines to divide the properties between neighbors. Instead, a Boundary Row is planted and the yield from this row is shared. The wine consists of 5 different blocks that were picked and fermented at differing times. My notes: dark and deep color, ripe fruit and pepper on the nose, full-bodied and warm on the palate, notes of eucalyptus on the finish. This was maybe the easiest wine to recognize.

For the second year in the row, our host Jean won again, with our friend Marcus in second place. Now, is Jean going to win again next year? Stay posted! Meanwhile, for our next tasting event, we'll be tasting some Pinot Noir.

Previous wine club tastings:
•  Wine and Cheese pairing
•  Champagne Tasting
•  Tasting the wines of South America

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Back to Basics: Lasagna and Chianti

For me, lasagna is the ultimate autumn comfort food: hot from the oven, soft, creamy, cheesy, and topped with a rich tomato sauce. Now try lasagna with a good Chianti, like the stylish 2005 Rocca di Montegrossi Chianti Classico. That's what we did the other night.

Although Rocca di Montegrossi is a relatively new name, it's already a respected quality Chianti producer located in the picturesque town of Gaiole in Chianti in the province of Siena.

The 2005 Rocca di Montegrossi Chianti Classico has a deep color and aromas of sweet ripe fruits on the nose. On the palate, the wine is medium-bodied, juicy, round and well-balanced with some mineral character on the finish. Definitively a truly pleasurable complement to the lasagna.

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Marsanne Roussanne Blend from Cline Cellars

In 1991, Fred Cline and his wife Nancy relocated their winery from Oakley, Contra Costa County, to the Carneros region where Fred pioneered the planting of Rhône varietals including Syrah, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne. Fred chose to farm his vineyards naturally and sustainably using organic cover crops, compost teas, crushed volcanic rock and oyster shell, natural mined sulfur and sheep grazing.

The Marsanne used in the blend comes from four acres planted on the winery's Carneros estate. Marsanne is a white grape variety commonly found in the Rhône Valley where it most likely originated. With Syrah and Roussanne, it is one of the three varietals permitted in the Hermitage appellation. This was the first planting of Marsanne in the region. The blend has also a smaller amount of Roussanne from Cline's Sonoma Coast vineyards near Petaluma. The wine is fermented in stainless steel to preserve fruitiness and freshness.

The 2007 Cline Marsanne Roussanne Los Carneros was the wine I brought as I was invited with some good friends for lunch. Our host had cooked a sumptuous meal starting with a soft-boiled egg topped with whipped cream and salmon roe, followed by a Baked Pork Tenderloin in Pastry with Provencal Vegetable Gratin, and ending with a Grapefruit and Champagne Granité.

I think the wine did a pretty good job with the food. Showing a bright golden color, it had aromas of ripe pear and apple on the nose. The palate was round and mellow with some juicy acidity and a mineral finish.

soft-boiled egg topped with whipped cream and salmon roe, baked pork tenderloin in pastry, and Provencal vegetable gratin

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Can we improve our sense of smell?

“Can you train your nose?” inquires wine writer Natasha Hughes in the November edition of Decanter Magazine. Moreover, can people that professionally rely on their sense of smell accurately identify aromas outside their field of expertise? Three experts, a sommelier, a tea buyer, and a perfumier, were put to the test with tea, wine, and perfume samples.

The sommelier, Mathieu Gaignon, doesn't think he was born with extrordinary skills. “I believe the sense of smell is one you can train,” he says. “The trick is to find a way of associating an image with a particular smell.” For him, detecting the aromas of the perfume samples was easier than for the tea samples, which were more subtle, although he ended up with the same score for the tea as for the wine.

The tea buyer, Edward Eisler, “learned about tea just by being interested in it.” “When you're focused and you drink a lot of tea, you can pick up the subtleties,” he says. Although he acknowledged not being into perfume, he got the top score for the perfume and tea samples.

