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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Petite Sirah

A Petite Sirah kind of meal

Why doesn't anybody drink Petite Sirah?

OK, I have some ideas why.

1. How do you know when is an optimal drinking time for a Petite Sirah? You don't because it's never ready until all of a sudden it's over-the-hill. (Just kidding ... kinda).

2. Nobody knows what it is. It's not Syrah. (Who wants a "petite" one when you can get a regular Syrah?)

3. Confusing styles:
"Old style" meaning really drying when young--much more than Cabernet even.
"New" fruity style that's approachable when young -- same idea as the "fruit bomb" Zinfandels.

Characteristics of CA Petite Sirah

PS can be inky, dark, dense, and tannic when young. It's been used more as a blending grape with Zinfandel in California. Petite Sirah is "old California" in that they just don't make it like that any more.

You want your dentist to really hate you when you go in for a cleaning? Drink Petite Sirah.

If you're serving a young PS decant or use your wine aerator.

CA Producers

Some California producers that have been in the Petite Sirah business for a long time are Concannon, Field Stone, Foppiano, Lava Cap, Parducci, and Pedroncelli. There are others in the modern "fruit-forward" style that produce small quantities of expensive PS. But Petite Sirah should never be more than a $30 wine.

Concannon Petite Sirah, the '78 I think, was my first "wow" wine in that, "Wow, wine can taste like this!" Field Stone Alexander Valley Petite Sirah has been my favorite over the years.

Food matches

What sorts of foods go with PS? In the summer any red meat BBQ is great. Pretty much anywhere you'd serve a Cabernet. I usually think of heavy, beefy dishes when I think of Petite Sirah as it's a heavy, beefy wine.

Petite Sirah is also a good wintertime wine. Just like beer folks tend to switch to heavier, darker beers in the cold weather Petite Sirah is a darker, heavier wine. Think of PS as the Stout of wines.

I admit I don't have many in my own cellar. I've got some Field Stone, Meeker, Teldeschi, and Valley of the Moon Petites. Still, that's more than I have of Carignane (Carignane??).

Zichichi Petite

I recently discovered a new (to me) Petite Sirah producer. A tiny Dry Creek Valley operation called Zichichi. They had a couple estate Zins, a Cab, and an estate Petite Sirah. She had just opened a bottle of the 2006 so it was tight and tannic as young PS usually is, but will be a very nice wine. "Inky, blackberries" is the way I'd describe it. Only downside I could see was the $48 price tag.

More info

If you want to find out more about Petite Sirah check out PS I Love You.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Wine Judging

First, I have never been a wine judge. I have taken a wine judging class at the local college, talked to judges, attended or worked at wine events that are judged. So I'm not an insider, but then I don't have anything to defend either.

Looking at a wine's medals is one way to decide to buy, but what does a medal actually mean?

First, a winery has to enter their wine in a judging. Sometimes the wine is actually picked by the event rather than the winery volunteering the wines. But most likely it's the winery deciding what wines to enter in what events. So a wine may get entered into lots of events, a few, or none. A wine that's available only at the winery and not sold retail or a wine that easily sells out every year is unlikely to be entered as the purpose of the judgings is to win medals and sell wine!

If you have the time and desire there are some things to investigate about individual medals giving at a competition.

1. How many wines were entered and how many received medals. If 80% of the wines got something then what's the point? Actually, the point is marketing. A winery is more likely to enter if they are likely to get a medal.

2. How many gold vs. silver vs. bronze medals were given out? If there were 20 wines in a particular category, 18 got medals, and 12 of those were gold then what's the point? However, if there were 200 wines in a category and two got gold then that should mean something.

How do judges do it? They taste a lot of wine over a couple days or a week. Palate fatigue is an issue. Sometime a wine may just stand out (not necessarily completely in a good way). Even the order the wines are tasted makes a difference. The first and the last wines get noticed. If there's a particularly "strong" or nasty wine whatever unfortunate wine to follow it is in trouble.

One interesting thing coming out of the wine judging class I took was you got "attaboys" for agreeing with the majority of the other folks and your judgement was suspect if you picked wines others didn't.

So should you care about medal-winning wines? Sure, it's a place to start. I would look for wineries winning in different competitions over multiple years. Of course, that's if you want to do the research on this. Why do this? Because a wine can easily get a gold in one competition and fail to get a medal in the next.

Like you I sometimes pick a wine on a retailer's shelf because there's a little card under it saying "Orange County Gold Medal Winner!"

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


We don't understand sparkling wine well because if we did we'd all be drinking a lot more bubbly.

Is sparkling wine just for:
-- New Years
-- Weddings
-- Major celebrations like job promotions, anniversaries?


