Category Archives: Wine

Wine and the Millennials

 

Jug wine, including those that come in a box, is officially on the endangered list, thanks, in no small part, to young adults, surrounding thirty, affectionately known as “Millennials,” the offspring of maturing Baby Boomers.

pic_vyd_pisoni2A recent study by Rob McMillan, from Silicon Valley Bank wine division, predicts the unthinkable, the first decline in wine consumption per capita in 20 years, attributed, in part, to a steady decline in sales of high-volume, budget table wine.  Correspondingly, the industry has enjoyed an increase of sales in the $10-25 market and they recognize the trend toward high-end, boutique wines as they prepare to ride the wave of the Millennials, 80 million strong, for the next 30 years.

On a weekly basis I am reading of acquisitions of smaller, high-end wineries by larger corporations.  Beringer Wine Estate recently purchased the esteemed Gary Farrell Winery, a fine pinot noir producer in the Russian River Valley, E&J Gallo, our nation’s largest producer, now owns multiple boutique wineries in the Healdsburg

"Millennials

“Millennials

area, a trend expanding throughout California.

Likewise, Heineken International is now a 50% partner with the Petaluma-based Laguinitas Brewing Co., among the fastest growing boutique breweries, valued a $1 billion.

The larger corporations are not interested in inquiring new vineyards, they are investing in the high-end future, one that will be dictated by the “Millennials” discerning palates and thirst for nice things.  Technology is also connecting this new generation to European wines, with apps providing unprecedented access to research on new vintages.

So, for those “Millennials” or anyone from twenty-one to ninety, let me offer some recommendations for quality wines of character, $20 or less, that could be fine additions to any cellar. Although I list some wines by their current vintage, they are consistently good, year to year.  Prices do vary and the one listed is the lowest that I could find.

2014 Bonny Doon “Clos de Gilroy” Grenache ($20)

As a long-standing member of Bonny Doon’s Distinguished Esoteric Wine Network, I am familiar with and often recommend this wine as a great value.  It has been described by winemaker/founder Randall Grahm as “The wine

Bonny Doon "Clos de Gilroy" Grenache

Bonny Doon “Clos de Gilroy” Grenache

formerly know as Clos De Gilroy” because it now sources grapes from Monterey County and the Sacramento Delta, adding some syrah and mourvedre for extra flavor and structure.  It expresses “jammy” fruit flavors of raspberry and cherry combined with white pepper and herbs. Prepare yourself for a screw top bottle, a change that Grahm made for all his wines years ago, claiming more reliability in maintaining freshness.

Those preferring white wines will also enjoy the 2014 Bonny Doon “The Heart Has Its Rieslings” ($13), both sweet and tart with a nicely balanced acidity and a

Bonny Doon "The Heart Has Its Riesling"

Bonny Doon “The Heart Has Its Riesling”

very fun label.

2014 Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel ($20)

There are some good choices among value-priced zinfandel, none better than Seghesio’s Sonoma County Zinfandel.  Most of their releases fall into the $35-50 price range, but this wine, from vineyards in Sonoma’a warmest regions, is no stranger to critical acclaim. Be prepared for a food-friendly “fruit bomb” with rich, blueberry flavors, 14.8% alcohol and a nice hint of black pepper.

I recently enjoyed a glass of the 2013 vintage with grilled salmon and found the soft, perfumed bouquet with

Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel

Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel

young, but luscious flavors a suitable pair. Fairly accessible, I have seen other vintages of this wine at local outlets, wine wholesalers and online.

Yalumba Y Series Shiraz-Viognier ($13)

Yalumba Y Series Viognier ($13)

Yalumba, south Australia’s oldest family winery, produces a plethora of red and white wines that are all good values, none better than the Y Series Shiraz-Viognier with very interesting aromas, ripe, velvety cherries and the signature Aussie touch of adding a bit of viognier for taste.  The Y Series Viognier has significant citrus on the nose and palate with a soft, rich texture from

2014 Yalumba Y Series Shiraz-Viognier

2014 Yalumba Y Series Shiraz-Viognier

aging “sur lie.”

Once familiar with the Yalumba label, I have seen it in local wine outlets and high end markets.

2013 Columbia Crest “H3” Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon ($12-15)

Washington State’s Columbia Crest has been producing high quality, mid-priced wines for decades and their “H3” Series highlights the vineyards within the Horse Heaven Hills appellation in eastern Washington.  I have not tried this wine as yet, but it has been rated as a “Best Buy” with ratings in the 90s by Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast magazines. With full malolactic fermentation, the reviews speak of rich, layered flavors with a bit of cocoa on the finish

Columbia Crest "H3" Cabernet Sauvignon

Columbia Crest “H3” Cabernet Sauvignon

Columbia Crest wines are readily accessible at many local wine outlets, markets and membership stores.  However, their “H3” Series wines, especially one with these reviews, may require some research online.

2013 Hahn Estates Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir ($20-25)

The Santa Lucia Highlands appellation in Monterey County has become the source of much of the state’e finest pinot noir in this decade. Producers of fine pinot noir from Sonoma to Santa Barbara County are securing grapes from the “Highlands” for their consistent quality and reputation.  Hahn Winery has had a presence in the California wine industry for several years and their 2013 Hahn Estates Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir has received high accolades from all the major

Hahn Estates SLH Pinot Noir

Hahn Estates SLH Pinot Noir

reviewers, describing its floral nose, highly dense, layered flavors and a strong finish, all qualities of a nice pinot noir.

The “perfect storm” of this quality/price ratio has rendered this wine a bit rare, but I did find stock at K&L wines.

2014 Ponzi “Tavola” Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

Ponzi Winery is a staple among Oregon’s Willamette Valley, focusing primarily on

2012 Ponzi "Tavola" Pinot Noir Willamette Valley

2012 Ponzi “Tavola” Pinot Noir Willamette Valley

pinot noir and chardonnay.  Their premium pinot noir, vintage to vintage, earns high praises and commands  a lofty price tag.  However, the 2014 Ponzi “Tavola”  Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($20), their introduction to the “heartbreak” varietal, has the attention of many wine critics, named by many periodicals as one of the best values-priced pinots with grapes sourced from 11 different sustainable vineyards.  For a young wine, it is very aromatic and expresses pleasantly rich flavors.

I have seen this wine online at multiple prices.  The best price was at K&L Wines, that also has outlets in Hollywood and San Francisco.