The perfumier, Linda Pilkington, was never formally trained, although she admits that perfume bottles was a childhood obsession. For her, the way we interpret aromas is personal. “Sometimes a smell reminds you of something personal to you, and it does not smell like that to someone else, ” she says. She thought that the aromas of the tea samples were the hardest to capture.

My conclusion is that our sense of smell should benefit from regular exercise. So next time you pour yourself a glass of wine, close your eyes, sniff, and enjoy!

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Friday, October 17, 2008

I am glad we had the Popes in Avignon

Because the popes were great wine lovers, they did much to promote local viticulture and winemaking while the Papacy was located in Avignon. Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which means New Castle of the Pope is a wine district a few miles north of Avignon that has become the most renowned appellation in the southern Rhône Valley. It is also a small town with a 14th-century castle that was build by Pope John XXII as a summer residence.


Local winegrowers have traditionally planted different grape varieties to enhance their wines and improve quality. So for this reason, the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation allows thirteen grape varieties. Red wines are usually blends of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre and to a lesser extend, Cinsault, Counoise, Muscardin, Terret Noir, and Vaccarèse. White varieties include Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Roussanne, Bourboulenc, Picpoul Blanc, and Picardan (Grenache and Picpoul may be used both in the red and white versions so the actual number of allowed varieties is in fact fifteen).

The Domaine de Marcoux is one of my favorite Châteauneuf-du-Pape producers. It is also one of the oldest properties with family vineyards dating back to 1344. It is run today by the two sisters, Catherine Armenier and Sophie Estevenin. The property that includes 10 acres of 95 year-old-vines, is farmed biodynamically.

I recenty opened a bottle of their 2001 vintage. The wine exhibited fragrant aromas of sweet fruit compote. On the palate, it was concentrated and full with more ripe black fruit flavors and spices, leaving a lasting impression of harmony and balance. What a pleasure! Next time, try a Châteauneuf-du-Pape with a lamb stew with figs and olives.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A rich wine from Oakville, in the heart of Napa Valley

Located north of the town of Yountville in the Oakville AVA, Beckstoffer Vineyard X is a 45 acres vineyard planted to multiple clones of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in deep and well-drained soils. It was purchased in 1996 by Andy Beckstoffer, one of the most important grape growers in California. With vineyards in Napa Valley, Mendocino and Lake County, the family owned Beckstoffer Vineyards delivers over 10,000 tons of fruit annually to more than 50 wineries.

Beckstoffer Vineyard X

With fruits sourced from Beckstoffer Vineyard X Merryvale Vineyards produces a single vineyard 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2001 Merryvale Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer Vineyard X was their second release. The wine went through native yeast fermentation, was aged 18 months in 100% French oak and was bottled unfiltered.

When we tasted the wine the other night, it was opaque and dark with a lot of black fruit on the nose. On the palate, it was dense with lot of weight. However, I found the wine much too big to accompany our usual dinner fare. Actually, I would rather recommend the more balanced Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from the same winery.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Bordeaux wine: it has everything and nothing more

I was not sure what to expect the other night when I opened a bottle of 1998 Château d'Aiguilhe. It is a Côtes de Castillon, an appellation next to Saint-Emilion that had the reputation to produce rather rustic wines, although of good value. Located on hills overlooking the Right Bank of the Dordogne River, Château d'Aiguilhe is one of the oldest estate in the region. Its sun-facing vineyards have excellent natural drainage with thin clay soils over a limestone base. In 1998, the estate was acquired by Stephan von Neipperg of Château Canon La Gaffelière. Since then, a new modern cellar has been built and new vines have been planted.

Although the 1998 vintage didn't benefit from these costly investments, the wine was absolutely delicious. A blend of 80 percent Merlot and 20 percent Cabernet Franc, it showed a deep garnet color with a hint of orange at the rim. The nose was peppery with aromas of sweet berries. On the palate, it was medium-bodied with notes of earth, blackberry, and cocoa, and a rather lengthy finish.