What is a sparkling wine?

Sparkling wine and Champagne are the same. Champagne is sparkling wine from that district in France. Sparkling wine is more acidic than still wine and so has a bit of sugar added back in at the end of it's creation for a touch of sweetness to balance out the acids. The acid is what makes sparklers go so well with most foods.

Sparkling wine is different

OK, part of the problem is that sparkling wine is a bit confusing. Blame it on the French. :) After all, what's a cuvee or a dosage? (Pronounced doh-SAHJ just to add to the confusion). And when you're shopping an Extra Dry is actually kind of sweet; a Brut is much drier.

Also, opening a bottle of bubbly is a bit different. I've seen someone purposely try to shoot the cork out of a magnum of sparkling wine for distance -- it went a long way! Also, a few years ago, a winery to remain nameless was sued by a guy who damaged an eye opening a bottle. Apparently it wasn't the first bottle of the night. It can be a dangerous weapon--point it down range!

What food to serve with a sparkling wine

Question: What kind of wine goes with the salad course?
Answer: Either a sparkler or just have water.

The slightly sweet sparkling wines go well with desserts, plus fruits and nuts. With any rich food the acids in a sparkler will help cut through that richness.

Traditional pairings are sparkling wines with strawberries, with strong cheeses (such as Brie), and with chocolates, but there's so much more. Seafood, pastas, many spicy dishes, and salty foods are often better with a bubbly than with the usual still wines paired with them.

Chinese food and Gewürztraminer or beer? Try a bottle of bubbly!

Crab cakes and sparkling wine? A favorite! A very romantic pairing. To be ended with chocolate and sparkling wine, of course,

A nice bottle of bubbly makes any meal special.

California sparkling wine suggestions

Prices, for California wines anyway, are low for good quality sparklers. In Sonoma, Gloria Ferrer is one of the best for quality and price. Iron Horse and "J" Wineries are also outstanding. The best California sparklers come from Schramsberg in Napa Valley. They put on a great tour and tasting if you're ever in the neighborhood.

For a good $20 Brut try one of these from Sonoma, Napa or Mendocino County: Gloria Ferrer, as mentioned, plus Domaine Carneros, Domaine Chandon, Mumm, Piper Sonoma, and Roederer.

BTW, I just picked up a Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs for $17 at the local market.

Celebrate Every Day!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Holiday food/wine pairings

An often-asked question: What goes with my holiday dinner?

The basics of food & wine pairing are:

-- Don't let the wine flavors overwhelm the food, and vice versa. A young Cabernet with turkey? Probably not. But with just the cranberry sauce, probably yes. Of course, the focus of the meal is the turkey and stuffing.

-- It's not just the meat, it's the entire dinner, including any sauces. Halibut in butter with Zinfandel? Yuck. But fish with a flavorful salsa on top with Zin, probably.

The following suggestions would be for dry wines and nothing "special" added to the meats.

Ham -- Sparkling wine is my first choice (goes well with salty foods). Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, or a dry Rosé can work, too.

Turkey -- Chardonnay, Rosé, or Pinot Noir.

Crab -- Chardonnay or Riesling.

Goose, Duck, Quail -- Pinot Noir or Merlot.

Lamb -- Cabernet Sauvignon, a Cabernet blend, and many Italian wines.

Beef Roast -- Cabernet Sauvignon, a Cabernet blend, or Syrah.

Anywhere Pinot Noir is mentioned other softer, lighter reds would work well such as Beaujolais, many Rhones and Rhone blends. Also, sparkling wines go with almost any meal (especially ham, crab or turkey) and adds to the festivities.

While we're talking about "softer, lighter" wines it's important to realize that for most of these dishes listed a wine that's lower in tannin, alcohol and acid than some is generally a better match.

Some Pinots and Zinfandels especially can be hot--too high in alcohol. Some younger Cabernets are too tannic. And for some dishes a very dry sparkler, Sauvignon Blanc or Sangiovese can be too acidic. This doesn't mean you don't want tannin, acid or alcohol, but it can't be overwhelming.

Chardonnay usually shouldn't be over-oaked or too buttery.

Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Siduri / Novy Open House

Siduri is a well thought of Pinot Noir producer in Santa Rosa with a second label, Novy, for Syrahs. Each label makes a couple other things, but this is what they're known for.

A couple times a year they open up their warehouse for public tasting and some good sales.

My favorite was the 2008 Siduri Pisoni Vyds Pinot at $55. Pisoni is in Central CA. I bought the 2007 version of this wine last time.

