Friday, April 19, 2013

The Annapolis Winery, just a few miles away from the Sonoma Coast

Last month, we rented a beach house at Sea Ranch on the Sonoma Coast for a couple of days. The private road leading to the house was just on the opposite side of a small road going inland and a sign indicating a winery, so after a hike along the coast, we felt adventurous and followed a deep redwood-filled canyon until we reached the tiny farming town of Annapolis.

The winery was easy to find, just off Annapolis road, on top of a vineyard-covered hill. There was a small and homey tasting room opened every day until 5:00pm surrounded by a grassy meadow where people can bring their picnic and sip wine while enjoying the panoramic view.

The place was an apple orchard when the Scalabrini family moved to Annapolis in 1976. Vineyards of Gewürztraminer and Sauvignon blanc were planted in 1978. Today, the family makes small quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Zinfandel.

The local growing conditions, at 3 miles from the Pacific Ocean and an elevation of about 1,000 feet, are particularly favorable to wine production. The land is cooler than Carneros or the Russian River Valley while much less foggy than the coast, so the area is considered well suited for Pinot Noir. For the Scalabrinis, the focus is on quality, not quantity: sustainable farming, hand-picked fruits, and minimalist winemaking style. The results are lush and intense wines, sometimes a little too big for our taste.

We found the Cabernet Sauvignon quite big and oaky and the Zinfandel, full-bodied, very fruit-forward, and like most Zinfandel, high in alcohol. We preferred their 2007 Annapolis Pinot Noir. The wine was not light but smooth with rich flavors of dark fruits and spices followed by a well-balanced finish.

After the tasting, we walked for a while in the vineyards to enjoy the the warmth of afternoon sun and the views of the redwood-covered hills, a landscape so peaceful, so different from the rugged coast just a few miles away.

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Monday, December 10, 2012

The Côte Saint-Jacques in Joigny, Burgundy's northernmost vineyard

Last time we were in France we visited my father-in-law in Joigny, a medieval town in northern Burgundy, just 150 km from Paris and 1 hour or so by train. The old town is particularly picturesque with its narrow cobbled streets and timber-framed 16th century houses. The best view of the city is at the top of the Côte Saint-Jacques, a steep south-facing hillside overlooking the river Yonne. This is where you find thirty hectares of vineyards, planted with Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The location, the northernmost wine district in Burgundy, is on the edge of sustainable viticulture but vines on the hill are protected from the north winds by the forest of Othe on the plateau and from spring frosts thanks to the micro-climate created by the river below.

Historical records indicate that vines were growing in Joigny as early as 1082. The production being so close to Paris, the wines of Joigny were well known and quite popular at the tables of the kings of France. The most famous was the vin gris, a light Rosé primarily made of Pinot Gris, which apparently was a favorite of King Louis XIV. In the 19th century until the phylloxera devastation, Joigny was an active winegrowing and shipping center

In 1990, chef Michel Lorain, owner of the 3 Michelin star hotel and restaurant La Côte Saint-Jacques decided to revive the vineyard on the hill of Saint-Jacques and restore the wines' former high reputation. Five hectares of Chardonnay were planted first, followed later by 2 hectares of Pinot Noir and half a hectare of a mix of Malbec, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon and Tressot in order to produce the famous Vin Gris de Joigny Côte Saint Jacques.

We visited Michel Lorain's winery, the Domaine du Clos Saint Jacques, where we met with Sales and Marketing Manager Pâquerette Jacquemin at the wine shop. She gave us a detailed and passionate pitch about the revival of the vineyard, the expansion to the Japanese market and the recent association with Manuel Janisson of Champagne Janisson. She then took us on a tour of the winemaking facilities located in a 16th century building, which used to be the home of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul when he was living in Joigny.

She generously gave us a sampler of the estate wines that we tasted later with our family. Overall, I found the wines dry, mineral, and crisp, and thought that the whites were more successful than the red.

The 2011 Bourgogne Chardonnay Domaine du Clos Saint Jacques had a light yellow color and a fresh nose of green apple and citrus. The palate had a grippy acidity that worked well with our sauerkraut.