That reminded me of that quote from Jean-Bernard Delmas, chief winemaker at Château Haut-Brion, that I read recently. “Le Bordeaux: il a tout et rien de plus.” (The Bordeaux: it has everything and nothing more).

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Banyuls and dark chocolate, a winning parnership

What do you do when your daughter bake a dark, rich, full flavored chocolate layer cake? You simply open a bottle of Banyuls — certainly the best partner for chocolate — to enjoy with the cake.

Our Banyuls was the 2003 Banyuls Rimage Les Clos des Paulilles, produced by the Dauré family, a well established winemaking family in the Roussillon region. With breathtaking views of the Baie des Paulilles, Les Clos des Paulilles is located just north of the Franco-Spanish border and produces wines from both the Collioure and Banyuls appellations.

The Banyuls Rimage (which means vintage in Catalan) is made from Grenache Noir grown in red schist soils. Grapes are hand-selected and then destemmed. Fermentation is stopped by addition of grape spirit, then the wine continues to macerate on the skins for a few weeks before being aged in tanks.

The wine exhibited a dark garnet color and aromas of prunes and candied fruits. On the palate, it was sweet but not cloying, with a light to medium body and a long aftertaste of dried figs and raisins. The cake recipe was from the Scharffen Berger book The Essence of Chocolate and called for 100% unsweetened cocoa for the cake and the frosting.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Chardonnay: The antithesis of a White Rhone Blend

For Tablas Creek Vineyard, a Paso Robles winery founded by the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel and importer Robert Haas, making a Chardonnay seems like the antithesis of the winery's mission: the production of wines based on Rhone varietals, inspired by the centuries-old traditions of Châteauneuf-du-Pape

So why producing a Chardonnay at Tablas Creek? Here is the story: in the early 1990s, as the Haas and Perrin families started importing Rhone varietal cuttings from Château de Beaucastel, a Sonoma winery requested a highly regarded clone of Chardonnay from Burgundy called La Vineuse. 1.5 acres were planted with the Chardonnay clone to get enough bud wood for sale. But three years later, the harvested fruit was so compelling that Tablas Creek decided to bottle that non-Rhone varietal, calling it Antithesis. Since that day, a small amount of Antithesis Chardonnay is produced every year.

Now, how is the wine? The 2004 Tablas Creek Antithesis shows a bright golden color and a pleasant nose of apple, pear, and spices. On the palate, it is medium-bodied with a creamy mouthfeel, leaving an aftertaste of brown sugar and spiced pear compote. The wine is well balanced and not oaky and buttery at all. Enjoy it with a creamy Asparagus Risotto.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Dear friends and gorgeous wines

When our friends Marie-Claire and Gérard visited us this summer, they didn't come empty-handed. They brought with them three distinctive wines that they wanted to share with us: a red from the Gaillac region made from the almost extinct grape variety Prunelard, a 1995 Hermitage La Chapelle, and a Rivesaltes Ambré from Domaine Cazes. This became an excuse to invite a few additional guests —who were asked to bring their own favorite bottles— for a special wine tasting dinner at our place. So here are the wines that we tasted, the highlights of the evening being the elegant 1995 Hermitage Paul Jaboulet Ainé La Chapelle and the beautifully aged 1991 Groth Cabernet Sauvignon

First, with the appetizers:

• 2003 Domaine Plageoles Prunelard. The Gaillac region, which lies some fifty kilometers northeast of Toulouse is one of the oldest wine growing regions in France. Robert et Bernard Plageoles are energetic winemakers from Gaillac that are committed to reviving the region's obscure varietals rather than using better known and more accessible grapes. This wine is 100% Prunelard, an almost extinct grape variety. My notes: medium red color, plummy flavors with herbal and wild berry notes, light to medium-bodied, good acidity.

