Posts Tagged ‘Chardonnay’

Pasadena PinotFest 2010, 2nd Annual

January 31, 2010
Pasadena PinotFest

Pasadena PinotFest draws a crowd

I made a sort of “wine resolution” at the beginning of the year to drink more Pinot Noir.  To that end, this month I have attended not one but two big tasting events featuring Pinot Noir.  The most recent, the Pasadena PinotFest, was held at the University Club of Pasadena on January 30.  I had not been to the venerable facility since my friends Jerry and Robin had their wedding reception there.  It was a jumpin’ joint that night, but the wine crowd got the room rockin’, too.

Pasadena PinotFest

Pinot lovers and Pinot pourers

A full house made their way from winery table to winery table, stopping to refresh their palates at a major cheese station, a carving table for assorted meats and a wonderful island where succulent braised short ribs were served atop a pile of cheesy grits.  Pleasure abounded from wall to wall.

Nearly 50 wineries were represented, and not all of them felt obliged to restrict their pours to Pinot Noir.  Quite a few brought Chardonnays and Syrahs with them, while I did see one Pinot Gris and a rose.  It was a Pinot Noir rose, however.

Pasadena PinotFest

I parked behind Clos Pepe

Although the room was crowded, I was able to make it in good fashion up and down the aisles.  At no time was it difficult to get close enough to the pourers to hear what they had to say about the wines.  In fact, at an event earlier in the month, I had some difficulty getting close to the Clos Pepe table.  This time around, winemaker Wes Hagen was able to devote his entire attention to my questions for several minutes.  That’s probably not the way he would have preferred it, but it worked very well for me.

Pasadena PinotFest

Ribs and grits

Hagen poured some of his prized rose to start.  He explained that for this pink wine, his grapes are taken a full six weeks before other Pinot growers begin harvesting.  He feels he can get full fruit flavor without letting the grapes possibly get overripe.  I agree.  The Clos Pepe rose has one of the best fruit presences I can remember tasting in a pink wine.  Moreover, his Pinot Noir seems almost like an extension of the rose rather than a different wine entirely.

Pasadena PinotFest

A fave

Another big favorite for me was Row 11 Russian River Valley 2007.  The spices were so delicious this one really did make my eyes open wide.  According to the pourer, winemaker Richard de los Reyes makes New World Pinot Noir by selecting the “best vineyards, in the best appellations and taking the best rows.”  She explained that’s where the name, Row 11, comes from.  Reyes can walk any vineyard in California and select any row he likes.  He apparently likes Row 11.

Pasadena PinotFest

Another fave

I was also taken with the Windstream 2008 Pinot.  It’s a big, floral, rich wine which is, I’m told, “the winemaker’s baby.”  Winemaker Anthony Riboli, of the Los Angeles winemaking Riboli Family, really impressed me with this wine.

Pasadena PinotFest

Anthony Riboli, Windstream

The Pasadena PinotFest served as a fundraiser for Hillsides, a Pasadena-based nonprofit organization doing good work for Southern California’s children.  If you weren’t able to help by attending, please click on their name and explore other opportunities to help.

Here are some of the wines I sampled (all are Pinot Noir):

Ampelos Lambda 2006 – very good

Ampelos Rho 2006 Barrel Select – excellent, bright and earthy on nose and palate

Ampelos Fiddlestix Vineyard 2007 – subdued fruit, somewhat green

Alma Rosa  Santa Rita Hills 2007 – nice and earthy

Alma Rosa La Encantada Vineyard 2005 – wild nose, got a lot of attention from other tasters while I was there

Badge 2006 – complex nose, spicy taste

Baileyana Grand Fire Peak Cuvee 2007 – earthy and full

Cargasacchi Point Concepcion Salsipuedes 2008 – barnyard nose, nice mineral profile

Cargasacchi Estate, Cargasacchi-Jalama Vineyard 2007 – brighter and more vibrant than Concepcion

Clos Pepe Rose 2009 – strawberry, 11.5% abv, great fruit presence, very “real”