But because only certain wines were on sale--and everybody is looking for good prices right now-- I bought the following:

2007 Siduri Amber Ridge Pinot Noir. Rich fruit, spice, and enough backbone to balance out.

2007 Siduri Keefer Pinot Noir. Not quite the strength of the Amber Ridge. A bit jammy, but should go for a year or two.

2006 Novy Napa Vly Syrah. Very good wine at a great sale price ($15).

2007 Novy Christensen Syrah. Nice fruit, spice, and depth.

Siduri makes reasonably priced Pinot labeled with a Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast, or Russian River appellation. These are usually around $25 and are good wines for the price.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A few Arizona (ARIZONA!?) winery stops

While visiting Tucson I went to four southern Arizona tasting rooms in the Sonoita/Elgin area between Tucson and the border. In fact, on the way back to Tucson we went through a Border Patrol stop manned by three guys about 30 miles north of Mexico (your tax dollars at work).

Many of the wines are from grapes brought in from California, but most were local grapes. They seem to be growing most everything from Sauvignon Blanc to Zinfandel. Tempranillo and Rhones also seem to do well. This is a high desert area, about 4500 ft. elevation.
Area vineyards. Photo taken Nov '09
Following are recollections from my four stops. I've listed the wineries from my least favorite to my favorite stop.

Rancho Rossa

They are the only estate vineyard in the area meaning they grow all their own fruit.

Across the board, except for the Cabernet, the wines are flawed. There is a very distinct, and bad, nose and taste to the wines. I sampled the Sauv Blanc and about six reds. Something in the soil? The water? Cellar? It was sort of a metallic, chemically taste. Somehow the Cab escaped this and was pretty decent.


Sampling several reds I noticed most were from CA grapes. One that had the same nose and flavor flaw as the Rancho Rossa wines was made of grapes from Mendocino County per the label. The other wines were decent, but there was nothing I would have to take with me.

Canelo Hills

I tried several reds. The Sangiovese and Syrah were my favorites, but they were pretty good across the board. They were sold out of their Tempranillo that seems to be a favorite.


I sampled several reds here, also. Most were blends and all were very good to excellent. Nice fruit in the wines; better than the other stops. It's possible they may leave a little residual sugar in them (I'm just guessing), but so what if it works? By far my favorites. And they get bonus points for using screw caps.

A number of Spanish and Rhone varietals in the blends; even a Petit Verdot based blend.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fall is in the Air!

October 26th Photos

Grapes in at Field Stone Winery, Alexander Valley

White Oak Vyds, Alexander Valley

Dry Creek Valley

Lytton Springs, Dry Creek Valley

Two Stops: Dry Creek and Matrix

Along Westside Road

Dry Creek Vineyards

Dry Creek has been around for a long time and has always been known for Zinfandel (as anyone in Dry Creek Valley should be). David Stare started the winery about 35 years ago and was well respected for his wines. His daughter is running the place now.

I counted 19 wines open in their tasting room! They are one of the few that still make a Chenin Blanc. The grapes are from Clarksburg (towards Sacramento). For some reason Chenin grows well there. If you haven't tried an American Chenin Blanc try this one.

The reason for stopping by was the night before I'd opened a 2001 Dry Creek reserve Zinfandel that was corked so I took it back to exchange.

I sampled the 2006 version that I got as a replacement plus three vineyard-designated Zinfandels. The Somers and Beeson Ranch Zins were outstanding (and $35). The '06 reserve I picked up to replace my '01 will need some time.


They are part of the Wilson family of wineries--they own about five now and seem to be doing well. Matrix started with Meritage wines (Bordeaux-style blends) I believe, so I was surprised to find five Pinot Noirs on their tasting menu. The tasting room hostess said the Wilson family thought they should be making Pinots as the winery is in the Russian River Valley (just barely) -- an area well-known for Pinot Noir.

I liked all the Pinots and wound up taking the 2006 Nunes Reserve (Russian River Valley). Their wines are in the $30 to $45 range.

A bit of fall color at Matrix Winery

The Bottle Barn

And for what it's worth I made a stop at the local wine shop and picked up a couple $25 Pinots from Siduri and Melville plus a Zinfandel from Armida (Maple Lane, Tina's Block).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

It's a beautiful day in the vineyards

Oct 16 Sonoma Valley

Top down cruisin' weather as things dry out and warm back up.

Oct 17 northern Napa County

Some varietals have pulled through last week's rains OK. This is Cabernet, I think.

More rain coming tomorrow though then warm and dry for the foreseeable future. The grapes need not only to dry, but to build their sugars back up to ripeness.

