Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tour of Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards

The other day, we were invited by our friend and real estate agent Sophie Ravel to a wine tasting and lunch event at Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards.

Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards is a small winery located in the scenic Santa Cruz Mountains above the town of Saratoga. It was founded in 1892 by a French immigrant named Pierre Pourroy but Prohibition quickly forced the Pourroy family to shut down production. Winemaker Daniel Gehrs bought the neglected winery in 1976 and was able to rescue the old Zinfandel and Cabernet Franc vines that were still growing on the estate. Eventually, Michael and Kellie Ballard purchased the property in 1996, naming it after their two daughters Savannah and Chanel. Two years later, the Chanel fashion house sued the Ballards forcing them to change the winery name to Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards.

The estate has 58 acres planted with Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay. The Zinfandel plantings date back to 1910, and the Cabernet Franc plantings —California's oldest— date back to 1920. We didn't have the opportunity to taste the old vine Estate Zinfandel nor the Cabernet Franc but we were served an unoaked 2009 Chardonnay Monterey County that I particularly liked, It was refreshingly crisp with attractive aromas of grapefruit and lemon . I also enjoyed the tasty and peppery 2007 Syrah Coastview Vineyard, from a vineyard located at 2600 ft on a mountain top overlooking Monterey Bay.

It was a warm and sunny day and we had a nice lunch in the lawn and garden area in front of Pierre Pourroy's Mediterranean-style chateau and surrounded by tall redwood trees and hillside vineyards. There was also a raffle and I did win one of the three prizes, a set of 2 Riedel Burgundy glasses! But that's the subject of a future post.

The old redwood winery built in 1922 that now houses the tasting room

Inside the tasting room

Old Zinfandel plantings

View from the garden of a small hillside Pinot Noir vineyard

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Third Guess The Wine tasting party

Our last tasting event was another Guess the Wine party where guests are asked to identify the varietal, region, and vintage of wines they drink blind. This time, the wines were served in identical skittle-shaped Côtes de Provence bottles —bottles that our friend Jean had saved just for the event— to ensure that no one could recognize the wine based on the shape and color of the bottle.

I have to say that this game is extremely challenging because even wines that are made with one single varietal are hard to identify, especially if the only clue you have is a list of 6 varietals to choose from. Nonetheless, it's a fun game and it gives you the opportunity to really enjoy a wine without being influenced by its label.

Here are the wines that we tasted:

• 2007 Kingston Family Vineyards Cariblanco Sauvignon Blanc: The Kingston Family came to Chile in the 1900's looking for copper and gold. In the 1920's, they settled in Casablanca, a town between Santiago and Valparaiso, and built a farm. They now specialize in Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Sauvignon Blanc from cool-climate vineyards located in the Casablanca Valley, about 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean. My notes: pale color, nose of citrus, grapefruit, good body on the palate, fresh, crisp mouthfeel.

• 2006 Trimbach Gewürztraminer: The Trimbach family has been making wines in Alsace since 1626. The estate vineyards are located around Ribeauvillé, an area known for its soils of clay and limestone. The Trimbach house makes wines that are dry, mineral, fruity, and well balanced from classic Alsatian varietals such as Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, and Sylvaner. My notes: light golden color, nose of rose petal and lechee fruit, slightly sweet on the palate with a mineral finish.

• Broadley Pinot Noir Willamette Valley: Broadley Vineyards have been making Oregon Pinot Noir for more than 20 years. The winery has 30 planted acres in the warmest and driest part of the valley near the small town of Monroe in Southern Willamette Valley. Grapes are harvested by hand and then a good portion of the wine is fermented in wood as whole clusters (stems and all) to add structure and character. The Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is a blend from several vineyards in the appellation. My notes: medium garnet color, aromatic nose of sweet cherry, light to medium bodied on the palate, good acidity, spicy finish. A very nice Pinot at a great price.

