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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Celebrate National Wine Day, May 25th?

Okay, we had National Drink Wine Day on February 18th.   Now we have National Wine Day on May 25th.   What's next?

I propose National Guzzle Box Wine Day.  I'm thinking maybe this Sunday, May 28th, because it's right in the middle of Memorial Day Weekend.  What better time to down a box of wine?

Your next chance is June 2nd, National Leave the Office Early Day (really).   Knock off around 2 pm and hit up your favorite wine bar.  Personally, I'm looking forward to early July because the 5th is Bikini Day followed closely by Chocolate Day on the 7th.

BTW, May 25th is also the anniversary of the release of the original Star Wars movie in 1977.  Maybe you want to get yourself one of these wine accessories ...
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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

35th Anniversary of "The Judgement"

On May 24, 1976 the trigger was pulled on the California wine explosion.   That's the day Chateau Montelena beat the French Chardonnays and Stag's Leap beat the French Cabernets at their own game.

The Judgement in Paris was a wine competition to put the upstart Californians against the people who owned fine wine sales, the French.   California won.   There's a fun movie about this event called Bottle Shock.

The judges were French wine experts.  On hearing the results one of the judges demanded her ballot back so she could change it.   The French were not happy and have been making excuses ever since.  The tasting was repeated with the same wines for the 30th anniversary of the tasting and while the same wines didn't win California wines did--again.

The winners on display
in the Smithsonian

The best deals in California wine today

I'm not talking about look for this Chardonnay or this particular Cabernet because it's soooo good.   There are a couple types of wines that are easily available and maybe even undervalued in the market.

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauv Blanc grows easily in many places around the world and puts out a lot of fruit per vine without degrading the quality.  That is, if you can get eight tons per acre instead of two then the wine should be cheaper to produce. Plus not having to use expensive oak barrels as most wines do saves, too. Styles range from grassy to tropical but they're almost always crisp and fresh--meaning higher acid.  Relatively high acid means Sauv Blanc compared to say, Chardonnay, is a refreshing drink on a warm day and is a good food match where Chard can seem a little heavy or flabby.  Higher acid wines generally go best with food but can sometimes taste a little tart on their own, though a good Sauvignon Blanc pulls off both roles well.

So Sauvignon Blanc is sort of a poor cousin to Chardonnay.   And that's good for the consumer because there are amazingly good SBs for under $20.  

Just a few examples from Sonoma and Napa:

Geyser Peak - They make one labeled California selling for about $10 in the tropical fruit style plus a big award winner called River Ranches that goes for about $20 and is a bit more tart and a lot more complex.

Kenwood - A "drink and don't have to think" about it wine.  Usually $10 or less.

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Hanna - An award winner every year.  This is Hanna's flagship wine, they make a lot of it, and it sells out easily every year.  It retails for about $20.

Mondavi - The benchmark for popularizing SB under the Fume Blanc name.  Fruity, dry, good acidity.  Goes for about $15.

St Supery - Good balance and refreshing. Sells for less than $20.

Sparkling Wine

AKA Champagne.  Many of these wines have really maintained low prices even with all the extra work that goes into making a sparkling wine.   Part of the issue is supply-and-demand in that Americans only drink bubbles on New Years and at weddings.  But most of these are great food wines, too.   Any evening can be special if you surprise your Significant Other by popping the cork on a bottle of sparkling wine.

There are many great sparkling wines going for around $20.   Just be aware many of the really cheap ones are bulk processed and can be cloyingly sweet as they are made with cheap grapes. Look for methode champenoise on the label.

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Gloria Ferrer - These are superb wines for the price.  The Brut goes for about $18; my favorite the Royal Cuvee in the low $20s.  The Blanc de Noirs is good, also.

Roederer Estate - Their Brut at $20 is first-rate.

Domaine Carneros, Iron HorseMumm Napa, and Schramsberg all produce great sparklers though some going for "real" money ($40-up).

Oh, you're looking for a red wine?   Inexpensive red blends, often just labeled "Red Wine" are your best bet, but do your homework first.  Some come from excellent sources of grapes; others do not.  You can find good, inexpensive varietal wines (even Pinot!) if you look.  A couple examples of good red blends are Pedroncelli Friends Red and Trentadue Old Patch Red.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sexy Wine Terms

Sex sells.

There are some unusual and amazing ways people describe wine. You can't just say good or bad.  Frankly, I don't know how some of these wine writers do it.  They must have been poets in a previous life.

