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A bright orange soup and a Spanish wine for the World Cup Final

Date: Tue, Jul 13, 2010 Wine Tasting

Sunday was the Spain-Netherlands World Cup Final and we were invited to a potluck party to watch the match. For the occasion I made a chilled Carrot Ginger Soup that I served in small glasses garnished with a drop of cream and snipped parsley. With fresh ginger and a pinch of curry, the soup is spicy but very refreshing and it works wonderfully well with a Spanish Albariño like the 2008 Burgans Albariño Rias Baixas that I also brought to the party.

The Rias Baixas region (the name means low estuaries) is located on the Galician coast, between the city of Santiago de Compostela and the Portuguese border. It is renowned for its white wines (over 90% of the wine production) primarily made from the Albariño grape variety.

Albariño produces aromatic wines with high acidity. The name means the white from the Rhine as it was thought to be a Riesling clone brought from Alsace in the twelfth century. It may actually be related to Petit Manseng, a grape grown in the southwest of France. In Portugal, it is called Alvarinho and is commonly used in the blend of Vinho Verde wines.

The 2008 Burgan had a light yellow color and a citrus nose with white peach and mineral notes. On the palate, the wine was dry and bright, clean and zappy, just like a skilled and precise Spanish pass.

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How we tried to rescue a corked 1st growth Bordeaux and failed!

Date: Fri, Jul 9, 2010 Wine Tasting

The bottle was a 1995 Château Haut-Brion, stored in our friend's wine cabinet in Chicago, patiently waiting for our visit.

We arrived in Chicago on a Thursday night and it was decided that we would taste the wine the following evening. As the wine was from a great vintage and highly rated, we were expecting a memorable moment.

“This wine has been brilliant on every occasion I have tasted it”, said Parker on the 1995. “More accessible and forward than the 1996, it possesses a saturated ruby/purple color, as well as a beautiful, knock-out set of aromatics, consisting of black fruits, vanillin, spice, and wood-fire smoke. Multidimensional and rich, with layers of ripe fruit, and beautifully integrated tannin and acidity, this medium to full-bodied wine is a graceful, seamless, exceptional Haut-Brion that should drink surprisingly well young.”

But as soon as we popped the cork, the bad news jumped at our nose: the wine was corked! We took a small sip to confirm the verdict and it was unmistakably bad. Sad, sad, sad!

But then I remembered a New York Times article that suggested a way to rescue a corked wine:

Mr. Waterhouse said that the obnoxious, dank flavor of a “corked” wine, which usually renders it unusable even in cooking, can be removed by pouring the wine into a bowl with a sheet of plastic wrap.

“It's kind of messy, but very effective in just a few minutes,” he said. The culprit molecule in infected corks, 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, is chemically similar to polyethylene and sticks to the plastic.


The experiment was worth trying, what could we lose? We took a large bowl, lined it with plastic wrap, and poured a small amount of the wine into the bowl. Then, after 5 minutes or so, we compared the wine from the bowl with the wine from the bottle. You could definitively detect some differences between the two. The bad chemical taste was somewhat smoothed out in the wine from the bowl, but sadly, it didn't make the wine more drinkable. Maybe the plastic wrap was able to catch some of the molecules but not all of them. And maybe we should try that experiment again but only with a wine that is marginally flawed.

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How we tried to rescue a corked 1st growth Bordeaux and failed!

Date: Fri, Jul 9, 2010 Wine Tasting

The bottle was a 1995 Château Haut-Brion, stored in our friend's wine cabinet in Chicago, patiently waiting for our visit.

We arrived in Chicago on a Thursday night and it was decided that we would taste the wine the following evening. As the wine was from a great vintage and highly rated, we were expecting a memorable moment.

“This wine has been brilliant on every occasion I have tasted it”, said Parker on the 1995. “More accessible and forward than the 1996, it possesses a saturated ruby/purple color, as well as a beautiful, knock-out set of aromatics, consisting of black fruits, vanillin, spice, and wood-fire smoke. Multidimensional and rich, with layers of ripe fruit, and beautifully integrated tannin and acidity, this medium to full-bodied wine is a graceful, seamless, exceptional Haut-Brion that should drink surprisingly well young.”

But as soon as we popped the cork, the bad news jumped at our nose: the wine was corked! We took a small sip to confirm the verdict and it was unmistakably bad. Sad, sad, sad!

But then I remembered a New York Times article that suggested a way to rescue a corked wine:

Mr. Waterhouse said that the obnoxious, dank flavor of a “corked” wine, which usually renders it unusable even in cooking, can be removed by pouring the wine into a bowl with a sheet of plastic wrap.

