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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What wine with doughnuts?

In case you've been too busy and didn't realize the upcoming holiday June 1st and 2nd are National Doughnut Days. Interestingly enough June 1st is also Heimlich Day and June 1-3 are Milk Days. Really, you can look this stuff up!

Anyway it seemed like the chance for some food and wine pairing. Everybody has declared fish with Chardonnay and Cabernet with red meat, but you don't hear much about doughnuts.

Like anything else it's in how you prepare the food--the sauce, the seasoning, etc. Or in the case of doughnuts we are talking about sugar,  sprinkles, maple, chocolate, glaze, etc. This can be complicated, but in the name of the advancement of American culture here are some suggestions:

Off-dry sparkling wine
Plain doughnuts--cake or old-fashioned

Sweeter sparkling wine
This is probably the best wine overall with any kind of doughnuts

Chardonnay, preferably one with residual sugar like K-J
Maple bars, cream-filled, bear claws

Cheap rosé

Semi-sweet Riesling or Gewurztraminer
Glazed, doughnut holes

Late harvest red wine or port

And what side dish with your doughnuts.  Try this!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Napa comes to Willamette

The Disneyland side of the wine biz as seen first in Napa Valley is hitting Oregon's premiere grape-growing region, Willamette Valley. You could say Napa is a victim of its own success. It's the old fight of agriculture vs. commercialism as the Oregon state gov't is trying to limit non-wine activities at the wineries and in the farming regions.

The growing popularity of wine with Willamette's close proximity to Portland is drawing crowds. Along with that comes restaurants, event facilities, outdoor concerts, etc. Not everyone is in favor of the extra dollars this brings.

News article here

Friday, May 25, 2012

May 25 -- It's National Wine Day!

Not to be confused with National Drink Wine Day that was on February 18th.

So does this mean you aren't supposed to actually drink wine on National Wine Day? I doubt that's what the inventors of this day had in mind. So how to celebrate? Here's a few folks that have ideas:
  • The Rockit Burger Bar in Chicago is offering free tastings of the two new wines on their list
  • The Wild Thyme Cafe in Marina, CA is offering 1/2 off bottles until 5:30pm
  • Holman Ranch Winery in Carmel Valley, CA is offering free tastings today
  • The HomeField Grill in Round Rock, TX is offering free wine tasting during happy hour

The best part is that National Wine Day falls on a Friday of a major holiday weekend!  I don't know about you but I'm throwing a pork loin on the grill and popping a Russian River Pinot Noir.
Evil stuff
Image from

What are some of the big dates in wine history?
  • Wine is estimated to be 8,000 years old. Imagine the first person to accidentally discover the fun of fermented fruit juice.
  • Prohibition in the U.S. lasted from 1920 to 1933. The wine industry didn't really start to recover until the 1960s.
  • In 1976 the Judgement of Paris put California wines on the map. A California wine explosion started in the 1980s and hasn't stopped.
  • In 2011 the U.S. became the largest wine consuming nation.

BTW, May 25th is also National Tap Dance Day. Maybe you want to figure out a way to combine the two holidays.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Marketing Gone Wild at Beringer!

Some Wine Business Facts:
  • The big guys love to jump in on the latest trend. I guess because they have the resources to do this compared to the mom-and-pop wineries.
  • There are millions and millions of cases of White Zinfandel made every year. Beringer owns over a third of the dollar market for this wine.
  • White Zinfandel has been a cash cow for folks like Sutter Home and Beringer since the 1980s. It's a huge seller with middle-aged types. I suppose the stereotype for a White Zin drinker is a 50 year old female.
  • More recently, an old grape thrown out by the "serious" California wine producers many years ago, Moscato, has seen sales soar. Supposedly the 20-somethings love this sweet, cheap wine.
So now let us present the latest "invention" in wine...

