Browsing the archives for the California tag

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…

Meritage – America’s Bordeaux Blends

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News and Events

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.


“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…

Varietal Voyage No.16 – 2006 Charles Krug Napa Valley Merlot

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Varietal Voyage

Varietal Voyage No.16 represents the sixteenth wine on our journey and the first wine made primarily from merlot. Charles Krug’s 2006 Napa Valley Merlot ($16) seemed like the perfect choice to represent the American leg of our voyage.

Charles Krug founded Napa Valley’s first winery in 1861. As a young winemaker, he quickly became a leading figure in the development of California wines. His foresight in viticulture and technological skill laid the groundwork for America’s budding young wine industry.  After his death in 1892, Krug’s winery was sold to James Moffitt who carried it successfully though the turbluent years of Prohibition.  Moffitt would later pass the winery to Cesare and Rosa Mondavi, the parents of Robert and Peter Mondavi, in 1943.  Eventually the two brothers, Robert and Peter, would have their turn running the winery.  After their father’s death in 1959, Rosa became president and assigned Robert as the general manager and gave Peter the position as vice president.  The relationship between the two brothers was always a little stormy, and in 1965 Robert would leave Charles Krug to start his own winery.  Today, Peter, along with his two sons, Peter, Jr. and Marc Mondavi continue with the same innovative spirit started by Charles Krug almost 150 years earlier.

The Charles Krug Winery is located in St. Helena, in the northern portion of Napa Valley. The grapes used in the 2006 Napa Valley Merlot come from several of the Mondavi family’s vineyards located within the region.  The climate in Napa Valley is a little warmer and drier than its neighbor, Sonoma County, to the east.  The Mayacamas Mountains separate the two regions, preventing some of the rain and cool, Pacific ocean breezes from reaching Napa’s vineyards.  The southern areas, near Carneros, tend to be cooler than the northern parts of the valley because of the cooling influence of San Pablo Bay.  Cabernet sauvignon is the primary grape grown here, but merlot runs a close second. The red wines made here have rich, intense fruit flavors with riper, fuller tannins as you move further up the valley.

This definitely is not a “wimpy” merlot.  This deep ruby colored wine is full of intense black cherry and currant flavors wrapped in fragrant aromas of blackberries and boysenberries with the subtle spicy character of pepper and anise.  The addition of cabernet sauvignon, bolsters supple tannins and supports the spiciness resulting in a rich, velvety texture.  A light, but lively level of acidity keeps the flavors alive and nuanced hints of vanilla and spice linger on through a long finish.

2006 Charles Krug Napa Valley Merlot ($16)

  •  93% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, o.5% Petit Verdot, o.5% Cabernet Franc (you can really taste CF ;))
  • Napa Valley, California
  • Charles Krug Information Sheet

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

2006 Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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Tasting Note

This past Wednesday I had the opportunity to taste Chateau Montelena’s 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($49).  It was included in a flight of wines that I tasted during the WSET class being taught at WineStyles in Brookfield. Sue bought a bottle of the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon last year and is still resting in the cellar waiting for that perfect meal or occasion.  Although the 2006 harvest wasn’t as good as the one in 2005, I think this wine offered a good preview of things to come.

Chateau Montelena is at the northern tip of Napa Valley, in the heart of the recently christened Calistoga AVA, a region known for the quality its red wines.  All of Chateau Montelena’s vineyards for this wine are located close to the banks of the Napa River and share similar soil characteristics to those found in Bordeaux.  It is these characteristics and the hot dry California climate that deliver a complex and concentrated cabernet sauvignon.  Much like the winemakers of Bordeaux, Chateau Montelena has chosen to blend in small amounts of merlot and cabernet franc to soften the otherwise aggressive tannins of the youthful cabernet sauvignon and create additional layers of complexity.