• 2005 Adelsheim Pinot Noir Ribbon Springs Vineyard, brought by our friends Jiyon and Mike. Established in 1971, Adelsheim Vineyard is a family-owned and operated winery situated in Oregon's northern Willamette Valley. The Ribbon Springs Vineyard is located on the Ribbon Ridge spur of the Chehalem Mountains on southeast facing slopes, at an elevation of 500 feet. My notes: medium red color, bright pinot nose of sweet fruit, medium-bodied, well-balanced, with smoky, peppery notes.

Now, with the Bœuf Bourguignon:

• 1995 Hermitage Paul Jaboulet Ainé La Chapelle. The name of Hermitage La Chapelle refers to the little chapel of Saint-Christophe overlooking the terraced vineyards along the Rhône. These vineyards has been owned by Paul Jaboulet Ainé since 1919. The wine is a blend of the best terroirs, including the prestigious hillsides of Méal and Bessards. Each one provides its own aromatic characteristics, giving the wine great ageing potential. My notes: orange-brick color, delicately perfumed nose, aromas of fading fruits and spices with flowery notes, medium-bodied, soft tannins.

• 1991 Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, brought by our friend Jamie. Groth Vineyards & Winery was established in 1982. The winery is family owned and operated and specializes in the production of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay from Napa Valley's Oakville AVA. My notes: cassis and clove on the nose, medium to full-bodied, smooth and complex on the palate, lengthy, aromatic finish. This is a wine that has aged beautifully.

Then, with the cheese (hard cheese only!):

• 2003 Miner Family The Oracle Napa Valley Red Wine, from my cellar. This is Miner Family Vineyards relatively new signature wine inspired by Greek Mythology. It is a Bordeaux blend sourced from Napa Valley's renowned Stagecoach Vineyard. In 2003, the blend was 52% Cabernet Sauvignon; 31% Merlot; 17% Cabernet Franc. My notes: dark color, black fruits and vanilla nose, full-bodied, plush flavors on the palate, lenghty finish.

Last but not least, with Jiyon's nectarine pie:

• 1995 Rivesaltes Ambré Domaine Cazes. Domaine Cazes is a 200 hectares estate located at the heart of the Roussillon region in the Rivesaltes appellation. For the last ten years Cazes has been using new viticulture methods based on Biodynamics. The Rivesaltes Ambré is a 100% White Grenache fortified wine aged oxidatively in wood for seven years. My notes: deep amber color, aromatic nose of dried fruit, sweet and ample on the palate with long lasting notes of walnut and toffee.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Wine Tasting at Ridge Vineyards

After our visit to Cinnabar, we took the windy Monte Bello road up to Ridge Vineyards. This was a Saturday and the tasting room was very busy but luckily, we found a good spot at the bar and a friendly staff that knowledgeably answered all our questions. We decided to take the $10 Summer Wine Series and tasted the following 6 wines.

Vineyards at the top of Monte Bello Road

2006 Carignane Buchignani: 100% Carignane from Sonoma County. Dark wine, tight and concentrated, rather overwhelming for me.

2006 Ridge Zinfandel Ponzo Vineyard: 95% Zinfandel, 5% Petite Sirah from the Ponzo Vineyard in the Russian River Valley. The Russian River Valley's cooler microclimate ripens this wine shortly after Lytton Springs and Geyserville. Berry on the nose, nice complexity on the palate, long earthy finish.

2005 Ridge Lytton Springs: 77% Zinfandel, 17% Petite Sirah, 6% Carignane from Ridge's Lytton Springs vineyard. Fruitier than the Ponzo, rich aromas on the palate, juicy, tasty.

2002 Ridge Syrah Lytton Estate: 76% Syrah, 21% Grenache, 3% Carignane from Ridge's Lytton Estate. Young Syrah vines. Dark color, black berries on the nose, good acidity.