“It's kind of messy, but very effective in just a few minutes,” he said. The culprit molecule in infected corks, 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, is chemically similar to polyethylene and sticks to the plastic.


The experiment was worth trying, what could we lose? We took a large bowl, lined it with plastic wrap, and poured a small amount of the wine into the bowl. Then, after 5 minutes or so, we compared the wine from the bowl with the wine from the bottle. You could definitively detect some differences between the two. The bad chemical taste was somewhat smoothed out in the wine from the bowl, but sadly, it didn't make the wine more drinkable. Maybe the plastic wrap was able to catch some of the molecules but not all of them. And maybe we should try that experiment again but only with a wine that is marginally flawed.

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Tasting the Slovenian wines of Santomas at Albona with Winemaker Tamara Glavina

Date: Thu, Jul 1, 2010 Wine Tasting

As most Soccer fans have learned, Slovenia is barely the size of Houston and was the smallest of the 32 nations that participated in the 2010 World Cup tournament. Nonetheless, its wine industry is one of the most advanced of the former Yugoslav republics. So I felt very lucky when I got invited by Frank Dietrich and Zsuzsanna Molnar of Blue Danube Wine to a Winemaker Dinner featuring the wines of the Slovenian winery Santomas at Albona Restaurant in San Francisco.

The Santomas winery is located in the coastal town of Kopler, on the Slovenian side of the Istrian peninsula. The Glavina family has been cultivated vines and olives for 200 years and over time, has expanded the estate to almost 50 acres of vineyards and 7,5 acres of olive orchards. Nowadays, the winery consists of a modern wine cellar, a tasting room, and a wine laboratory.

The current production is 70% Refošk or Refosco, a local varietal that also grows in Italy and Croatia and can produce tannic and powerful wines, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, and 10% Malvasia, an ancient grape of Greek origin that is found throughout the Mediterranean.

The winemaker dinner was at Albona Restaurant in San Francisco's North Beach district, the only Istrian restaurant on the West Coast. The Istrian cuisine has been uniquely influenced by Italians, Austrians, Hungarians, Slavs, Spaniards, French, Jews, Greeks, and Turks and thus combines classic Italian dishes with ingredients like cumin, sauerkraut, and strudels.

For the occasion, owner Michael Bruno had assembled a 4 course menu showcasing Istria's flavorful cuisine, and paired with 4 wines presented by Santomas Winemaker Tamara Glavina.


1st Course: Minestre de asparaghi (Puree of asparagus soup thickened with Yukon Gold potatoes)


The asparagus soup was paired with a 2008 Santomas Malvasia: the Malvasia vines grow on white soils that are hard to work on and thus require a lot of manual work. The harvest is manual. About 10% of the wine was aged in oak and resting on lees for additional body. My notes: golden color, aromatic nose of acacia blossom and citrus, fresh and slightly oily on the palate, dried herbs on the finish. The soup was really delicious and I loved the wine too!


2nd Course: Chifeleti de mia nona con sugo de carne al cumin (Grandmother's specialty: pan-fried potato gnocchi in a brown sirloin sauce laced with cumin)


The gnocchi dish was paired with a 2008 Santomas Cabernet Sauvignon: manual harvest, made with no oak. My notes: attractive raspberry nose, smooth mouthfeel, soft tannins, spicy on the palate, good acidity, worked very well with the meaty sauce and the subtle notes of cumin.


3rd Course: Involtin de porco con capuzi garbi e prosuto (Pork loin stuffed with sauerkraut, apples, and plums served with red cabbage sauté)


With the pork loin, we tasted the 2003 Santomas Big Red Grande Cuvée: the Grande Cuvée is Santomas's age-worthy premium blend made primarily from Refosco. Refosco is difficult to grow and historically vines were trained in a pergola style to optimize yields. Santomas moved to a guyot vine training system to reduce yields to 3000 l/ha. The wine is unfiltered, unfined. My notes: dark color, rich aromas, spicy, peppery on the palate, notes of garrigue on the finish. An excellent match for the apples, plums, and sauerkraut filling.


Dessert: Sorbetto (Housemade raspberry sorbet)


With the sorbet we were served a glass of 2007 Santomas Late Harvest Malvasia Invasia. Sadly, 2007 was the last year the winery produced a Late Harvest Malvasia. My notes: light golden color, fresh floral nose, with sweet apple aromas, light-bodied, semi-sweet on the palate, expressive, not cloying at all.