Clos Pepe 2006 – like and “extension” of the rose, darker and fuller

Clos Pepe 2007 – even fruitier and fuller than ’06

Derby 2006 – very good nose

Ken Brown Santa Maria Valley 2007 – violets

Ken Brown Sta. Rita Hills 2007 – great sense of earth

Ken Brown Clos Pepe Vineyard 2007 – dark and brooding

Loring 2008 – like candy on the nose

Loring Gary’s Vineyard 2008 – herbaceous, bright and delicious

Marimar Don Miguel Vineyard 2006 – lovely and dark

Marimar Dona Margarita Vineyard 2006 – big nose, subdued fruit

Row 11 Russian River 2007 – OMG! great spices

Stephen Ross Chorro Creek 2007 – nice minerals

Tin House 2005 – very nice earth, big, sourced in Edna Valley

Windstream 2008 – very big taste, floral and rich, “winemaker’s baby”

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Geyserville Wine Scene

September 11, 2009

geyservilleSignChange is coming in Geyserville, California.  You may not see it yet, but you can feel it.  The town’s excitement – and anxiety – about the very near future is tangible.  The tiny community of about 1,600 wine-loving souls is on the verge of significant changes.  Geyserville’s burgeoning wine industry has produced star-quality product for decades.  Now, at a time when wine has taken a much higher profile in our society, Geyserville is on the precipice of cashing in.

The citizens of Geyserville have a palpable attitude of hope – hope that change is coming, and hope that the change will be good.  They are a small town – downtown is not much more than a wide spot in the road.  But the change these people are hoping for is a change that will widen that road, and populate it with more and more businesses to serve the tourism that the change will bring.  It would be easy to read a little desperation into all that hope, but that’s not how it comes across.  These people know what they have – a collection of extremely good wineries and vineyards which are responsible for wines of a very high quality.  But they know that is not enough.  What they need now is for people to notice.  And people are noticing.

Coppola tasting roomThe former Chateau Souverain was purchased by the Francis Ford Coppola wine empire, and the change has already started there.  Coppola is moving his public profile in the wine biz from his Rutherford property to the Geyserville facility, which makes a huge statement all on its own.  His Oscars are already there, and his expansion – more on that in a bit – is set for completion by the summer of 2010.  Nearby River Rock Casino has expansion plans of its own.  Although their hotel plans have been put on the back burner due to the economy, they are at least still on the stove.  Just a small economic upturn could be the spark that relights the fire.  This sort of change will bring more people to the area, and a higher profile to a wine region that richly deserves a little more notice.

Geyserville has the good fortune to sit in one of the most amazing grape-growing regions in the world.  The Alexander Valley of northeastern Sonoma County is blessed with great soil and several diverse microclimates that rival the most prominent wine locales in France and Italy.  The wineries in Geyserville produce wines of a consistently high quality, easily able to stand alongside the bottlings of any other California appellation.  The grape growers and winemakers of Geyserville and the surrounding area are just as smart and just as passionate as their brethern from other locales, and probably a lot more down to earth.  Aside from a few big names situated here, most of the wine producers in Geyserville are small boutique wineries with limited production.  Big name or small, some pretty fantastic wines are being produced around Geyserville.

As I wandered about the community I couldn’t help but notice how friendly and open everyone was.  Each winery I visited seemed to be one of the nicest places in the state in which to hang out.  I could ask anybody any question and get an answer that was thoughtful and insightful.  Everywhere I went, “laid-back” was the prevailing attitude.  There wasn’t an Italian sportscar in sight the whole time I was there.  In fact, it would have been no surprise at all to see a horse tied to a hitchin’ post.

Wineries To Watch

 

 Geyserville is home to several of the bigger names in winemaking.  The old Chateau Souverain now bears the impressive name of Francis Ford Coppola Presents Rosso & Bianco.  It sounds like it should be spoken with a fanfare accompanying it.  Coppola is known as an idea man.  His ideas are being made into reality at Rosso & Bianco, and when he’s done, he will have changed the face of Geyserville dramatically.  His plans – which are frequently emended as the work progresses – call for the winery to be made into a wine resort, with dining, swimming, lounging and even activities and a play area for the kids.  Coppola’s changes will attract more people to Geyserville and, with a hotel not included in his plans, will push eager tourism dollars out into the community.

