Browsing the blog archives for November, 2009

Varietal Voyage No.9 – 2005 Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils Meursault

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Varietal Voyage

The last Chardonnay on our list comes from the Burgundy region of France, or more specifically, Meursault, in the Côte de Beaune. Burgundy is typically associated with Pinot Noir, but it is equally known for Chardonnay. With the exception of Gamay and a little Aligoté, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the only two varietals allowed to grow here.

Meursault is the heart of white Burgundy (aka Chardonnay). The vineyards here grow in a great diversity of soil types. Everything from stony chalk, to gravely clay is present giving these wines great richness and complexity. The cool temperatures here keep the grapes from getting too ripe which helps the winemakers capture the natural flavors and acidity of the fruit.

In 1731 Michael Bourchard left his home in the French Alps and moved Volnay where he established himself as a cloth merchant. In 1751 Michael’s son, Joseph, began his own business. Joseph, also a cloth merchant, sold Burgundian wines as well. It wasn’t until 1775, when Joseph purchased the family’s first vineyards in Volnay that they started to grow their own grapes and produce their own wine. After that, the rest is a very interesting history lesson. Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils now owns many properties in Burgundy, including vineyards in the Côte de Beaune, Côte de Nuits, Côte Chalonnaise, Côte Mâconnaise.

This complex wine had Sue and me scrambling to understand everything we had tasted. This surprisingly pale yellow Chardonnay provided many different layers to discover as it opened up throughout the evening. The fruit aromas and flavors are more discreet than the other Chardonnays. Peaches and honey were the most obvious flavors but there is a definite underpinning of fresh herbs and minerals. This puzzle of flavors balances nicely with the toasty notes imparted by oak fermentation and aging, and finishes off with a lingering dose tropical fruits.

2005 Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils Meursault ($54)

  • 100% Chardonnay
  • Meursault, Côte de Beaune, France

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

2005 Oreana Central Coast Pinot Noir

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Tasting Note
Located in downtown Santa Barbara, the Oreana Winery is in a tricked out combination winery/warehouse/tasting room called “Cellar 205.” In the past several years they have crafted some very interesting and award winning wines. As part of California’s Central Coast AVA, they enjoy a cool maritime climate where Chardonnay and Pinot Noir flourish.

A few years ago I was lucky enough to buy a couple bottles of Oreana’s 2005 Central Coast Pinot Noir at a private tasting in Milwaukee hosted by David Breen. I didn’t realize how lucky I was until I heard that less than 100 cases were produced! This Thanksgiving seemed to be the perfect occasion to finally enjoy a bottle.

When we first open bottle we were immediately struck by rich cherry and spicy cinnamon aromatics. Pouring our first glasses of this dark red cherry colored Pinot Noir released even more of the wonderful aromas. This followed with juicy black cherry and currant flavors. The ripe red fruit and medium body made for a pleasing finish with just a little heat (14.1% ABV). A perfect pairing for Thanksgiving!

Wish I had bought more!

Shingleback “Black Bubbles” Sparkling Shiraz

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Tasting Note

Several months ago I learned about sparkling shiraz from a friend. The concept seemed interesting, so I filed it away in that dark place somewhere between my ears for future reference. As luck would have it, I spotted a bottle of Shingleback “Black Bubbles” Sparkling Shiraz at the Grapes & Tastes, the new wine shop that just opened in Cedarburg.

Shingleback Winery, in Australia’s McLaren Vale, produces many different wines, but Black Bubbles is their only sparkler. The winemakers at Shingleback blend together several vintages of shiraz to create a fruit-forward wine with relative complexity.

I brought this bottle to Thanksgiving dinner with my parents, where we enjoyed it as an aperitif. The first thing we noticed were the aromas of blackberries carried by the bubbles. The bubbles weren’t quite black, but definitely on the deep purple side of the spectrum. Very ripe, sweet flavors of blackberries and currants balanced well with its mild acidity. The spicy character and soft tannins of the shiraz really came through in the finish. Make sure to keep it well chilled. We noticed the flavors begin to fall flat as it warms up.

Not bad for the first sparkling shiraz I’ve tried. This is an easy drinking wine, perfect for a summer barbecue or a nice pairing to a sweet chocolate dessert.

