Monthly Archives: April 2019

Traditional sparkling wines from the shadows of the Dolomites

 

We often mistakingly define all Italian sparkling wine as prosecco.  It’s popularity is unmistakable.  Data has shown that nearly one-fifth of all global wine sales in 2017 were prosecco, a 21 percent increase from 2016.

However, prosecco is only one Italian sparkling wine, made from the glera grape and grown exclusively in the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia regions.  The name of the grape was changed from prosecco to glera in 2009 to protect the brand from outsiders.  

Terrific sparkling wines also originate from Lambrusco, Franciacorta, Asti Spumante and Trentodoc, a little known region in the Dolomites that produces sparkling wine using the same grapes and “metodo classico” (traditional method) as those from the Champagne region of France.

Trentodoc is a series of sparkling wines that actually originates from vineyards near Trento in the Trentino Alta Adige region, north of those where prosecco (glera) is grown.  The Dolomites mountain range serve as a majestic backdrop for many of the vineyards. The names of these wines, Trentodoc, is a combination of the city and the DOC ((Denominazione di origine controllata), a designation that instills strict requirements designed to protect the integrity of the region.

The Trentino region is the second largest producer of Italian sparkling wines that espouse the Champagne method (méthode champenoise) of allowing the second fermentation to occur in each bottle, when sugar and yeast is added to the wine (tirage), before the bottles are temporarily capped.  The interaction of the sugar and yeast culminates in carbon dioxide being trapped in the bottle.

Trentodoc sparkling wines are also made from many of the same grapes used in wines from Champagne.  Aside from “metodo classico,” the DOC regulations restrict the varietals to chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot meunier and pinot blanc, requiring that the vines are grown in pergola (canopy) style and that irrigation be used only in emergency situations.

All non-vintage Trentodoc wines must rest on their less for a minimum of 15 months, 24 months for vintage and 36 months to be called riserva.

Little known in the United States, Trentodoc sparkling wines have a personality that is not “bone dry” nor overly sweet.  Their bouquet is floral and somewhat delicate and the flavors are rounder and richer than most.  Another reason for the heightened awareness is their availability and cost, mostly within the $20-$35 range.

With warm daily breezes and cool evening winds, vines in the upper Cembra Valley, within shadows of the Dolomites, enjoy great terroir for the chardonnay grapes used in the 2010 Cesarini Sforza Riserva 1673 ($30).  The juice rests on its lees for a minimum of 60 months which adds to its delicate, rich texture that exceeds other sparkling wines at a similar price.

Founded in 1902, Ferrari Trento is one of the largest and oldest producers of several sparkling wine using the traditional method.  In 2017, they were awarded the title of “Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year” at the Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships

Grown at high mountain altitudes, a blend of pinot nero and chardonnay grapes, vinified as a rose’, comprised the non-vintage Ferrari Rose’ ($27), a beautiful light wine, but with deeper color than most.  Of all the Trentodoc wines that I tasted, this had the most complex and elegant nose and flavor profile with fresh hints of currants and berries

Certified organic, Maso Martis Trentodoc produces several releases including the non-vintage Maso Martis Brut Trentodoc ($40), made for chardonnay (70%) and pinot noir ($30) grapes. The aromas are floral and fruity while the flavors are full, but delicate.  I found

Maso Martis Brut Trentodoc

the wine to be food friendly, having paired it with pesto-crusted orange roughy. 

From 100% chardonnay vines high above sea level in the hills above Trento, the 2014 Altemasi Millesimato Trentodoc ($30) is a vegan, gluten free wine that goes through weekly battonage during the first fermentation, before tirage.  Battonage is the process of stirring the lees (dead yeast) into the juice, adding a softer, rich texture.  During the second fermentation, this wine is aged on its lees (not stirred) for 36 months.

The Altemasi Millesimato is dry, but fruity with well-integrated aromas and flavors of citrus and peach.  It is a perfect pair with scallops.

Trentodoc sparkling wines are the best option for those with a desire to explore beyond prosecco or simply seeking a flavorful, reasonably priced sparkler for the next occasion.

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Her River Runs Through Me

 

“Part of you, flows out of me

in these lines from time to time”

    Joni Mitchell

  Metaphorically, a river is often used to represent movement, connection or coming home, like “ a river to a sea.”  In 1971, singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell wrote the song “River,” describing it, from the perspective of her upbringing in Saskatchewan, Canada, as a pathway to escape her problems and a longing for something more.  It simply began:  “It’s coming on Christmas, they’re cutting down trees, putting up reindeer, singing songs of joy and peace.  Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on.”