2002 Ridge Syrah II Lytton Estate: 76% Syrah, 22% Grenache, 2% Viognier. Older vines, more pepper and fruit, some tannins but well balanced. Excellent

2005 Ridge Syrah Lytton West: 94% Syrah, 6% Viognier from the West side of the Lytton Estate. Aromatic nose, concentrated, rich.
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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

2007 Cinnabar Rosé: a taste of Provence in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Last weekend, with some good friends visiting from France, we decided to taste some local wines in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Our first stop was the roomy Cinnabar tasting room in the quaint village of Saratoga.

One of the best wines we tasted was the 2007 Cinnabar Rosé Paso Robles, a 100% Valdiguié wine from the French Camp Vineyards in Paso Robles. Valdiguié is a not particularly well-renowned red varietal that originates from the South of France and has been known as Gamay Beaujolais or Napa Gamay in California. According to the Cinnabar winery website, “Valdiguie is well served by the growing conditions of French Camp Vineyards. The arid climate buffers vines from rot and mildew while the high elevation intensifies the fruitiness of the grapes and brightens their acidity.”. The wine is lightly filtered and bottled with screw cap closures to retain freshness. In the glass, it displayed an eye-catching salmon-pink color and a nose of red berries, citrus and a touch of honey. The palate was dry and crisp but with a pleasant glycerin feel. Overall, I would have easily mistaken it for a Côtes de Provence.

The other wines we tasted were pretty good too and remarkably affordable:
2006 Cinnabar Mercury Rising Blanc: aromatic nose, crisp, medium-bodied on the palate, creamy mouthfeel, herbs and bitter orange peel on the finish.

2005 Cinnabar Mercury Rising: black color, red fruit on the nose, good acidity, well crafted.

2005 Cinnabar Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley: ripe fruit on the nose, full bodied, well balanced, although 15% alcohol.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Wine made in Tahiti, can you believe it?

It's not a joke and here is the story: we just spent a week in the paradisiac island of Bora-Bora and on the very first day of our stay, we were lucky to attend a small wine tasting event. Surprisingly, the tasting was about Polynesian wine.

Making wine in French Polynesia seems like a crazy idea but that was a dream that entrepreneur Dominique Auroy was able to realize after a decisive meeting with Bernard Hudelot, a viticulturist in Burgundy and professor at the University of Dijon.

It took several years of research to successfully grow vines in French Polynesia. The project started in 1992 when the first grapevines were brought from Europe to Polynesia where they faced many challenges including weather and soil acclimation, and problems associated with high humidity, diseases and insects. Different locations and soil types were tested for the project. At the end, the best growing conditions were found in atolls thanks to their coral-rich soils and salty sea breezes.

Today, the wine is produced on the atoll of Rangiroa, 355 km (220 miles) from Tahiti, the main island of French Polynesia. The vineyard is located on a motu (or small islet), in the middle of a coconut grove, between a tropical lagoon on one side and the Pacific ocean on the other side. Because there is no cold season and no latency period, there are two harvests per year. The grapes are brought to the winery on the main island by boat.

More than thirty different grape varieties have been tested in order to identify which ones would successfully adapt to the particular soil and climate of the island. At the end, only three varieties were selected: Carignan, Black Muscat or Muscat de Hamburg, and Italia, a Muscat-derived white variety. These three are now used to respectively produce a red, rosé, and white wine.

Honestly, this is an interesting story but I was not convinced by the Polynesian wine. The white, which I think was the best of the lot, was rather dry, aromatic, lacking acidity on the palate, but overall pleasant. The rosé had an intense fruity nose with aromas of strawberry candy and a rather soft palate. The red was obviously oxidized and not really drinkable. Maybe the bottle had been exposed to heat or maybe this was what the wine was supposed to taste.

On the other hand, Hinano, the beer from Tahiti was absolutely delicious, especially after a snorkeling trip to the coral garden!

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Try something different: a Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi

If you're like me, you may not be too familiar with the Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC, although it is the leading appellation in The Marche, a region of gentle rolling hills in Central Italy located between the Adriatic and the Apennines mountains.

