Category Archives: Wine

Good wine is at the core of Bricoleur vineyards new California destination

Bricoleur Vineyards co-founders Mark and Elizabeth Hanson and daughter Sarah Hanson Citron are either following an aggressive business plan to turn their forty-acre estate into a hospitality retreat or willingly flying by the seat of their pants.

Elizabeth Hanson, Mark Hsnson, Sarah Hanson Citron

Bricoleur, appropriately suggested by Sarah, is a French word that refers to “one who starts building something with no clear plan, adding bits here and there, cobbling together a whole while flying by the seat of their pants.”  It sums up how the vision has evolved.

Before walking through the vineyards, we were shown numerous patio spaces with vine-covered trellises, a producing grove of olive trees and  a ten-thousand square foot refurbished tasting barn with full kitchen and adjacent deck overlooking a large pond.  There is a rose, flower and miniature fruit tree garden all adjacent to bocce ball courts and yet another picnic space surrounded by Chinese Pistache trees, readying their Fall colors.  While showing us the large vegetable garden behind the vineyards, Mark became animated and quickly began picking fresh strawberries and Sungold tomatoes for us to taste.

Tasting Barn
Bricoleur has many places on-site to relax

Available lodging ranges from an apartment above an old milking barn, a four bedroom get-a-way Vineyard House to a nine thousand square foot Estate villa that sleeps ten and has everything from sauna, steam room and eight-seat movie theater.

The property is impressive and the user opportunities are as bountiful as the gardens.  However, the sustainability of the entire effort will hinge on the success of their core mission:  to make exceptional wine.  They are well on their way.

With the purchase of the Russian River Valley estate, the Hansons inherited twenty-one acres of good pinot noir and chardonnay stock and their forty-acre Kick Vineyard in the Fountaingrove AVA of northeastern Santa Rosa is the source of sauvignon blanc, viognier and a rose’ of grenache aptly called, “Flying By The Seat Of Our Pants.” 

Bricoleur Vineyards in Windsor

In 2017, soon after establishing Bricoleur Vineyards, the Hanson’s added renowned winemaker Cary Gott and his forty years of experience to the team.  Gott is known for creating balanced, well-structured wines that often express unique character in traditional varietals.

We sat down with Mark, Sarah and Hospitality Director Chris Richard and began by tasting two wines from their Fountaingrove vineyard: the 2018 Bricoleur Kick Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($25) and the whole-cluster pressed 2018 Bricoleur Kick Vineyard Viognier ($30).  Viognier has a tendency to all taste the same, but the orange blossom and floral hints on the nose, the tropical fruit flavors and lingering finish made this one distinct.

A comparison of two very different Russian River Valley chardonnay releases followed, beginning with the 2017 Bricoleur Unoaked Chardonnay Russian River Valley ($30) that still had a creamy texture due to sur lie aging and the addition of five percent viognier.  At the opposite spectrum, the Bricoleur Chardonnay Russian River Valley ($35), aged in thirty-five percent new French oak with full malolactic fermentation has exceptional texture, but is balanced with complex flavors of butterscotch and baked stone fruits.

A blend of four clones from the estate vineyard, the 2017 Bricoleur Pinot Noir Russian River Valley ($45) is another high quality release from the appellation, fully aromatic with hints of white pepper, spice and cola that sells for half the price of similar wines.

We concluded with the 2017 Bricoleur Old Vine Zinfandel ($40) from an Alexander Valley vineyard that was lush and expressive without being an overpowering “fruit bomb.”

2017 Bricoleur Old Vine Zinfandel Alexander Valley

Bricoleur strives to be a lifestyle brand with a goal of ninety percent direct to consumer sales. After soft openings and a few events in the Fall, they promise a full range of activities in 2020 like yoga paired with wine tasting. Exercise, fresh organic food and good wine are all good reasons to pursue Bricoleur.


Passallacqua Winery ushers in new releases with luncheon at Valette

Jason Passalacqua and Dustin Valette are friends, their relationship often described as a “bromance.” They are both natives of Healdsburg, both love to hunt, enjoy the outdoors and food and wine are at the core of both of their lives.

Dustin makes food with the detail and finesse required of a fine chef.  I have never been disappointed nor tire of listening to him describe each dish in passionate detail.

