WARREN WINIARSKI’S WINE AMONG “101 OBJECTS THAT MADE AMERICA”

My friend Michael Wangbickler of Balzac Communications sent out a press release that is so exciting for the American wine world that I want to reprint it in its entirety, unaltered:

Napa, CA – October 29, 2013 – Smithsonian Magazine, the publication for the world’s largest museum and research complex, has published a list of “101 Objects that Made America” in its November 2013 issue. Included in the items selected from among more than 137 million artifacts, works of art, and specimens in the collection, was the 1973 Vintage of California Wines which won the 1976 “Judgment of Paris.” This prestigious award and recognition catapulted California wines into the international spotlight. Renowned winemaker Warren Winiarski crafted one of the winning wines.

“It’s an honor and a thrill to have a wine I made included among such historic and ground-breaking artifacts,” said Winiarski. “It clearly demonstrates how much of an impact California winemakers have on the world at large. Forty years ago, a small group of winemakers showed a passion to succeed and a drive for excellence which helped prove that we could make wines as good as or better than anyone else. Today, the world holds California winemakers in high esteem, a reputation that is due, in part, to the 1973 vintage and the Paris tasting.”

Other items chosen from among the collections for this historic list include Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit, Abraham Lincoln’s top hat, Charles Lindberg’s Spirit of St. Louis, and Lewis and Clark’s compass. A complete list of the objects can be found at http://smithsonian.com/101objects.

Winiarski is founder of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and winemaker of the 1973 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon that bested France’s wines in the historic 1976 Paris Tasting. That win not only raised awareness of the quality of wine made in California, but of American wine in general. A bottle of Winiarski’s 1973 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

Today, Winiarski is actively involved in preserving agricultural and open land in Napa Valley for future generations, something he has felt strongly about since the 1960s. Winiarski and colleagues fought to have the historic 1968 Agricultural Preserve Act passed in Napa County.

Winiarski was inducted into the California Vintners Hall of Fame at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in 2009, and continues to explore his passion for greatness in grapes and wine at his Arcadia Vineyard in Napa Valley.

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Wine For a Good Cause – The Jimmy Fund

If you live in the New England area this is a great way to taste wine for a worthy cause:

 

Raise Your Glass for Jimmy presented by the Jimmy Fund Council of Greater Boston

Wine tasting event is Wednesday, Sept. 25

Raise Your Glass for Jimmy presented by the Jimmy Fund Council of Greater Boston will take place in the Main Ballroom of The Liberty Hotel in Boston on September 25 from 6 to 9 p.m.

Admission to the event includes hors d’oeuvres and live music. Enjoy a variety of wines with a good selection of whites and reds to appeal to all palettes. Participating wine vendors include M.S. Walker, Horizon Beverage, Plymouth Bay Winery, Federal Wine & Spirits, Gordon’s Fine Wines & Liquors and August West Wines. All proceeds support adult and pediatric cancer care and research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

This event will also feature a wine drawing (buy a chance for $35 and you are guaranteed a bottle of wine worth at least $25) and a silent auction with a trip to a vineyard in Sonoma, Calif., including airfare, several large format wines, a four-course chef’s tasting menu for four at Strega worth $500, and many other great items.

Tickets for this event are $50 per person, and include a $25 gift certificate for Tresca, donated by Tresca restaurant, for the first 150 guests at the door. Tickets are available at www.jimmyfund.org/raise-your-glass or visit the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/events/595784407132064/ 

 

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911 Memorial Visit

WiningWays:

I felt today was a good day to re-post my visit to the 9/11 Memorial. 
September 11th is such a solemn day of remembrance – of the heroes who answered the call, many who gave all, of the ones we lost, and the collective damage we sustained as a nation. I also remember in the days and weeks that followed many who didn’t know any other way to show solidarity with New York and express their anger and grief except waving large flags along busy streets. I remember a lot of flags being flown. We’ll all have forever that “Where were you when” moment that the Greatest Generation had after Pearl Harbor. So many tragedies both natural and man-made have come and gone since but on this one day we are galvanized as a people and we live and we endure. That’s what we do best – we endure. Take a moment to look at One World Trade Center. One World. Peace. 

Originally posted on WiningWays:

 

Some people “dance it out” when they have pent up emotion or frustration, like on Grey’s Anatomy with Meredith and Christina. While this is not normally a topic for this blog, this is my blog and I needed a place to “write it out”.