Barrel 27 “Right Hand Man” Syrah ($20-25)

Barrel 27 “High On The Hog” White Rhone Blend ($14-18)

For good wines within the $20 or less level, I always recommend a range of varietals from Barrel 27 Winery in Paso Robles.  A highly rated vintage of their “High On The Hog” classic Rhone blend of grenache, viognier,

Barrel 27 "Right Hand Man" Central Coast Syrah

Barrel 27 “Right Hand Man” Central Coast Syrah

roussanne and marsanne first led me to Barrel 27.  Vintage to vintage, this wine has always delivered rich, creamy texture and flavors with a nice minerality on the finish.

All of Barrel 27 red wines are good values, but the “Right Hand Man” Syrah, sourced from vineyards in Paso Robles, the Arroyo Grande Valley and Santa Ynez Valley, is typically balanced with significant aromas and accessible soft, rich flavors.  These wines are both available in wine outlets and online, but the best place to acquire  them is their Paso Robles tasting room.

A very deserving quick mention Lincourt Winery in Santa Ynez Valley and Buehler Winery in Sonoma/Napa Counties as resources for consistently good value releases and the readily available Greg Norman Cabernet-Merlot ($15) is always a good option.

So all current, parents or grandparents of Millennials, start building your cellar of “good value” wines that maintain the high standards we all deserve.  Be aware, this may lead to bigger and better things.

 


Wine and Cheese Pairing, 2016

 

The idea began with our desire to support “ArtStart,” a local Santa Rosa non-profit that provides opportunities for high school student artists to create and install public art projects.  Our solution was to donate to the auction a wine and cheese pairing for 14 people.  After a successful $1,500 donation, it was now time to create a

The Wines

The Wines

memorable experience that exceeded the donors expectations.  As always, the wine selections would be easier than determining and acquiring the proper cheeses.  Even living in Sonoma County where many fine artisan wine and cheeses are produced, research to find unique pairings would require some effort.

To facilitate the outcomes to 1)discover the aromas and flavors of each wine and cheese, 2)understand their backstory and 3) promote discussion and select favorites, we distributed comments from winemakers and sommeliers that assisted us through “power of suggestion.”  Seven bottles opened, seven cheeses unwrapped, we were ready to start the global culinary journey.

 

Pairing #1:  Old World vs New World Chenin Blanc

Chenin blanc, originating from the Loire Valley in France, is one of the most versatile wines in the world,

2014 Huet Le Haut-Leiu Vovray Sec

comfortable as a dry, semi-dry, sparkling or dessert wine.  Grown extensively in South Africa, Australia and California, the grape has made a huge comeback over the past few decades. We compared the waxy richness and minerality of the 2013 Williams Selyem Chenin Blanc, grown in San Benito County and fermented in concrete eggs at the Russian River Valley winery with the rich 2014 Huet Le

Williams Selyem Chenin Blanc 2012 San Benito County

Williams Selyem Chenin Blanc 2012 San Benito County

Haut-Leiu Vouvray Sec, a classic semi-dry from France with stone fruit flavors throughout the finish.  No favorites here as the group decided that the two wines were different but equal, experiencing the diversity of the grape.

The two wines were paired with Valencay (Val-on-say), a tangy goat cheese from central France and a

Valencay

Valencay

young Mahon from the island of Minorca in Spain, both salty with an appealing creamy, nutty flavor.  Young, as opposed to aged Mahon (mah-ON), is an accessible semi-soft cheese that becomes hard with distinct salt crystals as it ages.  Surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, locals explain that even the grass and cow’s milk from the island is salty.  My usual preference is for the young Mahon, but the citric tanginess of the of the Valencay, rare to the US, was a unique new discovery for all.

Pairing #2:  “California Chardonnay and Spanish Goat Cheese”

Sonoma County’s Kosta Browne Winery consistently creates, arguably, the best pinot noir in California, earning Wine of the Year status from Wine Spectator magazine with their 2011 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast.  The winery has recently begun producing a rich, Burgundian-style chardonnay from the Russian River Valley that epitomizes their high

2012 Kosta Browne "116" Chardonnay Russian River Valley

2012 Kosta Browne “116” Chardonnay Russian River Valley

standards.  This pairing features the 2012 Kosta Browne Chardonnay “116” RRV, named after the highway that meanders through the Sonoma Valley, that combines nice aromas of lemon, pears and toast with stone fruits and lemon curd flavors and a lingering mineral finish. To augment these flavors, we chose a pasteurized goat cheese from northeastern Spain.

Garrotxa

Garrotxa

Garrotxa (gah-ROW-cha), an area in the Catalonia region, north of Barcelona, is home to a collective of goat farmers, many of whom fled urban life to revive the local cheese making trade. The semi-aged, semi-soft cheese has a somewhat sweet, nutty flavor with hints of cooked milk.  We used the rich texture of the wine to compliment the buttery sweetness of the cheese to create a celebration on the palate.

 

Pairing #3:  “All-American Classic”

One of this country’s most awarded cheeses, Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Farms in Wisconsin won Best Of Show by the American

2013 WALT Pinot Noir "The Corners" Anderson Valley

2013 WALT Pinot Noir “The Corners” Anderson Valley

Cheese Society in 2001, 2003 and 2010, the only cheese to do so. After careful consideration of pairing this creamy, nutty, caramel flavored cow’s milk cheese with the Kosta Browne Chardonnay, we opted for the earthy 2013 WALT Pinot Noir “The Corners” Anderson Valley, knowing from experience that they would compliment each other perfectly. From the northerly Mendocino County, WALT is owned by the Napa Valley’s Hall Wines team and responsible for the production of their pinot noir releases. This 2013 vintage, awarded 92-pt by James Laube from Wine Spectator magazine, has a floral, clove bouquet with a rich, vibrant cherry-cola flavor that lingers throughout the finish.

Pleasant Ridge Reserve

Pleasant Ridge Reserve

A rare raw cow’s milk cheese in the US, the Pleasant Ridge Reserve comes from a single herd and only from the pasture season, beginning in late spring through the fall.  The evenings most creamy, well-integrated cheese with a young, but luscious pinot noir release was an instant hit with our guests and stood out as the best pairing.

 

Pairing #4: “The Island Pairing”

Geoffrey and Allison Wrigley Rusack have, for decades, produced quality wines in the Ballard Canyon area of the Santa Ynez Valley, near Solvang.  Through Allison’s family connections, they gained access to five acres on the old Rancho Escondido site on the island where they began, in 2010,

2012 Rusack Zinfandel Santa Catalina Island

2012 Rusack Zinfandel Santa Catalina Island

producing pinot noir, chardonnay and a half acre of a very special varietal.  Geoffrey received permission to excavate some cuttings from ancient vines on Santa Cruz Island, another of the Channnel Islands.  Analysis determined that they were old zinfandel vines, later transplanted to the Rancho Escondido site.