Winemaker Tamara Glavina introducing the 2007 Late Harvest Malvasia


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Tasting the Slovenian wines of Santomas at Albona with Winemaker Tamara Glavina

Date: Thu, Jul 1, 2010 Wine Tasting

As most Soccer fans have learned, Slovenia is barely the size of Houston and was the smallest of the 32 nations that participated in the 2010 World Cup tournament. Nonetheless, its wine industry is one of the most advanced of the former Yugoslav republics. So I felt very lucky when I got invited by Frank Dietrich and Zsuzsanna Molnar of Blue Danube Wine to a Winemaker Dinner featuring the wines of the Slovenian winery Santomas at Albona Restaurant in San Francisco.

The Santomas winery is located in the coastal town of Kopler, on the Slovenian side of the Istrian peninsula. The Glavina family has been cultivated vines and olives for 200 years and over time, has expanded the estate to almost 50 acres of vineyards and 7,5 acres of olive orchards. Nowadays, the winery consists of a modern wine cellar, a tasting room, and a wine laboratory.

The current production is 70% Refošk or Refosco, a local varietal that also grows in Italy and Croatia and can produce tannic and powerful wines, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, and 10% Malvasia, an ancient grape of Greek origin that is found throughout the Mediterranean.

The winemaker dinner was at Albona Restaurant in San Francisco's North Beach district, the only Istrian restaurant on the West Coast. The Istrian cuisine has been uniquely influenced by Italians, Austrians, Hungarians, Slavs, Spaniards, French, Jews, Greeks, and Turks and thus combines classic Italian dishes with ingredients like cumin, sauerkraut, and strudels.

For the occasion, owner Michael Bruno had assembled a 4 course menu showcasing Istria's flavorful cuisine, and paired with 4 wines presented by Santomas Winemaker Tamara Glavina.


1st Course: Minestre de asparaghi (Puree of asparagus soup thickened with Yukon Gold potatoes)


The asparagus soup was paired with a 2008 Santomas Malvasia: the Malvasia vines grow on white soils that are hard to work on and thus require a lot of manual work. The harvest is manual. About 10% of the wine was aged in oak and rested on lees for additional body. My notes: golden color, aromatic nose of acacia blossom and citrus, fresh and slightly oily on the palate, dried herbs on the finish. The soup was really delicious and I loved the wine too!


2nd Course: Chifeleti de mia nona con sugo de carne al cumin (Grandmother's specialty: pan-fried potato gnocchi in a brown sirloin sauce laced with cumin)


The gnocchi dish was paired with a 2008 Santomas Cabernet Sauvignon: manual harvest, made with no oak. My notes: attractive raspberry nose, smooth mouthfeel, soft tannins, spicy on the palate, good acidity, worked very well with the meaty sauce and the subtle notes of cumin.


3rd Course: Involtin de porco con capuzi garbi e prosuto (Pork loin stuffed with sauerkraut, apples, and plums served with red cabbage sauté)


With the pork loin, we tasted the 2003 Santomas Big Red Grande Cuvée: the Grande Cuvée is Santomas's age-worthy premium blend made primarily from Refosco. Refosco is difficult to grow and historically vines were trained in a pergola style to optimize yields. Santomas moved to a guyot vine training system to reduce yields to 3000 l/ha. The wine is unfiltered, unfined. My notes: dark color, rich aromas, spicy, peppery on the palate, notes of garrigue on the finish. An excellent match for the apples, plums, and sauerkraut filling.


Dessert: Sorbetto (Housemade raspberry sorbet)


With the sorbet we were served a glass of 2007 Santomas Late Harvest Malvasia Invasia. Sadly, 2007 was the last year the winery produced a Late Harvest Malvasia. My notes: light golden color, fresh floral nose, with sweet apple aromas, light-bodied, semi-sweet on the palate, expressive, not cloying at all.


Winemaker Tamara Glavina introducing the 2007 Late Harvest Malvasia


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Does the oversized Vinum XL Pinot Noir glass really make a difference?

Date: Tue, Jun 22, 2010 Wine Tasting

As I posted earlier, during our visit to Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards, I ended up being the lucky winner of 2 Vinum XL Pinot Noir glasses. Initially, I have to admit that I was not really sure about these glasses. Large and tall (they hold slightly more than a full bottle of wine), they obviously don't fit in my dishwasher, but would their size and shape make a real difference on the wine-tasting experience?

So back at home, I had to check. I poured a 2001 Provenance Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville into the Vinum XL Pinot Noir glass (contenance 80cl) as well as into a Ouverture Red Wine glass (contenance 35cl), a glass that I particularly like because it doesn't break easily and fits nicely into my dishwasher.