I visited New York last weekend to see the 911 Memorial. Of course it was the coldest day in a winter that has spoiled us with spring temperatures since October’s Snowmaggedon. I was prepared to be emotional. I have seen the endless replaying of the day’s events each year as the anniversary approaches, watched the documentaries, and was prepared to be moved to tears. I feel a weird kind of survivor’s guilt as a former New Yorker. I have many friends who were much closer to what happened than I, and feel fortunate not to have lost any loved ones personally but we all…

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Declare Your Wine Independence

flagHappy Independence Day fellow United States-ians! As you are enjoying your festivities today with friends and family, and posting all sorts of patriotic pics and memes on facebook and other social media consider this – do you live in one of the 11 remaining states that still prohibit wine shipments direct to the consumer? I do. In Massachusetts the state Supreme Court even ruled on it being unconstitutional but we have yet to pass legislation to rectify this. Why? Wholesalers and distributors have a more powerful voice in Congress than I do, or you. Why not start a conversation about it today at your Independence Day celebration. Perhaps it can help spark a consumer revolution. A new wine consumer advocacy group has sprung up called the American Wine Consumer Coalition. The hope of  founders David White of the blog Terroirist and Tom Wark of Fermentation is to grow a paid membership based group that will become a voice powerful enough to be heard over the wholesalers’ lobby. Shouldn’t you, as a law-abiding, patriotic American be able to purchase a legal agricultural product from whichever state you want? Why should a wholesaler or package store be able to make that decision on your behalf? My hope is that the new AWCC along with the organization Free the Grapes, (an older grassroots consumer group aimed at educating the consumer and government about making changes to the current three tier system regulating alcohol sales that has been in place since the repeal of Prohibition) will finally be able to give consumers a fighting chance. Join one or both organizations. Subscribe to their newsletters. Read Robert Taylor’s Mixed Case column in Wine Spectator. Share your opinion. Express your right of free speech. Help make our voices heard!

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Summer Wine Cocktails

WIYG? Twitterspeak for “what’s in your glass?” Summer is upon us and it’s time for lighter, more refreshing thirst-quenchers. So WIYG? I have already posted some background and great recipes for Sangria, and another post on summer white wine suggestions that diverge from the reliable standbys. Now let’s explore the idea of cocktails made with wine. I am already seeing them become a trend with mixologists. These wine concoctions will go great with food, friends, and festivities of all kinds. For those who like to get an early start there is the traditional brunch cocktail the Mimosa, made with champagne (or any sparkling wine you choose) and orange juice, or the Bellini, made with Prosecco and peach nectar. Try variations on these with any fruit juice or nectar you like.

This past spring, on a leisurely drive home from a weekend in Newport (collecting sea glass at Fort Adams Park and visiting mansions that keep up with the Crawleys of Downtophoto (20)n Abbey) we decided to stop in Plymouth until the traffic died down. We didn’t go to see the rock (that’s rather disappointing actually). We were looking for some good chowder (and OMG we’d found some of the best we’d ever tasted at Cabby Shack – highly recommend). It was near five on a Sunday and strolling around by the waterfront we saw that the Plymouth Bay Winery was still open. You didn’t think I would just walk past an open winery that crossed my path did you? There was a woman at the tasting bar. We saw that there were two kinds of tastings, one complementary and one that included a souvenir glass. Of course we were going to choose the one with the glass. The man pouring for the woman was Michael Carr, the new owner. We looked around and waited while he finished up with the woman who was there to plan her bachelorette party at the winery. When she left and we sat down Michael gave us his full attention. We were going to be the last tasting of the day. We could have gotten the rush treatment. I’m sure he wanted to close up and get home to his wife Pam, whom he later referred to as the “Doctor” (along with some Austin Powers pinky action at the corner of his mouth) but he absolutely took his time with us and we enjoyed every minute.

For my wine geek friends, connoisseurs of the vinifera grapes that make what are known as fine wines you may not have taken this place too seriously but Michael really provides a great tasting room experience, showcasing his many fruit wines. He has a nice thing going on the waterfront of a small town with a bonafide landmark tourist attraction. We started tasting and talking and Michael told us a little background. I told him I was a wine blogger. He told us about his Playbook crafted with the “Doctor” (remember the Austin Powers pinky action) and then began giving us some flavor combinations to work with. He had made pineapple and limeade ice cubes to go with some of the wines which included Cranberry Bay, made with locally sourced cranberries, and the blush version that was a bit more tart. There was Raspberry Bay which he recommended drizzling over chocolate ice cream or cheesecake. For a cocktail he suggested trying with vodka and pineapple juice which he calls his sexy PBW martini. With the Blueberry Bay he offered us some pineapple ice cubephoto (21)s and it made a great match.