If you've never seen vineyards in their fall colors you should sometime. Main color season is early November, but it's well underway now.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Oh, oh, it's raining

The Growing Season in a Mediterranean Climate

The great thing about grape growing in CA is the dry weather during the growing season. But you can't always trust mother nature. Every year there seems to be something to annoy the farmers.

We had significant rain on October 13th in a relatively warm storm (think warm, moist rotting grapes). The next day was humid, but mostly dry. Here we are on the morning of the 15th and it's raining again.

Not all Grapes are Created Equal

Some grapes stand up better to dampness.
Cabernet is generally the last grape to come in, but also the skins and grape bunches dry out better.

The thinnest skinned grapes, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, are the earliest to be picked so are less likely to get rained on. (Isn't Mother Nature smart). Cabernet is usually the last to be picked.
Luckily, it has thick skins and relatively loose bunches--so less damage from bad weather and easier to dry out.

Another grape still hanging out there that's near-and-dear to the hearts of Sonoma County is Zinfandel. Zin doesn't do so well with the wetness. It ripens unevenly and tends to rot. Even in good time you'll find a bit of rot on the bunches.

In 2006 when we had some September rains some Zin never quite got ripe.
This year I know of one winery known for Zin that will remain nameless here that is probably losing a large percentage of their Zinfandel (they have Zin and Cab still hanging). The only good news is that the crop is much larger than last year so the total tonnage may be about the same as last -- though still below average.

So, pray for low humidity's and wind to dry out the grapes still hanging.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Sonoma County Harvest Fair 2009

An annual three-day tasting for medal winners of grapes grown in Sonoma County. A huge number of medals were given out; almost every wine won something, but that's a subject for another time.
I don't have good descriptions because, well, it's kind of a madhouse and difficult to write down anything while standing and trying to hold on to your glass, awards booklet and a pen. I probably sampled 100 wines out of the hundreds available. All reds; no whites for me!
By mid-afternoon there's no room left to walk in the aisles.

Complete results are here.

The Good

Bordeaux-type Blends
Overall I was impressed with the quality of these. Easy to drink, but complex and interesting.

Trentadue 2005 Alexander Vly La Storia Meritage, $22
Their La Storia line are always excellent wines and a good deal

Murphy-Goode 2005 Alexander Vly Claret All In, $45
Best of the Bordeaux-type blends I tried
De La Montanya 2006 Sonoma Co Tres Amour, $58

Pinot Noir
I love good Pinot, even more when I can find one for under $35. There was nothing here that I have to rush out and buy.  I sampled more Pinots than any other variety.

De Loach 2007 Russian River Maboroshi Vyd, $45
The best of the Pinots I tried, but I was disappointed overall with the Pinots  vs. their price.

Leveroni 2007 Sonoma Vly Seven Oaks Vyd, $18
A very drinkable one for the price

Ashton 2006 Sonoma Vly, $55
Great backbone, spices. Should age a bit.

I generally love Californian Rhones. Usually very nice for the price.

Jus Soli 2007 Sonoma Co Roots Red, $20
A big, rich, excellent wine at a nice price.
I tried a couple other wines from Jus Soli. Never heard of them, but all were very good.

A misunderstood variety, Made to stand up to spicy / acidic foods.

Viansa 2005 Sonoma Vly Thaila, $45
The best Sangi I've ever had, also the most expensive.

A very nice job overall with "the other beef wine."

Davis Family 2007 Russian River Guyzer Block, $38
Needs some time yet
Loxton 2006 Russian River Archer Vyd $30

Pena Ridge 2006 Dry Creek Piccetti Vyd, $44
Nice fruit

Longboard 2006 Russian River Dakine Vyd, $45
I've had and liked this one before and it stood up well here against others

Palmeri 2005 Alexander Vly Van Ness Vyd, $53

Sonoma's own

Armida 2005 Dry Creek Maple Vyd Tina's Block, $48 (a price drop from previous years)
A stand-out. Great balance, flavors, and a smoothness rather than heat like many Zins.

DH Gustafson 2007 Dry Creek Mountain Vyd, $36
If you like 'em big and ageable rather than fruit bombs, then lay down this one. It's a big boy. 

Fannucchi 2005 Russian River Old Vine, $40
A really well-done Zin. Probably my 2nd favorite Zin of the weekend behind the Armida Maple Vyds Tina's Block.

Stryker 2006 Knights Vly Speedy Creek Vyd, $34
Another great wine from Stryker. This one is a little rough on the finish so needs a bit more time.

Other Reds / Generics
Loved these blends too

Wilson 2007 Dry Creek Family Red Estate, $30
Another outstanding red from Wilson. Well worth the price.