Justin Valette and Jason Passalacqua

Jason is a fourth generation winemaker in the Dry Creek Valley. After a career in mechanical engineering, he returned to his roots in 2002 and founded Passalacqua Winery in 2004, sourcing cabernet sauvignon from the family vineyards and chardonnay, zinfandel, sauvignon blanc and pinot noir from established vineyards in Sonoma County and the Anderson Valley.

Jessica Boone developed and honed her craft in the Napa Valley, first at Edgewood Estate, then as winemaker at Armida Winery.  After a brief hiatus to start a family, she became the winemaker at Passalacqua Winery.  In describing a minimalist approach that puts the vineyard front and center, she relies on explicit attention to detail and a hands-on approach to create the balanced wines she desires.  Her skills were on display as Jason introduced the Passalacqua Winery new Fall releases at a wine pairing luncheon at Valette with special dishes created by Dustin.  

Passalacqua Winery in the Dry Creek Valley

We started with a glass of the aromatic 2018 Passalacqua “Triple Z” Sauvignon Blanc Dry Creek Valley ($35) served with charcuterie and cheese that included salume, aged on-site, pickled vegetables and orange zest olives.  Sourced from 20-year-old musque clones, the wine was round and creamy with forward stone fruit flavors.

Dustin described his first course, Seared Hawaiian AhiTakaki with Dried Kombu Emulsion and Furikake Wakame Seaweed, as featuring the flavors of the ocean.  It was appropriately paired with the well-integrated 2017 Passalacqua “Gap’s Crown” Chardonnay Sonoma Coast ($52), from an established vineyard in the “Petaluma Gap” that is influenced by ocean winds and fog and is known for grapes that are exceptionally expressive.

Seared Hawaiian Ahi Takaki with Dried Kombu Emulsion and Furikake Wakame Seaweed

The “Gap’s Crown” was dry, like a French chardonnay, yet round on the palate with clear mineral notes that provided a genuine pairing for the sea.

Passalacqua produces Russian River Valley and Anderson Valley pinot noir under his Quince label.  In the most exquisite pair of the afternoon, the 2017 Quince Pinot Noir Anderson Valley ($42) was poured with Jason Passalacqua’s Elk Loin with Huckleberry Jus, Espelette Pepper and Slow Roasted Shallots.

Quince 2013 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley

Dustin explained that Jason’s wine elevates the outdoors, meaning it transfers nuance from vineyard to glass.  The tenderness of the meat, the rich Huckleberry sauce and the shallots enhanced the pinot’s earthy texture and red fruit flavors for the highlight pairing of the luncheon.

With past vintages described as powerful and muscular, I anticipated that Dustin would challenge the 2016 Passalacqua Blocks 18 & 19 Cabernet Sauvignon Dry Creek Valley ($105) with a high powered dish.  He served Charred Wagu New York Steak with on-site barrel-aged soy, fermented garlic and a piece of smoked beef belly that added character.  The rich spice elements of the wine enhanced those in the dish and the dark fruit flavors lingered.

From a late-harvested block of grapes with higher sugar concentration, Jason selected the 2013 Passalacqua Block 23 Cabernet Sauvignon to pair with Dustin’s eclectic dessert that included Dark Chocolate Bouchon, Graham cracker, toasted meringue, perfectly arranged on a plate and topped with shaved Volo Chocolate, a local Healdsburg company.

Younger and described as the most unique planting site in the vineyard, Block 23 sits atop a hillside bench overlooking the surrounding property.  This vintage combined dark fruit flavors and a luscious mouthfeel that bonded with the diverse textures and flavors of the dessert ensemble. 

Jessica poured a small glass of her 2017 Lumia Valdiguie ($34), a wine she made after discovering some old abandoned vines in the Dry Creek area. Valdiguié is a rare red grape from the emerging Lanquedoc region of France.  It had a lighter texture, but the flavors were full.

Winemaker Jessica Boone

The luncheon provided perfect surroundings for Passalacqua to introduce their new releases.  Jason and Jessica’s wines are exceptional paired with Dustin’s food and, of course, the wines bring out the best of the chef’s creativity.  It was an true artistic endeavor.

Passalacqua is a small production winery that distributes most of their releases direct-to-consumer.  Their wine club offers four shipments annually of six or twelve bottles each. My best recommendation is to audition a bottle from the wine list, over dinner at Valette.


New releases expand the boundaries of traditional California-style chardonnay

Chardonnay is the most widely planted grape varietal in the United States and has been for more than a decade.  Most of it is planted in California who, in 2017, claimed over 93,000 acres under vine resulting in 614,000 tons of fruit.  Its dominance in California over the past fifty years has stunted the market demand for other white varietals, leaving many to survive in obscurity.