Our favorite was the Blackberry Bay wine. Michael’s suggestion for this was to marinate peaches in the wine to serve as a dessert. For a cocktail he floats the wine on top of a gin and tonic (works just as well with vodka) and calls it a “Billionaire” We have made this drink several times since that visit. Very refreshing.

We were in the winery long after closing talking and tasting. PBW also sells a number of wine infused jams and jellies. We particularly liked the Raspberry Spice jelly which got quite a kick from habanero peppers. Click here for more information on the Plymouth Bay Winery. His wines are offered for sale on the website, but even if you aren’t able to buy PBW’s wines you can usually find a selection of fruit wines in most wine shops. Be creative and make your own flavor combinations.

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A classic wine cocktail:

The Americano

1 oz Campari® bitters

1 oz sweet vermouth

1 twist lemon peel

1 twist orange peel

Pour over ice into a collins glass. Garnish with lemon and orange twists and add club soda.

Mistral

1 oz Chambord® raspberry liqueur

2 oz dry white wine

1 tbsp frozen strawberries

3 tbsp crushed ice

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Pour into a champagne coupe, and serve.

Another place where you can get your creative juices (so to speak) flowing is Diageo Brand’s page called The Wine Bar.

Some of their cocktail suggestions:

• Lively Up

Pink Pinot Grigio + Raspberry Liqueur + Sour Mix

• Cherry Cobbler

Pink Moscato + Black Cherry Vodka + Sour Mix

• Harkness

Pink Moscato + Spiced Rum + Cranberry Juice

• Pot of Gold

Pinot Grigio + Orange Liqueur + Lemon Juice

• Love Potion Sangria

Pinot Grigio + Gin + White Grape Juice

• Hemingway’s Hangtime

White Wine + White Rum + Grapefruit Juice

• The Winemaker’s Squeeze

Red Wine + Orange Liqueur + Blood orange soda

• Monarch

Pinot Grigio + Ginger Ale

• Tropical Escape

Chardonnay + Pineapple Juice

• The Valley Breeze

Pink Pinot Grigio + Cranberry Juice

• Mint on Top

White wine + Ginger beer + Lime Juice

• Sauvignon Tsunami

Sauvignon Blanc + Coconut Water

Independence Cobbler

White Wine + Orange Liqueur

• Wine Tai

Red Wine + Zacapa Rum + Orange Liqueur

You get the picture. By the way, for wine cocktails, similar to Sangria, my suggestion is that you do not need to use the good stuff – you know, that special juice you’re saving, aging, or cellaring. These drinks are perfect for those inexpensive, easy drinking, uncomplicated wines that can be found almost anywhere. When the weather turns cold again I’ll post some great cocktails made with red wines, brandies, and bourbon. They’ll warm you from the inside out. So for now go get your summer on and express it your way. Remember to give it a good name while you’re at it.

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Before there were wine bloggers there was Nathan Chroman

Before Jancis wrote her big book, The Oxford Companion to Wine, before Kevin Zraly took his position as Wine Director at Windows on the World, before Steven Spurrier instigated (or perpetrated upon the French) the American wine defining moment of the Judgment of Paris, and before Robert M. Parker Jr. created the much debated 100 point wine rating system there was Nathan Chroman.

Nathan was a California attorney who loved wine. He practiced personal injury law in Beverly Hill, which I can only imagine must have been lucrative. He taught a wine appreciation course at UCLA Extension. He wrote a weekly wine column for the Lose Angeles Times and in 1973 a book called The Treasury of American Wines. He was the reason a lot of people had the opportunity to cellar some of the best vintages California ever produced, including many judged in the spring of 1976 as superior to the French, by French judges. Until that singular moment the French claimed a monopoly on the world’s highest quality wines. His weekly newspaper column was devoted to the growing wine culture in California’s salad bowl valleys of Monterey and Sonoma. He tracked the changes in agriculture as fruit and vegetable farmers began tearing up fruit trees and vegetable fields and planting wine grapes. He got a lot of things right before most even knew there was a California wine culture.

IMG_3414I picked up his book at a sale at my local library (fill a bag for $2.00!). These sales make me happy and sad simultaneously. I think of libraries as safe havens protecting the printed page from extinction, preserving it for future generations. They are becoming more like arboretums everyday – places where we visit the books and obtain digital downloads. So I rescued the book for giggles to read what was being written about American wine back in the 70’s, which, as an easterner, I remember as the time of jug wine. I didn’t know what I was getting, and that it would become one of the cherished additions to my own wine library.