• 2006 Las Rocas de San Alejandro Garnacha Vinas Viejas: founded in 1962, Las Rocas de San Alejandro is a cooperative in the Calatayud appellation, in northeast Spain. Calatayud has a continental climate with vast temperature differences between night and day. The region is an old river basin with soils comprised of limestone and loam over slate and gypsum. The majority of the wines produced are red mostly from Grenache or Garnacha (55% of the vines planted) followed by Mazuelo, Tempranillo, Monastrell (or Mourvèdre), Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. The Garnacha Vinas Viejas is from dry-farmed old vines Grenache vines (a minimum of 45 year old) and aged in American oak (60%) and French oak barrels (40%). My notes: dark garnet color, spicy, peppery nose with black cherry aromas, firm backbone on the palate with some tannins, lengthy finish.

• 2006 Whitehall Lane Merlot Napa Valley: founded in 1979, Whitehall Lane is a small, family owned winery located in Rutherford, Napa Valley. In 1993, the Leonardini family bought the Whitehall Lane property, updated the winemaking process and currently owns and operate six Napa Valley vineyards in the Rutherford, Oak Knoll, and St. Helena appellations. The 2006 Merlot is a blend of 83% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 7% Syrah. The Cabernet Sauvignon adds structure and additional fruit aromas while the Syrah adds complexity to the blend. My notes: deep red color, sweet berry aromas on the nose, soft tannins on the palate with notes of oak and vanilla, juicy finish.

• 2007 Thorn-Clarke Shotfire Shiraz: Thorn-Clarke Wines is a family owned producer located in the Barossa Valley in South Australia, probably Australia's most famous wine region. The valley enjoys a Mediterranean climate with a lot of sunshine, low humidity and rainfall, ideal for full-bodied red wines, especially Shiraz. The wine is aged for 12-18 months in a mix of French and American oak, 40% new. My notes: deep red color, smoky pepper on the nose, rich and soft on the palate with aromas of sweet berries, spicy and mineral on the finish, a great way to end the evening.

This year, Xavier was our winner and received a bottle of Champagne for his performance. Hélène got the lowest score but lucky her, she got a bottle of wine too.

Our next wine tasting will feature the wines of Santa Barbara County and I can already tell you that there will be no Merlot!

Previous wine club tastings:
•  Tasting of Zinfandel and Zinfandel related grapes
•  Drink Local Tasting
•  Pairing wine and cheese

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Finding treasures in a closet under the stairs

The late husband of our friend Simone was a wine lover. In particular, he liked collecting wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy and California that he would generously share with good friends. But this was in the 70s and 80s when he was still in good health. Now, my friend Simone has a whole collection of dusty old bottles that are resting in a dark closet under the stairs. So when she asked me to make an inventory of the wines, I told her that unfortunately, many may have gone past their prime. Some had an alarming very low fill level with some dark mold around the cork. How to find out which wines were still drinkable? The best way was to taste them.

And that's what we did the other day: we selected twenty bottles that looked most promising, opened them —which was by far the hardest task— and tried them. We were all hoping that some of the wines would still be good and I have to say that each bottle was opened religiously. But sadly, half of the wines were simply not drinkable and some others were drying out with light bodies and fading aromas. But miraculously, we also found a handful of treasures.

Here they are:

• 1979 Beaune-Grèves Château de Meursault: the Beaune-Grèves appellation is a Premier Cru located on a hillside facing the town of Beaune. Its name probably comes from the French word graviers (small pepples) due to the presence of small gravels and sand mixed with clay in the soil. The wines from Beaune-Grèves are known for their elegance and finesse. The estate of Château de Meursault comprises 60 hectares of vines, all situated in the Côte de Beaune, around the towns of Aloxe Corton, Savigny-les-Beaune, Beaune, Pommard, Volnay, Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet. The wine had an amber-brick color and a fragrant, slightly smoky nose of dried cherry. The palate was fresh and well-balanced with a light finish of dried herbs, truly delicious!

• 1986 Château Font Villac: the wine is a Grand Cru from the Saint Emilion appellation and most likely a Merlot-Cabernet Franc blend. The year 1986 was a great vintage in Bordeaux. While the weather was hot and dry during the summer, mid-September rains tempered the drought-like conditions and helped vines reach full maturity. The wine had a deep brick-orange color and a sweet nose of blackberries. The palate was not overly complex but smooth, round, and pleasant.