Beringer White Zinfandel Moscato

Another great marketing idea
Maybe they go with White Zin Moscato?
Beringer already makes White, Red and Pink Moscatos for those young, trendy urbanites. What's the planned market for White Zinfandel Moscato? Is it trying to get the young'uns to drink White Zin or to get the older folks to hop on the Moscato bandwagon? I'm confused, but I'm sure the marketing geniuses at Treasury Wine Estates (owners of Beringer) know exactly what they're doing.

A review of White Zinfandel Moscato? No, not from me. Eeewww.

Put your thinking caps on you marketing guys/gals. We want a low carb Sparkling Pinot Gris Moscato Port in a cute pink can from Brazil!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Sonoma County Events for Memorial Weekend 2012

Several wineries are having some sort of special event for the Memorial Day Weekend, May 26-28, 2012.  Check out your old favorites, or even better, check out somewhere that's not familiar.

Arista - Paella and flamenco dancers on Saturday

Bella - Cajun food and music

Dutton-Goldfield - Artist reception, special Pinot tasting, music on Sunday afternoon

Kenwood Vineyards - Food and art. See the original Artist Series artwork.

Medlock Ames - Music Sunday evening

Mounts - BBQ

Taft Street - music on Sunday afternoon

Truett Hurst - BBQ and music on Saturday

Viansa - Food and music all three days

Wine Country Passport Weekend - A one-fee entrance to four of Treasury Wine Estates wineries in Sonoma and Napa: Beringer, Chateau St Jean, Etude, and St Clement.

Other things to keep in mind if you are visiting over this holiday weekend:

-- Lots of other folks have the same idea. Hotels will book up, restaurants will be impossible to get into for a 7 pm dinner, and the tasting rooms will be packed on Saturday and Sunday afternoon. My advice? Get into Priceline now to find a room, make dinner reservations before you show up, and do your wine tasting before 2 pm if you don't like crowds. Then spend the rest of the afternoon at one of the winery BBQs.

-- In 2011 Sonoma County had 48 DUI arrests for the weekend. If you don't have a designated driver then that person should at least limit their tastings at each winery--maybe share a tasting or only sample one or two wines per stop.

-- Weather is expected to be sunny with temps in the upper 70s, but bring layers, we have lots of micro-climates and the evenings cool off!

Hope your weekend includes something like this ...

But don't forget this ...


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Kenwood Vineyards Sale Update

News broke several weeks ago that Gary Heck, owner of Korbel, was selling off his Kenwood Vineyards property to Banfi, a NY-based wine conglomerate. (My original post on the sale).

At the time it was unknown how they would separate Kenwood from his other holdings under the Heck Estates umbrella (Valley of the Moon and Lake Sonoma Wineries) as they are all pretty well intertwined. Well, they may not be able to divide things.

It appears now that Banfi may buy all three operations--or at least Valley of the Moon. Lake Sonoma is really only a label now, not a "real" winery, so will it just disappear? It looks like Gary Heck may soon be down to his sizable Korbel Champagne Cellars holding. Gary is getting near retirement age, as is much of his upper-management, so this may be his reason.

The bad news in this would be the duplicate positions that will not be needed in Sonoma County. This will be mostly in the Heck Estates admin office that runs the wineries' businesses.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Wine Tasting Terminology Explained

Wine geeks throw around a lot of terms to make them look smart and to drive you crazy. Here's all you need to know about that nerdy jargon used by those know-it-alls.

I just want a #%&ing glass of Merlot!

