#Champagne Day – October 28

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News and Events

Mark October 28th on your calendar now!  International #Champagne Day is just around the corner.  Join this worldwide celebration of all things sparkling!  Run out to the wine shop or rummage through your cellar to find that favorite Grand Marque or your best bottle of farmer fizz!

Wanna take part?  All you have to do is drink a great bottle of Champagne and tell the world about it.   Use the #Champagne “hash tag” on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and many other social media sites.  Use the same hash tag to see what the rest of the world is up to.

Enjoy!

What will you be drinking for #Cabernet Day?

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Mark September 2 on your calendar now!  #Cabernet Day is just around the corner.  Join this worldwide celebration of all things cabernet!  Run out to the wine shop or rummage through your cellar to find your favorite cabernet sauvignon or cabernet franc and revel in these bacchanalian treasures!

Wanna take part?  All you have to do is drink a cabernet-based wine (duh) and tell the world about it.   Use the #Cabernet “hash tag” on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and many other social media sites.  Use the same hash tag to see what the rest of the world is up to.

Cheers!

Here are a few links to other sites of interest:
Hey, Hey Cabernet
Celebrate #Cabernet Day: taste then tweet
Cabernet Sauvignon Wiki
Cabernet Franc Wiki

Varietal Voyage No.22 – 2006 Rosenblum Cellars Pickett Road Petite Sirah

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Varietal Voyage

VV22 marks the final leg of the Varietal Voyage where Sue and I will explore the last grape variety on our tick-list…petite sirah!

Petite sirah is often mistaken for other varieties and has a rich and interesting history.  Petite sirah is actually a synonym for a variety called Durif, a cross between peloursin and syrah, discovered by a French botantist, Francois Durif, in 1880.  The word ‘petite‘ comes from the fact that the berries are very small giving a higher ratio of grape skins to juice.  The result is anything but petite, yielding powerful, inky wines with an aggressive tannic structure.

The 2006 Pickett Road Petite Sirah is the second wine from Rosenblum Cellars we have tasted on this journey.  The first was the 2008 vintage of Kathy’s Cuvée (viognier) tasted for VV10.  The Pickett Road Petite Sirah is one of Rosenblum’s seventeen “Vineyard Designates”, wines produced from distinct vineyards intended to showcase the uniqueness of their terroir.  As the name suggests, the fruit for this wine comes from the Kenefick Ranch, just off Pickett Road, near Calistoga. Of the 125 acres at the Kenefick Ranch, a little over 10 precious hillside acres are planted with petite sirah specifically for Rosenblum Cellars.  Sheltered by the Palisades at the northern tip of Napa Valley, this vineyard’s warm weather and rocky, volcanic soils are well-suited for petite sirah.

This is probably the second or third petite sirah that I have tasted in my lifetime, but this is the first that I have given any real attention.  Knowing from past experience that these wines are quite tannic, I opened the bottle several hours ahead of time to help soften it a bit (decanting wouldn’t hurt either).  This vintage has an extremely dark, almost opaque ruby hue with intense dark berries aromas and layers of musky spice.  The full-bodied flavors are chewy and echo the aromas with the addition of some dark cherry and vanilla.  But this wine isn’t just about the fruit.  There is plenty of acid to stand up to the ripe fruit and the round tannins build up as it fades off into a soft chocolaty finish.  Over the course of the evening, the tannins continued to soften, allowing more of the peppery spice to show through.

Just a few words of warning. If you are on a first date, do not order this wine unless you think your significant other can deal with stained lips, teeth, and tongue!  Fortunately Sue and I have been married long enough that something like purple teeth only elicits the occasional awkward snicker!

2006 Rosenblum Cellars Pickett Road Petite Sirah ($30)

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

Varietal Voyage No.21 – 2007 Etienne Pochon Crozes-Hermitage

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Varietal Voyage

The final syrah on the journey takes us back to France and the northern valleys of the Côtes du Rhône.

Crozes-Hermitage is the northern Rhône’s largest appellation covering almost 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres) of rolling hillsides surrounding Hermitage. The names may be similar, but Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage produce very different wines.  Hermitage produces some of the most sought after wines in the world, often long-lived, very tannic, and worthy of cellaring. On the other hand, the producers in Crozes-Hermitage create wines that are known for their consistent quality and approachability and intended to be consumed early.  The proximity to the Rhône River has given this region a wide range of soil types (loess, clay, alluvial sands and gravel) which vary dramatically depending if you are in the valley or on the hillsides.