Shingleback “Black Bubbles” Sparkling Shiraz ($30) 

Varietal Voyage No.8 – 2007 Trevor Jones Virgin Chardonnay

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Varietal Voyage

The next Chardonnay on our list comes from Australia’s Barossa Valley (pronounced “Bar-ah-sa”). The Barossa Valley is located in southern Australia about 30 miles northeast of Adelaide, this is Aussies’ version of the Napa Valley. This region produces almost half of all the Australian wines. Trevor Jones Winery, part of Kellermeister Wines, is in the town of Lyndoch at the southern tip of the Barossa Valley. The valley’s hot, dry climate is perfect for growing intensely ripe Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Grenache, but it also produces some very good Semillon and Chardonnay.

The 2007 Virgin Chardonnay is unlike many traditional Chardonnays. As the name suggests, this “virgin” chardonnay is made completely without the influence of any oak. Many Chardonnays are fermented in oak tanks and or aged in oak barrels. For some people the use of too much oak overwhelms the natural fruit flavors of the grapes with strong overtones of toasty vanilla. In response, many producers are making wines that limit the amount of oak they use or forego its use completely.

This Virgin vintage was thoroughly enjoyable. For its young age it has a surprising golden yellow color tinted slightly green. The absence of oak is immediately evident, which allows the natural fruit character to shine through. Aromas and flavors of stone fruits (peaches and apricots) permeate the wine with some tropical fruits mixed in for good measure. Nutty, herbal notes may be a sign of some time spent on it lees. It has a rich buttery mouth feel that comes along with the judicious use of malolactic fermentation, a process that converts tart-tasting malic acid (think green apples) to lactic acid (think milk or butter), not uncommon for Chardonnay. With all of this complexity it ends with a clean finish that begs you to take another sip!

2007 Trevor Jones Virgin Chardonnay ($18)

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

Beaujolais Nouveau…Coming Soon!

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News and Events
Just after midnight, on November 19th, over one million cases of Beaulolais Nouveau will begin their journey from the vineyards of Beaujolais to Paris. From here they will be put on every conceivable mode of transportation for immediate shipment around the globe!

Beaujolais Nouveau, not to be confused with its more elegant cousin Cru Beaujolais, is a very young, fruity red wine made from the Gamay grape and is closer to cherry kool-aid than wine! All kidding aside, BN is actually a very pleasant, easy to drink wine that pairs well with many holiday meals.

Since 1985, French law states that this wine can only be produced in Burgundy’s Beaujolais region and cannot be released before the third Thursday of November! What started as a local celebration has gradually become an international event as producers scramble to see who can get their product to market first!

Here’s a link to the english version of

These are just a few well known producers of Beaujolais Nouveau:
Georges Duboeuf (French language)
Domaine Dupeuble
Joseph Drouhin
Louis Jadot
Domaine Yvon Metras
Jean-Paul Thevenet

Varietal Voyage No.7 – 2006 Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Chardonnay

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Varietal Voyage

This week we leave behind our final chenin blanc and move on to the next varietal on the list: Chardonnay! For this particular wine we are travelling south from Mendocino to the Grgich Hills Estate near the southern tip of Napa Valley.

Grgich Hills Estate is an interesting venture that began in 1977 between master winemaker, Mike Grgich and Austin Hills of the Hills Brothers Coffee conglomerate. Today they own 366 acres spanning across five top quality vineyards. To keep quality high, they concentrate on just six different types of wines (Fumé Blanc, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Violetta). Another interesting fact is that all of the Grgich Hills vineyards are sustainable and “biodynamically” farmed. Think “organic” on steroids! Biodynamic farming is a philosophy that treats the Earth as a living organism. Only natural preparations, cosmic rhythms, and nature’s own basic elements are used to create a harmonious balance between vineyard and Earth.

If you have ever heard of the “Judgment of Paris” then you probably have heard of Mike Grgich. He is the winemaker (then working for Chateau Montelena), that was responsible for creating the award winning chardonnay (1973 Chateau Montelena) that beat out all of the French wines in a 1976 blind tasting. This was arguably the watershed event that put California on the map as force to be reckoned with in the wine making world. One could go on talking about this event for hours. If you want to know more, I would suggest reading George Taber’s book, Judgment of Paris.

The 2006 Napa Valley Chardonnay is created from grapes grown at the Grgich Hills Estate’s Carneros and American Canyon vineyards. These two properties are nestled in the valley near the San Pablo Bay where the cool ocean breezes and fog help maintain the grapes’ natural fruit character and crisp acidity. 2006 also happens to be the first vintage from these vineyards that was certified as “biodynamic.”