Here's where it got interesting. Two other gold medal winners in this category were from Ravenswood and Ty Caton. What they have in common is they both retail for $75. The Ty Caton was very well done.
Then there was a Wellington gold medal-winning red called The Duke retailing for $8. This one is the QPR of the year for me. Wow, amazing for the price.

Petite Sirah
Sonoma's old time killer red. More manly than Syrah even.

Miro 2006 and 2007 Dry Creek, $23
Had these two vintages back-to-back and they do a nice job at a decent price.

Overall impressions

I really liked the Bordeaux-type blends and some of the varietals--Cab Franc and Malbec. Also, they're doing a good job with Syrah.

Favorites from the three day event:

-- Armida Maple Vyd Tina's Block Zinfandel
-- De Loach Russian River Maboroshi Vyd Pinot
-- Jus Soli Sonoma Co Roots Red
-- Murphy-Goode Alexander Vly Claret All In
-- Viansa Sonoma Vly Thaila Sangiovese
-- Wellington Sonoma Vly The Duke at $8!

The Bad

Overall the Pinot Noirs had lousy quality for the prices. It didn't really matter if it was a $18 Pinot (those are hard to find) or $60 (easier to find). I've felt this way about the Pinots I've had at this event for the last couple years or so. The main element of some Pinots and Syrahs was heat. And a few Zinfandels were this way too, but that's almost to be expected these days.

The Ugly

In order to enter a wine in this judging there has to be a certain level of availability so if someone wants to actually buy a medal winner they have the opportunity. Well, Adler Fels Winery took a chance; won big, then lost big. They won the red wine sweepstakes (best red wine) for a Pinot and then it turns out they were nearly out of that vintage. They tried pouring the next year's wine instead hoping nobody would notice.  The fair board stripped them of their medal. Well, they got a lot of local publicity, at least.

These are my notes from the 2009 Harvest Fair.   Go here for notes on 2010.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A few Napa & Sonoma stops

Disneyland vs. Regular Folks with Real Wine

"The Castle" (Castello di Amorosa)

Daryl Satui has made a mint from his very popular winery, V. Satui. Great place for a picnic. There are usually lots of buses in the parking lot. He's made so much money if fact that he decided to drop a few million on a castle on the hillside in Napa.

Yeah, it's a real castle. Should you visit? Yes, do it once, but don't come for the wines, come to see the castle and the views of Napa Valley. I tried all their wines and there's nothing I would spend $15 on (they run about $20 to $75). Some would not show well against two buck chuck.

Apparently Daryl Satui got so caught up in his Italian castle building he started calling himself Dario.

Benessera Winery

Not too many left like this in Napa--a working winery with no fancy pretenses for the tourists. OK, I don't know who the owner is, but it doesn't look like it would belong to Fosters or Constellation.

Solid wines, semi-reasonable prices. A great Sangiovese.

Deloach Winery

Deloach has been just outside Santa Rosa in the Russian River Valley appellation for a long time. Cecil Deloach started the winery about 30 years ago. He turned it over to a son who got the place in financial trouble and they sold to a French family. The Deloach family has started Hook & Ladder Winery just up the road.

The French folks set them down the biodynamic trail. OK, I get the organic farming and taking care of the land, but I don't quite understand burying a cow's horn in the vineyard based on lunar cycles.

Anyway, what's more important is the wine and it's good. Several different Pinots from the $20's to the $40's. Their display said the least expensive one, the Russian River Valley labeled, got 90-some points from some writer, but I didn't like it so well, but try it yourself as it's tough finding a good Pinot for that price. My favorite was the Van der Kamp vineyard Pinot at $42. It's a bit unusual in that it's a Sonoma Mountain appellation Pinot. That area is known more for Cabernet.

Zinfandel is their other "specialty" and their $20 Russian River was so-so, but the $32 Nova Vineyards (Lake County) was very good.

Deloach make lots of vineyard-designated wines.

Pellegrini Family

They have been growing grapes in the Russian River area for a long time. Several other wineries have made outstanding wines, most notably Pinot Noir, from their vineyards. For some reason they are not able to repeat that feat with their own grapes.

If they were in the $10 to $20 wine business I'd say OK, but they are priced with everybody else and pretty much everybody else is doing a better job of winemaking. At least judging by what I tasted at their facility. They weren't serving their Olivet Lane-designated Pinot, I've had it before and it's very good.


Now here's a family that's been around awhile--over 100 years on the same ranch in Sonoma Valley. They are a well-known and respected family in the area. In the last decade or two they've gone into attracting visitors with their tasting room, caves, and events area. They offer lots of options for tasting and touring. A good web site, too, explaining it all.