One of the many boutique wineries that populate Geyserville, Trione Vineyards and Winery, has developed such a reputation with the wine alone that they can place a tasting menu on the counter which features nothing but award-winning wines.  Only one of them was produced in a quantity greater than 600 cases, and two of them were made in lots of less than 500 cases.  The tropical Sauvignon Blanc, the apple pie Chardonnay, the earthy Pinot Noir and the Cabernet Sauvignon which spent 24 months in French oak barrels are big highlights on a roster that has only winners.

J Rickards jimJim Rickards of J Rickards Winery would probably bristle at the mention of the word “boutique” in connection with his operation, but that’s the cattleman in him talking.  His interests turned from bovine to old vine when he bought his vineyard in the 1970s and began selling grapes to other area winemakers – Silver Oak, Geyser Peak and Dry Creek Vineyards to name a few.  His plants date back to 1908 and he has augmented the originals with newly planted clones of old vines.  He and his wife Eliza began producing extremely small batches of handmade wines in the early ’90s for friends. The reception was enthusiastic enough that they finally decided to start bottling on their own with the 2004 vintage.  That move made them a lot more friends.

The Pedroncelli family runs the oldest winery in the Alexander Valley, and is one of a handful of Italian-American families in the wine business there.  The Pedroncellis were around when the Dry Creek Valley floor was all prune trees.  They’ve done quite well with the grapevines, though.

TV legend Raymond Burr didn’t really want his vineyards to bear his name.  But when Burr passed away his longtime partner Robert Benevides decided it was only right.  Today, a very limited amount of top-notch wine is still made with care.  One look at the view from the tasting room door and you’ll know why Burr didn’t mind that long drive up the hill.

Stryker Sonoma‘s showcase tasting room literally puts the vineyard on display, with ceiling-to-floor glass for walls. Murphy-Goode Winery is in Geyserville, although their tasting room is located in Healdsburg.  Clos du Bois and Geyser Peak both have names that are familiar to California supermarket shoppers.

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Now, Geyserville is presently about as big as a street corner – at least the downtown business district is.  But it’s nice to know that you can get plenty of tastes without wandering too far from your accommodations.

Locals tasting room was one of my favorite spots.  There you can sample from 75 different wines by 11 local producers like Dark Horse, Eric Ross, Atrea and Hawley, just to name a few.  They like to pour a “varietal comparison flight,” several tastes of one kind of grape from different producers.  It’s a great way to experience the differences and similarities of various wineries side-by-side.  Of course, they also pour what ever you’d like to try, so skip around the extensive two-page tasting menu all you like.  Everything you taste is for sale by the bottle in the store.  The shop is funded by a collective of the wineries, and the staff knows what they’re pouring, so any questions you may have about what you’re tasting will be answered.

Terroirs Artisan Wines handles only four local wines, Godwin Family Wines, Hughes Family Vineyards, Palmeri and Pena Ridge.  I tasted both the Godwin and the Hughes while I was there, and they both impressed me.

You should also try and get into Route 128 Vineyards and Winery tasting room.  Pete and Lorna Opatz opened a tasting room in what was once the parts department of one of the first Ford dealerships in the country.  Their 60 combined years of experience with grapes pays off well in their boutique wines.  They produce less than 500 cases per year, the standouts being a crisp and lovely Viognier, a lively Zinfandel and an award-winning Syrah which mixes chocolate and blueberry flavors in a delightful way.  In the tiny room, you may find art from local Twyla Gettert or even a pairing event with nephew and culinary artist Rian Rinn.  Route 128 is a definite “must taste” in Geyserville.

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Some people consider “wine futures” to be a good investment.  I think the time is ripe for some enterprising entrepreneurs to buy futures in Geyserville.  Services are needed now, and the need will grow exponentially when the Coppola project and the casino hotel are reality.  The town lacks a true grocery market and needs a bakery and a coffee shop that open early.  Although Diavalo and the Hoffman House are hard to beat, a couple of extra dining choices would be nice and more lodging will be needed, too.  Oh, and that little downtown area could use some sprucing up.  Geyserville has great wine.  Now it just needs to get dressed up a bit before the company comes over.  Keep an eye on the Alexander Valley, and Geyserville in particular.  You’ll be seeing a lot more of them in the future.