Located on Highway 29 in Napa Valley, Provenance Vineyards currently owns the land originally farmed by Thomas Rutherford in the 19th century. The name Provenance means origin in French. The winery released its first Cabernet Sauvignon in 1999 and since then, has bought vineyards in the Rutherford, Oakville and Mount Veeder appellations. The philosophy of the winemaking team is to select top vineyards and intervene as little as possible during the winemaking process.

There was no comparison between the wine poured into my everyday Ouverture Red Wine glass and the wine poured into the Vinum XL Pinot Noir glass. The large bowl of the glass allowed the wine aromas to fully develop while the slightly flared top lip directed them efficiently towards the nose and mouth.

The wine had a deep garnet color and aromas of mint, figs, and blackberries on the nose. On the palate, it was full-bodied, rich, with flavors of sweet berries, leaving notes of cocoa on the finish.

These glasses are advertised for Pinot Noir but I think they really work well with full-bodied Cabernets. However, I would not bother using them for wines with much less body and a more subtle nose.

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Does the oversized Vinum XL Pinot Noir glass really make a difference?

Date: Tue, Jun 22, 2010 Wine Tasting

As I posted earlier, during our visit to Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards, I ended up being the lucky winner of 2 Vinum XL Pinot Noir glasses. Initially, I have to admit that I was not really sure about these glasses. Large and tall (they hold slightly more than a full bottle of wine), they obviously don't fit in my dishwasher, but would their size and shape make a real difference on the wine-tasting experience?

So back at home, I had to check. I poured a 2001 Provenance Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville into the Vinum XL Pinot Noir glass (contenance 80cl) as well as into a Ouverture Red Wine glass (contenance 35cl), a glass that I particularly like because it doesn't break easily and fits nicely into my dishwasher.

Located on Highway 29 in Napa Valley, Provenance Vineyards currently owns the land originally farmed by Thomas Rutherford in the 19th century. The name Provenance means origin in French. The winery released its first Cabernet Sauvignon in 1999 and since then, has bought vineyards in the Rutherford, Oakville and Mount Veeder appellations. The philosophy of the winemaking team is to select top vineyards and intervene as little as possible during the winemaking process.

There was no comparison between the wine poured into my everyday Ouverture Red Wine glass and the wine poured into the Vinum XL Pinot Noir glass. The large bowl of the glass allowed the wine aromas to fully develop while the slightly flared top lip directed them efficiently towards the nose and mouth.

The wine had a deep garnet color and aromas of mint, figs, and blackberries on the nose. On the palate, it was full-bodied, rich, with flavors of sweet berries, leaving notes of cocoa on the finish.

These glasses are advertised for Pinot Noir but I think they really work well with full-bodied Cabernets. However, I would not bother using them for wines with much less body and a more subtle nose.

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Richard Feynman, wine, terroir, and global warming

Date: Thu, Jun 3, 2010 Wine Tasting

In The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Richard Feynman invokes a glass of wine: “a distillation of the earth's rocks, and in its composition we see the secrets of the universe's age, and the evolution of stars”, a terrific quote that Author and Professor Steven Kolpan cites in his latest article on how soil and climate affect wine.

“Grapes can grow in plenty of places,” says Kolpan, “but since the best soils for grapes are those that stress the vines, the best climates are those that are just barely warm enough for them to ripen, and wine growers are keenly attuned to the weather and temperature of their vineyards.”

So in a follow-up article, Kolpan wonders what will happen to great wines when classic wine regions get too hot. Yes, what will happen when Napa Valley becomes as hot as California's Central Valley?

“Cool climate conditions grant the grapes a healthy dose of acidity, ” explains Kolpan, “the refreshing, citrus-or-green fruit-sour flavors that make a wine interesting, even compelling. It is that acidity that makes our mouth water, and encourages us to have another bite of food, another sip of wine.” However, “grapes that grow in warm climates obviously have no trouble ripening, but their lack of acidity can translate into a flat, flabby uninteresting wine. Also, in hot climates grapes easily overripen, creating huge amounts of sugar that turn into alcohol bombs during fermentation.”

Unfortunately, argues Kolpan, global warming and wine is just another inconvenient truth for the global wine industry that has been ignoring the facts for too long, as well as for wine consumers.

“The message is clear,” concludes Kopan, “Wine is a precious product of nature, and its future is threatened. In your glass of pleasure there is also a microcosm of our shared environmental concerns, concerns that can no longer be ignored, no longer be denied.”

“How vivid is the claret, pressing its existence into the consciousness that watches it!” says Richard Feynman at the end of his great speech on wine. “If our small minds, for some convenience, divide this glass of wine, this universe, into parts — physics, biology, geology, astronomy, psychology, and so on — remember that Nature does not know it! So let us put it all back together, not forgetting ultimately what it is for. Let it give us one more final pleasure: drink it and forget it all!”

