Friday, March 26, 2010

Funny Math

A dialog reported by wine writer Dan Berger in his latest weekly newsletter.

Two wine lovers have dinner and wine together.

So what's this?
A 1993 Harlan Cabernet.
Really? Well, that probably cost you something.
Yeah, well, I had to try it.

Both men then try the wine.

So what do you know about it?
It got a 95 from Parker.
Oh, really? A 95, huh? Well, that's pretty good.
Sure is a good score. I think it's probably more like a 92, but he probably liked it more than I do.
Yeah, probably 92. Maybe 93.
It's pretty good.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tasting some new releases from St. Francis Winery

While we were staying at the ski cabin with friends this weekend, we tasted a couple of newly released wines from St. Francis Winery & Vineyards that delicious life PR had sent me.

Located in Kenwood at the northern end of Sonoma Valley, St. Francis winery produces big, full-bodied wines from a variety of vineyards through out Sonoma County. What I particularly appreciate about St. Francis is the fact that since 2004, the winery is engaged in serious green and sustainable practices, including the installation of solar panels on the roof of the winery, the use of electric cart for the maintenance crews, water conservation programs in the vineyard and the winery, and several recycling programs. “With success comes responsibility to future generations who will live and work here as well”, says Christopher Silva, President & CEO of the winery on the company's website. “Engaging in green practices is the right thing to do, which makes it the right way to run a business.

We first tasted the 2006 St. Francis Merlot Sonoma County with a assortment of country pâté and cheese. The wine is a blend of valley and mountain grown grapes, hand harvested and aged in American and French oak barrels for 23 months. Showing a dark red color, the wine had aromas of sweet blackberry and vanilla on the nose. On the palate, it was full-bodied and still young and tannic with a pleasant lingering finish of spices, pepper and earthy flavors. The wine was good with the pâté but the best match was with the surprisingly sweet (for the season) strawberries that we had for dessert.

The other wine was the 2007 St. Francis Old Vines Zinfandel Sonoma County. This “Old Vines” blend is made of grapes from at least 50 year old dry-farmed vines with many as old as one hundred years old. These vines come from small family-owned plots dating from the early 20th century and planted with a field blend of Zinfandel intermixed with some Petite Sirah and Alicante Bouschet. The grapes are hand-picked and aged in new American oak barrels for twelve to fifteen months.

The wine had a deep color and a nose of red berry and citrus. On the palate, it was full-bodied, strong, and sweet, with floral and sour cherry notes. It was a good accompaniment to our Pasta Bolognese, especially after I added a handful of black olives to the sauce.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Napa and Sonoma trip: Dutton-Goldfield Winery

After a nice lunch in Forestville, we met Valerie Wathen from Dutton-Goldfield at the winery's tasting room that it currently shares with Balletto Vineyards on the outskirts of Santa Rosa.

Dutton-Goldfield is the partnership of grapegrower Steve Dutton, a fifth generation farmer in the Russian River Valley, and winemaker Dan Goldfield. The winery's main focus is to produce cold-climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and also a bit of Zinfandel, Syrah and Pinot Blanc. Most of the fruit is sourced from the various vineyards of Dutton Ranch in the Russian River Valley AVA

Russian River Valley AVA

With Valerie, we tasted the following wines:

• 2007 Dutton-Goldfield Chardonnay Dutton Ranch: a blend of five Dutton Ranch vineyards from the coolest part of Russian River Valley. My notes: ripe apple and pear on the nose, creamy and lush on the palate with some good acidity, elegant finish.

• 2007 Dutton-Goldfield Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch: a blend of five Dutton Ranch vineyards from the Russian River Valley. My notes: sweet and spicy cherry aromas on the nose, bright and fruity on the palate, earthy finish.

• 2007 Dutton-Goldfield Pinot Noir Freestone Hill Vineyard: farmed by the Dutton family, the Freestone Hill Vineyard overlooks the tiny town of Freestone located between Sebastopol and Bodega Bay. This cold-climate wine is bottled separately only in years when the fruit stands out as truly unique. My notes: exotic spices on the nose. On the palate, herbs and licorice flavors, very distinctive.

• 2007 Dutton-Goldfield Pinot Noir Devil's Gulch Vineyard: located on a steep hillside near the Point Reyes Peninsula in Marin County, the Devil's Gulch Vineyard is farmed by local grower Mark Pasternak, a viticultural pioneer in Marin County. My notes: deep color, red and black berry aromas on the nose, rich and complex on the palate, lingering finish.