He began by summarizing wine appreciation such as it was back then. Remember that these were the days of literally jug American wine, sold by the gallon by the likes of Gallo and Masson. This was all most Americans knew about wine if you didn’t live close to the source. Americans had not yet developed its palate and preference for wine over other adult beverages such as spirits and beer. Those with more refined tastes indulged in wines from Europe, as they were believed to be the only fine wine. Prohibition, that noble experiment, all but eliminated any consciousness Americans may have had of wines of quality being produced domestically.

Parker developed his million dollar nose on Bordeaux. Nathan Chroman wrote mostly about local wine but his book was not limited to California. He did know of the work of Dr. Konstantin Frank, a Hungarian immigrant who first believed that vinifera could be grown successfully in the Finger Lakes region of New York. While more prominently writing of the wine regions of the Northern California, he did not neglect to note the indigenous Catawba in Ohio and the hybrids being created in Michigan, Delaware, and even Pennsylvania.

California was a magical place for wine in the 1970’s. It was on the launchpad (crushpad) of the world stage. Nate Chroman was a man in the know from early on. In his book he wrote of the “Visionaries” and the “Prodigies” and he made predictions for the future. He rated the wines of the day with a personal system of one to four x’s. He wrote of the origins of California wine from the time of the Spanish missionaries’ need for sacramental wines and development of the Mission grape, to the Gold Rush era migration of another Hungarian immigrant – Agoston Haraszthy, who brought European vitis vinifera vines. Haraszthy operated the Buena Vista Winery among his many accomplishments. The winery is one of the few to survive Prohibition and helped give birth to the modern American wine industry. Nathan attributes Haraszthy with bringing Zinfandel vines to California (the origins of which is still being debated today, even after numerous DNA studies), while many still believe it to be a native grape. Nathan remarked that in the 1860’s the industry was gigantic, with as many as 10.5 million vines planted. Today the number is closer to 275 million. I wonder what he would think.

Nathan died in 2012 at age 83 and was one of the most influential people on the subject of American wine. He lived to see the U.S. overtake the French as the largest wine consuming nation in the world. He noted that California produced 84% of U.S. wines in the 70’s and today it produces 90%, keeping pace with the rest of the country, with wine being produced today in every state. Personal wine consumption was 1.44 gallons per capita in 1957, 2.43 gallons in 1973, and stands at 3.03 gallons as of 2012. He quoted a Wells Fargo Bank of California report projecting that level of consumption to be reached by 1980.
He predicted that by the year 2000 the Salinas Valley would have over 100,000 acres of wine grapes under cultivation. Today the number of acres is roughly somewhere near 40,000.

IMG_3415Where he was so dead on in the book was how he picked the wines and winemakers. Of the Visionaries he called Andre Tchelistcheff of Beaulieu Vineyard the “winemaker’s winemaker” and rated his wines with four x’s. He considered David Bruce wines some of the finest Chardonnays made. In the 70’s he only rated Buena Vista wines as two x’s. He wrote glowingly of Chalone wines and the Chenin Blanc of Chappellet. Concannon, Freemark Abbey, Hanzell, Heitz, and Inglenook also received some of his highest praise. Back then California was still calling its sparkling wines Champagne and Korbell rated three x’s. Of the Prodigies he cited Robert Mondavi, Louis M. Martini, Paul Masson’s, Schramsberg’s, and Martin Ray’s Champagnes, Mayacamas, Mirassou, Ridge, Souverain, Sebastiani, and Wente. Of these wines Ridge, Heitz, Mayacamas, Freemark Abbey, Chalone, and David Bruce went on to win high marks against the French at the famous Judgment of Paris competition. He never mentioned Chateau Montelena, featured in the film Bottle Shock, as being anything special. He actually only listed them under “Other California wineries”, not far from Franzia (today a leading boxed wine), E & J Gallo (Hearty Burgundy), and Boone’s Farm (who doesn’t remember the precursor to wine coolers?).

No New York wines received x’s of any number but he did single out Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Vineyards, Bully Hill, Widmer, Boordy, Great Western, Gold Seal, and Taylor (I grew up with Taylor and Great Western Champagnes). Washington State’s sole mention was Ste. Michelle Vineyards, and Oregon received no mention at all.

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If you don’t already own it, and I am sure it is out of print now, but if you ever have a chance to visit it in your local library it is a wine book well worth browsing. I think a great number of wineries owe a tremendous debt of gratitude for the attention he paid them early on.

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Ribera del Duero. Drink Ribera. Drink Spain.