Having an opportunity to secure one bottle of each varietal annually, the scents of cranberries and old leather foreshadowed the youthful maturity of the 2013 Rusack Zinfandel Santa Catalina Island (Bottle #827), fruit-forward with a complex flavor profile strong enough to compliment aged Mahon (mah-ON),

young Mahon, aged Mahon

young Mahon, aged Mahon

a hard, textural cheese, salty with toasted nuts and caramel flavors that thoroughly coat the palate, pairing best with a rich, deep flavored wine like zinfandel.

 

Pairing #5:  “Nearly French”

Randall Grahm, founder/winemaker at Bonny Doon Vineyards, is one of the patriarchs of the California Rhone Rangers, replicating the famous blends from Chateaunef-du-pape in France’s southern Rhone Valley.  The

2010 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant Reserve

2010 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant Reserve

syrah/grenache dominant 2010 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant Reserve en bonbonne, is a rich, savory red blend with deep berry and tobacco aromas followed by herbal flavors and a long, silky finish.  Awarded 92-pt by Wine Enthusiast magazine, it is uniquely aged in 5-gallon glass bottles, the same ones from yesterday’s water coolers.  The right cheese to compliment this wine was never in question.

From France’s Basque region near the Pyrenees Mountains, the semi-soft Ossau-Iraty (OH-so ear-ah-TEE), a very wine compatible sheep’s cheese, has complex brown butter, caramel flavors that seem to soften deep

Ossau-Iraty

Ossau-Iraty

flavored wines like syrah, especially one as earthy and savory as the Le Cigare Volant.

 

Pairing #6:  “Dessert!”

The last and sweet pairing of the evening featured a 2010 Longoria Syrah Port “Vino Dulce” from Santa Ynez Valley with the creamy, buttery Rogue River Blue

Rogue River Blue

Rogue River Blue

from southern Oregon’s Rogue Creamery.  The port-style wine, available in Longoria’s Los Olivos tasting room expressing cherry, vanilla and spice flavors, is often served with chocolate desserts but the Rogue River, lacking the aggressive bite of most blue’s and augmented by sage honey, was a memorable compliment to the wine and the experience.

Of course, there were no winner or losers, just some of the world’s finest cheeses carefully matched with fine wines, a culinary delight beyond reproach.  Many of these cheeses are available at various gourmet markets, often providing personalized assistance with selections.  As a

2010 Longoria Syrah "Vino Dulce" Santa Barbara County

2010 Longoria Syrah “Vino Dulce” Santa Barbara County

backup, there are many reliable websites that can offer the most rarest of cheeses.  I also often consult food columnist Janet Fletcher’s “Cheese and Wine – A Guide to Selecting, Pairing and Enjoying” and “Cheese Course” by Fiona Beckett as resources for our pairings.


Pinot Noir ’12 & ’13

 

The following weather forecast appeared in my local newspaper last week:

Santa Lucia Highlands vineyard

Santa Lucia Highlands vineyard

“Russian River/Coast:  Areas of low clouds and fog, then sunshine today.  Mainly clear tonight, high 80/low 48”

Noting the 32 degree temperature swing made me smile because this forecast describes the ideal climate for pinot noir and cool-climate chardonnay and is consistent with the major regions in CA and Oregon where the best of the varietal, outside of the Burgundy region of France, originates.

Ideally, pinot noir awakens to fog, dripping moisture on its leaves, then basks in the mid-day sun, enjoying late afternoon cooling breezes and dropping evening

Rosella's Vineyard

Rosella’s Vineyard

temperatures.  This repetitive climate is one mandatory element of the terroir in all of our California and Oregon pinot noir growing regions, using the marine influence, extending from the northern Willamette Valley in Oregon to Santa Barbara County.

In California, the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County, the

Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, the Carneros region of the Napa Valley, the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County and Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County produce much of the best New World pinot noir on the planet.  As consistently good as they are, experts are deliberating between vintages 2012 and 2013 as the best in a decade, most saying that 2012 wines are perfectly structured while the vintage 2013 delivers more vibrant colors and concentrated fruit

Of special note is the Santa Lucia Highlands (91-94 pts.) and Russian River Valley (90-93pts)appellations who have produced, according to Wine Spectator and others, the finest California pinot noir among the 2012-13 vintages.  This is not a huge surprise

Garys' Vineyard

Garys’ Vineyard

, both have been among the leaders for decades.  The Russian River Valley is arguably the best U.S. appellation and pinot producers throughout the state have sourced grapes for years from the “Highlands,” namely Garys’, Rosella and Pisoni Vineyards that all began with two friends Gary Franscioni and Gary Pisoni elevating the region to worldwide recognition.

I am fortunate to have access to fine single-vineyard pinot noir from Sonoma’s Wiliams Selyem and Kosta Browne wineries who both built their reputations while sourcing grapes from top vineyards in the Russian River Valley and, eventually beyond.  Ironically, my vintage 2013 selections from each, for the most part, have been sourced from these Santa Lucia Highlands vineyards. One wine is the Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Pisoni Vineyard 2013 (94-pt/$90) that Wine Spectator ranked among the top pinot noir wines using descriptive words like “depth, density and grace,” all music to my ears.

ROAR Pinot Noir

ROAR Pinot Noir

A second Franscioni-Pisoni partnership created ROAR Wines designed to introduce the distinct flavors of the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation.  Deserving of recognition among Wine Spectator’s top 2014 wines, I found the ROAR Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Rosella’s Vineyard 2012 (93 pt/$52) to have a uniquely wonderful floral bouquet that foreshadowed a rich, luscious mouthfeel that enhanced the flavors.

From Santa Barbara County, the Brewer-Clifton Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills 2012 (94pt/$40), recognized by Wine Spectator as a Top Ten 2014 release, is the

culmination of a long standing, respected partnership.  Winemaker Greg Brewer uses whole cluster fermentation methods and his signature absence of any new oak to create very fruit forward, balanced flavors.  Also serving as winemaker for another Santa Rita

Brewer-Clifton Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2012

Brewer-Clifton Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2012

Hills producer, Melville Winery, Brewer’s low-yield Melville Pinot Noir Block M Santa Rita Hills 2012(97pt/$50), with complex flavors, was one of the memorable wines that I enjoyed this year.

Although the Meiomi Pinot Noir Monterey-Sonoma-Santa Barbara Counties 2013 (92pt/$22) has been reviewed as a top value-priced pinot noir, past vintages also

Meiomi Pinot Noir

Meiomi Pinot Noir

express very complex and structured flavors for the price, representing grapes from three of the major growing regions.