I tried their "standard" red wines, syrah, merlot, zinfandel and cabernet, and they were all very nice and reasonably priced. They also have vineyard-designated and reserves. I'll have to go back and try those sometime.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The 2009 Harvest Begins

The first grapes to be picked in the county make the news every year. Usually it seems to be Chardonnay or Pinot Noir meant for sparkling wine as these are picked earlier (less ripe). And usually it's from Carneros.

This year was a small Pinot Noir vineyard in Sonoma Valley near Glen Ellen--a little warm for Pinot. These grapes are meant for sparkling wine as usual. And it was a much larger crop than last year.

What was surprising is the size of the crop. Last year was a very small crop. Lots of winery folks are at least secretly hoping for another small crop this year as the demand for grapes isn't there. Like a lot of other fruit they cycle through small crops and big crops.

The harvest is predicted to be two-to-three weeks behind the average meaning things may not get into full swing until well into September. Is that a problem? No, as long as the autumn weather stays dry and warm.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Why California Wine Tastes the Way it Does

So, wines from Italy and France and ____(fill in the blank) taste different than California wines. Q: Which one is best?

A: It's a tie. Whatever works for you.

Current CA wine is not the same as it was 20 years ago. Is it better now? I dunno, it's certainly more popular.

What makes CA wine the way it is?

-- Winemaking, to include the education, mostly from UC Davis, to growing, to actually making it with all the stuff that goes into that: trellising, irrigation, abundant sunshine, etc. I'd say the two biggest reasons are UC Davis training of winemakers and the California climate which is nearly perfect for wine grapes.

-- Marketing to the American consumer. Or how do you get Americans who thought CA wine tasted like Thunderbird, who drink lots of Pepsi, and who actually like the taste of Wild Turkey to move to premium wines?

First CA imitated the French-style with lots of tannins, acid, not so much fruit, and a long wait for best drinking. Then came leaving a little sugar in to make it easier to drink now (good if you're sipping, bad if you're having a meal with it). Then fruit-forward wines easy to drink now, but usually lacking complexity.

So why is the fruit-forward style so popular? Because you can drink the wine now. Almost nobody takes wine home and puts it in a properly temp-controlled cellar for a few years.

The worst part of this trend is the high alcohol levels. This isn't necessary to make great wine. In fact, 12-13% alcohol is almost always better than 14-15%. So which is best--lower alcohol and fruit with higher tannins and acid or the fruit-bomb? I'm guessing somewhere in between. More is not always better.

This is what you call your full-bodied cabernet ...

Want to try a range of CA styles? Look for these and compare for yourself. Try these wines by themselves and with a meal. All of these are good wine; just different. I'm listing what I consider the most "new world" style second.

Dry Creek Vineyards and Mazzocco Zinfandel

Williams Selyem and Landmark Pinot Noir
(If you can't find a Williams Selyem or don't want to pay the price for an "old world" style Pinot from Sonoma then look for Carneros or Green Valley on the label or look for alcohol under 14%. This isn't a guarantee, of course).

Audelssa and Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay
(If you can't find Audelssa then look for anything saying "unoaked" or an appellation of Sonoma Coast).

Kenwood Jack London Ranch and Geyser Peak Cabernet

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Winery architecture

Ledson's tasting room in Sonoma Valley was originally meant to be someone's home until one of the many California real estate busts.  Can't say I'd want to live in something this spooky.   Every time I drive by I start singing the theme song from the old Addams Family TV show, "They really are a scre-um. The Addams Family."

Darioush in Napa Valley. OK, the guy is from Syria. I suppose you could also say a French chateau is out-of-place in California, but not as wacky as this thing looks in the vineyards. I won't say it's not beautiful, maybe. You expect this from Napa (aka Disneyland for Adults) because if it'll draw tourists they'll allow it.

Artesa is southern Napa is how a high-end winery should be done. It's gorgeous inside and out, and it doesn't protrude on the environment.

And then there's your real winery building ...

Hall Winery, in Napa Valley, is in the process of building a new, "unique" facility. I've seen pictures of what it's supposed to look like ... and it doesn't look good. Appears they're framing it, not necessarily using 90 degree angles, then throwing a big burlap sack on it. OMG

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Best of Sonoma County

OK, this is my Best of List. My tastes may not be yours, but what do you expect for free? :) Based on recent or semi-recent visits.

Best Wineries for a first (or second) visit

Buena Vista. The wine isn't great (but it isn't bad either) however the building and history are worth the trip. It will be crowded on in-season weekends.
Chateau St Jean. A beautiful spot, a large corp-owned winery, but they usually do things right. Pay the extra for the reserve room tastings.

Korbel. Historical tours, deli, over a dozen bubbly wines to chose from.