The complete song was self-revealing in a way that was unprecedented, especially for a woman dealing with the societal ceiling of the times.  Although we have never met, I would, over the next forty years, develop an intimate relationship with Joni Mitchell through her words and her music. They became an ongoing inspiration to my soul as it revealed itself to me.  I often found solace in her words that helped me to think and write poetically.  Without trying, she often reminded me that I could be a better, more enlightened person.  She was my muse.

A few days after my twenty-fourth birthday, I returned to my apartment to find a thin, wrapped twelve-inch square package lying across the threshold of my doorstep with a note from my brother-in-law attached that read, “Happy Birthday, there’s great music in the world that isn’t jazz.”  

Kerry had recently returned from combat in the Vietnam War and was living the hippie life in the hills of Los Gatos.  Unable to expand my psychedelic horizons, he became determined to broaden me musically beyond my limiting obsession with jazz artists like Miles Davis, John Coltrane and pianist Herbie Hancock.

He had some success with my college graduation gift of the album, “On the Threshold of a Dream,” that turned me on to the innovative music of the Moody Blues and thought that Joni Michell’s latest 1972 release, “For The Roses,” would be the next logical step in his plan to open me up.  Those instincts were auspicious  and, at that time, he may have known more about my inner self than I did.

Unfortunately, Kerry fell into life-long drug addiction, the cumulative effects of which led to his death, at age sixty-five, from a heart attack.  As a few people gathered at his gravesite, I delivered some brief remarks and credited his birthday gift of “For The Roses” as life changing for me.

It is one thing to write from the heart and another to write unafraid, willing to reveal and expose your vulnerabilities. For me, Joni Mitchell did that better than anyone. 

The album, “For The Roses” included a few catchy songs like, “You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio” and “Barangrill,” that used wit and alliteration to tell  young love stories.  Pulling me deeper into her expressive self, another piece, “Lesson In Survival” was a different type of love song that spoke of the complexities of relationships, isolation and the fear of incompatibility. 

She wrote: “Maybe it’s paranoia, maybe it’s sensitivity.  Your friends protect you, scrutinize me and I get so damn timid, not at all the spirit that’s inside of me.  I can’t seem to make it with you socially, there’s this reef around me.”

The song, “Lesson In Survival” set-up one of her most poignant pieces, “Woman of Heart And Mind.”    

“I am a women of heart and mind, with time on my hands, no child to raise.  You come to me like a little boy and I give you my scorn and my praise.”

In the early seventies, the roles of men and women were more defined, like the walls of a cage.  Joni’s words made me question why I couldn’t be a little boy and lean on my young wife sometimes.  Current norms only placed importance on me being a rock for her to lean on, something that seemed counterintuitive to what makes a lasting relationship. 

Women had already figured this out, judging by the new movement for equality that they were creating.  I understood the concept, but Joni’s lyrics became the voice in my head that rose up from time to time when I needed to be reminded that I could think and do better.

The song’s assault on the perceived “Mad Men” roles of men and women that existed forty-five years ago continued with lyrics from the modern female perspective.   

“After the rush when you come back down, you’re always disappointed, nothing seems to keep you high. Drive your bargains, push your papers, win your medals, fuck your strangers, don’t it leave you on the empty side?”

In the 1990s, my two young boys would giggle when they heard that verse of “Women Of Heart And Mind” playing on my home or car stereo.  Today, at ages forty and thirty-three, I consider both of them to be open and sensitive men.  Thanks, in part, to musical pioneers like Joni Mitchell, they grew up in a society where the archaic roles of men and women were more blurred and less defined. 

The song, “Woman Of Heart And Mind” concludes not like an arrow, but a dagger to the heart of early-1970s norms as Joni became introspective and personal.    “You criticize and you flatter, you imitate the best and the rest you memorize.  You know, the times you impress me the most are the times when you don’t try, when you don’t even try.”

I refused to look in a mirror for days while my young mind digested those words.

The lessons of “Woman Of Heart And Mind” were reinforced later, in 1977, with the song “Jericho,”  “I’ll try to keep myself open up to you and approve your self expression.  I need that too.  I need your confidence and the gift of your extra time, in return I’ll give you mine.  Sweet darling, it’s a rich exchange it seems to me.  It’s a warm arrangement.”

These words continually emerge as a voice in my head, usually when I am not living up to the message.