The 2009 Bourgogne Chardonnay Domaine du Clos Saint Jacques Cuvée Les Capucins was slightly fuller than the regular cuvee, with a good amount of minerality and acidity that would team well with shellfish.

The 2008 Bourgogne Chardonnay Domaine du Clos Saint Jacques Cuvée Prestige had a deep golden color and a nose of ripe apple. On the palate, it was rounder and fuller and would pair well with anything creamy.

The 2008 Bourgogne Pinot Noir Domaine du Clos Saint Jacques Cuvée Prestige had a light garnet color and sour cherry nose, quite lean on the palate with under ripe flavors on the finish, not our favorite wine. The region has substantial vintage variations and 2008 was possibly not the best year for the reds in the area.

This was a fun tasting and a great introduction to this up-and-coming appellation. Thanks Pâquerette!

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A good introduction to Canadian wines while hiking in the Canadian Rockies

I am just back from 8 days of hiking in Banff National Park and I am still in awe of the spectacular landscape of the place—ice-carved mountains, hanging glaciers, turquoise blue lakes, and roaring cascades. I was also impressed by the dining scene —we were literally famished after hiking up and down hills on rugged mountain trails—and the good Canadian wines we found on the local wine lists.

Lake Louise from the top of the Little Beehive

On the first night, after a day of hiking in the wind and rain on the Iceline Trail, a raclette with a bottle of 2011 Quails' Gate Dry Riesling helped restore our energy. You need a wine with a firm backbone and a good level of acidity to cut through the creamy richness of the cheese, and the Quails' Gate Dry Riesling was more than up to the task: crisp, mineral, with citrus and floral aromas.

A couple of days later, we hiked to Shadow Lake Lodge, a back country lodge in Banff National Park. Although he day started with some snow, the skies turned deep blue by the time we reached the lodge.

On our way to the Shadow Lake Lodge

The Shadow Lake Lodge

After our nine mile hike, we happily rested around a fire burning in the old iron stove in the main cabin with a glass of 2011 Tinhorn Creek Pinot Gris. The wine was dry, crisp, fruity, and totally comforting, a mouth-watering treat before the hearty dinner that would later be served.

One of our last dinners was in a steak house in Banff where we ordered a bottle of 2009 Jackson-Triggs Proprietors' Reserve Merlot. The wine had black berry aromas, a smooth palate and a refreshing acidity uncommon in California. I enjoyed it but I guess it was slightly too acidic to my friend's taste.

Hiking Johnston Canyon

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Orange you glad you tried an orange wine

The other day I was perusing the wine list of Flour + Water looking for a wine to go with our appetizers.

Flour + Water is a trendy Italian restaurant in San Francisco's Mission district that specializes in home made pasta and pizza. Its wine list is short but offers an interesting selection of Italian wines. In particular, they have a section between the whites and the rosés that I had never seen before. They called it Arancio or Orange in Italian.

Orange wines are actually the opposite of rosé wines. Whereas rosés are made with red grapes with just enough skin contact to produce a pink color, orange wines are made with white grapes that macerate for some time in contact with their skins, leaving the wine with a distinctive orange-amber hue. Skin-fermented orange wines may seem like a new trend but this winemaking style believed to have originated in Georgia thousands of years ago and was not uncommon in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia wine region of Italy in the 1950s.

We ordered a glass of 2009 Monastero Suore Cistercensi Coenobium Rusticum to give it a try. A blend of Trebbiano, Verdicchio, Malvasia and Grechetto, the wine is produced by the Sisters of the Cistercian order at their monastery in Vitorchiano, in the Lazio appellation north of Rome. It had a deep amber color with some tannins, dried herb flavors and a nutty finish, reminiscent of a Sherry. My friend didn't like it and we concluded that like Sherry, orange wine is an acquired taste. As for me, I thought it worked pretty well with our appetizer, a tuna conserva with artichoke, tonnato & venetian battered cardoons.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Does music influences the way wine tastes?