Many wine drinkers are familiar with Tempranillo as Spain’s most prolifically grown noble grape. Often people confuse Rioja and Tempranillo as being the same thing but Tempranillo is the grape variety and Rioja is one of Spain’s largest wine producing regions. A somewhat less familiar region (in the U.S. largely due to better marketing by other wine regions), the Ribera del Duero, has been producing wines for more than 2,000 years. Evidence of this has been found in a Roman mosaic depicting Bacchus. Bacchus mosaicCistercian and Benedictine monks began proliferating vines and cellBodegas Ismael Arroyo, Sotillo de la Ribera  (Burgos)aring wine as far back as the 12th century. Some of these cellars are still in use today. The region was officially declared a D.O. (Denominación de Origen) in 1982. A natural clone of Tempranillo, known in the region as Tinto Fino or Tinto del Pais has adapted to the less than hospitable climate of short hot summers with cool nights, frequent frosts during the growing season, and little rain.

Map_20121The Ribera del Duero region is located approximately 80 miles north of Madrid and sits on a plateau with a wide river valley running through it. The wine region is literally located along either side of the banks of the Duero River as it runs west to east (through Portugal where it s called the Douro before it empties into the Atlantic) through the four Spanish provinces of Castile and León, Burgos, Segovia, and Valladodid. The climate is Mediterranean with Continental influences and the vineyards are planted at altitudes as high as 3,000 feet. The growing season is short with a favorable diurnal temperature exchange of hot days and cool nights, and rainfall of only about 17 inches per year, which makes for great growing conditions. The soil variations range from alluvial deposits with some sand and clay at the lowest elevations to layered limestone, marl, and chalk up towards the steeper slopes. This arid mesa land is dotted with medieval castle/fortresses called alcázars where 15th and 16th century catholic Spain fought off the islamic Moors who had controlled much of the country from the time of the Reconquista in the 8th century through the Spanish Inquisition (complex history).

El rocío sobre los viñedos en Pesquera de Duero (Valladolid)Vines here are known to grow untrellised on upright gnarled bushes, many into old age, 40, 50 years or more. The Tempranillo grape grows as a small berry in loose clusters and is characterized by its plum, cherry, raspberry, blackberry, and spice flavor descriptors. It is known for producing well-balanced wines that express fresh fruit, good acidity, rich color and well-controlled tannins. Oak aging contributes vanilla, toast, and leather to the final product. The wines of the Ribera del Duero region show elegance, depth, and complexity. Many give you pause to think and consider while tasting.

The classification system adhered to by the D.O., as in most regions, is strict. There are requirements for the use of oak and aging, as well as maximum yields per acre, grape varieties, vineyard management, alcohol levels, and more. Ribera del Duero wines are classified as follows:

Cosecha, or Joven – these wines are young and meant to be drunk soon after harvest. They are fresh and fruity in style. Joven Roble or Joven Barrica see three to six months in oak.
Crianza – requires two years of aging with at least one year in an oak barrel. They are allowed to be released after the first of October, two years after the harvest.
Reserva – wines are aged for three years, with a one year minimum in oak. They are released after the first of October, three years after the harvest.
Gran Reserva – these wines are only produced in years with an exceptional vintage. Aged for a minimum of five years these wines require at least two years in oak barrels, followed by additional bottle aging.
Rosado – Ribera del Duero’s rosé wines, meant to be enjoyed while young and fresh.

In April I had the pleasure of attending an event sponsored by Drink Ribera. Drink Spain. hosted by Jonathan Alsop at the Boston Wine School. There was a brief seminar followed by a walk around tasting complemented by regional tapas prepared by Deborah Hansen of Taberna de Haro. It was a celebration of Ribera being named Wine Region of the Year by Wine Enthusiast magazine. Fifteen winemakers were listed on the program but somehow many more managed to be displayed on additional tables. I never turn my nose up at these sponsored events. Some wine geeks see them as self-serving and blatant marketing, which they are, and intended to be. It is also my opportunity, short of traveling to the region itself, to taste through the different classifications and styles, and to learn something about food pairing that go well with the wines.

photo (15)
jamonAt the end of this post I will list some of the wines I enjoyed but an interesting part of the event was the food. There was Salchichón, a Spanish style salami, chorizo sausage, Manchego cheese, and Jamón ibérico (Spanish version of prosciutto) sliced by chef Deborah Hansen, all of which were predictable pairings. The interesting choice to me was the Morcilla, common to the region but not often served in the U.S. Morcilla, also known as black pudding, is, quite literally, blood sausage. An acquired taste for most, this is something I was more familiar with as what my mother called Hutka. My great grandmother was from Budapest and while growing up in New York we frequently travelled to Manahattan to a part of the lower east side where a little Hungarian community still sold the delicacies of home. I now know that what my mother called Hutka was actually véres hurka. In Spain morcilla is made from pork blood, with rice, fat, onions, and sometimes liver and head meat (did I mention that it is an acquired taste?). The Hungarian version I grew up with was prepared in a skillet and sauteed until the sausage burst and the black organ bits and rice got crispy. When I was a kid I didn’t know anything about this other than my mother couldn’t pass it off with the “tastes like chicken” line, but I liked it. The Morcilla served by Taberna de Haro was more elegantly presented than I remembered from childhood. This is waste not want not peasant food at its best.