A few weeks after receiving it, I shared my excitement about “For The Roses” to a visiting friend who was familiar with Joni’s music.  When I returned from work the next day, he gifted me her three earlier albums.  I became full-on Joni Mitchell and couldn’t get enough of her music or her poetic messages.  Even though she stopped writing and recording music in 2007, her lyrics have their own drawer in the Dewey-decimal system of my mind, easily retrievable.

In her album, “Blue,” recorded one year before “For The Roses” in 1971, Joni’s lyrics were slightly less refined, but revealing of her emerging themes. In the song, “All I Want,” she wrote/sang:  “All I really want our love to do is to bring out the best in me and in you.  I wanna talk to you, I want to shampoo you, I want to renew you, again and again.”

While Joni was, most likely, referring to a personal relationship, my take-a-way was that more than being present, I needed to consciously be there, again and again.  As the superficial pressures of becoming a sensitive, white male were mounting, Joni offered a cautionary reminder:  “When you dig down deep, you lose good sleep and it makes you heavy company.”

My wife Karen shared a passion for Joni’s words that would evolve, over time, into an artistic threesome.  As we all grew and changed, her lyrics became less of a guide for our relationship and more of an appreciation of expression. 

Although passion was still present, our desire to bathe and shampoo together gave way to “I just want to soak in the tub and relax for a while.”  As a young relationship is often driven by passion, one that is maturing acknowledges growth as people, allowing more space for independent thought as well as a relaxing bath.  After all, it was Joni who reminded us of the need to approve each other’s self-expression.  

Joni’s declaration:  “…you want stimulation, nothing more, that’s what I think” became, at times, mutually acceptable.  Our deep love was engrained and with the fear of incompatibility diminishing, an appreciation for individual expression and a desire for exploration of mind and body burst forth.

  Joni was also evolving. In addition to exposing vulnerabilities, her words began to express a deep sense of independence and wanderlust that, admittedly, resulted in both peace of mind and regret.  Years earlier, in “River,” she blamed herself as she wrote/sang:  I’m so hard to handle, I’m selfish and I’m sad.  Now I’ve gone and lost the best baby that I ever had.  I wish I had a river I could skate away on.”

Her epic 1976 release, “Hejira,” revealed a more determined independent spirit as she wrote/sang:  “In our possessive coupling, so much could not be expressed.  So now I’m returning to myself, these things that you and I suppressed. We’re only particles of change I know, orbiting around the sun.  But how can I have that point of view, when I’m always bound and tied to someone.”

Ironically, shortly after hearing those words for the first time, Karen and I, after being together for eight years, decided to make a baby.  

No worries, Joni, we would always be there for you and approve your self-expression.  We needed you, too, now that our lives were about to change forever.

“No one’s going to show us everything, we all come and go unknown, each so deep and superficial, between the forceps and the stone.”

Joni Mitchell

Ryan Christopher, our first child, was born on a rainy morning in San Francisco at the close of 1977. Elvis Presley was dead, Jimmy Carter was in the White House and the skies welcomed the space shuttle and supersonic commercial flights on the Concorde. For the next few months, our lives were a dichotomy between being indulgent new parents and wanting to stay relevant in the cafes of adult conversation.

Although we loved this baby above all else, we had spent the 1970s developing a friendship circle and still yearned to remain a part of the social gatherings, dinners and discussions that would create a balance between our past and present lives.

We sought some clarity listening to Joni Mitchell, although her recent lyrics were poetically self-revealing of a lifestyle at polar opposite to ours. She was independent, exploring several relationships with little expectation.

“I met a friend of spirit, he drank and womanized and as I sat before his sanity, I was holding back from crying. He saw my complications and he mirrored me back simplified and we laughed how our perfection would always be denied. ‘Heart and humor and humility,’ he said, ‘will lighten up your heavy load.’ I left him then for the refuge of the roads.”

Joni was not my role model in understanding the new feminist perspective, but her words were the three glasses of wine that I needed to be open-minded. Her unending diary was unbolted, now telling of an independent woman, sometimes in a relationship, sometimes not, sometimes looking, sometimes not.

“Anima rising, queen of queens, wash my guilt of Eden, wash and balance me.  Anima rising, uprising in me tonight, she’s a vengeful little goddess with an ancient crown to fight.”

Through dealing with dichotomies in our lives, we found Joni’s.  As her lyrical compositions evolved, they became more lucid and seductively inviting.

In her autobiographical song, “Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter,” released days before Ryan was born, she wrote/sang:  “The spirit talks in spectrums, it talks to mother earth to father sky, self-indulgence to self-denial, man to woman, scales to feathers, you and I, eagles in the sky, you and I, snakes in the grass, you and I, crawl and fly, you and I.”