This Chardonnay was quite different from many of the other’s we have tried over the years. In the past, many were over oaked and many saw some malolactic fermentation. The resulting wines were usually very buttery, masking much of the natural fruit character of the grapes. The 2006 NV was nothing like those earlier wines. It was clear from the first taste that the winemakers chose not to use any malolactic fermentation, allowing the bright acidity and complex flavors of apples, lemon, and pineapples to shine through. The winemakers also chose to ferment and age the wine carefully in a mix of old and new oak barrels, imparting very pleasant toasty, vanilla flavors. A little pricey at $40, but worth every penny!

Knowing that we’ll never be able to afford a ’73 Chateau Montelena, I wonder how this one compares?

2006 Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Chardonnay ($40)

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

Wine Selection Tips for Thanksgiving

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News and Events
The Thanksgiving holiday is a special time for friends and family break bread together. The traditional Thanksgiving feast has a large selection of foods, all with their own unique flavors and textures. Selecting a wine or wines to go with this wide variation of dishes can be a daunting task. One thing is certain; there is no right or wrong answer. If you and your guests enjoy the meal (and the wine), that is all that really matters!

Sparkling Wines

Sparkling wines are a popular choice for most holiday meals. Crisp acidity, bright fruit flavors and yeasty undertones help make these wines extremely food-friendly. A good Blanc de Noir (a sparkling wine or Champagne containing Pinot Noir) pairs well with many courses, from cheeses to salads to turkey and potatoes. The bubbles, combined with the natural acidity, work to cleanse the palate for each course.

White Wines

Fruity white wines with lively acidity work well with any number of dishes. Sauvignon Blanc’s herbal aromas and flavors of tropical fruit, apples and pear compliment everything from butternut squash to the turkey and stuffing. Chardonnay, on the other hand, with its richer flavors and fuller body, goes better with creamy dishes. Gewürztraminer has an inherent spiciness that begs to be paired with cranberries or spicy pumpkin or squash soups.

Red Wines

Pinot Noir is probably one of the most versatile wines for the Thanksgiving meal. Flavors of tart cherries and strawberries, along with a nice balance of acidity and tannins, supports most courses without overpowering them. If dark meat is on the menu, consider a Zinfandel or a Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre (GSM) blend from the Côtes du Rhône. Their ripe, dark fruit flavors and rich tannins work well with fat in the meats.

Dessert Wines

Selecting a dessert wine can be a little problematic. Depending on the level of sweetness in the dessert, some wines may or may not work. If the dessert is not too sweet, consider a sweet wine like Muscat or an effervescent Moscato d’Asti. If your dessert is very sweet, look for a Port (ruby or tawny) or a late-harvest Riesling. These wines are very sweet and rich and will stand up to the sugar in the dessert. Of course all of these wines could be considered “dessert” just by themselves.

These are just a few hints and suggestions to help select a wine (or wines) that will compliment your Thanksgiving meal. The best part is that there is no right or wrong answer when it comes time to choosing a wine. If you like the wine, and it enhances your dining experience, that’s all that matters! The important thing to remember is that Thanksgiving is about friends and family. They are the ones that truly make Thanksgiving great!

Varietal Voyage No.6 – Husch 2008 Mendocino Chenin Blanc

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Varietal Voyage

Our final Chenin Blanc on the voyage brings us back to California. This time we’re visiting Mendicino County and California’s most northern appellations.

The Husch Vineyards were established in 1971. Located a few hours north of San Francisco (map), this is the oldest winery in the Anderson Valley AVA. In the beginning the Husch family produced only a few grape varietals, mainly: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer. In 1979, Hugo Oswald purchased the vineyards and winery from the Husch’s and is now operated by the the third generation of the Oswald family. Today they produce 21 different wines, maintaining the same standards of excellence as they have for the last thirty years.

Ironically our chenin blanc doesn’t come from Anderson Valley. The Oswald family owns another vineyard east of Anderson Valley, near Ukiah. This property has been with the Oswald family since the 1960′s, long before the purchase of the Husch winery. Called “La Ribera” (the riverbank), this vineyard lies along the banks of Russian River and has long been the source for their Chenin Blanc, as well as, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Zinfandel.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable wine which I could easily see drinking on a hot summer’s day. This young wine (released April 2009) has a very pale yellow hue. It’s light color packs sumptuous aromas of apriocts, tropical fruits and honeydew melon. The delicious flavors hold true to the aromas finishing with a slightly sweet, honey-like texture that reminds me a little of fruit cocktail.

Next up…Chardonnay!