Verdicchio is a white grape variety of ancient origin and has been cultivated in the Marches region since the 1300s. The name comes from the word verde, which means green, due to its slightly green-yellow color. We recently tried a 2006 Bucci Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico. The wine had a light yellow color and a fresh nose of sweet apple and pear. On the palate, it was light-bodied, nutty, with mineral notes on the finish. In short, the perfect summer sipper. Try it with a plate of Spaghetti alle Vongole and imagine you're in one of these seaside resorts on the Adriatic coast.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Winemaking step #10: bottling

Last week was the last step of our winemaking journey: bottling. We first had to decide that our Inkgrade Cabernet was ready: dark purple color — actually noir d'encre, or black as ink, like the name on the label —, impressive nose of currants and blackberries, definitively tannic on the palate, some good acidity, long finish. “That's obviously a wine that is going to age well” acknowledged Crushpad winemaker Camille Benitah who was tasting the final version of the wine with us.

Then we moved to the bottling area where cases of double magnums were waiting for us. Yes, my friend Rick wanted most of his share of the barrel in double magnums! “Double magnums are great for aging,” he explained, “and what a treat when you open one in front of your guests!” (if you have any doubts about large size bottles, read this piece). The only problem was that these bottles were too big for the bottling equipment therefore filing and corking had to be done by hand. This process was rather time consuming and unfortunately, we had to leave before the end.

Bottling equipment for standard size bottles and magnums only

Filling the double magnums

Inserting a wine cork

We are now moving into the next stage: resting and aging. I foresee that this one will last for a while.

Related posts:
•  Winemaking step #9: fining
•  Winemaking step #8: blending
•  Winemaking step #7: barrel tasting
•  Winemaking step #6: after the malolactic fermentation
•  Winemaking step #5: pressing the wine
•  Winemaking step #4: getting ready for the pressing
•  Winemaking step #3: monitoring the fermentation
•  Winemaking step #2: inoculation of the must
•  Crushing at Crushpad
•  2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Ink Grade Vineyard Howell Mountain

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

WBW #47: A Spicerack Sonoma Syrah Brought To You By The Letter S

This is the July edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday and it has been brought to us by Erin and Michelle of the Grape Juice blog. And this time, we've been asked to be a kid again, to regress a little bit into our childhood, and think outside the box! So today's wine has been brought to you by the letter S.

No, I am not Silly and here is my S wine: the 2006 Spicerack Punchdown Syrah Sonoma Coast. Spicerack is a project from Marin winemakers Jonathan and Susan Pey of Scenic Root Winegrowers. The wine comes from two low-yielding, Sustainable farmed, cool climate vineyards in the Sonoma Coast appellation. The name reflects the many times the cap was punched down during fermentation. After that, only neutral oak barrels were used for aging.

The wine has a Serious dark color and a Spicy, peppery nose of Sweet fruit. With a reasonable level of alcohol (13.2%), the palate is Super Smooth with a Somewhat Solid Structure. Smoky, I wouldn't say, rather Savory, perfect anyway with Some Spiced Lamb Chops With Cucumber-Mint Sauce.

Previous WBW posts:
•  WBW #45: Old World Riesling, awesome!
•  WBW #44: can Chinon wines age?
•  WBW #43: 2004 Chinon Domaine de la Noblaie Les Chiens-Chiens, a comfort wine

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Michael Broadbent and the Dance of the Seven Veils

I wish I could write as eloquently as Michael Broadbent, the British wine critic. Take his latest contribution to Decanter magazine in the July issue where he writes about a 1985 Lafite tasted at a recent dinner. His style is simply inimitable:

“Initially unassuming but beautifully balanced, surprisingly deep, though not too New World deep, its bouquet unfurled. On the palate too, like the Dance of the Seven Veils, layers of flavour were revealed, finally reaching perfection. Modestly titillating but not erotic.”