Amid the early stages of California’s drought, vintage 2013, especially in the Santa Lucia Highlands and the Russian River Valley,  experienced uniform, moderate temperatures with early rains no spring frost or summer heat waves. The lack of water may have slightly stressed the vines which often results more concentrated flavors.  We will be following with interest the 2016 vintage in California that may or may not have to adjust to the rains and weather patterns caused by “El Nino.”

The word “opulent” is what has Pinot Noir aficionados everywhere excited about the vintage 2102 of Oregon releases, the best since 2008, standing well above recent inconsistent vintages.  In 2012, the Willamette Valley and surrounding regions experience nearly ideal climate, requiring no extraordinary maintenance, seamlessly

Willamette Valley vineyard

Willamette Valley vineyard

aligned to the terroir.  Wine Spectator magazine, who rated the entire 2012 Oregon pinot noir vintage with 97-points, reported that nearly 60% of the wines tasted received ratings of 90-points or higher, opposed to 32% in 2011.

To me, good vintage Oregon pinot noir has sumptuously rich flavors that are restrained by the solid structure of the wine.

I can remember tasting the Bergstrom Pinot Noir de Lancellotti Vineyard 2008 (94pt/$60.00) during a 2010 visit and feeling that I had truly experienced the best

Bergstrom Pinot Noir

Bergstrom Pinot Noir

Oregon can offer.  Bergstrom remains among Oregon’s many extraordinary pinot noir producers and recently shared the spotlight with releases from the Seven Springs Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills appellation of the northern Willamette Valley.

The pinot noir and cool-climate chardonnay from Evening Land Vineyards has received several accolades over the past few years and, once again, their 2012 vintage, namely the Evening Land Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills Seven Springs Vineyard La 143793lSource 2012 remains atop pinots from Oregon or any other region.

Focusing on Oregon vintage 2012 seems to be the key and great values can be found among veteran winemakers from Ken Wright, Ponzi, Chehalem and, of course, A to Z Wineworks who have, for some time, produced very nice pinot noir for under $20.  I have tasted previous vintages of this wine and was not surprised to see the A to Z Wineworks Pinot Noir Oregon 2012 (89pt/$19)

A to Z Wineworks Oregon Pinot Noir 2013

A to Z Wineworks Oregon Pinot Noir 2013

among Wine Spectator’s top values of the vintage.

Long known for their pleasantly “grassy” sauvignon blanc and other whites, New Zealand has spent the last few decades expanding and perfecting the production of pinot noir.  Average vintage ratings have been in the low to mid-90s since the beginning of this decade, with the South Island’s Marlborough and Central Otago regions leading the way.  In a recent Wine Spectator review of all New Zealand wines, seven of the top 10 were pinot noir.  Many experts agree that the structure, thought to be lacking in the past, is where the best wines have improved and, in many instances, become more expensive.  However, as  with sauvignon blanc, New Zealand still produces some very good, accessible pinot noir at competitive prices.  While the Amisfield Pinot Noir Central Otago RKV Reserve 2010 (94pt/$100) is one of the highest rated of the varietal, they also produce the reasonably priced  Amisfield Pinot Noir Central Otago ($32), reviewed as complex, focused with good structure.

Quality, accessibility and cost are appealing features to many New Zealand pinots such as Kim Crawford Pinot Noir South Island 2013 (89pt/$19) and several others

Kim Crawford New Zealand Pinot Noir

Kim Crawford New Zealand Pinot Noir

that are often available at local outlets.

To fans of the “heartbreak grape,” be assured that the immediate future is bright.  Targeting California’s vintage 2012 & 2013, Oregon vintage 2012 and anything from New Zealand since 2010 seems to be the key in searching for your perfect pinot to pair with fresh salmon, Thanksgiving turkey or Monte Enebro, a slightly pungent, creamy-style goat’s milk cheese from Spain.


Hall Wines: A Sustainable Experience

 

Hall Wines from St. Helena in the Napa Valley is, without question, an upscale winery.  Most wines retail for well over $100.,the outdoor sculpture collection is exquisite and they offer  a variety of specialized tastings, tailored to individual preferences and pocketbooks.  This place is accessible, friendly and inviting to all guests, but for those who choose to invest in a membership, the entire estate becomes an oasis for serious wine drinkers who also

"Bunny Foo Foo" by Lawrence Argent

“Bunny Foo Foo” by

enjoy art, sculpture, stunning natural landscapes, surrounding vineyards and events that help pair extraordinary wines with culinary delights.  On a beautiful, late summer afternoon, we sought to discover the Hall experience that began with “Bunny Foo Foo,”  a 35-foot high stainless steel rabbit by artist Lawrence Argent, leading us, full stride to the old Bergfeld Winery property .

I first encountered Hall Wines in 2012, shortly after the buzz was created when Wine Spectator magazine awarded the Hall Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Kathryn Hall 2008 a 96-point rating, placing it #2 on their Top Wines of 2011 list.  Each vintage since, including the 2013 which is still in the barrel, has achieved ratings in the high 90s.  An extraordinary wine named for an extraordinary woman.

Vintner Kathryn Walt Hall, who owns Hall Wines with her husband, Craig, was first exposed to viticulture when her parents purchased a vineyard years ago, sourcing grapes to various vintners. Kathryn later managed the family vineyard and the Halls still produce wines under the WALT label

Outside of wine, Kathryn has had an esteemed personal and professional career beginning with an economics

Craig and Kathryn Hall

Craig and Kathryn Hall

degree and MBA from UC Berkeley, a JD from Hastings School of Law, stints in municipal and corporate law and, from 1997 to 2001 service as United States Ambassador to Austria under the Clinton Administration.  While working as an attorney and businesswoman in Dallas, TX, Kathryn carried on her passionate commitment to public office and community service with an extensive list of achievements.

Our first taste of “Kathryn’s Cab” since the noble vintage 2008 came in the barrel room with the 2013 HALL Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Kathryn Hall, a wine that is at least a year from release.

Although it will spend another six months in the barrel, still another six months in the bottle, this wine had the maturity of many wines already on outlet shelves.  The tannins were present but had softened considerably while young, complex flavors foreshadowed possible greatness

Described as a “hopeless entrepreneur,” Craig Hall has been forming businesses since he was a kid mowing lawns.  He

2012 HALL "Ellie's" Cabernet Sauvignon

2012 HALL “Ellie’s” Cabernet Sauvignon

parlayed an early investment in a small apartment complex into a real-estate empire and, eventually the Hall Financial Group.  Aside from their successful careers, the both Kathryn and Craig remain committed to a better community with multiple efforts and contributions recognized on a global scale.