Exposing herself to the world with no boundaries, she used contrasting images to describe the inner conflicts and the depth of her character.  Like Shakespeare, she drew a fuzzy line between good and evil.

By exposing herself, she spoke to the duality in all of us:  “Behind my bolt locked door, the eagle and the serpent are at war in me, the serpent fighting for blind desire, the eagle for clarity.  What strange prizes these battles bring, these hectic joys-these weary blues, puffed up and strutting when I think I win, down and shaken when I think I lose.”

She reminds that blind desire and clarity can be gateway drugs to each other. 

“Big bird dragging its tail in the dust…snake kite flying on a string.”

Joni’s inner conflicts are not black and white, left or right-brained, on or off. They are in the same soup of her soul, of our souls, there to be embraced with grace and balance.

Although we will never fully understand the motivation and intimate meanings of Joni’s lyrics, she provoked my creative imagination and helped bridge the gap between the real world and my abstract self. It was reassuring and normalizing to hear: “It seems we all live so close to that line and so far from satisfaction.”

Joni often used references of a personal relationship as a metaphor that spoke to something larger.  My perception of the simple words: “And you put me at the top of your danger list just for being so much like you are” was meant to expose the 1970s good ol’ boys network for what it was.

In those times, there were more threatened men who resisted women’s entrance into the workplace with gender-biased perceptions and role expectations.  Many men claimed exclusive seats at the boardroom table because the norms of the day dictated it.  When men heard the question, “Do you want your wife working late at the office?” they had horrific thoughts of creepy predators, changing diapers and, heaven forbid, having to cook a meal.  

In her typical fashion, Joni’s words didn’t demand inclusion, just magnified the fact that insecurity was the root of the problem.  She was never a leader of the feminist movement, but a willingness to write openly of her fears and vulnerabilities enabled us all to think introspectively, become more enlightened to re-think the barricades to change.  

When a glass ceiling breaks, some focus on what’s beyond, others cover up to avoid the shard’s falling around them. Joni’s lyrics peeled back the layers of existing norms and exposed the right side of history.

She wrote/sang:  “I come from open prairie, given some wisdom and a lot of jive.  Last night I saw the ghost of my old ideals, re-run on channel five.”

While the unpredictable winds of change were blowing hard, Joni used another relationship metaphor to caution us of the risks to intimacy. 

 “You and me are like America and Russia, we’re always keeping score.  We’re always balancing the power and that could get to be a cold, cold war.”

A lengthy solo by jazz tenor saxophone great, Wayne Shorter at the end of a new piece foreshadowed Joni’s brief collaboration with legendary composer Charles Mingus during the last few months of his life.

Putting words to the Mingus’s jazz classic, “Goodbye Pork-Pie Hat,” Joni recounts mid-century society reactions when saxophonist Lester Young married a white woman.  She ended the piece with another poignant and universal message:  “Love is never easy, it’s short of the hope we have for happiness.”

Joni also included a haunting original piece about her impressions of Mingus’s multiple personalities that, once again, spoke to some duality in all of us. “He is three, one’s in the middle unmoved, waiting to show what he sees to the other two. To the one attacking–so afraid and the one that keeps trying to love and trust and getting himself betrayed. In the plan—oh the divine plan, God must be a boogie man.” 

As she aged, Joni used an introspective style to discuss her mortality.  The song, “Sweet Bird,” began:  “Out on some borderline, some mark of in-between, I lay down golden-in time and woke up vanishing. Sweet bird, you are briefer than a falling star.”  She continued. “Behind our eyes, calendars of our lives, circled with compromise. Sweet bird of time and change you must be laughing, up on your feathers laughing.”

Another polarity of life is the nexus of an aging body and an expanding mind.  Well into middle-age, Joni, as we do, became more reflective and often cynical about both the past and present.  Now speaking to a larger audience, her current state-of-mind was revealed through a hard-edged, whimsical love song.  “If I’d only seen through the silky veils of ardor what a killing crime this love can be.  I would have locked up my heart in a golden sheath of armor and kept its crazy beating under strictest secrecy, high security.”

Sensing, early on, a nation divided, Joni began to speak to our perceived invulnerability, not by advocating changes in policy, but openly reflecting on what we all had become.  

  Years ago, in “Borderline,” she observed: “Everybody looks so ill at ease, so distrustful so displeased.

Running down the table, I see a borderline, like a barbed wire fence strung tight, strung tense, prickling with pretense, a borderline.”

Changing mine or anyone’s position was never on Joni’s agenda.  She was only there for thought-provoking insight.  