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Richard Feynman, wine, terroir, and global warming

Date: Thu, Jun 3, 2010 Wine Tasting

In The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Richard Feynman invokes a glass of wine: “a distillation of the earth's rocks, and in its composition we see the secrets of the universe's age, and the evolution of stars”, a terrific quote that Author and Professor Steven Kolpan cites in his latest article on how soil and climate affect wine.

“Grapes can grow in plenty of places,” says Kolpan, “but since the best soils for grapes are those that stress the vines, the best climates are those that are just barely warm enough for them to ripen, and wine growers are keenly attuned to the weather and temperature of their vineyards.”

So in a follow-up article, Kolpan wonders what will happen to great wines when classic wine regions get too hot. Yes, what will happen when Napa Valley becomes as hot as California's Central Valley?

“Cool climate conditions grant the grapes a healthy dose of acidity, ” explains Kolpan, “the refreshing, citrus-or-green fruit-sour flavors that make a wine interesting, even compelling. It is that acidity that makes our mouth water, and encourages us to have another bite of food, another sip of wine.” However, “grapes that grow in warm climates obviously have no trouble ripening, but their lack of acidity can translate into a flat, flabby uninteresting wine. Also, in hot climates grapes easily overripen, creating huge amounts of sugar that turn into alcohol bombs during fermentation.”

Unfortunately, argues Kolpan, global warming and wine is just another inconvenient truth for the global wine industry that has been ignoring the facts for too long, as well as for wine consumers.

“The message is clear,” concludes Kopan, “Wine is a precious product of nature, and its future is threatened. In your glass of pleasure there is also a microcosm of our shared environmental concerns, concerns that can no longer be ignored, no longer be denied.”

“How vivid is the claret, pressing its existence into the consciousness that watches it!” says Richard Feynman at the end of his great speech on wine. “If our small minds, for some convenience, divide this glass of wine, this universe, into parts — physics, biology, geology, astronomy, psychology, and so on — remember that Nature does not know it! So let us put it all back together, not forgetting ultimately what it is for. Let it give us one more final pleasure: drink it and forget it all!”

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Tour of Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards

Date: Wed, May 26, 2010 Wine Tasting

The other day, we were invited by our friend and real estate agent Sophie Ravel to a wine tasting and lunch event at Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards.

Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards is a small winery located in the scenic Santa Cruz Mountains above the town of Saratoga. It was founded in 1892 by a French immigrant named Pierre Pourroy but Prohibition quickly forced the Pourroy family to shut down production. Winemaker Daniel Gehrs bought the neglected winery in 1976 and was able to rescue the old Zinfandel and Cabernet Franc vines that were still growing on the estate. Eventually, Michael and Kellie Ballard purchased the property in 1996, naming it after their two daughters Savannah and Chanel. Two years later, the Chanel fashion house sued the Ballards forcing them to change the winery name to Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards.

The estate has 58 acres planted with Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay. The Zinfandel plantings date back to 1910, and the Cabernet Franc plantings —California's oldest— date back to 1920. We didn't have the opportunity to taste the old vine Estate Zinfandel nor the Cabernet Franc but we were served an unoaked 2009 Chardonnay Monterey County that I particularly liked, It was refreshingly crisp with attractive aromas of grapefruit and lemon . I also enjoyed the tasty and peppery 2007 Syrah Coastview Vineyard, from a vineyard located at 2600 ft on a mountain top overlooking Monterey Bay.

It was a warm and sunny day and we had a nice lunch in the lawn and garden area in front of Pierre Pourroy's Mediterranean-style chateau and surrounded by tall redwood trees and hillside vineyards. There was also a raffle and I did win one of the three prizes, a set of 2 Riedel Burgundy glasses! But that's the subject of a future post.


The old redwood winery built in 1922 that now houses the tasting room



Inside the tasting room



Old Zinfandel plantings



View from the garden of a small hillside Pinot Noir vineyard


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Tour of Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards

Date: Wed, May 26, 2010 Wine Tasting

The other day, we were invited by our friend and real estate agent Sophie Ravel to a wine tasting and lunch event at Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards.

Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards is a small winery located in the scenic Santa Cruz Mountains above the town of Saratoga. It was founded in 1892 by a French immigrant named Pierre Pourroy but Prohibition quickly forced the Pourroy family to shut down production. Winemaker Daniel Gehrs bought the neglected winery in 1976 and was able to rescue the old Zinfandel and Cabernet Franc vines that were still growing on the estate. Eventually, Michael and Kellie Ballard purchased the property in 1996, naming it after their two daughters Savannah and Chanel. Two years later, the Chanel fashion house sued the Ballards forcing them to change the winery name to Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards.