Tasting Notes:

The experience of tasting this wine started off a little rough.  The first bottle we opened was “corked”, a notable flaw in the wine caused by tainted cork.  Rendell Thomas, the owner of WineStyles, was observing the class and offered to supply another bottle so we could fully appreciate what this wine had to offer.  The new bottle was much better, with no sign of cork taint. In the glass the ’06 has an intense ruby color with just a touch of purple round the edges.  Rich aromas of ripe black cherries and currants are laced with layers of spicy pepper and cedar.  The aromas carry through into the palate with lots of ripe black fruit at the forefront.  The acidity is well balanced making the ripe fruit seem juicier. Notes of vanilla and chocolaty spice are accompanied by the grip of young, ripe tannins that continue to build throughout the long finish.

Cline Cellars 2007 Ancient Vines Mourvèdre

Tasting Note

Mourvèdre, sometimes called monastrell or mataró, is commonly used as a blending grape in Rhone-style wines like Châteauneuf-du-Pape or as the silent partner to some of California’s finest zinfandels.  Mourvèdre adds structure and finesse to common blends, elevating them to some of the most sought after wines. You almost never see this grape used in a single-varietal bottling because so little of it is grown around the world, but when it is grown in the right location, by the right people, you get a spectacular wine!  Such is the case for Cline Cellars‘ Ancient Vines Mourvèdre!

Fred Cline’s Oakley ranch, located 40 miles east of San Francisco, is home to some of California’s oldest plantings of these rare vines (80-120 years old). The vineyards, situated in the midst of Contra Costa’s sprawling parking lots and big box stores, are in a setting far less idyllic than southern France or the picturesque Napa Valley.  The Cline family planted these vineyards five generations ago, long before the real estate boom engulfed California.  Here they soon recognized that the land was blessed with the perfect conditions for growing hearty grapes like mourvèdre.  The hot, almost desert-like conditions during the day are tempered by the cooling effects of the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers at night.  The weather combined with sandy, well-drained soils forces the old vines to struggle, producing a small amount of very intensely flavored and structured fruit.

Tasting Notes:

Cline Cellars’ Ancient Vines Mourvèdre ($16) is one of life’s guilty pleasures.  I found its musky aromas of ripe plums and black cherries strangely seductive, with essences of cedar and coffee that draw you in further into the glass.  The palate is a blend of full-bodied blackberry and cherry liqueur flavors with a wonderfully balanced, tannic finish of dark chocolate that leaves you longing for more.  And it gets even better!  If you liked it on day one, hold on to it for another day or two (if you have the will power) and observe how the flavors and aromas become more rich and complex!  Decanting or aerating may speed this along, but this is one is well worth waiting for.

2006 Nick DeRose, Sr. Zinfandel

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Tasting Note

Fortune smiled upon me a few weeks ago when I had the opportunity to try the 2006 Nick DeRose, Sr. Zinfandel ($26) from DeRose Vineyards.  Having sampled several other wines from DeRose, including another incredible zinfandel, and I think this is one of their best.  The 2006 vintage is a tribute bottling to the late Nick DeRose, Sr.,  whose influence and guidance has helped make his family’s wines what they are today.

The DeRose vineyards are located in one of the best locations for growing zinfandel – California’s Cienega Valley.  Located high in the Gabilan mountains about 25 miles east of Monterey Bay, the vineyards are sheltered from the cool Pacific breezes on the west and the intense summer heat of the San Joaquin Valley to the east.  Here the grapes enjoy warm, sunny days, developing their rich color and flavors.  Cool nights let the grapes rest, helping them retain the much needed acidity to balance out these powerful wines.

Nick’s vintage is created from four blocks of estate grown fruit.  A small six-acre parcel planted in the early 1980′s provides the backbone for the blend and three other blocks of dry farmed “old vines,” originally planted in the late 1890′s, give this zinfandel its depth and intensity.

Tasting Notes:

This bold, full-bodied zinfandel is a fitting metaphor for Nick DeRose’s bold and charismatic personality.  Bold fragrances of blackberries and spicy black cherries filled the room when the first glass was poured.  Swirling the seductive scarlet and purple wine revealed long, silky “legs” coating the inside of the glass, preparing you for the sensory experience ahead.  The flavors are equally as bold and intense as the aromas.  Briary raspberries and blackberries blend together seamlessly with hints of dark cherry and freshly ground black pepper. All of these rich aromas and flavors are masterfully balanced with wine’s the lofty alcohol content (16.4% ABV), leaving you with a long-lasting finish of exotic spices and soft tannins.