“Every notion we subscribe to is just a borderline. Good or bad, we think we know, as if thinking makes things so. All convictions grow along a borderline”.

Borderlines were something Joni wrote of but never subscribed to.

Joni’s well-timed last lyrical message came in 2007, something I relished then and now.  Imagining that it was our final conversation and I was seeking any sage advice that would sustain me, she responded with:  “If you can dream and not make dreams your master. If you can think and not make intellect your game. If you can meet with triumph and disaster

and treat those two imposters just the same.”

Like any long-term relationship, there is no real ending.  What we take from it lasts throughout our lives and maybe gets passed on to another.  Of the people who I have long admired but never met, Joni’s profound impact in my life is unmatched.  Like a martyr, revealing her own vulnerabilities conjured up introspection and balance in our lives and, perhaps, in the lives of others.

 


The Limerick Lane Cellars story is one of stewardship

 

Jake Bilbro is only the third owner in Limerick Lane Cellars’ 106-year history.  After the 2012 Limerick Lane Zinfandel Russian River Valley (94-pt/$32) was named the #12 wine among Wine Spectator magazine’s Top 100 Wines of 2015, the winery, under his direction, has become synonymous, vintage to vintage, with extraordinary zinfandel and syrah blends. 

The history of Limerick Lane is defined by people who believed in its potential and became stewards of the land that sits in a small

Limerick Lane Estate Vineyard

unique microclimate, south of the town of Healdsburg.

The Del Fava family were the original owners and planted the first vineyards in 1910. They farmed and managed the vines for over sixty years before selling, in the mid-1970s, to the Collins brothers, Michael and Tom.

For the next thirty-five years, they assumed stewardship of the property, adding new vineyards and investing in the existing ones.  In 2009, determined to not let the land fall into uncaring corporate hands, Collins sought out a new caretaker and found Jake, who was raised among his family’s vineyards.  His father, Chris, started Marietta Cellars in 1978.

The Limerick Lane Estate totals thirty acres of vines, separated into fourteen blocks, extending from the hillside vineyard due west of the winery to the Chalk Hill appellation that begins a few hundred yards to the east.

These old vines that produce high quality fruit are planted to southern and eastern exposure in soil that has layers of clay and rock.  

Winery and tasting room

During the growing season, the nights are still cold in this part of the Russian River Valley appellation and the vines sit within the fogline. While the cold and fog preserves that vibrant acidity in the wines, the consistently warm afternoons add a restrained intensity to the flavors. 

I appreciate that the vines are field blended, with zinfandel planted side by side with old world varietals like mourvedre, syrah, alicante bouschet and petite sirah. They are together from the first budding, through fermentation, barrel and bottle aging and on the palate

Starting with the 2011 vintage, Jake, his wife Alexa and brother Scott have taken Limerick Lane to a higher level.  Since the 2015 Wine Spectator recognition of their 2012 zinfandel, they have produced, with each vintage, about 4,000 cases of critically acclaimed  blends.

Host Andy Tester guided me through some of Limerick Lanes’s current releases and library wines beginning with the 2018 Rosé ($28), a purposeful blend of three traditional Rhone varietals:  syrah, grenache and mourvedre  Recently bottled, it is still tight but expressing floral notes in the bouquet, flavors that were both austere and fully present with a mineral element on the finish. Highly recommended

2018 Limerick Lane Rose’

In 2011, the stress of dealing simultaneously with a closing escrow, an overwhelming harvest and a broken destemmer resulted in Bilbro throwing caution to the wind with a new blend, a Hail Mary if you will.  As with earlier vintages, I was drawn to the rich texture and soft mouthful of the 2015 Hail Mary ($60), a luscious blend of 98% syrah and 2% grenache, from Limerick Lanes’ Rhone program. 

A descendant of the renown 2012 vintage, the flagship 2016 Estate Zinfandel Russian River Valley ($42), awarded 93-pts by Wine Spectator, is actually a field blend of zinfandel, peloursin, négrette, syrah, petite sirah and carignan.  Acid driven and opulent, this vintage seamlessly adds spice and mineral notes to balance the dark berry flavors.

The 2014 1910 Block Zinfandel ($68) pays homage to the first planting and is yet another wine that is field blended, harvested together and co-fermented. This vintage is robust and concentrated, layered with the flavors of stone fruits, blueberries and spice.

The zinfandel grape seems to strive when stressed in poor, rocky soil and the 2014 Rocky Knoll Zinfandel ($60), at the fogline, survives the worst soil and develops the smallest clusters.  The lush zinfandel is blended with mourvedre and petite sirah, giving it solid structure.