The estate has 58 acres planted with Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay. The Zinfandel plantings date back to 1910, and the Cabernet Franc plantings —California's oldest— date back to 1920. We didn't have the opportunity to taste the old vine Estate Zinfandel nor the Cabernet Franc but we were served an unoaked 2009 Chardonnay Monterey County that I particularly liked, It was refreshingly crisp with attractive aromas of grapefruit and lemon . I also enjoyed the tasty and peppery 2007 Syrah Coastview Vineyard, from a vineyard located at 2600 ft on a mountain top overlooking Monterey Bay.

It was a warm and sunny day and we had a nice lunch in the lawn and garden area in front of Pierre Pourroy's Mediterranean-style chateau and surrounded by tall redwood trees and hillside vineyards. There was also a raffle and I did win one of the three prizes, a set of 2 Riedel Burgundy glasses! But that's the subject of a future post.


The old redwood winery built in 1922 that now houses the tasting room



Inside the tasting room



Old Zinfandel plantings



View from the garden of a small hillside Pinot Noir vineyard


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Third Guess The Wine tasting party

Date: Fri, May 21, 2010 Wine Tasting

Our last tasting event was another Guess the Wine party where guests are asked to identify the varietal, region, and vintage of wines they drink blind. This time, the wines were served in identical skittle-shaped Côtes de Provence bottles —bottles that our friend Jean had saved just for the event— to ensure that no one could recognize the wine based on the shape and color of the bottle.

I have to say that this game is extremely challenging because even wines that are made with one single varietal are hard to identify, especially if the only clue you have is a list of 6 varietals to choose from. Nonetheless, it's a fun game and it gives you the opportunity to really enjoy a wine without being influenced by its label.

Here are the wines that we tasted:

2007 Kingston Family Vineyards Cariblanco Sauvignon Blanc: The Kingston Family came to Chile in the 1900's looking for copper and gold. In the 1920's, they settled in Casablanca, a town between Santiago and Valparaiso, and built a farm. They now specialize in Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Sauvignon Blanc from cool-climate vineyards located in the Casablanca Valley, about 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean. My notes: pale color, nose of citrus, grapefruit, good body on the palate, fresh, crisp mouthfeel.

2006 Trimbach Gewürztraminer: The Trimbach family has been making wines in Alsace since 1626. The estate vineyards are located around Ribeauvillé, an area known for its soils of clay and limestone. The Trimbach house makes wines that are dry, mineral, fruity, and well balanced from classic Alsatian varietals such as Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, and Sylvaner. My notes: light golden color, nose of rose petal and lechee fruit, slightly sweet on the palate with a mineral finish.

Broadley Pinot Noir Willamette Valley: Broadley Vineyards have been making Oregon Pinot Noir for more than 20 years. The winery has 30 planted acres in the warmest and driest part of the valley near the small town of Monroe in Southern Willamette Valley. Grapes are harvested by hand and then a good portion of the wine is fermented in wood as whole clusters (stems and all) to add structure and character. The Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is a blend from several vineyards in the appellation. My notes: medium garnet color, aromatic nose of sweet cherry, light to medium bodied on the palate, good acidity, spicy finish. A very nice Pinot at a great price.

2006 Las Rocas de San Alejandro Garnacha Vinas Viejas: founded in 1962, Las Rocas de San Alejandro is a cooperative in the Calatayud appellation, in northeast Spain. Calatayud has a continental climate with vast temperature differences between night and day. The region is an old river basin with soils comprised of limestone and loam over slate and gypsum. The majority of the wines produced are red mostly from Grenache or Garnacha (55% of the vines planted) followed by Mazuelo, Tempranillo, Monastrell (or Mourvèdre), Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. The Garnacha Vinas Viejas is from dry-farmed old vines Grenache vines (a minimum of 45 year old) and aged in American oak (60%) and French oak barrels (40%). My notes: dark garnet color, spicy, peppery nose with black cherry aromas, firm backbone on the palate with some tannins, lengthy finish.

2006 Whitehall Lane Merlot Napa Valley: founded in 1979, Whitehall Lane is a small, family owned winery located in Rutherford, Napa Valley. In 1993, the Leonardini family bought the Whitehall Lane property, updated the winemaking process and currently owns and operate six Napa Valley vineyards in the Rutherford, Oak Knoll, and St. Helena appellations. The 2006 Merlot is a blend of 83% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 7% Syrah. The Cabernet Sauvignon adds structure and additional fruit aromas while the Syrah adds complexity to the blend. My notes: deep red color, sweet berry aromas on the nose, soft tannins on the palate with notes of oak and vanilla, juicy finish.