Some of the following terms may be less obvious than others, but at least they're subliminally about sex.  By matching wine descriptors to famous people you can make purchasing decisions based on something visual rather than some nonsensical point system!

Fleshy - Kirstie Alley or Queen Latifah--your choice. Or not.

Foxy - The Megan Fox of wines I suppose--youthful and seductive and you wonder what she'll turn out to be when she reaches her prime.  Could be flabby, could be hot.

Full-bodied - Marilyn Monroe obviously.

Hot - Angelina Jolie obviously.

Lush - Especially when used in conjunction with "round" as in "a lush and round wine."  I'm guessing this would be the Jane Mansfield of wine.  Or maybe in more modern terms it could be Lindsey Lohan because she qualifies as a "lush."

Muscular - A descriptor to attract the women.  This would be the Hugh Jackman or Mathew McConaughey of wine.

Musty - Another one to attract women.  This would be a sweaty Hugh Jackman or Mathew McConaughey.

Sexy - People use this descriptor for wine a lot because it'll attract attention, but it could mean anything as sexy is a very broad term and strictly in the eye of the beholder. It could be anyone from Nicole Kidman to Halle Berry to Lady Gaga.   See the problem?  You probably don't like all three.

Sultry - More of a term for the actresses of the '40s and '50s like Jane Russell or Lana Turner. The old blues singers would work here, too, as would Amy Winehouse (and she's even got "wine" in her name).  But what does "sultry" have to do with wine?   I'm not sure, but I want to try it--in a dark, smoky room.

While we're on the subject you'll want to check out the Naked Winery for gift ideas.   Or maybe Thumbprint Cellars for one of their red blends, Three Some or Four Play.  Even better is the Climax they describe this way, "A provocative potion ... creates visual stimulation. Arousing aromas ... flirtatious flavors: Soaking wet ... sensual oak penetrate in and out of the tasting experience."   Oh yes, YES!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Summer 2011 Sonoma County Events (for June, July, August)

Summer is vacation time and if you're coming to the Northern California wine country maybe you want to plan your trip around a special event.   Many of these are about wine, but there are some other fun events listed, too.

Peggy Sue car cruise in downtown Santa Rosa

3-12  Healdsburg Jazz Festival.  Musicians play in wineries and other sites.

4  Beerfest at Wells Fargo Center for the Arts.  Okay, it's not wine but it's close.

4  Single Vineyard Night at Thomas George Estates in Healdsburg.  Hosted by grape growers and winemakers.

4-5  Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival at Infineon Raceway near Sonoma.  Old race cars, food and wine.  Sounds perfect!

11  Peggy Sue Car Cruise in Santa Rosa. If you like old cars you can watch them cruise by in the downtown area.

18-19  Sonoma Hot Air Balloon Classic.  Leaving from Windsor.  Good news: It's a kid-friendly event. Bad news:  It starts at 5 a.m.

22-26  Sonoma-Marin Fair in Petaluma.  A summer fair with the highlights being the Ugly Dog Contest and Destruction Derby.  This year's musical entertainment:  Blue Oyster Cult, Rick Springfield, The Charlie Daniels Band, and Foghat (are all those guys still alive)?

24-26  NASCAR at Infineon Raceway near Sonoma where they have to turn left and right!  Note: The racetrack is about eight miles south of the town of Sonoma.  Traffic is very heavy this weekend and can back up for several miles along Highways 121 and 37 on Sunday.


Fourth of July - There are several towns offering fireworks and other events over the weekend including Santa Rosa, Healdsburg and Sonoma.

10  Pinot Family Reunion at the Vintners Inn in Santa Rosa.  A Pinot Noir tasting and dinner at John Ash restaurant.

16-17  Civil War Reenactment Days in Duncan Mills.

27-Aug 14  Sonoma County Fair.  Lots of food, stuff for the kids, and thoroughbred horse racing.

29-31  NHRA drag racing at Infineon Raceway near Sonoma.


5-7  West of West Wine Festival in Occidental.  Tastings of Sonoma Coast wines but the highlight is the Whole Hog Feast at the Union Hotel restaurant.

6  Eighth Street Wineries Open House in Sonoma.  Micro-wineries open for tasting.

13-14 Gravenstein Apple Fair in Sebastopol.  Most of the apple orchards have been replaced by vineyards -- that's why you can get a glass of wine with your apple pie.