With vision in hand, the Halls purchased the historic Bergfeld Winery (circa 1859) in 2003, intent on honoring

Historic Bergfeld Winery building

Historic Bergfeld Winery building

the land with an environmentally efficient operation, great art and architecture and, foremost, first-class wines. Through sensitivity and innovation, Hall became the first winery in California to attain a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification as a fully sustainable facility.  What is most impressive is that they have achieved it all without sacrificing design or quality in any aspect of the operation.

"Mouton Transhumandt

“Mouton Transhumant” by Francoise

Part of the Hall aesthetic is the art, both indoor and out. Carrying on the animal theme set by “Bunny Foo Foo’s entry way greeting, access to the tasting room/production facility requires passage by sculptors Francois-Xavier Lalanne’s whimsical sheep, “Mouton Transhumant” and John Baldessari’s recent, blue-eyed “Camel (Albino) Contemplating Needle,” both setting the mood to taste some exceptional wine.

Camel (Albino) Contemplating a Needle

Camel (Albino) Contemplating a Needle

 

Winemakers know that it all starts in the vineyards and at Hall, the best stock of all organic grapes sets the tone and precise viticulture delivers the result.  This was evident in the 2012 HALL “Ellie’s” Cabernet Sauvignon ($80), a Cabernet Sauvignon (79%)/Merlot (21%) blend named for Craig’s mother who was a WWII Navy veteran and navigator on a ship.  Merlot fosters softness to the young wine, with floral and herb influences that coexist with flavors of black currants, earning a 92-point rating from Wine Spectator’s James Laube.

 

The art and wine theme continues in a very unlikely fashion with the dense 2012 HALL “Jack’s Masterpiece” Cabernet Sauvignon ($125) which originates from several vineyards in the Napa Valley.

HALL Cabernet Sauvignon "Jack's Masterpiece" 2013

HALL Cabernet Sauvignon “Jack’s Masterpiece” 2013

The wine results from current HALL President Mike Reynolds’ annual honing of his winemaking skills.  With plenty of spice on the nose and palate, it delivers a creamy, chewy mouthfeel and rich flavors heavily influenced by 24 months in new French oak.  The label of this luscious, soft Cabernet adorns “Jack’s Masterpiece,” a drawing by Reynolds 18-month old son as a Father’s Day gift; a clear improvement over my plaster “hand print” wall hanging.

Taking a break from these alluring Cabernet Sauvignons, we tasted two pinot noir varietals from the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County, produced under their WALT label.

Offering very forward cherry and boysenberry flavors, the 2013 WALT Pinot Noir “Blue Jay” Anderson Valley ($40) has a rich mouthfeel with hints of baking spices.  Our host, Colin, suggested that this wine surprisingly pairs well with BBQ ribs.

2013 WALT "Blue Jay" Pinot Noir Anderson Valley

2013 WALT “Blue Jay” Pinot Noir Anderson Valley

Recently awarded 92-points by Wine Spectator, extraordinary bouquet and classic flavors reward those who taste the 2013 WALT Pinot Noir “The Corners” Anderson Valley ($75).  From a vineyard near Booneville, the complexity and depth of the aromas and distinctive flavors places

2013 WALT Pinot Noir "The Corners" Anderson Valley

2013 WALT Pinot Noir “The Corners” Anderson Valley

it among the higher echelon of the varietal in California.

Hall wines, mostly Bordeaux varietals, come from over 500 acres under vine among five unique estate vineyards ranging in location from the valley floor, the Pope Valley to the northeast, Sonoma County and the nearby Vaca Mountains.

Bergfeld Vineyard

Bergfeld Vineyard

The St. Helena Valley historic Bergfeld Vineyard that surrounds the winery was first planted in 1859 by sea-captain, William Peterson who later sold it to the Bergfeld family.  The hot valley floor with surrounding mountains as a gorgeous backdrop creates the perfect terroir for Cabernet Sauvignon and a testament to our final wine.

Just days before its release, we were able to experience the premium 2012 HALL “Kathryn Hall” Cabernet Sauvignon ($150), recently rated with 97-points by Wine Advocate’s Robert

2012 HALL "Kathryn Hall" Cabernet Sauvignon

2012 HALL “Kathryn Hall” Cabernet Sauvignon

Parker.  Sourced from the Bergfeld and Sacrashe Vineyard in nearby Rutherford, this Cabernet Sauvignon (75%) and Merlot (25%) blend has complex aromas and very concentrated, rich fruit flavors with depth, texture and the soft lingering finish of a classic.

IMG_2432

“Because Nothing Has Changed” by Anya Galleccio

As we concluded our stroll through the sculpture garden among pieces like Anya Galleccio’s surrealistic apple tree entitled “Because Nothing Has Changed” and one of Patrick Dougherty’s interwoven twig houses called “Deck The Halls,” I fully appreciated being there among the spectacular natural beauty of the valley, all driven by the creation of fabulous wines and preserved in a most caring and holistic manner.  Hall Wines are not for everyone but the experience is unparalleled and clearly the result of good old American initiative and hard work.

Patrick Dougherty's "Deck The Halls"

Patrick Dougherty’s “Deck The Halls”

There are several other wineries in the immediate area and the quaint, high-end town of St. Helena, with its restaurants, art galleries and shops, should be a definite stop during your next Napa Valley excursion.


A Landing for Chenin Blanc

 

Today, I understand the French chenin blanc grape to be among the world’s most versatile varietals, comfortable as a dry, off-dry, dessert or sparkling wine, flexing its natural acidity to pair well with almost anything edible. I can remember our first

Loire Valley vineyards

Loire Valley vineyards

connection in the early seventies when Charles Krug introduced it by name to California, apparently combining demand with scarcity to force the sale of less desirable wines.  In those days, it was simply a nice, crisp “summer sipper” and easier to pronounce than sauvignon blanc.

Despite its multi-faceted qualities, chenin blanc became lost and underrated in California over the years, succumbing to the emergence of our Burgundy and Bordeaux whites like chardonnay and sauvignon blanc.  A few years ago, I began to see references to and tasting new chenin blanc releases, becoming re-aquainted with its character.  It has become more abundant in California and is comfortably grown in appellations from Santa Barbara County to the Napa Valley.

To prove my point, let me introduce you to the 2013 Williams Selyem Chenin

Williams Selyem Chenin Blanc 2012

Williams Selyem Chenin Blanc 2012

Blanc Vista Verde Vineyard ($32), produced in the Russian River Valley with grapes from limestone-laden San Benito County vineyards near the town Tres Pinos, so exclusive that one can only find it by visiting the winery, that is not readily available to the casual wine taster.  I had not known of this wines existence despite being on the wineries allocation list for nearly a decade.