While wine has been made in the Ribera del Duero region for more than 2,000 years it was being produced primarily for local consumption with less regard paid to quality. Often little attention was paid to wine production and a vintage could be placed in barrels and allowed to ferment on its own with little intervention at all from the winemaker. It was around the mid 20th century when the number of hectares planted had started to be reduced and quality over quantity took hold, leading up to the 1980’s when the winery Vega Sicilia, along with wineries like La Pesquera began to produce wines of higher quality, helping to secure the D.O status for the region. Bodegas Vega Sicilia had been producing wine since 1864. More than 100 years later they adopted a mindeset of holding off the release of their wines until they were ready, as determined by the winemaker. To this day some Vega Sicilia wines are held in bottle and not released for decades. This determination to be patient and control the release of the wine until the best possible quality could be achieved inspired other winemakers to the produce better wines as well. Now the region can boast of being able to hold its own against the more reknown Rioja D.O. and its designation as Wine Region of the Year by Wine Enthusiast magazine. So the next time you are in the mood for a wine with a little more complexity, one to make you pause to consider what you are tasting try a Ribera del Duero.

You could not go wrong with wines from any of the following producers:

Bodega Emina – the 2009 Crianza is a purple red hue with well-defined tannins and complex structure.

Bodega Matarromera S. L.

Protos B. Ribera del Duero Peñafiel S. L.

Bodegas Trus S. L.

Alejandro Fernández-Tinto Pesquera, S. L. – named for the visionary Spanish winemaker who helped bring this region to a more prominent place in the wine world, helping to secure the D.O. status

Selección de Torres, S. L.

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Blending Gratitude in McMinnville

In a previous post (Lessons in wine blending in Oregon) I wrote about blending Pinot Noirs in Oregon. Gary Horne, the winemaker at Erath taught a lesson on what goes into blending a great Pinot Noir. It was an excellent classroom style lesson and I left with a deeper understanding of how a winery achieves their personal style of the varietal. My next lesson on blending was much more experiential and I came away with a deeper understanding of the winemaker’s influence on the final product. As previously noted many winemakers will say that a good wine is made in the field. While it true that you need to start out with great grapes the winemaker is just being modest.

Sept 2012 851At the end of last year’s bloggers conference a group of us were treated to a trip out to McMinnville, a sub-appellation of the Willamette Valley AVA, about 40 miles southwest of Portland. Rob and Maria Stuart own a winery and tasting bar, R. Stuart & Co. An entire year later I still remember that visit as one of my favorite wine experiences. I cannot rave enough about their gracious hospitality, and the valuable experience they offered. Rob is a smart winemaker. He allows others to deal with the worry and anxiety of getting good grapes to harvest. Then he buys his pick of the best of several AVA’s and blends them into his personal expression of Oregon’s signature varietal.

Sept 2012 830First we were treated to a sumptuous walk around lunch at the winery, with food and wines at stations set up throughout. We all got to relax, get to know each other, ask questions. Then Rob had us sit down in groups at tables that looked like individual laboratories.

Sept 2012 843There were beakers and bottles, pipettes, and notebooks to record our data. He offered us six different fermented single vineyard Pinot Noirs to work with. We were told about the distinct characteristics of each wine, similar to the Erath lesson. He gave us basic instructions and an hour to work as a team to come up with our own custom blend. To back up a minute Rob asked us what style of PN we liked – more acidic, tannic, or fruit forward. I was in the group that identified as more acidic. My bloggers in crime were Kelsey Ivey of OregonWinette, Michele Francisco of WineRabble, and Julia Crowley of WineJulia.

Sept 2012 842Our group had enough trouble trying to decide our own little division of labor. Who would do the measuring, who would do the proportions, etc. We did a lot of tasting. In the end we had to also come up with a name and tasting notes. Maria and Rob were going to treat us to a bottle of the finished product. My big contribution to the group (because I am not good wielding a pipettes or doing proportions) was an idea of the name. I had in mind that I would drink this wine on Thanksgiving because I always serve an American Pinot Noir with my turkey and this would be the perfect way to honor this occasion. I actually think someone at another table shouted out the name Gratitude but it was a good one and it stuck.