19-21  Grape to Glass Weekend in the Russian River Valley.  Wine, food, music, art, tours.

20-21  Wings Over Wine Country.  Airshow at the Sonoma County Airport.

26-28  Indy Cars at Infineon Raceway near Sonoma.

27-28  Bodega Seafood, Art, and Wine Festival. Buy arts and crafts, eat, dance, drink some wine and beer.   Bring a jacket.

Thoroughbred racing at the Sonoma County Fair
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Numerous wineries have their own special open house events.  I've listed only the ones of a broader scope.   Some wineries have movies, concerts, pizza parties, etc. in their outdoor picnic areas.  Check with your favorites to see what's going on.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Soda Rock Winery

The old Soda Rock Winery site in Alexander Valley has a history going back over a hundred years.  The original old stone building and the wood structures had fallen into disrepair.   A few years ago the Wilsons (Wilson, Matrix, and Mazzocco, and other wineries) bought the property then restored and extended the size of the original buildings.   It's a beautiful restoration.

Part of the old stone building
Now housing the tasting room

They recently opened for tasting so I stopped by to try the wines.  It appears the wines are made by the Wilson Winery from some of their existing vineyard holdings.  I didn't get the appellation for all of the wines I was tasting.  They are so new even their website isn't up and running so I can't get the missing info there. Retail prices ran from $19 to $65.

2009 Mendocino Sauvignon Blanc
Definite tangerine.  A bit thin.

2009 Alexander Valley Sauvignon Blanc
Grassy nose, grapefruit flavors.  My favorite of the two.

2009 Alexander Valley Chardonnay
Tropical nose, apples, weak finish.

2010 Rosé (from Merlot)
Too dry and astringent

2008 Zinfandel
Red and black fruit, bit of pepper, soft and fruit-forward.

2005 Merlot
Green nose, no fruit.

2006 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon
Soft tannins, no finish.  A chocolate Cab rather than a steak Cab.

2004 Sonoma County Mercantile Cabernet
A bit earthy, mostly ripe.

2006 Alexander Valley The General Cabernet
Plush, tight, ripe, tannin finish.

2006 Alexander Valley 5-star General Cabernet
Grainy tannins

The tasting room

Summary on the Wines
The Alexander Vly Sauv Blanc and the Zin weren't bad.  The Cabs don't have the structure, balance, varietal character, and integration I look for in a wine.   They are fruit-forward and soft, but with lots of tannins.   I'm a bit underwhelmed.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Random good news

Because we need some!    It may or may not have to do with wine.

The Wine Road,, donated $30,000 to the Redwood Empire Food Bank today.  This is proceeds from the Russian River Valley Barrel Tasting event ticket sales.   So to all of you who attended, thanks!

Willy Mays, the greatest ever, turns 80 today.

Red wine helps keep your bones strong.  According to an Australian study men 50-80 years old who drank red wine had a stronger bone density than those who didn't.   New slogan, "Fight osteoporosis, have a glass of Cab."

The Royal Family is planting grapes on the Windsor Estate to make an English sparkling wine.  

The California Wine Bar at the SF Giants stadium is a hit with fans.  The people selling the various wines will help you match a wine your food.  "You got a hot dog?  Is that with mustard and onions?  I think I'd go with a hearty red ..."

Another study on red wine and chocolate suggests consuming the two together increases the blood flow to the brain.  The volunteers in the test were better at arithmetic after the wine and chocolate than before.   So next time you have to balance your checkbook you now know what to do.

Forrest Lundsway just married Rose Pollard after being together for 30 years.  What's the big deal?  It was on Forrest's 100th birthday, she's 90.   His secret to longevity besides staying active is whiskey and Seven-Up and fried food.

It's May 6th and the Cleveland Indians are still in first place!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mike Lee, founder of Kenwood Vineyards

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Winemaker Mike Lee passed away this week.   Mike, along with his brother and brother-in-law, bought an old jug winery in northern Sonoma Valley over 40 years ago.   By jug winery I mean you'd bring in your own container and get it filled with either white or red.   Much of the Sonoma County wine business was like this at the time.   Many were convinced a new premium winery in Sonoma Valley in 1970 was a weird idea and doomed to failure.

Success came at a reasonable pace during the '70s then Kenwood Vineyards rode the wave of the popularity of California wines in the '80s and became a large player to where even the founders would sometimes shake their heads in amazement.