Sebastiani. They've been here forever, but have gone through some changes. You can always find a couple great value wines. Avoid the weekend crowds.

In Napa: South end Artesa for the view, architecture and wines. At the north end of the valley Shramsberg for the great tour and bubbly (appt required).

Best Smaller Wineries

These don't require reservations, because why spoil your trip with plans?

Armida. The Party Winery of Dry Creek.

Arrowood. Cabs and Syrah.

Audelssa. Chardonnay and Syrah blends.
David Coffaro. Easy-drinking, well-balanced, robust reds. And easy on the wallet.

Preston. Been making good Zinfandel since ... forever.

Russian Hill. Pinot Noir and Syrah.

Best Winery Views

Paradise Ridge. In Santa Rosa.

Sbragia. At the north end of Dry Creek Valley at Lake Sonoma.

Stryker. In the northern part of Alexander Valley. Great wines and views.

Favorite Restaurants
None of these will break the bank

Bear Republic Brew Pub. Red Rocket and a burger. Mmmm

Hanks Creekside. For breakfast.

La Vera. Pizza!
Ravenous. Kind of high-end comfort food.
Rosso. Pizza and you can get wines that are not from California! Don't miss Gnocchi Night.

Union Hotel. Pizza & pasta.

Other things besides eating and drinking

Armstrong Woods redwood preserve

Bodega Bay and Bodega Head. Bring your jacket!

Charles Schultz Museum. For kids from four to 70 years old.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Mmmmm, beer

What the heck is a beer post doing in a wine blog? Why? Cuz it's summer. Sometimes it's just too warm for wine.

I have standard beers that I compare all others to; not that these are absolutely the best of a style. None of these are really rare beers and should be at least semi-easy to find.

Pale Ale - Sierra Nevada. A bit hoppier than a traditional ale, but that's why it's so damn good. There's a reason this company went from a garage operation to getting so big as to make every other specialty brewery jealous and it's because of this beer.

IPA - Lagunitas. This one is definitely hoppy and is it good. They make a number of small batch beers. Most are really good. Bear Republic's Racer 5 also a top-of-the-line IPA.

Brown Ale - Downtown Brown from Lost Coast Brewery. A bit nutty, a bit malty. A great winter beer, but light enough to work in the summer. 

Amber Ale - Red Tale Ale from Mendocino Brewing. I usually don't like Amber Ale because they can be caramelly. It's a rich beer, but not syrupy. This beer put these guys on the map. 

Lager - Longboard from Kona Brewing. I'm not much for Lagers, but this one is pretty nice. ("Pretty nice" is about the best I can say about a Lager). When you want something on the lighter, less hoppy side this is good. I wouldn't call it a typical Lager. Also, I won't turn down a cold Pacifico.

By the way, 25% of beer bought in America is either Bud Light or Miller Lite.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A new find in Sonoma Valley

New for me anyway. Audelssa Winery has a tasting room in "downtown" Glen Ellen. It's a funky-looking little storefront from the outside, but done up really nice on the inside, and the host was great.

Their estate fruit is not grown on the valley floor giving the wines a mountain fruit flavor. Not sure I can exactly describe what that tastes like, but I know it when I have it.  Kind of a wildness or brambly flavor.  The wines seem fairly priced for what you get.

The Chardonnay fruit is from Mendocino County and has actual fruit and mineral flavors rather than oak!  It would be great if more people would stop using new french oak barrels for their Chard, but then where do you use the barrel the first time? (Can't be on a red wine). If there were more Chardonnay made like this I might actually drink Chardonnay! (Well, maybe).

The Zinfandel was from Calistoga in northern Napa Valley (the hot part) and tastes like, well, a Napa Zin lacking complexity and showing the heat of alcohol over an indescribable fruit with none of the spices that make up a great Zinfandel. The wine was actually well-made, just not my style. I've had Zins from this same part of Napa before and they are all similar. Other than the Howell Mountain area Zins from Napa just don't compare to Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys in Sonoma.

The really interesting wines were various blends--a couple Rhone-style Syrah-based wines and a Bordeaux-style. These wines had an acid backbone that wasn't overwhelming, moderate fruitiness and the tannins are under control. Balanced, they call it. These wines are a great find.

I also stopped by Ty Caton, Arrowood, Kenwood, and Chateau St. Jean.

Ty Caton is a very small producer and makes interesting wines such as Syrah, Barbera, and Sangiovese. Well-made and they win awards. The bad news is the high prices for most. The best deal is the "Field Blend."

Arrowood still makes very good Cabernet and Syrah. The Cabs ran $50, $75, and $110. I guess they think they're in Napa! Dick Arrowood's namesake has gone through a number of owners in the past years and is now in the hands of Kendall-Jackson. The staff showed great hospitality as they always do at Arrowood.