Soon enough our time was up and we had decisions to make. Fortunately we had made several blends and had choices. The greatest lesson learned that day was knowing when to stop blending. I know an hour was not enough time but once you get involved in it a little mad scientist kicks in and it seems difficult to know just when to say ok this is the one.
The wines we had available as our raw material were:
Weber

AVA: Dundee Hills
Soil: Jory
Clones: Pommard, on its own roots, planted in 1985
Perspective: South/Southeast
Characteristics: Spicy aromatics, flavors of dark cherry, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and tamarind with floral components of wild rose and violets.

 

Hirschy

AVA: Yamhill-Carlton
Soil: Willakenzie
Clones: Dijon 777 and Dijon 667 on 101-14 rootstock
Perspective: South facing 400-450’ elevation
Characteristics: Floral components of roses and spring flowers. Juicy mid palate with red and black fruit flavors. An edge of acidity.
 

Courting Hill

AVA: Willamette Valley
Soil: Volcanic Windblown
Clones: Various Pommard and Dijon clones, multiple plantings in mid 1980’s
Perspective: South facing 400’ elevationCharacteristics: Dark plum flavors with fruit tree blossom aromas. Elegant.
 

Elkhorn Ridge

AVA: Willamette Valley
Soil: Willakenzie
Clones: A mixture of mostly Dijon 777 clones with a small proportion of Dijon 113, 114 and Pommard, all on 101-14 rootstock
Perspective: South/Southeast about 350’elevation. Very warm site.
Characteristics: Dark plum flavors with roses in the nose and a little spice. Very soft and round texture, nice soft tannins and very delicate acid.

Temperance Hill

AVA: Eola Hills
Soil: Jory
Clones: A mixed planting of Pommard, Dijon 777 and 115 on 101-14 rootstock
Perspective: Due south, 750-800’ elevation
Characteristics: High acidity with flavors of crushed fresh raspberries and blackberries on a cool morning. A hint of herb in the nose.

Daffodil Hill

AVA: Eola Hills
Soil: Jory
Clones: Dijon 667 and 114 on 101-14 rootstock
Perspective: West facing, about 350 – 500’ elevation. Very warm site.
Characteristics: Very round, soft, and rich on the palate. A definite black cherry component and the smell of fresh rain on dusty earth. Herbal aromatics of lavender and fennel.

Our final result was 40% Elkhorn Ridge, 45% Daffodil Hill, 5% Temperance Hill, and 5% Hirschy. The Courting Hill and Weber didn’t make into our final blend, but for no particular reason. The small amount of Temperance Hill and Hirschy definitely contributed to the acidity of the photo (9)wine while the Elkhorn Ridge and Daffodil Hill kept it in balance.photo (10)
So you think it was easy?  Think about these things when you question the price of the next wine you buy. R. Stuart’s Big Fire wines are all modestly priced under $20 and I would highly recommend them to anyone. Rob doesn’t believe in ratings and awards so you won’t find them on anyone’s 100 point scale but I can tell you that these wines are crafted with love and joy by people who care about the experience you will have when you open the bottle. I can’t wait until the next opportunity I have to visit Oregon again and I will absolutely have a trip to McMinnville at the top of my list of things to do.
photo (8)The entire group agreed that it would be a good idea to open our bottles at the same time and have a virtual tasting. Due to weather events like Sandy and the east coast Blizzard of ’13 in February we didn’t actually get to have our tasting until April. The folks who were nearby were able to join Rob and Maria at their Wine Bar while the rest of us received a wonderful package with two bottles of our blend along with several bottles of their wines. Big WOW factor. We all enjoyed complimenting the wines, Rob and Maria, and each other. For me this experience has an incredibly long lasting finish because I will be saving my second bottle of Gratitude for Thanksgiving this year, as I originally had hoped. Deep Gratitude indeed to Rob and Maria for such a memorable time.

Sept 2012 846

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Memorial Day BBQ Wines

WiningWays:

For your Memorial Day Celebrations. Worth reposting from two years ago…

Originally posted on WiningWays:

Even though Memorial Day weekend is almost a month ahead of the astronomical beginning of summer this is the big kickoff weekend for the most of us (well, here in my part of the world anyway). This is the time in the wine world when we shift from some of the heavy reds to cool crisp whites, rosés, and yes, sangrias! (goes well with anything outdoors). A lot of BBQ’ed meats tend to have a sweetness due to the sauces we use and so here are some wines that go well with some of the most popular grilled meats, seafood, and salads.