Their first big break was when deciding to not just make a reserve Cabernet, but to make it as a yearly Artist Series using a different artwork for the label every vintage.  The first was a painting of a nude on a hillside.  The government regulators, the BATF, said no and the controversy started.   The best publicity is free publicity and Mike and family were off and running.

Their other big breaks were in getting a long-term contract for the Jack London Vineyard and making a distinctive wine with distinctive bottling from those grapes.  Another was putting out a great Sauvignon Blanc in large quantities just when Sauv Blanc got popular in the mid-80s.   Case production soared.   John, the brother-in-law responsible for the financial side of the business, called the Sauv Blanc "Chateau Cash Cow" when he would stop by after work for a glass.

After I moved to Sonoma County in 1980 Kenwood Vineyards became my first favorite winery.  Mike, Marty, and John were great guys to work for.  I know because while I had another "real" job during the '90s and early in the '00s I worked part-time in the Kenwood tasting room for about a dozen years.   In a business that can attract the rich and snobby these were regular guys with a regular work ethic.

Mike could make Zinfandel--really good Zinfandel.   Not like the high alcohol fruity stuff you see now.  This was Zin you wanted to age for awhile.  This was Zin you wanted to have with a meal.   Mike made Zinfandel the way God meant Zinfandel to taste.

Mike left us too soon.

Story from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Twomey Winery Open House

  On April 30th Twomey had a release party for their four 2009 Pinot Noirs.   I had previously tasted these wines and others from Twomey and Silver Oak (same owners).  This was at a Silver Oak "blogger lunch" a couple weeks ago and I reported on it in a April 17th post.

From Twomey

  I though it may be interesting to try these wines again in a different setting and a different format.  The Silver Oak setup was a sit down tasting with the entire flight of wines in front of you. This time  it was a single taste at a time at a tasting bar setting.   I've done informal wine judgings with friends plus taken a wine judging class and have seen how difficult it can be to be consistent in your preferences.   There's been more times than not I've tasted through a flight then wait about 15 minutes and taste through again and come up with very different rankings.   Sometimes it's the wines, sometimes it's the order it which you taste them, sometimes it's just human subjectivity.

  Here are the four '09 Twomey Pinots listed in my preference from favorite to least with my ranking from last time in parentheses.

Sonoma Coast (1)
  Black fruit, well integrated and structured for what should be a good long life. A dryish herbal, spicy, peppery finish.  An excellent young Pinot and I hope it continues to develop well as I bought several.

Bien Nacido, Santa Maria (3)
  Smooth and round up from but finishing with good acid.  Also has good structure to age well, but not as well integrated as the Sonoma Coast.
  After tasting at Twomey we went to Gary Farrell Winery who has an '08 Bien Nacido Pinot.  Not nearly as good as Twomey's.

Anderson Valley, Mendocino County (2)
  Tight, dry, and herbal (fennel), but it shows the complexity and balance that makes me think it'll open up nicely in time.  This one didn't show as well as last time as it was closed-in right now.

Russian River Valley (4)
  Bright red fruit and a bit spicy/peppery but doesn't finish as well and is a bit simple compared to the others.  This is more of a sipping wine rather than a food wine.

Sauvignon Blanc
  I also tasted the new release 2010 Sauvignon Blanc again.  I wasn't quite as thrilled with it this time though it definitely goes better with food.  It was soft and round in the start but finished very tart.  Fruit flavors were just a bit of grapefruit and a little tart lemon.  By "just a bit" I mean not enough fruit to carry it through.
  This wine will change over time as it's very young.  In fact, I had gotten the end of a bottle for my pour and my wife got the start of a new bottle and there was a difference in the two as hers tasted brighter, cleaner and fruitier.    See, every mouthful is different. That's what makes wine fun.

Picking Favorites
  My picks this time were only slightly different.   At the Silver Oak tasting another blogger, Ray Johnson, who writes very good wine tasting notes and is the current head of the wine business school at a local university (so I assume he knows what he's doing) had remarkably different choices on his favorites on both the Twomey Pinots and the Silver Oak Cabernets.   So what does that mean?   I'm thinking he doesn't know what he's talking about!   (Just kidding).   It really means no one can really pick which wine you're going to like except you.
  I've had times out wine tasting where I bought presumably my favorite wine only to get home and open it awhile later and ask myself, "Why the heck did I buy this?"   Usually these turn out to be the big, fruit-forward, higher alcohol wines that I chose from a group of wines but then didn't like later.   I'm guessing these show well in wine judgings, too.   Interesting.