True to the high quality standard from Williams Selyem, the acidity is finely balanced, crisp yet rich with notable mineral elements on the finish. One characteristic of chenin blanc is that it is more age-worthy than most white wines.  We are being patience with the two bottles in my cellar, but the end of summer is near.

Also in Sonoma County, the iconic Dry Creek Vineyards produce a chenin blanc using grapes sourced from Clarksburg in the Sacramento Delta area, a major growing region

Dry Creek Vineyards Dry Chenin Blanc Clarksburg

Dry Creek Vineyards Dry Chenin Blanc Clarksburg

.  The 2013 Dry Creek Vineyards Chenin Blanc Clarksburg ($12), a tremendous value, is described as maintaining the “Loire character of earth and crushed minerals”. Enjoying the mineral elements, I found a nicely balanced acidity that allows the fruit to be more expressive.  The 2014 vintage has been released with good ratings from Robert Parker and Wine Enthusiast magazine.

The origins of chenin blanc lie in the beautiful Loire Valley, 150 miles south of Paris, west of the Burgundy region, where it is often called Pineau de la Loire.  To most, the wines from the Vouvray appellation best represent the region with an off-dry style wine, a bit softer and textural, revealing more

Loire Valley vineyards

Loire Valley vineyards

floral characteristics then the dry wines.  The dry chenin blanc comes from the Anjou area, also known for its sweet wines.

Several vineyards in Anjou use “botrytized” grapes, infected with Botrytis Cinerea, to produce high quality sweet dessert wines. The French have turned the “noble rot” disease into a sensory art form, only truly appreciated through a glass.

Loire Valley wines can be found in most wine shops and on-line, identified by the appellation.  A quick search on K&L Wines revealed two “vouvray” wines from the region that had high ratings and reasonable prices.  The 2013 Les Chancelieres Vouvray ($12), aged in stainless steel tanks, was described as having ripe fruit, floral aromas and solid citrus, a good formula for a satisfying dry wine.

K&L used the term “impeccably balanced” when recounting the fruit, earth and mineral aspects of the off-dry 2011 Domaine du Viking “Tendre” Vouvray ($23) while others, including Wine Spectator magazine, agree that this wine is among the best from the region.

2011 Domaine du Viking "Tendre" Vouvray

2011 Domaine du Viking “Tendre” Vouvray

Although chenin blanc is native to the Loire Valley in France, much more comes from most New World wine-producing countries such as Chile, Argentina, Australia, South Africa and the “Golden State,” where it is ranked third among white varietals, behind chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, in acres planted.

The world’s largest producer of chenin blanc where it is known as Steen, South Africa

South African vineyards

South African vineyards

has over 45,000 acres under vine and continues to export a wide selection of fine, dry-style wines to US and other markets, many available under $15.

One South African wine that has appeal to reviewers, the 2014 MAN Vintners “Free

MAN Family Vintners Chenin Blanc, South Africa

MAN Family Vintners Chenin Blanc, South Africa

Run Steen” Chenin Blanc ($12), from dry-farmed vineyards in the Agter-Paarl region, is noted for strong tropical fruit and citrus flavors that tend to linger.  From the Stellenbosch region, the dry Spier 2011 Chenin Blanc Stellenbosch ($10) has been rated in the high 80s with a low price.

Another interesting wine that has been consistently rated with 90+ points, the Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin Blanc 2014 ($23) has the full rounded flavors that one finds with a Vouvray from France and will appeal to those who favor chardonnay or sauvignon blanc.

As previously mentioned, chenin blanc, due to high natural acidity, is used to create very diverse wines, each with its own flavor palate.  Floral, herb and spice notes often surface in the bouquet while depth of the flavor profile generally includes spirited berries, fruitsf59f9519537b69690b7d78ef67273dec and citrus. Most of it is produced in stainless steel tanks, some in the concrete egg and the juice is often introduced to oak during the initial aging process, enhancing the buttery, creamy elements, especially in the off-dry wines.

In California, chenin blanc expresses more stone fruit flavors like peaches, apricots and, depending on the style and oak influence, honey, mineral elements with floral aromas while South Africa’s dry-style exude more tropical fruits, namely banana, guava and pineapple.

It is equally versatile in food pairing, comfortable with salads, fish, chicken, cream sauces and my favorite, Asian food.

The grape’s healthy acidity can stand up to those spicy Thai sauces, even curry.  It is also versatile in pairing with cheeses such as asiago (cow), California’s Humboldt Fog (goat) and, of course, a creamy, pyramid-shaped Valencay (goat) from the Loire Valley.

With more grapes sourced from Clarksburg, Napa Valley’s Pine Ridge Winery produces

Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc-Viognier, Napa Valley

Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc-Viognier, Napa Valley

a single varietal chenin blanc and a unique, consistently good chenin blanc-viognier blend, the unlikely merger of varietals from the Loire and Rhone Valleys. Wilfred Wong of wine.com  described the off-dry Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc-Viognier 2014 ($15) as having “lots of fresh fruits and aromatics, a faint touch of sugar, yet crisp in the finish,” awarding it another 90-point rating.

Toward the southern end of the state, chenin blanc releases from the Santa Ynez and Santa Maria Valleys have become more available. Described as an off-dry style, supple wine, the Foxen 2013 Chenin Blanc Ernesto Wickenden Vineyard “Old Vines” ($25) is produced whole cluster, fermented in stainless steel and aged in neutral oak.  This wine is on the exploration list for my next visit to the Santa Barbara wine area.

2013 Foxen Chenin Blanc Santa Maria Valley

2013 Foxen Chenin Blanc Santa Maria Valley

With nearly 65,000 total acres under vine in an appellation spanning three counties, Sacramento, Solano and Yolo; Clarksburg, in the minds of some, has replaced the Loire Valley as the world’s best producer of chenin blanc.  Aside from loamy soil, the Sacramento Delta vineyards battle heat, fog and wind, but seem to thrive.  More of the grapes are sourced and crushed in other areas, but some are locally produced including the zesty Vinum Cellars 2014 Chenin Blanc Clarksburg ($15), whose focus is to maintain the natural acidity, resulting in intense citrus and tropical fruit flavors.

Albeit not the major player, chenin blanc maintains a respectable presence in Washington State.  One that comes to mind is the off-dry 2009 L’Ecole No 41 “Walla Voila” Chenin Blanc, Columbia Valley ($14), a tribute to the owners collection of Vouvrays that expresses deep, honeyed fruit flavors, maintaing a crisp, citrus finish

VineyardsEven with its tremendous growth and appeal worldwide, the future of chenin blanc is uncertain giving the proliferation of traditional and new whites like albarino, Gruner Ventliner and viognier emerging from New World appellations into the marketplace.  It does, however, give us an alternative as a crisp, refreshing “sipper” with diverse flavors reflecting the region of the world where it is created.  Readily available and inexpensive, it is certainly an option that may become your next preferred white wine.