• 1980 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande: Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande is a classified second-growth from Pauillac. The property uses a blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 8% Petit Verdot, which has an unusually high proportion of Merlot for a Pauillac. Therefore, the wine tends to be more fleshy and softer than wines from the other Pauillac properties. The 1980 vintage was cool and wet in Bordeaux. Growers were able to delay their harvest until the weather began to improve at the end of September but rains returned in the middle of October during the harvest. Many wines from this vintage were light and diluted, the best results being from producers that made a strict grape selection and picked exceptionally late. The wine had a light-to-medium red color and a seductive nose of berries and flowers. On the palate, it was smooth and savory with an elegant and spicy finish.

• 1971 Château Lafite-Rothschild: Château Lafite-Rothschild is maybe the most famous property in Bordeaux and one of the four classified first growth wines. Located in Pauillac, the Lafite vineyard is one of the largest in the Médoc planted with 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. The 1971 vintage is characterized by a small crop size and forward and flattering wines upon release, thanks to a cold, damp spring followed by a warm and sunny summer. The wine had a light orange color, a subtle nose, and a light-bodied, lean palate with notes of buttermilk and earthy flavors on the finish.

• 1981 Château Lafite-Rothschild: the 1981 vintage produced wines of medium-weight, well-balanced and graceful. July was a cool month but August and September were hot and dry. It could have been an outstanding year had it not been for the heavy rains that fell just before the harvest. The wine had a light red color and a subtle nose of dried herbs. On the palate, it had more body and fruit than the 1971 with smoky spices on the finish.

So did you guess my favorite wines? Hint: I had two.

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Thursday, May 06, 2010

Napa Cellars: latest releases

A few weeks ago, we tasted the latest releases of Napa Cellars, that were sent to me by the winery. Located on Highway 29 in Oakville, Napa Cellars produces several very reasonably priced varietal wines, all from the Napa Valley AVA.

Stretching from Carneros to Calistoga, Napa Valley offers multiple microclimates due to various geographical factors. The open southern part of the valley is close to the northern tip of San Francisco Bay and is cooler during the growing season. Then, north of Yountville, the valley becomes narrower and bends towards the west. The winds don't make the turn so the St. Helena and Calistoga areas tend to be much warmer. Napa Cellars takes advantage of these diverse climates when blending wines to achieve a consistent quality year after year and balance fruit flavors, tannins, and acidity.

Here are the wines that we tasted:

• 2008 Napa Cellars Chardonnay Napa Valley: this is the winery's flagship wine. Most of the fruit is sourced from the southern part of the Napa Valley where summer temperatures can be ten to fifteen degrees cooler than those up north. The wine was aged 7 months in 100% French Oak (34% new). It had a light golden color and a nose that was more mineral than fruity. On the palate, it was medium-bodied, creamy, slightly oaky, with a good acidity and a lingering finish. Try it with a cream-based dish such as Fettucine with Smoked Salmon and Asparagus

• 2007 Napa Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley: sourced from a collection of vineyards located in the St. Helena, Oak Knoll, and Rutherford districts, the wine was aged for 18 months, in predominately French oak (55% new). Showing a dark purple color and a red berry nose with notes of mint, eucalyptus, and vanilla, it was full-bodied with a moderate amount of alcohol (13.8%). It was surprisingly well-balanced in terms of acidity and tannins for a young Cabernet. Try it with grilled steaks such as Rib Eye Steaks with Mixed Mushroom Sauté

• 2007 Napa Cellars Merlot Napa Valley: most of the fruit comes from the cooler regions of Napa Valley, such as Oak Knoll and Carneros. The blend also includes a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon (10%). The wine was aged for 20 months in predominantely French oak (36% new). It had a deep red color and a nose of sweet black plums and blackberries. The palate was rich, full-bodied and showing more alcohol than the Cabernet, leaving notes of cocoa on the finish. Try it with a pork dish cooked with fruit such as Pork Roast with Winter Fruits and Port Sauce

• 2007 Napa Cellars Zinfandel Napa Valley: much of the fruit was sourced from the warmer regions of Napa Valley, including Calistoga, St. Helena and Pope Valley. The blend is 88% Zinfandel and 12% Petit Sirah, aged for 18 months in American and French oak (23% new). Showing a medium red color, the wine had a nose of red berry fruit. The palate was fruity but not too jammy with exotic spices on the finish. Try it with some Asian spiced grilled meat such as Sweet Soy-Grilled Short Ribs

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