• 2007 Dutton-Goldfield Zinfandel Morelli Lane Vineyard: planted with Zinfandel, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Morelli Lane Vineyard lies just north of the town of Occidental in the Russian River Valley. My notes: nose of sweet blackberry, lots of fruits on the palate, lively acidity.

My favorites were the Freestone Hill and the Devil's Gulch Pinots and I bought a few bottles of each to bring back home. These wines should age well, said Valerie, so I am looking forward to retasting them in a few years.

Related posts:
•  Napa and Sonoma trip: visit of Quintessa
•  Napa and Sonoma trip: Hanzell Vineyards
•  Napa and Sonoma trip: Emeritus Vineyards

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Napa and Sonoma trip: Emeritus Vineyards

After a solid breakfast in downtown Sonoma, we drove towards Sebastopol in the Russian River Valley for our appointment with Chris Mattson, National Sales Manager at Emeritus Vineyards. The winery occupies a functional warehouse-like building on Highway 116 and was not easy to find.

Most of our time with Chris Mattson was spent in the winery's home vineyard (also called Hallberg Vineyard). We looked at how the vines had to be pruned and trained, and discussed weather, soil, and experimentation with dry farming.

In the vineyard with Chris Mattson

Planted exclusively to Pinot Noir, the 100-acre Hallberg Vineyard is located on Sonoma County's Gold Ridge, a ten-mile-long low ridge running from Sebastopol to Forestville. The area is characterized by well-drained soils made of fine sandy loam and a cool climate thanks to Pacific Ocean breezes and late afternoon fog that stays untill mid-morning during the growing season. Sonoma's Gold Ridge is also called America's Cote d'Or and is home to many top-flight Pinot Noir producers.

Then it was time to taste some wine and meet winemaker Nicolas Cantacuzene. The French-born and American-trained Cantacuzene had recently replaced Burgundy-trained veteran winemaker Don Blackburn, who sadly passed away last April.

While we tasted and compared several barrel samples, from lots with different soil types or different watering levels, including one completely dry-farmed, Nicolas Cantacuzene explained to us how he will blend these wines in order to achieve a desired style of complexity and elegance.

I really enjoyed that visit. This is where we had the most informative discussions regarding vineyard management and winemaking. But it was already lunch time and we had to find something to eat before our next appointment at Dutton-Goldfield.

Related posts:
•  Napa and Sonoma trip: visit of Quintessa
•  Napa and Sonoma trip: Hanzell Vineyards

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Napa and Sonoma trip: Hanzell Vineyards

In 1948, James D. Zellerbach, a former US Ambassador to Italy, acquired 200 acres on the Mayacamas slopes above the town of Sonoma and founded Hanzell Vineyards, Hanzell as a contraction of Mrs. Hana Zellerbach's name. Five years later, the Zellerbachs planted 6 acres of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir — now the oldest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyard in the new world — and in 1957, they created their first vintage.

We met with Estate Educator Ben Sessions at the historic winery building that the Zellerbachs built in 1956 and modeled after the 12th century press house at Clos de Vougeot in Burgundy. Ben Sessions is the son of Bob Sessions, who was winemaker and general manager of Hanzell Vineyards from the 1973 harvest until his retirement in 2001. After a tour of the original Zellerbach vineyard and after admiring the wonderful view overlooking the Sonoma Valley, we visited the old winemaking facility in the historic winery and finally sat with winemaker Michael McNeill to taste a sample of the Hanzell Vineyards production.

The historic winery building

Hanzell's former winemaking facility, now a tasting room

The original Zellerbach vineyard at Hanzell Vineyards

There were two glasses of Estate Chardonnay from the 2006 and 2007 vintages and a glass of 2006 Estate Pinot Noir. The 2006 Hanzell Vineyards Chardonnay had a bright golden color and a nose of ripe pear and spiced apple aromas. On the palate, it was boldly creamy and nutty with a ripe, fruity finish. In comparison, the 2007 Hanzell Vineyards Chardonnay was young and big but not as polished and slightly more unbalanced.

The 2006 Hanzell Vineyards Pinot Noir had a medium garnet color and a sweet black cherry nose. The palate was full-bodied, rather oaky with tannins and an earthy finish. More powerful than elegant, it was not my prefered style of Pinot Noir, but maybe the wine was simply too young.

After admiring one more time the sunset over Sonoma Valley, we were driven to one of the guest houses hidden in the vineyard where we would spend the night, a well deserved rest as we had more scheduled visits the day after.

Related post:
•  Napa and Sonoma trip: visit of Quintessa

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