Winemaker David Ramey

While there is no debate regarding popularity, discussion of chardonnay revolves around two styles:  oaked or unoaked. Although nuance distinguishes fine chardonnay releases, those aged in stainless steel or neutral oak tend to be more acidic and crisp with citrus and stone fruit flavors while those aged in oak generally have a richer mouthfeel with toasty or buttery characteristics.

For the last several decades, California chardonnay has been identified as riper, with a high fruit flavor profile while the Old World Burgundian wines from villages like Chablis and Montrachet express minerality and more earthy qualities.

One of the pioneers of California chardonnay, David Ramey, introduced Burgundian techniques like sur lie aging, malolactic fermentation and barrel fermentation that produced a softer, richer mouthfeel and fruit-driven flavors.  Many winemakers followed his example and, by the mid-nineties, new trends in California chardonnay were set.  

Ramey Chardonnay Rochioli Vineyard Russian River Vall;ey 2015

Today, there is a shift to dial back the ripened fruit and buttery style for something more austere and balanced.  A fine example is the 2016 Ramey Chardonnay Rochioli Vineyard Russian River Valley ($65)from a neighboring Westside Road vineyard outside of Healdsburg.  Ramey has sourced chardonnay from the Rochioli Vineyard for years, but this wine is only the second vintage as a vineyard-designate release.  Whole-cluster pressed with full malolactic fermentation and sur lie (yeast lees) aging and batonnage (stirring the yeast lees), it is rich, fruit forward with a healthy acidity.

Sonoma County still produces, from vintage to vintage, some of the finest examples of California-style chardonnay.  William Selyem, in the heart of the esteemed Russian River Valley, recently released their 2017 vintage single-vineyard wines including the 2017 Lewis MacGregor Estate Vineyard Chardonnay ($65). Ripened stone fruit, citrus and floral notes drive the aromatics and flavors with a clear and lush minerality that lingers through the finish.

From the same appellation, the 2017 Raeburn Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($20), awarded ninety points from James Suckling, imparts the textural and flavorful complexity of a California chardonnay at a value price.

Gap’s Crown Vineyard

The Sonoma Coast is a very large and diverse appellation, extending vineyards from north Sonoma County coastal regions near Annapolis, through the Sebastopol Hills and Petaluma Gap to far eastern vineyards near the town of Sonoma.  Among them, the Gap’s Crown Vineyard in the Petaluma Gap area lies inland, but has significant coastal influences.  The recently released 2017 Passalacqua Gap’s Crown Vineyard Chardonnay ($52), with expressive fruit-driven flavors, is dry, but rounded on the palate.

From a well-sourced vineyard in the eastern reaches of the appellation, the Sojourn Chardonnay Sonoma Coast Durell Vineyard 2017 ($48) delivers complex fruit flavors with savory and mineral notes throughout.

Two chardonnay releases from diverse Napa Valley appellations, the Stony Hill Napa Valley Chardonnay ($54) from the high-altitude Spring Mountain District and the Failla Chardonnay Coombsville Haynes Vineyard 2017 ($58), in the southeastern portion of the valley, offer fine samples of modern California chardonnay.

Rusack, Ramey and Stony Hill

The Stony Hill, considered one of California’s early “cult wines,” combines delicate fruit and floral characters with savory notes that make it food friendly.  The Failla Coombsville release expresses creamy, ripened stone and tropical fruit that results in a extraordinary mouthfeel.

The Santa Cruz Mountain appellation has a long track record of producing fine California chardonnay.  The Thomas Fogarty Winery near Woodside often falls under the radar, but their Thomas Fogarty Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay 2016 ($35) has received accolades from all major periodicals including Jeb Dunnuck who described “orchard fruits, white flowers and subtle toasty, brioche-scented aromas and flavors.”

Sourced from the Sierra Madre and Bien Nacido Vineyards in  Santa Barbara County, the 2016 Rusack Santa Maria Valley Reserve Chardonnay ($36), with full malolactic fermentation, batonnage and barrel fermentation, expressed, at a recent tasting, classic stone fruit and citrus flavors with textural elements that lingered throughout the finish.