For generations the Pochon family has farmed vineyards in Crozes-Hermitage, selling grapes to the local cooperative in Tain l’Hermitage.  In 1988 that all changed when Etienne Pochon began managing the domaine and started producing wine with the family’s own fruit.  Domaine Pochon produces wines that are painstakingly crafted, reflecting the terroir of Crozes-Hermitage. Unlike many producers in the region that focus on quantity over quality, Domaine Pochon creates separate wines from the best hillside plots and carefully blends them together to create this juicy and earthy syrah.

The first things we noticed about this wine were the heady aromas of blackcurrants, cherries and faint hints of earthy tobacco.  Its youthful ruby color carries prominent black and red fruit flavors with some prickly spice and the classic gamey or meaty signature of syrah.  Full-bodied and silky on the palate, it has young, aggressive tannins that build up through the lingering finish.  If you have a decanter (even a water pitcher will do), make sure to use it.  This wine will benefit from some exposure to oxygen to soften its tannic aspects.

2007 Etienne Pochon Crozes-Hermitage ($22)

  • 100% syrah
  • Crozes-Hermitage, Côtes du Rhône, France

Stay tuned for the final variety on the voyage…petite sirah!

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

Sample Packs – Try Before You Buy!

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Try before you buy…I’m shocked that with so many great wines out there, somebody has picked up on this sooner!  There are tasting rooms all over “wine country” and thousands of wine shops around the nation.  But what if you don’t have access to these resources or your local wine shop doesn’t carry the wine you want?  The profileration of internet has completely changed wine sales and created new opportunities for many producers and winery owners, especially the small guys.  Perhaps the biggest obstacle for the small producer has been getting their wines to market and finding opportunities for consumers to taste their products.

I don’t’ know about you, but I have a hard time imagining what a wine tastes like based on written descriptions alone.  Many people are reluctant to spend their hard earned money on a bottle of wine that the might not enjoy. Personally, I would much rather have a sample to form my own opinions.   Two new companies have emerged to help address this challenge.

Brixr.com, an offshoot of Crushpad in San Francisco, has stated selling and shipping “Tasting Packs.”  With the the help of a company, aptly named, Tiny Bottles, Crushpad’s winemakers can package and sell collections of small 50 ML samples of their varietal wines.  There are many different tasting packs to choose from allowing the consumer to explore a wide range of wines without spending an arm and a leg in the process.  For a different tasting experience, Crushpad also sells a product called Fusebox, which allows you to blend your own custom wine in the comfort of your own home.  I’m interested in getting a few of these for a wine tasting party!

TastingRoom.com is operation that is catering to larger, more well-known producers, but the concept is very similar to Brixr’s.  At the moment, the number of producers they represent is small, but the number is growing consistently.  Shipping is another story.  Currently they can only ship to a small number of states, but this number is growing quickly as well.

Cheers!

2007 Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuisse

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Tasting Note

When you hear the word “Burgundy”, you might think of red wine or pinot noir.  But what many people do not know is that Burgundy can also be synonymous with white wine, in particular, chardonnay.  From Chablis to the Côte de Beaune to the Mâconnais you’ll find a wide variety of white-burgundies at an even wider range of price points.  Examples of the world’s best and most expensive chardonnays come from these regions as well as many outstanding wines with affordable price tags!

The vineyards within the appellation of Pouilly-Fuissé (pronounced Poo-yee Fwee-say) are scattered about the craggy hillsides and valleys found in the southern half of France’s Mâconnais district.  The soils here are well suited to chardonnay being composed mostly of limestone, slate, and clay.  Despite the fragmented geography of the area the appellation still manages to produce around 500,000 cases per year and is the source for many affordable Burgundian chardonnays.  Maison Louis Jadot has cultivated relationships with many growers in the region, providing equipment, barrels, and winemaking expertise. The wine that these growers produce is destined to be bottled under the Jadot label.  Maison Louis Jadot receives wines from the individual producers and carefully blends them together to create a style of wine that reflects the essence of Pouilly-Fuisse.