I just love his regular column in Decanter. It's usually the first piece that I read as soon as I receive the magazine and now I can't wait for the August issue. By the way, I also wished I was there when he tasted that 1985 Lafitte.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

From the Miner Family: 2005 Syrah La Diligence Stage Coach Vineyard

Miner Family Vineyards is a small Napa Valley family-owned winery, well known for producing a portfolio of high-end wines. The winery has recently introduced a new label called La Diligence, actually a joint project between Miner and Domaine François Villard. François Villard is a young vintner from the Northern Rhône Valley and renowned for producing exceptional Viogniers and Syrahs from the Condrieu and Côte-Rôtie appellations. The name of the wine refers to this Franco-Californian joint venture: Diligence means Stagecoach in French

With over 500 acres planted, Stagecoach Vineyard is one of the largest vineyards in Napa Valley. The land stretches between the Oakville and the Atlas Peak appellations, from an elevation of 900' climbing to over 1700'. The location is unique thanks to the cool morning fog that rolls off the hills during the summer, and a rocky, volcanic, well-drained soil. The vineyard is planted primarily to Cabernet Sauvignon, with Syrah and Malbec on south and west facing slopes, and small plantings of Viognier and Marsanne found in rocky, thin soiled areas.

The 2005 Miner Family Syrah La Diligence Stage Coach Vineyard had a dark, purple color and aromas of sweet black fruit on the nose. The palate was full-bodied, rich, woody, with a long cocoa/moka finish. The wine was remarkably tasty, although a little too young. We served it with a Cocoa-Chili-Rubbed Chicken dish, which was actually a great combination.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Winemaking step #9: fining

Earlier this week, we had another meeting with Crushpad chief winemaker Mike Zitzlaff. The objective was to determine the appropriate amount of egg white in order to remove the proper amount of bitter tannins in our wine. We had learned at our previous meeting that the albumin contained in the egg white was particularly effective at removing aggressive tannins without affecting the other desirable flavors of the wine.

This time, Michael had prepared three samples with three different dosages: the first one had 1 gram of egg white per 1 liter of wine, the next one 0.8 gram per 1 liter, and the last one 0.6 gram per 1 liter.

Tasting these samples was eye-opening: the first one seemed to have lost most of its body — too much egg white —, the third one had a harsh finish — not enough egg white —, and like Goldilocks finding Baby Bear's porridge, we found that the second one was just right.

Everybody was happy with the 0.8 dosage, which means that we could move forward with the fining. And then, the wine will be ready for the next and final stage: bottling!

Related posts:
•  Winemaking step #8: blending
•  Winemaking step #7: barrel tasting
•  Winemaking step #6: after the malolactic fermentation
•  Winemaking step #5: pressing the wine
•  Winemaking step #4: getting ready for the pressing
•  Winemaking step #3: monitoring the fermentation
•  Winemaking step #2: inoculation of the must
•  Crushing at Crushpad
•  2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Ink Grade Vineyard Howell Mountain

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Wine service: the best of times and the worst of times

Sometime ago, a friend of mine sent me a New York Times op-ed piece called Of Wine, Haste and Religion. It's a witty article about wine service at restaurants that definitively related to me.

“Why wine glasses, even at fine New York tables, get filled almost to the brim, and refilled to that unseemly level, every time you're distracted from Second Amendment-authorized armed guard of your receptacle,” wonders the author. Exactly! How often do I have to prevent the waitperson from overfilling my glass? I think large wine glasses shouldn't be more than about 1/3 full to allow enough space in the glass to aerate the wine. Moreover, the wine is going to warm up much more quickly in the glass than in the bottle.

And there is more: “Just as you prepare to dab bread into the unctuous leftover sauce from those slide-from-the-bone short ribs, the plate vanishes. The fact that others around the table may still be eating — and to be without a plate is to feel naked in such circumstances — does not trouble the stealthy masters of this Houdini routine.” We know this one too well: while I am a slow eater, my husband is always the first to finish his plate. How he hates it when the plate disappears without notice.