Bien Nacido Vineyard

With its continued popularity, there are always a plethora of diverse California chardonnay choices readily available to consumers from vineyards throughout the state.  Whether it is a crisp, dry wine aged in stainless steel or one heavily oaked and buttery, some research and tasting can help discover the one that is compatible to your palates and food choices.


The Sustainability of Bodegas LAN Rioja

There is so much to love about Spanish wines from Rioja and other regions.  Fueled by a high quality to price ratio, they have significantly expanded their presence into US markets over the past few decades.  According to the newsletter, “Spanish Wine Lover,” imports from Rioja bodegas has grown from fewer than twenty in the 1980s to over 180 today. 

Vina Lanciano Vineyard surrounded by the Ebro River

Imports from Rioja, Ribera Del Duero, Rias Baixas and sparkling cava from Penedes are readily available and many have captured the attention of consumers and restaurant sommeliers.  Spanish wines, in many ways, are produced with a completely different mindset from those in California or other states. No one seems to be in a hurry. The focus is making the best wine and not releasing it until it is ready, which could be years after it is bottled.

A relative newcomer to the Rioja region that is steeped in old traditional, Bodegas LAN, founded in 1972, consistently exports some of the finest examples of good value wine from Rioja as well as some premium releases.

Their 172-acre Viña Lanciano Vineyard sits near the natural border of the Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa sub-regions.  It is divided into twenty-two separate plots that are all surrounded by the Ebro River and LAN is deeply committed to sustainable viticulture and to co-exist with the native plants, animals and reptiles.  By practicing biodiversity, adding natural flora and fauna to the vineyards, and using much manual labor, LAN has reduced pollution and water use and eliminated the need for chemical herbicides.

2013 LAN Edicion Limitada

Tempranillo is the main grape varietal used in wines from Rioja, including those from the Bodegas LAN.  The true character of Rioja is revealed when tempranillo is combined with garnacha, mazuelo, viura and graciano, with the best examples coming for the cooler, higher-elevation regions like Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa. 

Today, the LAN brand is consumed locally and around the world. I recently joined CEO Enrique Abiega and Trinidad Villegas, LAN’s Export Director for the USA for lunch at Bellota, south of Market.  We shared  conversation, tapas and raciones while tasting the current vintages of their food friendly wines.

Bodegas LAN CEO Erique Abiega

Enjoying a rare visit to California, Abiega began our discussion by pouring Bodegas Lan Santiago Ruiz, Albarino Rias Baixas ($20), a beautifully rounded, fruit driven white with a rich mouthfeel, a departure from the varietal’s typical crisp, acidic features.  We spoke of the Sonoma County fires, drought and of the importance of LAN’s dedicated effort toward sustainable practices.  Enrique and Trinidad have been with the LAN team for many years and both strongly feel that their methods create wines that, for the price, can compete with any others.

The tapas that included a fresh, decorative heirloom tomato salad, patatas braves with chipotle salsa and Spanish omelette, were paired with the aromatic vintages 2015, 2016 LAN D12 ($18) and the LAN Vina Lanciano Reserva 2012 ($25), aged forty-two months between French and Russian oak and bottle conditioning.

The ninth and tenth vintages of the D12 both had intense bouquets, earthy qualities and the balanced, fruit-forward flavors of wines twice the cost.  The hand-selected grapes for the Vina Lanciano go through full malolactic fermentation before extensive aging that results in an earthy, food friendly wine with integrated flavors and soft tannins.

A wonderful vegetarian paella that included wild mushrooms, autumn squash, sun chokes and pomegranate along with wood-grilled, dry-aged beef were paired with vintages 2103, 2106 LAN  Edición Limitada Rioja ($50) and the vintages 2014, 2015 LAN Xtrème Ecológico Crianza ($20) , a 100% tempranillo from the organic certified Ecological Mantible parcel, named after the nearby Roman Mantible Bridge.

Roman Mantible Bridge adjacent to Vina Lanciano Vineyard

After Wine Spectator magazine raved about the LAN 2005 Edición Limitada Rioja, future vintages have been on the radar of consumers.  Low yield vines, full malolactic fermentation and aging in new French and Russian oak barrels produce concentrated aromas, fruit-driven flavors, hints of spice and a lush texture. 

2014 LAN Xtreme Ecologico Crianza

Both the growing and winemaking methods for the Xtrème Ecológico Crianza call for minimal intervention.  After initial fermentation, the juice is transferred to new oak barrels for fourteen months and sits another none months in the bottle. The color was dark and deep and, as with many of the LAN wines, the candied ripe fruit aromas were intense and the flavors, layered and complex. A tremendous value available for under twenty dollars.

