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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Harvest Moon & Sheldon -- Rebels With a Cause

Plenty has been said about the ever-rising level of alcohol in California wines.
Along with this comes soft (low acid) wine. A couple local folks are bucking the trend. You can actually sense the acid in their wines! Some people aren't gonna like that (I'm one that does).

What does acid do for a wine?
Balance - Makes the wine bright, refreshing, and interesting, rather than dull.
Food pairing - Acid stands up to food.
Stability and ageability - Acid will give a wine a decent shelf life.

One of the beauties of higher acid wines is that they are good now and will still be good a few years down the road. This is different than tannic wine that has to age for awhile as the tannins need to mellow out before the wine is ready to drink.

If the acid is too high the wine can taste tart or even sour. People have different tolerances for acid levels and the same wine can be perceived as refreshing by one person and bitter by another.

Don't be turned off by a wine that seems a little acidic on with the first swallow or might even make your eyes water. If you plan on drinking more than a few sips and maybe even plan on having it with dinner than perceptible acid is good!

Here are a couple small wineries that understand this and will even forgo the chance at gold medals (judges seem to like the soft, fat, low acid wines).

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Harvest Moon Winery

Your first impression as a California wine drinker (like me) is, "Wow, not as fruity as I'm used to and you can really taste the acid."  They specialize in Russian River Valley Zinfandel--it's not pink and it hasn't got 16% alcohol. It's an ageable food-friendly wine.

They are a bit experimental as they even grow Gewurztraminer (when any sensible person knows you should rip that out and plant Pinot Noir)! They make sparkling wine out of their Gewurztraminer and Zinfandel. They freeze Gewurz grapes to make an ice-style wine.

The wines are refreshing, juicy, and are lighter in color and taste than many wines, especially their Zinfandels. They are aged in mostly older, more neutral oak barrels, so you never get hit with a blast of oak, just fruit and spices and floral aromas.

If you visit you'll probably be talking with the winemaker. You'll know because you will hear his passion for his style of "not so ripe" wines.

I'm a fan of his Zins. I've tasted the Russian River Valley bottling and the Pitts Home Ranch Zinfandels. Both have alcohol levels in the mid-13 percent with just an iddy-biddy touch of residual sugar left in to help balance the acids. Two words:  Food friendly!

Sheldon Wines
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If you're looking for the usual oaky Chardonnay and soft Cabernet then go elsewhere. You want to be a bit of an adventurous type because they have wine blended with Grenache and Petite Sirah and other less popular varieties. They get their grapes from all over the state.

The wine is made and the entire operation is run by a young couple (well, young to me anyway) that shares an obvious passion for wine.

If you visit their small urban tasting room in Santa Rosa you'll find the place a bit "edgy" but very friendly. They started with producing just a few hundred cases not too many years ago and are on their way up.

I've been a fan of the Vinolocity Rhone-style red blend plus I recently discovered the Cabernet and Petite Sirah blend, the Weatherly Cuvee. The wines are lighter, more floral, and maybe a bit tart. From what I've seen they age well and are beautiful accompanimentto a meal. I had their 2005 Vinolocity at a Grenache tasting a few months ago and found it near perfect at that stage of its life.

These are wines, not soda pop. It might take some getting used to!

Enjoy and Experiment