Burgers – do well with Merlot, Shiraz, Zinfandel, and for the hearty, Cabernet Sauvignon

Ribs – Zinfandel, Shiraz, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Barbera, Barbaresco

Steak – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or any red you like

Chicken – White Zinfandel (if you must), Chardonnay (depending on how the chicken is prepared), Rosé

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Lessons in wine blending in Oregon

Many of my wine friends are preparing to attend this year’s Wine Bloggers Conference in Penticton, British Columbia (yeah, they actually grow good wine up there!). While I will not be going, I am still enjoying the lessons learned from my time in Oregon last year. Truly, if you are a wine geek, this conference is so much more than a big drink fest (though there is ample opportunity for “tasting”). This conference provides the absolute, hands down, best opportunity to learn about wine – how it’s made, what contributes to the final outcome, the differences between climate, place, and soil, as well as the winemaker and vineyard manager roles.

Last year in Oregon I had two opportunities to learn something about blending. Blending does not, by the way, just mean different kinds of wine in varying percentages mixed together like a Rhone style Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre, voilà. Blending is also part of making a good varietal wine. Most varietal wines in fact are the product of blending. Different vineyards, different blocks, different rows, etc. can be crushed, or not, fermented together, or not, aged separately, or any number of other combinations where the winemaker’s craft takes place. Many winemakers will say that good wine is made in the field, and it does all begin with good grapes but the winemaker has so many ways to interact with the grapes once they are harvested, and so many decisions to make before putting their seal of approval on the bottle.

I have friends who are home winemakers, a couple really good enough to go commercial but just don’t want that much change in their lives (Jason). Other wine friends are in scientific fields and they are really into the processes and measurements of alcohol by volume, malolactic fermentation, residual sugar, cold fermentation, brix, etc. Some of us want to just enjoy the wine in the glass, with food and friends, and maybe be able to describe its flavors. I have learned that I am one of these people.

During the conference there was a seminar conducted by Gary Horne, winemaker at Erath Winery in the Dundee Hills. In this part of the world every vineyard visit comes with a comprehensive geology lesson. The soil type is Jory, a well-drained, red silty clay loam, three to six feet deep. It is also perfect for growing Oregon’s other cash crops – Douglas firs for Christmas trees, and hazelnuts. Jory is actually the official state soil of Oregon. Who knew that a state could have and official soil type?

Gary Horne told us about Pinot Noir clones and how Dick Erath, along with Oregon Pinot Noir pioneers David Lett, Charles Coury, and David Adelsheim experimented with them to bring out the best qualities in each. In winemaking clones are defined as propagation of a grape by asexual cuttings or grafting. The resulting plant carries the same DNA as the parent plant but with slight genetic variations. This allows for grapes to be developed that will adapt, thrive and achieve their own uniqueness in a specific environment. Remember that vinifera grapes (those associated with fine wines) are of European extraction and have been imported all over the world and propagated. This accounts for all of the differences between a Pinot Noir from Oregon and a French Burgundy. All vinifera grapes eventually trace back to their own Adam and Eve. Scientists today are still identifying the lineage of grapes and where they originated. Only in recent years was the Chilean grape Carménère identified as having been one of the original Bordeaux blending grapes that fell out of production during the Phylloxera devastation of Europe. It had been for years classified as Merlot!

Sept 2012 766Using the French Pinot Noir clones 115, 777, and Pommard (one of the first French clones to be grown in Oregon soil) we got to experience the nuances and layers of all the flavors achieved after blending. The 115 clone is associated with currant, balsam, cardamom, and smokiness – spices and bramble fruits. The 777 clone’s characteristics include cherry, cedar, vanilla, and orange zest. The Pommard clone shows sandalwood, and floral notes but also carries the tannic weight that the first two do not. Gary showed these grapes all vinified the exact same way – 15 months in 40% new French oak, with a final alcohol by volume of 14.5% The final blended wine, their Prince Hill Pinot Noir Dundee Hills expresses itself in many layers, with the dominant characteristics from each of the clones – the sandalwood, berries, baking spices, and vanilla are carried on a lingering finish. Very interesting multi-sensory exercise on how it all builds to a crescendo in the final wine.

Next was what turned out to be one of my favorite experience at the Bloggers conference. I was invited, post-conference, with a group of my fellow wine bloggers to take a ride out to McMinnville to learn how Rob Stuart blends his Pinot Noirs at R. Stuart & Co. And that will be my next post…

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