Tasting Notes

The Louis Jadot’s 2007 Pouilly-Fuisse ($22) has a light golden tone with vibrant aromas of grapefruit, lemon and toasty almonds.  Zesty citrus flavors intertwined with a firm backbone of minerality are supported by the structure of careful oak fermentation and aging.  Its medium body and clean, silky finish makes this a good partner for seafood and poultry.

Varietal Voyage No.20 – 2007 d’Arenberg Laughing Magpie Shiraz-Viogner

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Varietal Voyage

Our second syrah is an Australian shiraz.  Yes, syrah and shiraz are the the same grape.  Even though there are many theories, nobody really knows where the name shiraz (rhymes with pizazz) came from.  So, in the Aussie spirit (and for the sake of simplicity) we’ll stick with shiraz for this post!  When in Rome…

d’Arenberg has made wine in Australia for almost one hundred years.  The winery was founded by Joseph Osborn in 1912, but the d’Arenberg name didn’t come about until Francis d’Arenberg Osborn created his own label in 1959 to honor his mother, Frances Helena d’Arenberg.  Now, in the fourth generation of family ownership, they are guided by Francis’ son, Chester d’Arenberg Osborn as chief winemaker and viticulturist.

The 2007 Laughing Magpie Shiraz-Viognier ($20) comes from d’Arenberg’s Osborn Estate in the heart of South Australia’s McLaren Vale.  Brought to Australia in the 1830′s it has become the most popular grape down under.  McLaren Vale has a warm, Mediterranean climate, perfect conditions for heat-loving shiraz.  The soils in this area are a mixed bag of terra rosa, chalk, with sandy or clay loam depending where you are in the valley. Viognier, a white grape that also thrives in this climate, is a variety that has made its way from the Rhône valley and is growing in popularity around the world.  Viognier, with its peachy tropical fruit aromas,  is often added to the wine to boost the aromatics of the shiraz/syrah.

In the glass this young shiraz has a lovely ruby color with intense aromas of stone fruits, blackberries and black cherries.  After a short time, tobacco and cedary cigar box aromas unveiled themselves.  Spicy, dark cherry flavors and subtle amounts of blueberries and plums are balanced with mouthwatering acidity.  This medium-bodied shiraz has a soft, tannic edge that finishes off quickly and cleanly so it won’t overpower your palate.  We paired this with a hearty pizza and the Italian spices really helped accentuate the soft tannins in the wine.  I can see this going really well with a grilled burger or steak.

2007 d’Arenberg Laughing Magpie Shiraz-Viogner ($20)

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

Meritage – America’s Bordeaux Blends

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Earlier this evening a friend of ours asked a good question about what a “Meritage” wine is and how the term came about.  I thought it would be nice to share a bit of our discussion.

Cheers!

“Meritage” (rhymes with heritage) is purely an American word that is a combination of the words “merit” and “heritage.”  In 1988, a group of American winemakers got together to find a way to identify and market red and white wines made from the traditional Bordeaux grapes.  Through a contest they later chose the term “Meritage” to represent their style of wines, and thus the Meritage Alliance was born.

Why did they have to do this?  In the United States we prefer to see the grape variety on the label because it makes it easier for the consumer to identify and select a wine.  America’s complex labeling laws say that if you want to label the wine with the grape’s variety at least 75% of that grape needs to be in the bottle.  For a long time, winemakers knew that in many cases they could make better wines if they blended in some other varieties.  For instance, a wine with 100% cabernet sauvignon may be good, but if they blended in some merlot or cabernet franc it might be great!  The problem was that if the blend contained less than 75% of any one grape they were forced to label the wines as red or white “table wine” – not a very appealing marketing strategy.  Many producers turned to creating proprietary names to get around the legal obstacles.  Opus One, Dominus, and Aeros are just a few examples.  The Meritage Alliance exists to assist the producers in marketing their wines and helping to educate the industry and consumers about America’s Bordeaux-style blends.

It is important to note that not just any grapes can be blended together and be called a Meritage wine.  The blend must be a combination of the “nobel” Bordeaux varieties.  The red wines can contain: cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec, merlot, petit verdot, and on the rare occasion St. Macaire, gros verdot and carmenère. The whites can contain: sauvignon blanc, sémillon or muscadelle. No single wine can make up more than 90% of the blend.  In addition to using the right grapes, the producers must also join the Meritage Alliance for a small licensing fee.

