Monthly Archives: December 2017

Wines For Dessert

 

While entertaining during this season, many are ditching the traditional apple or pumpkin pie for a thoughtful fruit and cheese

Village et vignobles de Sauternes

plate paired with a port-style or late-harvest dessert wine. The most famous and expensive dessert wines on the planet are from Sauternes and Barsac, south of Bordeaux France.  For the past two years, the Chateau Climens Barsac 2013 ($68/97-pt) and the Chateau Coutet Barsac 2014 ($37/96-pt) are among Wine Spectator magazine’s top five releases worldwide. They are both a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon blanc, the same grapes used in the classic Bordeaux white wines. The difference lies in something nicknamed the “noble rot.”

Mold is a natural enemy in the vineyards and can quickly destroy plants.  However, the renowned Sauternes are among those “botrytized” wines, that oddly benefit from

Chateau Coutet Barsac

the encouragement of a mold called Botrytis Cinerea.  High humidity make the plant susceptible to the rot which, primarily during late growth, turns the grapes to raisins and sweetens the juice.  Botrytis may sugar-coat the Sauternes, but they maintain the complex flavor profile and other attributes of traditional white wine from the region.

Although the Sauternes I have tasted are unmatched, the typical $50-75 per bottle cost is beyond mine and many budgets.  Albeit difficult to dissuade someone from experiencing these great releases, common sense suggests that we look to more affordable and accessible choices

Grapes with Botrytis Cinerea

in California.  Pairing any of these dessert wines with rich cheeses like Rogue River Bleu from southern Oregon or Point Reyes Bay Blue with some sage honey and a bit of chocolate may draw you closer to nirvana.

Vincent Arroyo Winery in north Napa Valley has produced their petite sirah port-style wine for over twenty years in the authentic method of using grapes from one vintage only.  Petite sirah is compatible with many palates and some of the best comes from this region.  Clearly identified by a striking silver embossed label, one remaining 2012 Vincent Arroyo Port sits in my cellar.  It is a rich, balanced, age-worthy port and I trust the current vintage is as well

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After I first tasted the full-bodied 2010 Richard Longoria “Vino Dulce” Syrah Santa Barbara County ($23) paired with fine chocolate, I lost all self-control and had seconds.  What I love about this port-style, single-varietal wine is that, although fortified, the complexities in the syrah are still evident.  The spice aromas are protuberant and the cherry flavors are baked,

2012 Longoria Vino Dulce Syrah

balanced and expressive.

Wines sourced from San Benito County vineyards are interesting because of the heavy limestone influence in their soil. Vista Verde Vineyard, south of Hollister, is a familiar one.  The Williams Selyem Port Vista Verde Vineyard 2010 ($30), and earlier vintages are rich and complex, aged forty months in oak barrels. Look for fig and floral aromas, dark berries flavors with a nice “Snickers Bar” finish that romances the palate.

Last week at a dinner party with friends, I shared the Hungarian “botrytized” wine, Disznókő, Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2008 ($45), a classified first growth release and considered the finest wine in the Tokaji region. After initial hints of citrus,

Disznoko Tokaji Aszu Puttonyos 5

the other elaborate flavors melded into a potently polished rich mouthfeel. While this special after dinner wine pairs well with a variety of cheeses and chocolates, it can be dessert on its own.

For those curious about Sauternes, I did a quick net search of local Bay Area wine outlets and found several priced in the $20-$30 range.  The top-rated wine was a 2001 Guiraud Sauternes ($60), which received a 96-pt rating from Wine Spectator and was on their “Top 100 Wines of 2004” list describing flavors of “butterscotch and vanilla with hints of ripe apples.”  It’s there for the taking, but, as we have discovered, there are many delectable options to choose from.

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Tasting “Sonoma Strong”

 

Sonoma County has experienced tragedy from the recent fires.  There was loss of life and property and we all see areas of scorched earth where beauty once prevailed. The land will recover and the community has begun the healing process with an outpouring of community support.