2007 Thorn-Clarke Shotfire Shiraz: Thorn-Clarke Wines is a family owned producer located in the Barossa Valley in South Australia, probably Australia's most famous wine region. The valley enjoys a Mediterranean climate with a lot of sunshine, low humidity and rainfall, ideal for full-bodied red wines, especially Shiraz. The wine is aged for 12-18 months in a mix of French and American oak, 40% new. My notes: deep red color, smoky pepper on the nose, rich and soft on the palate with aromas of sweet berries, spicy and mineral on the finish, a great way to end the evening.

This year, Xavier was our winner and received a bottle of Champagne for his performance. Hélène got the lowest score but lucky her, she got a bottle of wine too.

Our next wine tasting will feature the wines of Santa Barbara County and I can already tell you that there will be no Merlot!

Previous wine club tastings:
Tasting of Zinfandel and Zinfandel related grapes
Drink Local Tasting
Pairing wine and cheese

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Third Guess The Wine tasting party

Date: Fri, May 21, 2010 Wine Tasting

Our last tasting event was another Guess the Wine party where guests are asked to identify the varietal, region, and vintage of wines they drink blind. This time, the wines were served in identical skittle-shaped Côtes de Provence bottles —bottles that our friend Jean had saved just for the event— to ensure that no one could recognize the wine based on the shape and color of the bottle.

I have to say that this game is extremely challenging because even wines that are made with one single varietal are hard to identify, especially if the only clue you have is a list of 6 varietals to choose from. Nonetheless, it's a fun game and it gives you the opportunity to really enjoy a wine without being influenced by its label.

Here are the wines that we tasted:

2007 Kingston Family Vineyards Cariblanco Sauvignon Blanc: The Kingston Family came to Chile in the 1900's looking for copper and gold. In the 1920's, they settled in Casablanca, a town between Santiago and Valparaiso, and built a farm. They now specialize in Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Sauvignon Blanc from cool-climate vineyards located in the Casablanca Valley, about 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean. My notes: pale color, nose of citrus, grapefruit, good body on the palate, fresh, crisp mouthfeel.

2006 Trimbach Gewürztraminer: The Trimbach family has been making wines in Alsace since 1626. The estate vineyards are located around Ribeauvillé, an area known for its soils of clay and limestone. The Trimbach house makes wines that are dry, mineral, fruity, and well balanced from classic Alsatian varietals such as Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, and Sylvaner. My notes: light golden color, nose of rose petal and lechee fruit, slightly sweet on the palate with a mineral finish.

Broadley Pinot Noir Willamette Valley: Broadley Vineyards have been making Oregon Pinot Noir for more than 20 years. The winery has 30 planted acres in the warmest and driest part of the valley near the small town of Monroe in Southern Willamette Valley. Grapes are harvested by hand and then a good portion of the wine is fermented in wood as whole clusters (stems and all) to add structure and character. The Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is a blend from several vineyards in the appellation. My notes: medium garnet color, aromatic nose of sweet cherry, light to medium bodied on the palate, good acidity, spicy finish. A very nice Pinot at a great price.

2006 Las Rocas de San Alejandro Garnacha Vinas Viejas: founded in 1962, Las Rocas de San Alejandro is a cooperative in the Calatayud appellation, in northeast Spain. Calatayud has a continental climate with vast temperature differences between night and day. The region is an old river basin with soils comprised of limestone and loam over slate and gypsum. The majority of the wines produced are red mostly from Grenache or Garnacha (55% of the vines planted) followed by Mazuelo, Tempranillo, Monastrell (or Mourvèdre), Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. The Garnacha Vinas Viejas is from dry-farmed old vines Grenache vines (a minimum of 45 year old) and aged in American oak (60%) and French oak barrels (40%). My notes: dark garnet color, spicy, peppery nose with black cherry aromas, firm backbone on the palate with some tannins, lengthy finish.

2006 Whitehall Lane Merlot Napa Valley: founded in 1979, Whitehall Lane is a small, family owned winery located in Rutherford, Napa Valley. In 1993, the Leonardini family bought the Whitehall Lane property, updated the winemaking process and currently owns and operate six Napa Valley vineyards in the Rutherford, Oak Knoll, and St. Helena appellations. The 2006 Merlot is a blend of 83% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 7% Syrah. The Cabernet Sauvignon adds structure and additional fruit aromas while the Syrah adds complexity to the blend. My notes: deep red color, sweet berry aromas on the nose, soft tannins on the palate with notes of oak and vanilla, juicy finish.