I was genuinely impressed with all the Bodegas LAN releases that were served and would recommend them when exploring fine, value driven wines from Rioja and other Spanish regions.


A new generation puts its stamp on Ramey Wine Cellars

 

Ramey Wine Cellars has established itself, over many years, as one of this country’s top wineries.  Founder David Ramey has been in Sonoma County for over 40 years and founded his iconic winery in 1996, focusing primarily of cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and syrah.  He is credited with using Old World methods such as sur lie aging and malolactic fermentation to create the California-style

David and Carla Ramey

chardonnay. 

The winery has recently transformed and a new family generation is working with the established team and winemaking staff to lead Ramey into the future. After graduating from college and being encouraged to pursue their own careers, David and Carla’s children, Claire (28) and Alan (26) were drawn to the family wine business. Today, Claire works with her father, Winemaker Cameron Frey and Associate Winemaker Lydia Cummins in pre-production while Alan handles marketing, trade, consumer tastings and the launch of a multi-tiered wine club. They both have earned the titles of “co-owner.”

I recently had a chance to sit down with the new winemaking team at 25 Lusk in San Francisco to taste their current releases and discuss the future of Ramey Wine Cellars. What better way to do that than to enjoy the pairings of extraordinary food and wine.

The evening opened with a glass of a Lodi-grown 100% kerner from Sidebar, Ramey’s sister label.  Lydia Cummins, who serves as the

2018 Sidebar Kerner Mokelumne River Lodi

winemaker for the sibling brand, explained that the Sidebar 2018 Kerner Mokelumne River ($25) originates from a sub-appellation in the Lodi region, the only planting in California. Its  German origins, where it is primarily blended with other grapes, are defined as a cross between riesling and trollinger, resulting in an aromatic, dry wine with spice overtones. This kerner is whole-cluster pressed, stainless steel aged and may be your best opportunity to experience what the grape has to offer. 

Lydia also spoke of what she called “a harvest spirit” that exists at Ramey, one that nurtures creativity and networking, usually over a glass of wine at the end of the day.  The camaraderie among the staff was obvious as we all enjoyed conversation and some laughs to pair with the kerner.

We assembled in the Ogden Room at 25 Lusk to enjoy dinner paired with two current Ramey chardonnay releases, a pinot noir and a syrah from the Rodgers Creek Vineyard in the Petaluma Gap.  As we were seated, it was pointed out by our server that then POTUS Barack Obama dined in this same room during his second term. 

Pairing caviar served with traditional blini, we enjoyed a 2015 Ramey Chardonnay Woolsey Vineyard ($65), from a Martinelli family owned vineyard, sourced exclusively by Ramey.  Winemaker Cameron Frey explained that sourcing the best grapes is the key to Ramey’s success. This wine is whole-cluster pressed, unfiltered with full malo-lactic fermentation and batonnage, resulting in a nice balance of richness and austerity

Not that it’s all about me, but my favorite wine of the evening was the expressive 2015 Ramey Chardonnay, Rochioli

Rochioli Vineyard

Vineyard Russian River Valley ($65), rich with a bright acidity.  Frey clarified that, although Ramey has been sourcing grapes from this known vineyard for ten years, this is their first single-vineyard release. 

Both white wines enhanced the Artic Char “with sun chokes, chiogga beets, tumeric-ginger kraut, ocean ribbon seaweed, chive sabayon”  as did the young and vibrant 2016 Ramey Pinot Noir Russian River Valley ($50), sourced primarily from the highly respected Bucher Vineyard.

The balance and mouthfeel of this pinot, according to Cameron Frey, is achieved through sur lie aging with monthly stirrings and a light fining with egg whites to soften the tannins. It deserves to be a fixture at the dinner table.

The evening concluded with a 2014 Ramey Syrah Rodgers Creek Vineyard Sonoma Coast ($65) from the cooler Petaluma Gap, co-fermented with 10% viognier and  described as “northern Rhonish” in style. 

Ramey Wines

The layered bouquet and flavors of this wine were best described last year by critic Antonio Galloni: “The Rodgers Creek offers a very appealing interplay of dense fruit and lifted aromatics, with enough structure to develop nicely in bottle for many years to come.”