The varietals can vary each vintage with their cuvee, determined only by the most compelling fruit. The 2016 1023 Zinfandel ($72) boasting many ratings in the mid-nineties, blends 52% zinfandel, 45% syrah and 3% grenache to achieve concerted rich berry flavors and herbal notes throughout a long, soft finish. 

Limerick Lane wines are primarily distributed through a direct allocation list that can be accessed on their website.


Pinot noir comes of age as a pink wine

 

While it is now something we enjoy year-round, good rose’ is still associated with the arrival of Spring.  In recent years, many of its stereotypes have been put aside as rose’ has become more of a pink designer wine and not an afterthought use for the remaining, less desirable juice.

Statistics show that women drink more rose’ but the gender pendulum is shifting as the complex flavors casts an image that is less threatening to men.  Many are adopting a “real men drink pink” attitude. 

Although rose’ has its own identity, it reflects the characteristics of the grape varietals used.  While pinot noir is one of my favorite

2018 Gran Moraine Rose’ of Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton, 2018 Copain Tous Ensemble Rose’ of Pinot Noir, 2018 La Crema Pinot Noir Rose’

wines, it has taken some time for me to warm up to rose’ of pinot noir, especially when it is too dry and the acidity overpowers the true flavors and aromas. 

The pinot noir grape is thin-skinned and temperamental, but proper care before and after harvest can result in unmatched finesse and elegance.  In rose’, pinot noir is crisp and dry with a firm acidity, but with time I have found releases that also express a true flavor profile of the grape with limited skin contact.

One such wine, the readily available 2018 La Crema Pinot Noir Rose’ ($25) from Monterey County expresses balanced flavors of watermelon, strawberry and grapefruit with mineral elements and a vibrant acidity.

Aside from the brief maceration (contact with the skins), most rose’ of pinot noir come from grapes that are generally picked early, then slow-pressed and cold fermented in stainless steel tanks.  Some are pressed whole-cluster and others fermented on the lees.  Old stereotypes are diminished by this new diversity in style.

Most of the finest rose’ of pinot noir comes from the same appellations in California, Oregon and France’s Burgundy region that produces pinot noir.  Two acclaimed exceptions originate from South America and the Pfalz region in Germany.

Vineyards in the Pfalz region of Germany

Rising temperatures have enabled Pfalz a region in western Germany to successfully produce spätburgunder (pinot noir), known as the “heartbreak grape” because of its delicate temperament. Founded in 1849, Reichsrat von Buhl is one of the oldest and largest wine estates in Germany, specializing in Riesling, sekt (sparkling wine) and now, spätburgunder.  The 2016 Reichsrat von Buhl “Bone Dry” Spätburgunder Rosé Pfalz($17), available online and at various local outlets, has distinguished, subtle cherry aromas and spice on the palate.

Well-balance with intense aromas define the Bodega Garzon Uruguay Reserve Pinot Noir Rose 2018 ($18) from South America’s fourth largest wine region. While awarding this pink wine 91-points, James Suckling described “Rose petals, watermelon, strawberries

Bodega Garzon Uruguay Reserve Pinot Noir Rose’ 2018

and cream.  Bright and fresh on the palate with razor-sharp acidity and a fresh finish.”

Made from a variety of estate-grown fruit in Burgundy, France, the 2005 Bourgogne Pinot Noir Rosé, Chateau de Puligny Montrachet ($17)is a good value, available locally, and provides an opportunity to enjoy a true wine from the region that gave birth to pinot noir.

Warmer temperatures in Oregon’s Willamette Valley allowed the grapes to fully ripen, resulting in a nice balance of brix (sugar) and acidity in the whole-cluster pressed 2018 Gran Moraine Rose’ of Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton ($28). Very pale salmon in color with floral and pineapple aromas, the flavors are well-integrated and the mouthfeel is both dry and creamy.

The Tous Ensemble is a series of approachable, everyday releases from Sonoma County’s Copain Wines.  A cooler growing season in Mendocino County to the north allowed the harvest to occur over a time, resulting in a diversity of ripeness and flavor development in the 2018 Copain Tous Ensemble Rose’ of Pinot Noir

($20). I found a vibrant nose combining floral notes with hints of grapefruit.  The crisp, dry mouthfeel delivered flavors of melon and cherry with a spice element on the finish.