Husch 2008 Mendocino Chenin Blanc ($13)

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

2006 St. Francis "Old Vines" Zinfandel

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Tasting Note

If you’re a fan of big, bold California wines, then you’ll enjoy the 2006 St. Francis Old Vines Zinfandel. I’ve had this zinfandel on several occasions but this is the first time I’ve thought to write about it.

Founded in 1971, the St. Francis Winery is located near the southern tip of the Sonoma Valley at the foot of the Mayacamas Mountains. (map) Under the direction of master winemaker, Tom Mackey, they are known for their Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. They also produce a series of premium red and white wines under the “Wild Oak” label.

For the 2006 OVZ, St. Francis sources their grapes from over fourteen different vineyards in the Sonoma Valley. Other varietals, such as Alicante Buschet, Petite Sirah, Grenache and Carignan grow alongside Zinfandel vines creating what’s known as a “field blend” which add color and texture the final wine. The name “Old Vines” comes from the fact that the Zinfandel vines used to produce this powerhouse are anywhere from 60 to 110 years old! As vines get older they produce fewer and fewer grapes, but what they lack in production is made up for with fruit that has richer and more concentrated flavors. St. Francis also goes to great lengths to ensure the grapes are “dry farmed” using only natural rainfall for irrigation. The warm climate of the Sonoma Valley combined with the lack of irrigation forces the vines to struggle, concentrating the flavors within the grapes even further. The winemakers then take advantage of the region’s long growing season and hand pick only the richest, ripest fruit. The juice is fermented in stainless steel and aged in American Oak for fifteen months to create an intense, high alcohol wine (15.5% ABV) with well balanced flavors and chewy tannins.

This wine has all of the hallmarks of a powerful Zinfandel. Hidden inside its dark reddish-purple color are strong aromas of black cherries and spicy oak revealing evidence its time spent in oak barrels. As you swirl the wine in the glass you notice an almost port-like viscosity indicating its high alcohol content. Jammy flavors of black cherries, blackberries, and spicy pepper dance around in your mouth balancing out the heat of alcohol. Ample tannins with hints of chocolate and vanilla combine with the fruit to close out the finish. This wine should age nicely for at least the next 5-10 years.

In August 2009, Food and Wine Magazine described the 2006 OVZ as “…the epitome of supercharged California Zinfandel…

2006 St. Francis “Old Vines” Zinfandel ($16)

  • Zinfandel (field blend)
  • Sonoma County, CA)
  • St. Francis Fact Sheet
  • Varietal Voyage No.5 – 2006 Domaine des Roche Neuves "L’Insolite"

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    Varietal Voyage

    As you can probably tell by the name, this next chenin blanc is from France. Like the Sauvignon Blanc sampled for VV3, this wine is also from the Loire Valley, specifically the Saumur AOC. This too was recommended by Ben Christiansen at the Waterford Wine Company.

    Situated on the south or “left” bank of the Loire River, Saumer lies between Angers and Tours. About 3 miles southwest is the village of Varrains. This is where you’ll find the vineyards of Domaine des Roche Neuves. This area of the Loire is laced with sandstone, flint and aluvial silts. The same tuffeau limestone used to build the historic castles and châteaux also plays a critical role in the quality and style of the wines in this region.

    L’Insolite, which translates to “out of the ordinary,” is a dry Chenin Blanc. In a region that excels at making off-dry and sweet chenin blancs this is truly unusual. In 1996 the proprietor of Domain des Roche Neuves, Thierry Germain, purchased a small plot of very old vines (now over 80 years old) and began produding a dry chenin blanc. Here they follow strict biodynamic farming methods to preserve as much of the natural fruit character (and the environment) as possible and maximize the expression of terroir. When the grapes are harvested the juice is fermented in oak tanks and then allowed to rest on its lees in several different types of oak barrels. The winemakers use this combination of terroir, yeasts and oak to give us a complex and unique wine.

    I will have to admit that this was one of the more difficult wines to get our heads wrapped around. There were a lot of things going on in this wine that we didn’t expect! L’Insolite had a much richer yellow color than the South African Chenin Blanc (See VV4). Rich herbal aromas combined with those of citrus, pears, and apricots. Nuts and minerals intertwined with the light flavors of herbs and citrus. The oak fermentation and aging was evidenced by the nutty, vanilla undercurrents that lingered through the finish.

    This wine was fantastic! Thanks Ben!

    2006 Domaine des Roche Neuves “L’Insolite” ($30)

    Varietal Voyage – See how it started…