Gloria of Carneros

 

Friends visiting from Seattle requested that we join them for a private tasting at the Gloria Ferrer Winery in the Sonoma/Carneros region.  It seems they prefer the “bubbly” and have become members, thanks to the winery’s willingness to ship anywhere.  I had previously passed by the entrance gate or had occasional glimpses on wine shop

Gloria Ferrer Winery

Gloria Ferrer Winery

shelves, but knew very little about their releases over the last three decades.

First impressions are always important and the Gloria Ferrer Estate did not disappoint. There is a half-mile of winding road through gentle hills with vineyards before you reach any buildings.  The indoor/outdoor tasting room was huge with a chef on-hand, preparing food to enhance the experience.  Add some live music and they have marketing appeal from “Baby Boomers” to the “Millennials.”

Because of our VIP friends, we were escorted into a room to taste sparkling and still wines, each paired with a taste of something good and enlightening commentary.  Being a person that likes to take a little something home from these experiences, it was here that I discovered the 2006 Gloria Ferrer

Gloria Ferrer "Royal Cuvee'" sparkling wine

Gloria Ferrer “Royal Cuvee'” sparkling wine

Royal Cuvee’ ($37), a sparkling wine (66% pinot noir, 34% chardonnay) that impressed with multiple flavors on the nose and palate.  I enjoy sparkling wines but often the true flavors are disguised by the effervescence.  This is not the case with the “Royal.”  The apple, honey nose extended through the palate with a creamy texture and, surprisingly, a pleasant minerality on the finish.

Something that most of us do more of during a formal tasting is exploring the bouquet of the wine.  Neglecting to do this while enjoying a glass with dinner diminishes our capacity to capture the full sensory adventure.

Gloria Ferrer is located in the south Sonoma County Carneros region, impacted by morning marine layers from San Pablo Bay and, for years, described as an area to avoid when planting new vines.  It is the coolest and windiest region in both Sonoma and Napa Valley and the poor draining, rocky soils make it a struggle for grapes to survive. A possible solution is to find a grape varietal that prefers cool, wet winds and indigent soil.

Carneros Vineyard

Carneros Vineyard

After early century phylloxera (root disease) decimated the original vines, further damaging the region’s reputation,  well-known wine producer Louis Martini purchased a large area within the Carneros in 1942 and began to experiment with cool-climate chardonnay and pinot noir.  Known as the “heartbreak grape,” the difficult pinot noir does seem to thrive when coping with the challenges that define the Carneros terroir.  Soon, Carneros caught the eye of sparkling wine producers and rapidly became a desired region, associated with quality chardonnay, pinot noir and sparkling wines.

Our next taste was the flagship 2003 Gloria Ferrer Carneros Cuvee’ ($75), a pinot noir and chardonnay blend awarded double-gold at the San Francisco International Wine Competition and 90 points from Wine Spectator, expressing complex aromas and layered flavors of apple, pear

2003 Gloria Ferrer "Carneros Cuvee'"

2003 Gloria Ferrer “Carneros Cuvee'”

and Meyer lemon.  There is a remarkably rich texture to this Carneros sparkling wine, enhanced when paired with smoked salmon and goat cheese.

 

The Ferrer family’s path to the Carneros region began over 600 years ago in Spain where they were already respected wine growers and makers.  In the early 20th Century, two prominent wine families were merged with the marriage of  Pedro

Pedro Ferrer and Dolores Sala Ferrer

Pedro Ferrer and Dolores Sala Ferrer

Ferrer to Dolores Sala.  Soon after, the young couple released their first cava (Spanish sparkling wine) and established the  Freixenet label becoming  largest producer of “method champoise” wines in the world.

After a 1930s visit, Pedro’s dream of launching a winery in the United States was tragically cut short when he was killed in the Spanish Civil War.  His ambition lived through his son, Jose, who returned in 1982 to purchase land in the Carneros and establish Gloria Ferrer Winery, named after Mrs. Ferrer.  A few years later the Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards opened with production and tasting facilities replicating a “classic Catalon farmhouse”.  Today, the family and team farm over 300 acres of estate vineyards producing six sparkling wines, five pinot noir, a cool-climate chardonnay and a merlot.  Did someone say merlot?

The Carneros is known for being tough on varietals other than cool-climate chardonnay and pinot noir.  Zinfandel was the chosen one for a short time, but could not sustain quality vintages. So, I was surprised when our tasting included the

Gloria Ferrer Carneros Merlot

2009 Gloria Ferrer Carneros Merlot

2009 Gloria Ferrer Carneros Merlot ($28), a Bordeaux varietal that was nicely balanced with dominant dark berries bouquet and chocolate hints to enhance the dark fruit flavors.  Of course, merlot pairs best with beef or lamb dishes.  However, vegetarians can pair it with aged cheeses and even vegans can enjoy this accessible wine by itself..

In the wine world, the opposite of sweet is defined as “dry.”  With sparkling wines, dryness in described through “brut” and “extra brut”.   The pinot noir dominant 2011 Gloria Ferrer Brut Rose’ ($47) is emblematic of the modern rose,’ varietal specific, crafted from carefully selected fruit, dry and a bit pricy.

Partial to the ascendant aromas and flavors of a 90% pinot noir rose,’ the small amount of chardonnay is most apparent during the finish.  There is ample quality rose’ available at varied prices but few the combine pinot noir and chardonnay,

Gloria Ferrer Winery Tasting Room

Gloria Ferrer Winery Tasting Room

making this one special.

For those seeking a very dry sparkling wine, the 2006 Gloria Ferrer Extra Brut Cuvee’ ($47) is an option and those who prefer something sweeter can choose from two flavorful, value-priced, non-vintage sparkling wines that concluded our tasting.

Using only premiere taille (first press) grapes and the bebourage technique of allowing the juice to settle overnight, then aging 18 months en tirage (on the yeast), the Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut ($22), from numerous estate vineyards, expressed compounded  fruit and floral overtones with a creamy texture and the Gloria Ferrer Va De Vi ($22), awarded “Best of Class, Semi-Dry” in the 2015 San Francisco Chronicle Wine

Gloria Ferrer Brut Rose'

2011 Gloria Ferrer Brut Rose’

Competition, is also very fruit forward with some sweetness courtesy of a small amount of muscat in the blend.  Both sparkling wines offer pleasant zest and texture at a reasonable price.