Staff at Merry Edwards Winery

Thanks to the efforts of firefighters and other public service personnel, most of the landscape remains unchanged, including our famous vineyards.  Sonoma County is open for business and the experience of great wine, food and natural beauty is very much intact. The following recommendations are intended to deliver it all for a memorable day-trip.

The first stop is a late morning reserved tasting at Limerick Lane Cellars, named for their street of origin, on property south of Healdsburg.  Since the Limerick Lane

Limerick Lane Winery

Zinfandel Russian River Valley 2012 (94-pt) placed #12 on Wine Spectator’s 2015 Top 100 list, their wines have become recognizable and highly rated. Currently, visitors can enjoy the 2015 Russian River Valley Zinfandel, the 2015 1910 Block Zinfandel (94-pt),a specialty field blend and the wonderful 2015 Syrah Grenache, a Rhone blend with a pinch of petite sirah added.

There are a plethora of good lunch opportunities in trendy Healdsburg, a few blocks north of Limerick Lane  Two of my favorites are The Shed, offering a delightful farm to table menu and Barndiva, with aesthetic patio dining.

Leaving town and traveling west, Healdsburg Road, passing over  Highway 101, soon intersects with the iconic Westside Road that weaves through the heart of the Russian River Valley.  Not all estates along Westside Road are open to the public,

Patio tasting at Gary Farrell

but MacRostie Vineyards, Gary Farrell and Thomas George Estates offer special tasting experiences that focus on cool climate chardonnay and pinot noir.  All of their single-vineyard releases feature noted local vineyards like Olivet, Durrell and Wildcat Mountain

They all offer a broad menu of tasting experiences, held in modish settings, that are

Gary Farrell Chardonnay Durrell Vineyard 2013

both exceptional and pricey.  Indulge yourselves while enjoying fine wines like the 2014 Gary Farrell Durrell Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma Valley (94-pt). Reservations are required at each.

The continuing drive along Westside Road is a virtual feast for the eyes, passing through gorgeous redwoods, oaks and vineyards like Allen, Bacigalupi and Bucher that source grapes to many of the valley’s producers.  As with previous vintages, the medium-bodied 2015 Williams Selyem Westside Road Neighbors Pinot Noir, sourced from these and other nearby vineyards, has a rich mouthfeel with berry and spice flavors that pair well with my palate.

Hacienda Bridge

Driving south along Westside Road requires crossing the one-way Hacienda Bridge that affords splendid views of the Russian River. Soon, Westside becomes Wohler Road moving south to River Road, toward the Highway 116 wineries.  This is a good time set your GPS for Merry Edwards Winery on Gravenstein Highway North (116) near Sebastopol.

With consistent great releases from an iconic winemaker, poured in a private setting,

Merry Edwards Winery is unsurpassed. The free tasting treats you to more highly-rated single vineyard pinot noir, chardonnay and something more.  The 2016 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley, as well as previous vintages, is arguably the best sauvignon blanc in California. Stable ratings in the mid-nineties and multiple appearances on Wine Spectator magazines Top 100 Wines List substantiates it’s reputation. Several lees-stirrings and the addition of sauvignon musque adds richness to the complex flavor profile of stone and tropical fruits with expressive mineral notes on the finish.  The golden color and floral aromas alone earned a reserved place in my small cellar.

Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc

Another nearby option is Dutton-Goldfield, serving more chardonnay, pinot noir and the rich, balanced 2014 Dutton-Goldfield Cherry Ridge Vineyard Syrah, using forty-percent whole cluster grapes from a warmer vineyard to create a soft, velvety texture.

Zasu at the Barlow, featuring pork dishes, Jamaican food at Revibe or seafood at Handline provide options for an early dinner in Sebastopol.

Sonoma wineries are surely open for business and many are dedicating profits to help fire victims.  Come enjoy some of the finest wines on the planet and help Sonoma County rebuild itself.  Your taste buds will thank you.