Varietal Voyage No.19 – 2005 J.L. Giguiere Matchbook Syrah

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Varietal Voyage

The first syrah and the nineteenth wine on the Varietal Voyage is the 2005 Matchbook Dunnigan Hills Syrah ($19) made by John Giguiere and the crew at CREW Wines.

You might not recognize the Giguiere name but you’ll probably recognize many of the wines this family has made.  Before starting the CREW Wine Company in 2004, John Giguiere, his wife Lane, and brother Karl owned and operated the R.H. Phillips Winery (sold in 2000 and closed it’s doors last year) and produced well-known brands like Toasted Head and EXP.  With the addition of Dan Cederquist as partner and winemaker, CREW Wine Company produces several brands including: Chasing Venus, Mossback, Sawbuck, and of course, Matchbook.  From New Zealand to California, each brand focuses on the best wines that each region has to offer.

The Matchbook vineyard was planted in 2002 in the Dunnigan Hills region of northwest Yolo County.  Located about 35 miles northeast of Napa County in the foothills of the Coast Range Mountains, this area encompasses about 90,000 acres and is warmer and dryer than most grape growing regions. Fertile alluvial soils combined with well-managed pruning and irrigation help make this a suitable region for syrah.  Unlike R.H. Phillips which produced upwards of 750,000 cases per vintage, John and Dan are focused on reducing yields and increasing the overall quality of their wines.  As an example, the Matchbook vineyard yielded a little over 4,700 cases of syrah in 2005.  The Matchbook vineyard is young and still maturing, so it will be interesting to see how the fruit and wines develop with future vintages.

This was a very enjoyable wine and at $19 you can’t go wrong.  The Matchbook Syrah has a pleasant medium body with intense aromas of spicy ripe blackberries with maybe just a little vanilla and tobacco mixed in for good measure.  Normally syrah is a little on the tannic side and requires some aging, but the addition of some cabernet sauvignon (11%) adds some complexity and helps soften the wine making it quite delicious and approachable now.

2005 J.L. Giguiere Matchbook Syrah ($19)

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

Ramey Wine Cellars – 2005 Pedregal Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

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Tasting Note

A few weeks ago, Sue and I shared a bottle of David Ramey’s Pedregal Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon in tribute to a close friend who recently passed away.  We don’t normally drink wines of this caliber, mainly because of their rarity and price, but every once in awhile you need drink something extra special, even if it is for a somber occasion.  Sue and I looked at sharing this bottle as an enjoyable and memorable celebration of our friend’s life.

David Ramey is considered to be one of vanguards of the American wine industry.  For the past three decades he has used old-world techniques that emphasize terroir and applied them to new-world ideas helping elevate the quality and distinction of today’s California wines.

After graduating from UC Davis he worked for Château Pétrus where he learned the time-honored methods of winemaking from France’s top vignerons.  After returning from France, David helped establish some of California’s most well-known wineries including:  Chalk Hill, Matanzas Creek, Dominus Estate, and Rudd Estate.  In 1996, David and his wife Carla started Ramey Wine Cellars with the goal of creating great, terroir-specific wines using David’s unique blend of old and new-world methods.

Located in the town of Healdsburg in north-central Sonoma County, David Ramey and his team make a small variety of high quality, single-vineyard and appellation specific wines including several cabernet sauvignon blends, chardonnays, and a few syrahs.  The 2005 Pedregal Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (a blend of 85% cabernet sauvignon and 15% petit verdot) is one of Ramey’s single-vineyard blends from the Pedregal Vineyard, on the stony slopes of Napa Valley’s Oakville district.  Through a long-term lease, Ramey Wine Cellars now has complete control over the vineyard and can make all of the critical management and harvesting decisions in order to get the best possible fruit for this unique wine.

Tasting Notes

It’s deep ruby, almost opaque color exudes a perfume of violets, cassis and dark cherries followed by aromas of coffee and bitter chocolate.  The succulent flavors of currants and ripe cherries are quite pronounced with just a touch of sweetness.  Undertones of cocoa, coffee, and earthy truffles add amazing complexity with a full-bodied richness that is intense but not overwhelming to the palate.  Even at this young age the tannins are silky and very approachable with plenty of aging potential.  Paired with a juicy, bone-in rib eye steak, this wine makes a great partner, but there is so much going on here that I would suggest drinking this wine on its own to fully appreciate every little nuance.