Eugenia Rose’ of Pinot Noir “The Motley” 2018 from Ernest Vineyards

Utilizing fruit from five vineyards within the cooler Sonoma Coast appellation, Ernest Vineyards produced the Rose’ of Pinot Noir 2018 “The Motley” ($18) in the saignée method that, after limited skin contact, “bleeds off” some juice before the rest goes through complete maceration and fermentation.  Released under their Eugenia label, this rose’ has herbal notes that go with traditional flavors and a vibrant acidity.

When the rain stops and the sun emerges, rose’ of pinot noir belongs on your patio table aside those made from Rhone varietals like syrah and grenache.  


Paso Robles is ripe with good quality sauvignon

 

The Paso Robles wine region was built on zinfandel and, in the last decade, has secured it standing as one of the world’s premier producers of Rhone-style blends with the likes of Saxum, TH Cellars, Denner, Tablas Creek and others.

However, somewhat overshadowed is the production of fine, reasonably priced cabernet sauvignon has been engrained in the region since the 1970s when Dr. Stanley Hoffman first planted the varietal in the Adelaida Hills, west of town. 

Similar to appellations in Napa Valley and northern Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley, Paso Robles experiences major temperature shifts most days of up to fifty degrees.  During the growing season, hot days and nights cooled by the Pacific Ocean provides the ideal terroir for fruit-forward Bordeaux-style wines, succulent with typically softer tannins than their northern neighbors.

Good quality cabernet sauvignon releases from Paso Robles are available within a broad cost range.  I recently tasted the 2016 Four Vines “The Kinker” Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles ($20), sourced from east side vineyards and found full-bodied flavors of

2016 Four Vines “The Kinker” Cabernet Sauvignon

ripened fruit and spice with a spirited finish indicative of a more expensive wine.

Gary Eberle is considered a pioneer in the Paso Robles wine region.  After college football and some advanced science degrees, he landed in Paso Robles in the late-1970s with a mindset to produce cabernet sauvignon. Settling on sixty-four acres in the east side, he released his first cabernet sauvignon in 1979 and continues through today, along with syrah, zinfandel and various Rhone varietals, to produce fine cabs that exceed expectations associated with the price.

The Eberle 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Vineyard Selection’ ($25) consists of 100% cabernet sauvignon sourced from multiple vineyards within the Paso Robles AVA (American Viticultural Area). The juice is blended before eighteen months barrel aging so the nuances of each are well-integrated with rich flavors and mouthfeel.

The Eberle 2016 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($45), as with earlier vintages, is an elegant wine that remains one of the best of the varietal in the $50 range.  Great stock and twenty-two month aging in 30% new French oak results in complex, layered flavors of dark fruit, herbs and spice.

The Hoffman Mountain Ranch vineyard, set at 2,200 feet elevation, is where it all started after winemaking icon André Tchelistcheff convinced Dr. Hoffman that the Adelaida Hills site was “a jewel of ecological elements” destined to produce great Bordeaux varietals.

Daou Estate Vineyard

Today, the Daou brothers, Georges and Daniel, are stewards of the historic land intent on sustaining its legacy.  Amid production of Bordeaux, Rhone Valley and Burgundian-style wines is the highly rated and elegantly described 2016 Daou Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon ($85).  Of note, I have found the 2017 vintage of this wine, with equally high ratings, at K&L Wines in San Francisco under $25.

Ever since the 1997 Justin “Isosceles” was served with lemon garlic-crusted lamb by the Clintons at a White House event hosting the King of Morocco, the full-bodied cabernet sauvignon-dominant Bordeaux blend has maintained consistently high acclaim.  The 2016 Justin “Isosceles” ($76) showcases the high regional fruit-driven standard with herb and spice notes.  

The 2016 Justin Cabernet Sauvignon ($27) and Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($58) are two fine wines that originate from local

Eberle Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

limestone-laden soil and, once again, have a high quality/cost ratio.

The Just Inn, located in the Justin Estate vineyards offers a few stylish rooms that can accommodate from two to ten guests who can also enjoy brunch, lunch and wine-paired dinners at the on-site Restaurant at Justin. I spent an anniversary there years ago and loved it.

Among a large palate of wines produced by Adelaida Cellars winemaker Jeremy Weintrab, each vintage of his Viking Estate Vineyard Signature Cabernet Sauvignon ($90-100) stands among the best in the entire region.

When discussing good value cabernet sauvignon, the Le P’tit Paysan 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast, with small amounts of petit verdot added, deserves a mention, boasting ratings in the nineties and available for under $20.