On this evening, Claire, Alan, Cameron, Lydia and the current releases aptly represented David Ramey’s passion and left an impression that Ramey Wine Cellars will continue to evolve with the “harvest spirit” that founded it. 


Exploring the gateway to the Lodi wine region

Oak Farms Winery in Lodi

Things are often initiated through a glass of wine.  I had intended to explore the Lodi region for years but became distracted by other nearby appellations in Napa and Sonoma Counties.  Then, within a week, I tasted the dry, aromatic 2018 Sidebar Kerner Mokelumne River ($25), and the highly reviewed 2016 Oak Farms Cabernet Sauvignon ($22-25)from one of Lodi’s largest producers.

The kerner, with origins in Germany, is sourced from the Mokelumne Glen Vineyard in Lodi’s Mokelumne River sub-appellation and the cabernet sauvignon, with small hints of petit verdot and petite sirah, originates from the Oak Farm Estate Vineyard in the Mokelumne River and two other local sub-appellations.  

I recently had an opportunity to meet with Dan Panella, Oak Farms co-owner and third generation farmer for a quick lesson on the virtues of the local wine country.

The Panella family first arrived in Lodi more than eighty years ago, operating a trucking business before venturing into grape growing.  They purchased the seventy-acre historic Oak Farms in 2004, and began an aggressive re-planting program on sixty acres under vine.

Co-owner and winemaker Dan Panella

Today, Oak Farm carefully cultivates fourteen different grape varietals, taking full advantage of Lodi’s unique terroir.  

The Lodi region, which is divided into seven distinct sub-regions, was designated as an American Viticulture Area (AVA) in 1986. Of more than 500,000 acres in the AVA, 103,000 are currently under vine serving eighty bonded wineries.  

With a wine history that dates back to the 1850s, Lodi shares a Mediterranean climate similar to European appellations along the Mediterranean Sea, with warm days and cool nights. Located between San Francisco Bay and the Sierra Nevadas, it’s flat, the soils and microclimates are diverse and water is readily available.

Located in northern San Joaquin County, Lodi also has the distinction that the cost per acre of land is significantly lower than in Napa and Sonoma Counties, something that eventually affects the price of everything, from grapes to a bottle of wine.

Although the appellation is probably best known for its old vine Zinfandel, Lodi and Oak Farms also produce Old World varietals like merlot, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and others.

With over 4,000 cases produced, the Oak Farms Vineyards 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon ($25) is their most readily available wine and, with integrated flavors and soft tannins, is widely recognized as a top value-priced cabernet sauvignon.  The low-production 2016

Oak Farms “Tievoli” blend

Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) is also a good buy.

In addition to a crisp tanginess, the flavors of the Oak Farms Vineyards 2017 Sauvignon Blanc ($19), aided by some aging on lees, are balanced with softer tropical fruit, resulting in a rounder wine.  The 2018 Estate Grown Sauvignon Blanc ($26) uses a well known clone from New Zealand that, matched with the sandy loam soil and extended aging in French oak barrels, delivers a vibrant bouquet and rich, concentrated tropical fruit flavors. 

In addition to two small production releases from the nearby Hohenrieder and Mohr-Fry Vineyards, most of Oak Farms zinfandel marks a contrast between the full-bodied, but restrained 2017 Zinfandel ($25) and the aromatic, plush “fruit bomb” known as the 2017 Vapor Trail ($34), combining grapes from the Sierra Foothills with those of Lodi.

Two weirdly unique, but palate pleasing blends from Oak Farms include the 2016 Tievoli ($20-22), a blend of zinfandel, barbera and petite sirah and the syrah-dominant 2017 “Corset,” ($28) with added grenache zinfandel and malbec. Both are fun, complex wines for the price. Dan pointed out that Tievoli is “I love it” spelled backwards.

Oak Farms tasting room

The white fiano grape is native to southern Italy and Sicily but Oak Farms sources it from Clarksburg near the Sacramento Delta.  The 2017 Oak Farms Fiano ($25) won Gold at the 2018 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

Aside for their diverse assortment of wines. Oak Farms Winery offers one of the most complete tasting experiences in Lodi.  The new hosting facility, with modern features that

Oak Farms 2017 “The Corset” blend

reflect the past, is surrounded by vineyards and has a central courtyard where musicians entertain and customers picnic with a bottle of wine and offerings from local food trucks.  They present themselves “as the winery that gives you the Napa experience without the inflated prices.”