2007 Thorn-Clarke Shotfire Shiraz: Thorn-Clarke Wines is a family owned producer located in the Barossa Valley in South Australia, probably Australia's most famous wine region. The valley enjoys a Mediterranean climate with a lot of sunshine, low humidity and rainfall, ideal for full-bodied red wines, especially Shiraz. The wine is aged for 12-18 months in a mix of French and American oak, 40% new. My notes: deep red color, smoky pepper on the nose, rich and soft on the palate with aromas of sweet berries, spicy and mineral on the finish, a great way to end the evening.

This year, Xavier was our winner and received a bottle of Champagne for his performance. Hélène got the lowest score but lucky her, she got a bottle of wine too.

Our next wine tasting will feature the wines of Santa Barbara County and I can already tell you that there will be no Merlot!

Previous wine club tastings:
Tasting of Zinfandel and Zinfandel related grapes
Drink Local Tasting
Pairing wine and cheese

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Finding treasures in a closet under the stairs

Date: Wed, May 12, 2010 Wine Tasting

The late husband of our friend Simone was a wine lover. In particular, he liked collecting wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy and California that he would generously share with good friends. But this was in the 70s and 80s when he was still in good health. Now, my friend Simone has a whole collection of dusty old bottles that are resting in a dark closet under the stairs. So when she asked me to make an inventory of the wines, I told her that unfortunately, many may have gone past their prime. Some had an alarming very low fill level with some dark mold around the cork. How to find out which wines were still drinkable? The best way was to taste them.

And that's what we did the other day: we selected twenty bottles that looked most promising, opened them —which was by far the hardest task— and tried them. We were all hoping that some of the wines would still be good and I have to say that each bottle was opened religiously. But sadly, half of the wines were simply not drinkable and some others were drying out with light bodies and fading aromas. But miraculously, we also found a handful of treasures.



Here they are:

1979 Beaune-Grèves Château de Meursault: the Beaune-Grèves appellation is a Premier Cru located on a hillside facing the town of Beaune. Its name probably comes from the French word graviers (small pepples) due to the presence of small gravels and sand mixed with clay in the soil. The wines from Beaune-Grèves are known for their elegance and finesse. The estate of Château de Meursault comprises 60 hectares of vines, all situated in the Côte de Beaune, around the towns of Aloxe Corton, Savigny-les-Beaune, Beaune, Pommard, Volnay, Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet. The wine had an amber-brick color and a fragrant, slightly smoky nose of dried cherry. The palate was fresh and well-balanced with a light finish of dried herbs, truly delicious!

1986 Château Font Villac: the wine is a Grand Cru from the Saint Emilion appellation and most likely a Merlot-Cabernet Franc blend. The year 1986 was a great vintage in Bordeaux. While the weather was hot and dry during the summer, mid-September rains tempered the drought-like conditions and helped vines reach full maturity. The wine had a deep brick-orange color and a sweet nose of blackberries. The palate was not overly complex but smooth, round, and pleasant.

1980 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande: Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande is a classified second-growth from Pauillac. The property uses a blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 8% Petit Verdot, which has an unusually high proportion of Merlot for a Pauillac. Therefore, the wine tends to be more fleshy and softer than wines from the other Pauillac properties. The 1980 vintage was cool and wet in Bordeaux. Growers were able to delay their harvest until the weather began to improve at the end of September but rains returned in the middle of October during the harvest. Many wines from this vintage were light and diluted, the best results being from producers that made a strict grape selection and picked exceptionally late. The wine had a light-to-medium red color and a seductive nose of berries and flowers. On the palate, it was smooth and savory with an elegant and spicy finish.

1971 Château Lafite-Rothschild: Château Lafite-Rothschild is maybe the most famous property in Bordeaux and one of the four classified first growth wines. Located in Pauillac, the Lafite vineyard is one of the largest in the Médoc planted with 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. The 1971 vintage is characterized by a small crop size and forward and flattering wines upon release, thanks to a cold, damp spring followed by a warm and sunny summer. The wine had a light orange color, a subtle nose, and a light-bodied, lean palate with notes of buttermilk and earthy flavors on the finish.

1981 Château Lafite-Rothschild: the 1981 vintage produced wines of medium-weight, well-balanced and graceful. July was a cool month but August and September were hot and dry. It could have been an outstanding year had it not been for the heavy rains that fell just before the harvest. The wine had a light red color and a subtle nose of dried herbs. On the palate, it had more body and fruit than the 1971 with smoky spices on the finish.

So did you guess my favorite wines? Hint: I had two.

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