Tasting Room Notes: Locals Tasting Room

July 6, 2009

The Sonoma County town of Geyserville has more good wine being produced in and near it than most folks would think possible. There are so many wineries in the Alexander Valley that it works out to about one winery for every ten people who live in Geyserville. Visiting a winery’s tasting room is great, if the winery has one. Many of the wine producers in the Geyserville area are such small boutiques that they don’t have tasting rooms. That’s where Locals comes in.

Locals Tasting Room represents a collective of eleven Geyserville area wineries, and offers tastes of 75 different wines produced by them. Most of the wines on the tasting menu are sourced from Alexander Valley grapes.

The room is nice and large, with plenty of elbow room at the tasting bar. The staff is quite friendly and they know their stuff, too. Any questions I had about the wines or the wineries were answered right away.

Choosing a reasonable number of wines to taste is the hard part. To guide you in the right direction, Locals likes to pour varietal flights. When you line up six or seven Zinfandels, or a handful of Chardonnays, you can get a good idea of how each wine differs from the others. Or just jump around the menu and find specific wines that appeal to you. That’s what I did. With so many reds on the menu, I went with seven of the most likely looking candidates for my taste.

Atrea Old Soul Red 2005 – A Rhone-style blend of 46% Zinfandel, 34% Syrah, 11% Petite Sirah and 9% Malbec, this rocks. A complex wine, there’s plenty of juicy fruit but there’s also pepper, and some sort of sweet notes that peek from around the corner.

Eris Ross Carignane 2006 – An old vine red from Lodi, this was medium-bodied and quite smooth.

Ramazotti Raffinto 2005 – A Super Tuscan style of 60% Sangiovese, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 7% Syrah and 5% Cabernet Franc – whew! – which shows lavender on the nose and plum on the palate. They say it has won a number of awards.

Laurel Glen ZaZin 2007 – Old Vine Lodi with currant and blackberry on the nose, currant and plums on the taste buds.

Dark Horse Treborce 2007 – This Zinfandel had an odd nose, with nice texture and flavors of plums and leather, a very earthy taste.

Peterson Sangiovese 2006 – This Dry Creek Valley entry is 100% Sangiovese. I found the nose and taste to be a bit lightweight, but it’s pleasant nonetheless. Should make for a nice pasta wine.

RH Wines Rowdy Red – This is a non-vintge blend that’s got a really nice toasty vanilla nose and spicy notes on the palate. It’s from Windsor, a little south of Geyservlle. A lively red that will pair well with a lot.

Tasting Room Notes: Bennett Lane Winery

July 5, 2009


On the way from Napa Valley to Geyserville via Highway 128, there’s a driveway I’m glad I drove. That was the one which led to Calistoga’s Bennett Lane Winery. A pretty arbor in front of a smallish building provides a fitting entry into the tasting room. Small inside, too, there isn’t a lot of room available at the tasting bar. Find a way to elbow in, though. Some very good wine awaits you.

White Maximus 2007 – A floral nose – honeysuckle – is enhanced with citrus aromas. The palate is clean and crisp. Good minerals, good acidity.

Reserve Chardonnay 2007 – This was billed as a new release, but I think the tasting sheet was printed late last year. The blurb promises Fuji apple, baked pear and toasted hazelnut, but it was all tropical to my nose. A little unexpected, but quite pleasant. This is a full-figure Chardonnay, heavily oaked with the buttery, creamy notes you would expect.

Maximus 2005 – Plenty of oak in this big red. I get lots of cedar, vanilla and spices both in the nose and on the tongue. 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 11% Syrah, the fruit is lush and lasts a good long while. It was my favorite.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 – This 100% Cabernet is a blend of Bennett Lane’s estate Cab and that sourced from other Napa Valley growers. A big cherry nose greets you and the taste is driven by flavors of dark plums and leather.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 – The Cab is augmented by 4% Petit Verdot. It’s a very rich wine that, to me, is chocolatey enough to be dessert. But no, they have that covered even better.