Oak Farms wines offer exceptional wines in the medium price range.  Tasting and enjoying country food at one of their weekend concerts is a good way to begin a weekend of exploring the Lodi wine region.


The Vintage Port 2017 wines mark consecutive years of excellence

 

The 2016 Vintage Ports from the Douro region in northern Portugal were designated after a five year drought. Now, the 2017 Vintage, although different in style, have also been declared a Classic.

Representatives from the Fladgate Partnership, Symington Family Estates and Quinta Noval, all major producers of port from the region, gathered in the Nikko Hotel recently to present updates of the Vintage 2017.  In all, we tasted sixteen wines from eleven different port houses.

Terroir is a combination of climate, soil and human intervention that influences the wines.  The 2017 growing season in the Douro was exceptionally hot and dry, resulting in grapes that budded, ripened and were eventually harvested much earlier than normal.

Graham’s “The Stone Terraces vineyard

Old, deeply rooted vines do well in dry years.  It is these low-yield vines producing concentrated flavors that have distinguished the elegance and finesse of the 2016 Vintage from the richness and intensity of the 2017 Vintage.

From the Fladgate Partnership, the austere Taylor Fladgate 2017($100) exuded its trademark floral (violets) bouquet.  The complex flavors were rich, full and lingering.

Vineyards in the Quinta de Vargellas are century-old, north facing vines with ample hours of sun.  The Vargellas Vinha Velha 2017 ($220), described as a “Taylor Fladgate on steroids,” is a limited production blend from the oldest vines on the estate.  It is handsomely scented and there is a density to the layered flavors of dark fruit with herbal notes.

Croft, another port house under the Taylor Fladgate Partnership, presented two Vintage ports including the Croft Roeda Serikos 2017 from an estate that nearly became one of the world’s finest silk farms. Vines in the Quinta da Roeda were devastated in the 1870s by phylloxera which prompted the planting of mulberry trees. With the phylloxera problem solved, current vines were re-planted on the property around the turn of the century, and in a dry, hot year, drew from the minerals in the soil and performed exceptionally.

Croft Quinta de Roeda Serikos 2017

Estimations are that it takes four of these low yield vines to produce one bottle of port, the reason only 200 cases of the Roeda Serikos 2017 were produced.  Floral aromas open up in the glass for a delightful introduction to deep, concentrated flavors of red berry, black fruit and herbs. 

Dow’s has been among the great Port houses for over 200 years and the Symington Family for the past five generations.  Wine Spectator magazine named the Dow’s Vintage Port 2011 their wine of the year in 2014. The Dow’s Vintage Port 2017 comes from a marraige of two powerhouse quintas (vineyards)and provides lavender on the nose, deep colors and high viscosity on the palate. 

Under the Symington Family for fifty years, Graham’s was founded in the early 1800s and consists today of the Quinta

Dow’s Vintae Port 2017

dos Malvedos, one of the region’s finest vineyards and Quinta do Tua, known for its unique stone terraces.

With a dry year in normally hot climate, harvest for the Graham’s 2017 began early on August 28th and finished by September 15th.  Present floral aromas with complex flavors were described by Johnny Symington to include rose water, Turkish delight, mint and eucalyptus.

In only its fourth release, Graham’s The Stone Terraces 2017 is a micro-terroir wine from two original, north-facing vineyards.  It expressed aromas of tropical fruit and orange blossom and was flawlessly structured.

Cockburn’s, another port house under the Symington Family with south facing vineyards in the hot eastern Douro, produces the Cockburn Vintage Port 2017($80-90) that consists mostly of touriga nacional and delivers a luscious mouthfeel,

Graham’s Vintage Port 2017

velvety tannins and length.

Quinta Do Noval, located in the heart of the Douro, near the small town of Pinhão, consists of a 360-acre vineyard that is divided into several parcels.  The grapes selected for the Quinta do Noval Vintage Port($105) represent only a small portion of their total production. Powerful and balanced, this wine has a spice and floral quality with full black fruit flavors and significant tannins. 

Quinta Do Noval

The story of the Quinta Do Noval Nacional 2017 ($820) lies with a small parcel of ungrafted vines that were never impacted by phylloxera.  They are native Portuguese vines with no foreign root stock. This wine, with grapes still crushed using the laborious process foot treading in stone lagares, was remarkable in its complexity, balance and rich expression of fruit with a licorice component.

Tasting the Vintage Ports 2017 was an extraordinary experience.