I recently came across a San Francisco Chronicle article that piqued my interest. The story starts with a warning: “Beware: If you read this article, you may may never taste wine and listen to music the same way again.”

The article refers to the work of Clark Smith, a winemaking innovator as well as a composer and vocalist who has recently become increasingly interested in the relationship of wine and music. He believes that wine tastes differently depending on the music we listen to.

Smith has spent months with various tasting panels sampling wines with hundreds of different songs. He was able to show that when wine and music match, the wine improves. On the other hand, when they clash, the wine tastes worse. His theory is that wine tasting involves the same part of the brain as listening to music.

“Red wines need either minor key or they need music that has negative emotion. They don't like happy music. With expensive reds, don't play music that makes you giggle. Pinots like sexy music. Cabernets like angry music. It's very hard to find a piece of music that's good for both Pinot and Cabernet.”

A related study led by Adrian North of Heriot-Watt University shows that tasters tend to think their wine has the qualities of the music they are listening to.

“The results showed the music the volunteers listened to consistently affected how they perceived it to taste. For example both red and white wines were given the highest ratings for being powerful and heavy by those participants who drank them to the tune of Carmina Burana. Those who listened to Michael Brook rated their wine as tasting mellow and soft consistently higher than other tastes.”

On his blog, Smith recommends the following to a reader: “It's really quite easy to work up a playlist. Just pop a bottle and download 30 second snippets from iTunes. You'll see what works and what doesn't. It's a fun party game. Eventually you learn the emotional modality that the wine conveys, and you match it.”

Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 is playing tonight. Cabernet or Chardonnay?

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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

A charming Swan from the Russian River Valley

This was a low key, mid-week dinner at home and we were sipping our wine. “Wow, this wine is delicious!” my husband suddenly said. I showed him the bottle. It was a 2008 Joseph Swan Pinot Noir Cuvée de Trois Russian River Valley, a fairly-priced wine from Russian River Valley Pinot Noir pioneer Joseph Swan Vineyards.

Located in the Russian River Valley, Joseph Swan Vineyards was founded by Joseph Swan in 1989. He was a retired pilot with no formal viticulture education, but after taking many trips to France, he became known for introducing new methods of winemaking that seemed revolutionary at the time in the United States. These techniques included whole cluster fermentations, extended maceration for more color and depth, and fermenting without the addition of sulfur.

Joseph Swan's son-in-law Rod Berglund is now in charge of the winemaking. He introduced the “Cuvée de Trois” in 1999, a blend from three Russian River vineyards, each site contributing unique characteristics to the final cuvée.

The wine is a charmer. The nose is expressive with aromas of red cherry, spices, and earthy notes, and the palate has a silky, juicy texture, showing more finesse than power with a well-balanced complexity. Delicious indeed!

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A wine made from the blood of the stones

That's the 2001 Vacqueyras Domaine Le Sang des Cailloux Cuvée de Lopy. The wine is from Vacqueyras, an appellation in the Southern Rhône next to Gigondas and to the east of Châteauneuf du Pape.

It is produced by Domaine Le Sang des Cailloux, which means Blood of the stones, a 17 hectare estate located on an arid plateau made of red clay and limestone layered by rounded stones — the famous galets roulés that characterize the terroir of Châteauneuf du Pape. On the plateau, the summers are dry and hot but can be cooled down by the strong Mistral wind that blows from the north down the Rhône Valley.

Although it has not been officially certified organic, the vineyard has been farming organically for years. The Cuvée de Lopy is 75% Grenache, 25% Syrah from 55 to 65 year-old vines. Lopy is the name of the farm where the owner, Serge Férigoule, was born. After being manually harvested, the grapes are fermented using indigenous yeasts and then aged in large 450-liter barrels. The wine is unfined and unfiltered.

The wine was dark, rich, dense and amazingly fresh at the same time thanks to its high acidity. It was also perfectly balanced leaving a layered finish of wild berries, spices, and licorice. It was aso the perfect wine for a chilly evening. Try it with a Provençal Daube and don't forget the orange peel, that's the dish's secret ingredient!

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