Dessert Wine – This beauty is a non-vintage port-style wine of which less than a hundred cases were produced. I don’t know the percentages, but it’s made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Carignane. Beautiful, rich flavors abound. Figs, cherries and some spicy notes put me in mind of Christmas, even though I had been off the hot, dusty trail for only a few minutes.

Tasting Room Notes: Summerland Winery

July 1, 2009


Why had we never gotten off the 101 freeway in Summerland before? Maybe it’s because when we pass that way we’re usually headed for either Santa Barbara or the Santa Ynez Valley, and it seems we should just press on and get where we’re going. Maybe it’s because we never knew there was a really great little highway grocery there. Maybe it’s because we never knew about the Summerland Winery.

Well, this time we were headed for Pismo Beach, so it was actually perfectly positioned as a stopping place. We needed to pick up a few things at a market of some sort. The Summerland Winery just happened to be there, in the right place at the right time.

The tasting room is in a tidy little building in the seaside community of Summerland, between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. There’s a bay window upstairs and a flag adorns the front, flapping in the cool ocean breeze. I had imagined it would look more like a boutique and less like a tasting room inside, but I was wrong. Ample bar space beckoned, so I picked up a tasting menu and got started.

I had just sampled Summerland’s wares at the Ojai Wine Festival a week earlier – my pourer recognized me – so I knew there were good wines here. The tasting fee is $8, $12 to keep the glass.

Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Barbara County, 2007 – A pungent aroma leads to tropical flavors and grapefruit. The acidity is quite nice, so I would guess it’s a good wine to have with food. It’s very crisp and refreshing, so you could just sip it if you like.

Pinot Gris, Santa Barbara County, 2008 – More tropical flavors, and a nice clean finish.

Chardonnay, Rancho Santa Rosa, 2007 – 10 months in oak left its mark on this one. It’s very oaky, although with a clean taste and finish.

Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County, 2007 – Brilliant aromas and flavors in this one – black cherry and clove all over the place. This is not subdued – it’s a very lively Pinot Noir.

Grenache, Paso Robles, 2006 – This medium-bodied Grenache surprised me. It tasted a lot spicier than I expected. Fairly nice, but I can think of several other Grenaches I like better.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, 2006 – The black currant profile is very strong here. French oak for 14 months gives a nice effect, but the wood is rather restrained.

Orange Muscat, Santa Barbara County 2008 – This dessert wine isn’t sappy, it’s nice and crisp in fact. The sweetness is there, it simply isn’t overdone.

Tasting Room Notes: Chateau Montelena

June 27, 2009



On the way out of Napa Valley, heading north on Highway 29, there is a signpost in Calistoga that points down Tubbs Lane toward Chateau Montelena. I had to turn off and see it in real life, having already seen it in the movie “Bottle Shock.

Following the signs onto the property and into the parking area, I caught a glimpse of it through the trees. But on the way to the stairs, I was distracted by the beautiful and peaceful Jade Lake. A rowboat was grounded along the shore and a red bridge led to a small structure patiently awaiting the next wedding to be held there. A short walk along the banks filled me with a feeling of quiet satisfaction. It’s a really beautiful property.

The stairs up to the winery building are rather lengthy. When I finally reached a point where the winery was visible, it looked exactly like it did in the film. I half expected to see Bill Pullman poke his head from the large doors.

The tasting room is cool and professional in a woodsy sort of way. Pictures of the history of the winery are on the walls, along with memorabilia of the film and the 1976 Paris Tasting which is its subject. A very nice view back through the years of a storied winery.

The staff is friendly, but maybe a bit stiff. There’s a feeling of reverence that permeates the proceedings. Five wines were on the tasting menu the day I was there, ranging in price from $22 to $135. The tasting fee is $20, and unlike the scene in the movie they are not offended when you pay them.