But honestly, not all our restaurant experiences are bad. Just last night for example, we had dinner at a local Italian restaurant. This is a place where the food is good but red wines are usually served way too warm. So we were prepared and right away, asked our waiter to chill our bottle of Amarone in an ice bucket. He graciously followed our directions and by the time our plates arrived, the wine was at perfect serving temperature.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Italian Wine Tasting

This was the annual wine tasting and fundraising dinner for the Band and Orchestra department of our school. For the event, I had prepared a selection of wines that I thought would best showcase the wide diversity of the Italian production. We started with two whites and some antipasti, followed by four reds served with beef braised in wine and a cheese platter. Finally, a sweet passito wine and an almond and apricot cake ended the dinner and an extremely enjoyable evening.

The wines we tasted:

• 2006 Ermacora Tocai Friulano: Tocai Friulano is a white grape native to the Friuli region of Northeastern Italy. The wine is produced by Azienda Agricola Ermacora, a small family owned winery in the Colli Orientali del Friuli district, just a few miles from the Slovenian border. My notes: light yellow color, ripe pear and sugar cane aromas on the nose, fresh acidity on the palate, mineral finish. Great with Prosciutto con Melone.

• 2006 Malvirá Roero Arneis Renesio: Arneis is a rare and, until recently, almost extinct white grape cultivated in the Roero area of the Piedmont wine region. Malvirá is a small family estate in Roero. The name Malvirá relates to the former location of the winery, which faced north instead of south: mal stands for wrong and virá for situated. My notes: straw color, flowery nose. Slightly fizzy at first, the wine has more body and complexity than the Tocai Friulano. Really good.

• 2005 Vietti Barbera d'Alba Tre Vigne: the Vietti family has been making wines in Piedmont's Barolo region since the middle of the 19th Century. The Barbera d'Alba Tre Vigne comes from 35 year-old Barbera vines sourced from three estate vineyards in Monforte, Barolo and Castiglione Falletto. My notes: bright red color, spices and black cherry on the nose, juicy on the palate, extremely well balanced and food friendly. Very good with the braised beef.

• 2005 Morgante Nero d'Avola: Nero d'Avola is one of the main indigenous grapes of Sicily. The wine is produced by Morgante, a winery located in the province of Agrigento, on the southern coast of Sicily. The property has 200 hectares of vineyards and almond trees growing at 300-500 meters above sea level. My notes: plum and prune on the nose with some dried herbs notes, savory and creamy on the palate, cinnamon and moka on the finish. Tasted wonderful with braised beef as well.

• 2005 Bibi Graetz Grilli di Testamatta: Testamatta means hot head and Bibi Graetz, an artist that has become a winemaker, makes his wines in a powerful style. This Super Tuscan is a classic Tuscan blend of 80% Sangiovese, 10% Colorino, 10% Canaiolo. My notes: dark color, rich berry nose, dense on the palate. Still very young, needs more cellaring time.

• 2004 Cesari Amarone della Valpolicella Classico: Amarone is a unique red wine from the Valpollicella wine region, in the province of Verona. It is made of grapes (usually a blend of Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara) traditionally dried on straw mats. This drying process, which typically lasts 3 months, concentrates the juices within the grape and intensifies the flavors. My notes: dark color, nose of sweet plum, rich and spicy on the palate with notes of cinnamon, long finish, perfectly well balanced and really good with aged Parmesan cheese. Perhaps my favorite red wine of the evening.

• 2004 Colosi Malvasia delle Lipari Passito: Malvasia delle Lipari is produced in the Lipari Island, the largest of the Eolian Islands. It is made from overripe Malvasia grapes that are then sun-dried for 10 to 15 days on large bamboo mats. My notes: deep golden color, aromatic muscat-like nose, luscious palate with a vibrant acidity. Superb with the almond and apricot cake.

We all had such a great time and were ready to meet again next year for another Band and Orchestra fundraising dinner. As for the theme, the decision was unanimous: Spanish wines. Not a problem for me, Spanish wines are awesome!

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