With 335 contiguous acres under vine, the Gloria Ferrer Estate makes for an impressive landscape that allows assorted options to “isolate and enhance” flavors while producing unique Sonoma County wines.  While pinot noir and chardonnay are hallmark varietals for the region, the blending of the two in creating diverse sparkling wines is rare.

In the heart of the Carneros that bridges two great regions, Sonoma County and the Napa Valley,

Outdoor Patio overlooking vineyards

Outdoor Patio overlooking vineyards

the Gloria Ferrer Winery is a relaxing 50-mile drive from San Francisco and provides another dimension to your exploration of the Napa-Sonoma area, renown throughout the world for the production of extraordinary still and sparkling wines.


Beyond Oak

Oak has played a major role in winemaking forever.  C’mon, it’s synonymous with wine. Descriptions of most fine wines list the varieties of oak used in creating the unique effects of each release.  Oak barrels range from high impact, thirsty “new” to “neutral,” which

Quintessa Winery vineyards

Quintessa Winery vineyards

serves as storage only.  They range ethnically from French, American to Slovenian and for centuries, most winemakers employed “coopers” to construct their own barrels.

In France, renown oak barrel makers are in high demand and like most vintner’s, their craft dates back generations.  Their barrels are the most expensive in the world although their life span triples those from other countries.

California winemakers have introduced oak to chardonnay, a match made in heaven for those rich, creamy wines, something the French would scoff at, adhering to their stainless steel traditions.

I’ve recently noticed that for reasons of both cost and taste, winemakers are moving away from oak in subtle and not so subtle ways. For instance, a few years ago, I tasted a 2012 Foresight Winery “Unoaked” Pinot Noir, my first and later met with Melville Winery whose winemaker, Gary Brewer, employs only neutral oak with all his pinot noir, quite a departure

2013 Melville Chardonnay Clone 76

2013 Melville Chardonnay Clone 76 “Inox”

Many California wineries who produce chardonnay now include at least one “unoaked” release. From the 2012 Columbia Crest Unoaked Chardonnay in Washington State to the 2014 Melville Chardonnay “Inox” in Santa Barbara County, the 2014 Morgan “Metallica” in Monterey and, my personal favorite 2013 Williams Selyem Unoaked Chardonnay from Sonoma, we have begun to lean on stainless steel and other methods.

Great French chardonnay from Burgundy is all stainless steel, oak would be cheating their values. California chardonnay is

2013 Williams Selyem Unoaked Chardonnay

2013 Williams Selyem Unoaked Chardonnay

identified by oak, though an increase in unoaked releases must be a response to demand.  So, what is the difference between the two?  It basically revolves around mouthfeel and taste.

Oak adds additional aromas to the wine, such as vanilla and hazelnut and tends to build a more rich and creamy texture while stainless steel captures only the aromas and taste originated by the grape, trending toward a more crisp and fruity wine.  Stainless steel chards are generally preferred when pairing with foods such as shellfish, ceviche, tuna and oysters and those oak-laden are terrific al fresco. While these fermentation methods offer clear alternatives, some winemakers are experimenting with even newer ones.

Within the last two weeks, I have discovered numerous vintners fermenting wines in

concrete egg at Thomas George

concrete egg at Thomas George

large concrete “eggs,” rounded vats about six feet tall.  Surely, they seem indestructible with almost an infinite shelf life, but how do they impact the juice. Apparently, the concrete is porous, allowing oxygen into the wine. Concrete vats have been used in winemaking for over century, but the egg shape is a 21st Century concept, first commissioned by a French winemaker in 2001.  The rounded “egg” is more efficient, eliminating dark corners and allowing the juice to easily co-mingle.

Thomas George Winery in the Russian River Valley offered

2011 Thomas George Baker Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir

2011 Thomas George Baker Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir

some comparisons with a flight of three chardonnay, each from a different fermentation process. The crisp 2011 Thomas George Estate Chardonnay, Concrete, with no malo-lactic fermentation, aged nine months sur lie in concrete eggs, has very forward fruit aromas and flavors with a delightful minerality on the finish. Each process create different nuances and the “concrete egg” will appeal to many palates.

William Selyem Winery uses the “egg” for their crisp 2013 Williams Selyem Chenin Blanc San Benito County while Oregon’s Archery Summit Winery produces the 2014 Archery Summit Ab Ovo Pinot Gris, combining juice aged in the “egg,” stainless steel and oak.  Napa Valley’s Quintessa, known for extraordinary Cabernet Sauvignon blends, has also produced the highly touted 2013 Quintessa

Quintessa

Quintessa “llumination” Sauvignon Blanc

“Illumination” Sauvignon Blanc using concrete egg fermenters.

History will determine its ultimate fate, but practicality and effect seems to be telling us that the “egg” is here to stay.

Randall Grahm from Santa Cruz’s Bonny Doon Vineyard and Cellars has produced his flagship Rhone blend, “Le Cigare Volant,” since the early 1980s.  A few years ago he surprisingly changed the fermentation vessels from oak to 5-gallon glass carboys, the same ones that fit atop the office water cooler before plastic became the norm.  Over 900 cases of the 2011 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant Reserve “en bonbonne,” a blend consisting

5-gallon carboy or

5-gallon carboy or “boubonnes”

of mourvedre, grenache, syrah and cinsault grapes from eight different Monterey County vineyards, were produced, all aged nine months, sur lie in 5-gallon carboys. After much research, I discovered that “en bonbonne” is in fact a French term referring to the use of glass vessels in wine fermentation, although generally larger than Randall’s 5-gallon containers.

The significant impact that Randall recounts is in the texture of the wine.  He describes the texture as “utterly seamless and sleek, and secondarily, their quality of umami, no doubt a function of the glutamate released from the autolysis of yeast cells during the élevage”.  My interpretation of Grahm’s abstract comments is that, seemingly, the glass carboy, which certainly adds no flavors, acts as a decanter, allowing in oxygen to soften or “open” the wine. Of course, sur lie is the process of combining yeast build up with the juice rather than removing it, also resulting in a more textural vino.

As a “DEWN” member, I am among a select few who have tasted the 2011 “en

2011 Bonny Doon

2011 Bonny Doon “Le Cigare Volant Reserve en bonbonne

bonbonne” reserve and can vouch for it’s gratifying  richness.  My second bottle will lay down awhile and we will see just how good it can be.

We are definitely thinking beyond oak and this is a good thing.  To me, it is all about expanding our comfort zones to embrace new ideas which will result in the betterment of all.  These new fermentation methods will soon assimilate and, who knows, may make oak-centric wines better.


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