Kenwood makes over two dozen wines. Most people have seen the white labeled Sonoma County wines such as the Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet. Most of these, except for the Pinot Noir, aren't very good. The Pinot is a great deal. Also, the Red and White Table Wines are good deals. The reserves and Jack London Ranch wines are their best, but require patience as they need aging.

At Chateau St. Jean I sampled the "standard" wines and several reserves and found the best deal to be the Sonoma County Pinot Noir that sells for about $18. St. Jean is one of the most beautiful wineries in Sonoma County.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Celebrity Wine

Anyone on the production / ownership end of a winery will tell you if you're looking for a place to sink all your time and money a winery is one way and certainly more exciting than many small business opportunities (like, say a Denny's franchise).

Tommy Smothers was one of the first in Sonoma County, and at least, is a down-to-earth guy. The "memory of" Raymond Burr is still here. You can also hear about Mario Andretti, Mick Fleetwood, Francis Ford Coppola, and various ex-ball players. You've got Madonna wine, Marilyn Merlot, and a Jeff Bridges meritage (Jeff Bridges??).

Everyone wants to be part of the life-style, but not the work. I suppose it's the same with being a famous actor, singer, or ballplayer -- sounds like fun because you don't know how much work is involved to get there.

There are "dead celebrity" wineries too, such as MacMurray Ranch. Fred MacMurrary owned land in Sonoma County for decades before his death. Now that he's gone Gallo produces MacMurray Ranch wines.

There is even a Celebrity Cellars "winery" getting juice from God-knows-where and putting labels of your favorite star on the bottle. How about a Celine Dion Chardonnay?

Francis Ford Coppola is probably the most successful. He started with buying the old Ingelnook facility in the heart of Napa. He sunk a ton of money into the place and displayed items from his movies. When crowd control became an issue he instituted a high parking fee on the property and opened a second operation at the old Souverain facility in northern Sonoma County.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Couple nice wines

At a small wine event last night I found two reds that stood out.

Trione Syrah - It says "BBQ" to me as a good Syrah should. Not all fruity and round, but some edge to it; some thickness. The Trione family has been in the local wine biz for awhile. They owned Geyser Peak for awhile so they're not your typical farmers, but more what I'd call "extremely rich." Geyser Peak improved quite a bit during the time they owned it.

Trentadue La Storia Meritage - On first sip my eyes got wide and I uttered something like, "Oh, #%$@, this is good!" One of the best wines I've had in awhile. I checked their website and it retails for $32. I've always loved their La Storia line. They're usually great wines.

The evening finished with dinner--pork ribs and Zinfandel. As Rachael would say, "Yummo!"

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Touring Sonoma County


To the west is the Pacific, to the east Napa County, north is Mendocino County, south is Marin County then San Francisco.

Planning a wine trip

If you've been to Napa forget what you know about visiting the wine country. Sonoma County is more spread out and less crowded. If you have certain areas you wish to visit you should plan where you stay accordingly.

The Big City: Santa Rosa, pop. 140,000.

"Cute" small towns: Sonoma to the south; Healdsburg to the north. Both will be more expensive to stay and eat it because you have to pay for cuteness.

Wine appellations: Carneros to the south known for sparkling, chardonnay and pinot. Just north of Carneros is Sonoma Valley. The town of Sonoma is between. The Russian River area is west of Santa Rosa. Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys are near Healdsburg.
These wine regions are spread out so that it's best to concentrate on one area of the county in a given day. For instance, the driving time between a winery in Carneros and one in Dry Creek is well over an hour.

The wineries

Most of the ones open to the public are open daily from late morning to late afternoon. There are a few in urban areas in Sonoma, Santa Rosa and especially Healdsburg. There are over a dozen tasting rooms within an easy walk in Healdsburg.

Non-wine stuff to do

The Pacific Coast. The water is cold, and dangerous in many places. It can be quite windy and cold at the coast regardless of how warm it may be inland.

Armstrong Redwoods. An old growth redwood forest near Gureneville (it's pronounced "gurn-vil" not "gurnie-vil." If you've never been in an old redwood forest you should go.

Shopping: Healdsburg and Sonoma.

Beer (hey, you can't drink wine all the time): One brewpub in Healdsburg; one in Sebastopol; two in Santa Rosa.

Fairs: If you time it right there's the Sonoma-Marin Fair, the Sonoma County Fair and the Sonoma County Harvest Fair.

Charles Schultz Museum, Santa Rosa: The life works of the guy who wrote the Peanuts comic strip.