Stealing Time For Some Great Wine

Tasting Note

After running a few errands in downtown Milwaukee, I found that I had a little time on my hands.  It had been a while since I visited the Public Market so I decided to stop in at the Thief Wine Shop & Bar and sample a few wines.  With several hours before the start of Gallery Night (our local quarterly art review), the owners, Phil and Aimee were already busy serving patrons. Once I found a spot to settle down, I selected a few interesting wines from their wide assortment of wines by the glass, flight, or bottle.

The first wine I tried was a young, but elegant  pinot noir from New Zealand’s Marlborough region.  The 2008 Oyster Bay Pinot Noir ($17.50) has everything you would expect from a cool climate pinot noir with its bright acidity and tart red fruit flavors.  Hidden in the pale ruby color are fragrant flavors of ripe cranberries, cherries and pomegranate with the softest hints of tannin.  Don’t let the light color fool you.  This pinot noir has a pleasant body and mouthfeel with a generous backbone of crisp acidity.

Next up was a Chilean carménère born in the foothills of the Andes mountains.  The 2007 Terra Andina Reserva Carménère ($11.50) was a world apart from the delicate kiwi pinot noir. Terra Andina makes this wine from 100% carménère grown in the Rapel Valley near Santiago.  With deep red and violet hues, its aromas are alive with plums, black currants and blackberries, backed up with layers of cedar and spice.  Its balanced flavors and rich body are enhanced by soft tannins that build throughout the lengthy finish.

The third wine on the list is from Napa Valley.  Madrigal’s 2006 Zinfandel ($17.50) is even bigger and bolder than the previous two wines.  Located in Calistoga at the northern tip of Napa Valley, the winemakers at Madrigal get their grapes from some of the best zinfandel vineyards in the valley. In true zinfandel style, this is a juicy, fruit-forward powerhouse!  Heady aromas of black raspberries and dark cherries fold into rich layers of vanilla and spice.  The flavors are full-bodied, delivering a punch of spicy red berries wrapped in vanilla and caramel following up with a generous finish of pepper and cocoa.

To finish out the quartet, I selected a Spanish sherry from González Byass.  “Solera 1847″ Oloroso Dulce ($11.95) is a sweet sherry made from Palomino and Pedro Ximénez (sometimes called “PX”).  The name of this sherry comes from original solera laid down in 1847 by González and Byass in Jerez, Spain. Within its golden brown, coffee-like tones are alluring scents of raisins, figs, and orange peel blended with a myriad of woody spices.  Creamy flavors of toffee, vanilla and dried fruits are balanced with soft acidity that ties it all together.  Perfect for a cold January afternoon!

Varietal Voyage No.13 – 2007 “337″ Cabernet Sauvignon

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Varietal Voyage

Over the past few months we’ve tasted twelve white wines from around the world.   The next wine represents the beginning of the second half of our journey. For the next three months we’ll explore the world of red wines, starting with cabernet sauvignon.

337 Cabernet Sauvignon is made by, ironically, 337 Wines, one of the many brands owned by Delicato Family Vineyards,  “337″ is more than a catchy brand name strategy, it is the name of a special clone of cabernet sauvignon that originated in Bordeaux, France. The winemakers at 337 cultivate this clone in the fertile, but rocky soils of Clay Station Vineyard, north of Lodi, at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  The climate here is well suited to this clone, where hot, dry days force the vines to struggle for water and cool nights allow the grapes to rest, slowing the ripening process and concentrating the fruit flavors.

Over the years I’ve gotten used to the idea that if you wanted drink a good California cabernet you had to endure some sticker shock – not so with 337. This one came as a pleasant surprise to the palate and the wallet!  Since this is such a young wine, the color is very intense with a captivating reddish purple hue that is nearly opaque (Don’t spill it on anything you can’t afford to throw out).  Being that it is so young, I expected lots of aggressive tannins.  Again I was surprised.  337 has well balanced tannins with juicy flavors of black cherries and currants and fruity aromas that seam to jump out of the glass. These rich flavors are followed up by layers of vanilla and black pepper toward the finish.  Enjoy this one with your next grilled steak or as a guilty (but affordable) pleasure!