Riesling, Potter Valley 2007 – There’s a fruity nose, something rather exotic like star fruit. Off-dry with a nice acidity, this wine will sip very nicely on the porch or mate with a refreshing salad. $22

Chardonnay, Napa Valley, 2007 – This 2007 version of the wine that helped make the California wine industry is stunning in a very restrained way. Fruity and flowery on the nose, the palate is treated to a crisp and refreshing wine that does not overplay anything. The citrus, minerals and oak are all quite prominent, but none try and steal the show. The long finish is much appreciated. $50

Zinfandel, Montelena Estate, 2006 – Dark fruit dominates the nose, with currant the frontrunner. Cherry and strawberry on the palate along with an array of spices combine in a velvety mouthfeel. This is 50% Zinfandel and 50% Primotivo, Zin’s Italian twin. $30

Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2005 – A very dark color – almost black – promises some deep and earthy tones, which are delivered. I smell licorice and cedar. The taste is beautiful, with smooth tannins and a full mouthfeel. $45

Cabernet Sauvignon, Montelena Estate, 2005 – Very similar to the previous wine, this Cab is even darker in color, if that’s possible. The nose is quite complicated, leathery and fruity at the same time with some clove. A real heavyweight wine with smooth tannins, the taste is exquisite and it fills my mouth in the most incredible manner. $135

Tasting Room Notes: Robert Mondavi Winery

June 23, 2009


I visited Northern California’s wine country for a trip that began on Monday. I had plans to stay in Geyserville I could not resist the temptation of hitting Napa Valley on the way in. It’s not really on the way, of course. The drive up Highway 29, onto Highway 128, through Calistoga and on to Geyserville took at least an hour longer than a direct approach up the 101 would have taken. But how could I pass up the opportunity to visit again California’s Prime Wine Country?

The drive along Highway 29 took me past winery after winery, vineyard after vineyard. It’s quite a spectacle to see just how much land is devoted to the growing of grapes there. The vineyards go on for acres, miles. As I drove, it came as a surprise whenever I passed a plot of land which, for some strange reason, had no grapes planted on it.

I had planned a visit to a number of wineries in Napa Valley which held some sort of fascination to me, but the place I seemed drawn to was a winery which produces wine that I rarely think about buying or even ordering in a restaurant. Robert Mondavi Winery.

Why do I rarely purchase Mondavi wines? Because there always seems to be something a little more desirable, a little sexier, a little hipper right next to it on the grocer’s shelf. There’s no doubt Mondavi makes good wines. But there isn’t a lot of “insider cachet” to them. Mondavi wines are what your parents bought. How hip is that?

I was drawn to the Mondavi Winery not to try the wines but to pay homage to one of the men who helped build what is now the world-renowned California wine industry. Whether you like Robert Mondavi’s wines or not, you have to admit that your favorite California wine might not exist today if not for him.

I was saddened that in the Mondavi tasting room in Oakville didn’t seem to be a pioneering spirit at work. The pourers were barely interested enough to lift the next bottle. They were certainly not interested enough to offer any type of explanation of what they were pouring. My pourer was more interested in his computer screen than in me. Was that due to an attitude decrying, “This is Mondavi – what more do you need to know?” or was it, “This is Mondavi – who cares?” I can’t tell you.

I can tell you what I tasted. Three wines for $15 is the regular tasting fee. It’s $20 for their reserve wines. The complimentary logo glass is included. I actually got four wines by standing at the bar for a bit after I had finished my third taste and taking advantage of an inattentive pourer’s lapse in memory.

Mondavi Napa Valley Fume Blanc, 2007 – There was a slightly floral, very grassy nose on this wine. Tastes like white peaches. Good minerality, although in a creamy fashion. Quite unexpected.

Mondavi Napa Valley Chardonnay – The nose was somewhat floral and a bit oaky. It tasted rather like an apple candy without the sweetness.

Mondavi Carneros Pinot Noir 2007 – A very peppery nose with big berry aromas and lots of spices make for a very inviting introduction. The taste was a bit overoaked for me, but there were plenty of cherry and black pepper flavors to make me forget.

Mondavi Napa Valley Merlot 2005 – A big, bright nose jumped right out of the glass while the explosive palate featured plum notes in a very spicy setting. Very smooth tannins.