Le P’tit Paysan Cabernet Sauvignon

Despite that cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley and north Sonoma County is world-class, the Paso Robles region tenders extraordinary releases, many at a lower fare. Known for zinfandel and Rhone-style blends, lovers of Bordeaux wines will also be impressed with what’s available there.


Cartograph Wines map a path to your palate

Serena Lourie and Alan Baker

 

Serena Lourie and Alan Baker had interesting backstories before 2009, when they became partners in Cartograph Wines and, more recently, partners in life.

Serena grew up in a bicultural household, splitting time between France and the US, with college and the beginning of her career in the Washington DC area.  Her calling as a mental health professional led her to San Francisco where she later worked in the tech industry while developing a passion for wine.

In 2005, Alan left a successful public broadcasting career in St. Paul and came to San Francisco to learn the wine business from bottom to top.  He met Serena at the start-up urban winery, Crushpad in San Francisco where he was a person of many tasks and launched his first commercial brand, Cellar Rat Cellars, that featured pinot noir.

In 2009, the map of their lives made a stop in Healdsburg and they began the process of creating Cartograph Wines, currently producing about 2,300 cases with a business plan that takes it to a comfortable 5,000-5,500 per year. 

Cartograph Wines in Healdsburg

While continuing to source from established vineyards in the region, Cartograph recently purchased their estate vineyard in Cotati near the Petaluma Gap in the southern Russian River Valley appellation and are now releasing the first vintages from that site.

The Cartograph Estate Vineyard falls within the Russian River Valley Neighborhood Initiative, a project that will explore the vast diversity within the prodigious appellation to determine if the distinctions between the various microclimates are worthy of official designation.

Cartograph Wines modern tasting room on Main Street in Healdsburg literally shares a wall with Valette, one of the finest restaurants in town.  Starting at Cartograph, we began with a glass of 2013 Cartograph Brut Zero ($68), their first sparkling wine.  Self-described “acid freaks,” Alan and Serena like their wines bone dry and this crisp sparkler has no additions or dosage(the addition of sugar before

2013 Cartograph Bret Zero and Brut Rose’

corking).

We then moved next door and assembled around a large, beautifully set table in Valette Healdsburg to pair new Cartograph releases with dishes curated by Chef Dustin Valette. 

Valette, the restaurant and the person were raised in Healdsburg and enjoy showcasing local farmers and winemakers through a variety of collaborative efforts. Today, he was challenged with creating perfect food pairings with six new Cartograph releases. 

The first course paired the 2018 Cartograph Rose’ of Pinot Noir and Hawaiian Ahi Poke’ with partially roasted strawberries and young estate onions, garnished with dried strawberry chips, borrowed from Dustin’s daughter snack drawer.

The crisp, dry pink wine, from the estate vineyard and aged in 100% stainless steel, was the right choice for the melded flavor profile of the visually stunning poke’.

Hawaiian Poke with Mi Cuit Strawberries, estate onions and strawberry chips by Chef Dustin Valette

The next course matched two Cartograph dry whites, the 2017 Starscape Vineyard Gewürztraminer ($26) and the 2016 Green Ranch Riesling ($29) from the Mendocino Ridge appellation with a Diver Scallop & American Caviar Duo featuring one seared with passion fruit and fennel and another formed into a “ravioli” with pickled watermelon rind and seaweed.

Cooler vineyards tend to make dry fruit and these wines are fermented in Alsace yeast with no malolactic fermentation (higher acid) and controlled brix (sugar) of 22.5%.

The third course featured two new red Cartograph releases, the 2016 Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir($68) and 2016 Starscape Vineyard ($54)Pinot Noir, paired with a Liberty Farms Duck Confit “Candy Bar,” a coriander crusted breast with toasted oats and Goji berries, full and in a purée.

While both wines had luscious mouthfeel, the 2016 Estate Vineyard exuded intense but elegant aromas balanced by more subtle savory flavors that lingered.

The pairing concluded with the 2013 Brut Rose ($68), their other sparkling wine served with roasted quince jam, toasted brioche and salted brown butter ice cream. Dustin called the dish “Bread, Butter and Jam” and I renamed it “Heaven of Earth.”

Similar to the Brut Zero, the Brut Rose’ is made from chardonnay, but some pinot noir and dosage (sugar)is added at gorging to give it an arresting floral quality.

For Alan, it was a 1998 Alsace Riesling in Wisconsin, for Serena, a Shafer Napa Valley Cabernet in Washington DC and for Dustin it was a love for bountiful Sonoma County.  A confluence of journeys that were fueled by guts, passion and a desire to share their gifts. Fortunately, they landed in Healdsburg.