2007 “337″ Cabernet Sauvignon ($11)

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

Good Things Come In 3′s – A Sparkling New Year!

Tasting Note

With 2009 being a year full of ups and downs, Sue an I were determined to start 2010 off right.  And what better way to start the new year than with Champagne and sparkling wine!  For this year we selected three very different wines from three very different places, each with it’s own unique style.  One with a distinguished pedigree; one from a small, rural producer; and one from an up-and-coming estate in a place you would not expect to find great sparkling wines.

The first sparkler of the evening was from Point Reyes Winery in Point Reyes Station, California, one of the few wineries in Marin County. This non-vintage blanc de blanc is made according to the traditional methods pioneered in Champagne, France.  The winemakers and owners, Steve and Sharon Doughty make their sparkling wines from all estate-grown fruit, and it shows.  Their location on the Pacific coast is well suited to growing chardonnay, where ocean breezes keep the grapes from ripening too quickly, allowing the fruit to retain its fresh acidity.  As the name implies, blanc de blancs are 100% chardonnay and this one exploded with all of the fresh, crisp flavors you might expect from a young, cool weather chardonnay.  The appley, citrus flavors were quite refreshing with prickly acidity delivered by a froth of fine bubbles.  This sparkler didn’t have the biscuity undertones that you would normally expect and the finish is short and clean, making it little one-dimensional, but still very delicious, especially for $25!  If you are looking to buy a bottle, your best bet is to contact the winery directly or stop in and visit their tasting room.

The next bottle of bubbly was a fantastic Champagne produced by Gonet-Medeville.  “Tradition,” as it is called, is a brut style, premier cru Champagne from the village of Bisseuil, France. Sue and I were fortunate enough to try this one at a Champagne tasting hosted by the Waterford Wine Company two days earlier, so we had a good idea what to expect. What we didn’t expect was how much better it was going to get! “Tradition” is a blend of the three grapes normally associated with fine champagne: chardonnay, pinot noir, and an obscure grape called pinot menuier.  The winemaker, Xavier Gonet, has blended these three grapes (70% chardonnay, 25% pinot noir, 5% pinot meunier) into a fine cuvée that evokes romantic images of rustic French villages on the chalky hillsides of Champagne.  Complex flavors and aromas of ripe apples, zesty citrus and fresh baked brioche meld seamlessly with the creamy, almond infused mousse.  The lengthy finish leaves you wanting more long after the bottle is empty!  Pricey ($52) but well worth it!

Last, and certainly not least, we finished our New Year’s celebration with an elegant vintage sparkling wine from the east coast.  The 2004 Kluge Estate Blanc de Blanc comes to us from Albemarle County in the state of Virginia, a location you would not normally associate with great sparkling wines. Kluge Estate Winery is a relatively new winery (1999) nestled into the Blue Ridge Mountains near Charlottesville, Virginia and is doing some great things with sparkling wines.  Winemaker Charles Gendrot and wine consultant Laurent Champs (owner of Vilmart et Cie in Champagne, France) painstakingly crafted this blanc de blanc from Kluge’s best chardonnay. The end result is a vibrant wine with finely focused apple and pear flavors and complex hints of warm toast and roasted almonds. It has a creamy mouthfeel with tight bubbles and a clean, zesty finish.  As an American sparkling wine, I found this blanc de blanc to be just as thought provoking and delicious as the Gonet-Medeville at fraction of the price ($32)!

This might be a good time to make a New Year’s resolution – Try one new Champagne or sparkling wine each month throughout the year.  There are so many great wines out there it seems a shame to relegate sparkling wines to only holidays or special events. Wouldn’t life be more interesting if we drank champagne just for the fun of it?

Here’s to a bright and promising new year. Cheers!