Aftertaste - Means you've swallowed and are now waiting for the alcohol to kick in.
Alcohol - Why you drink in the first place--so you don't have to be responsible for your later actions. But really, tequila works much faster.
Aged - Some wines suck when you buy them so "they" (the experts) tell you to age the wine for a few years. Hopefully, by then you'll have forgotten who gave you the shitty advice.
Aroma - The smells you get from the fermented grape juice vs. Bouquet which is the smell from processing and aging. How do you tell what's an aroma and what's bouquet? Not sure. I mean is a fart an aroma or bouquet? I think you could make an argument either way.
Austere - In our childhood we all knew some authority figure who was strict and austere. So an austere wine will send a shiver down your spine.
Big - The opposite of elegant. So, big wines have too much, Elegant wines don't have enough--of something.
Body - Do you want a Big Bodied or an Elegant (and apparently skinny) wine?
Brilliant - No, this doesn't mean it's a smart wine. It means they've filtered all of the flavor out (those nasty aromas and maybe the bouquet, too).
Closed-in (or Dumb phase) - Oops, you opened the bottle too soon. Bummer. Hope you've got more.
Complex - A Complex wine can't decide what it wants to be so there's a little bit of everything.
Delicate - Trying to make a thin, lighter wine sound good.
Dry - No, I don't know how dry got to be the opposite of sweet either. I blame it on the French.
Earthy - Flavors left in the wine because the grapes weren't washed after they fell on the ground when being picked.
Fat - Remember that aunt who always wanted to hug and kiss you when you were a kid? She was fat and smelly, right? So fat wines tend to be perfumey to hide the sweat.
Full-bodied - Think Marilyn Monroe and you're going to like this wine.
Hard - Sorry ladies, but it's bad in this case.
Hot - This is also bad. No wonder wine terminology is so damn confusing.
Legs - Thick legs can mean hot. This is getting more difficult, huh?
Lush - What you become when you start your days with Chardonnay at 10 am.
Malolactic Fermentation - When buying Chardonnay you're supposed to ask about this so you sound like you know what you're talking about. If the salesperson calls your bluff and starts talking about titratable acidity just nod.
Nose - Well, if wine has legs and a body it can have a nose, too.
Oaky - Wine drinkers from Tulsa.
Rustic wines taste better here
Image from owensvalley
Overripe - Like moldy cheese, a two week old banana, or that homeless guy who hit you up for a quarter.
Plump - There's that aunt again.
Rich - What all wines aspire to be since they can't marry into it.
Rustic - Wines best consumed in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, preferably one made of logs with no indoor plumbing.
Structure - What every wine should have but no one can define.
Toasty - What you are after two bottles.
Varietal Character - Means Sauvignon Blanc tastes like Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot like Merlot, and hot dogs taste like beef, not turkey, damnit!
Well-balanced - What you aren't after two bottles.
Woody - I can't figure why some wine marketing genius hasn't combined hard, hot and woody into the descriptors of a wine aimed at females.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

The Russian River Valley appellation of Sonoma County is best-known for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir but also puts out some great Syrah and Zinfandel. About one-fifth of all the Pinot planted in California is here. The Russian River Valley AVA extends from the town of Healdsburg south through Santa Rosa to Cotati and west to Guerneville. It's a large appellation with many different soils and micro-climates. You can get more info from the Russian River Valley winegrowers site.

Sonoma's wine-growing appellations

So RRV sits between the coast and Santa Rosa with its climate defined by the "natural air conditioner," the Pacific Ocean. The growing season weather is controlled by cooling influences from the water. Midday temperatures usually warm into the 80s but start cooling rapidly in the early evening and can drop 30 degrees overnight. Things often don't warm up again until the noon hour. The shorter daytime hours of heat lengthens the growing season.
The cooling fog is what defines the Russian River Valley
Image from

What's with all these Russian names like Russian River, Ft Ross, and Mt. St. Helena?  Two hundred years ago the Russians came down out of Alaska and built a permanent settlement on the coast in Sonoma County at Ft. Ross.  At this time the northernmost Spanish mission was in the town of Sonoma. This is the area where they held each other's expansion plans in check.

Pinot is a finicky grape in that it can only grow well under certain conditions and the Russian River Valley just happens to be one of the places in the world where it does well. The bright red fruit flavors and richness of the wines distinguish it here.

A typical descriptor for RRV Pinot is cherry cola, certainly cherry anyway, whereas Pinot from the nearby Carneros area is more dusty tasting with less pronounced fruit--more of a cranberry fruit. When I look for RRV Pinot I watch out for those wines that can be a bit hot from high alcohol and low in acid with big, sweet cherry flavors. Some people like this style or there wouldn't be so many around, but I prefer wines with a different balance of fruit and acid.

There are some well-known producers recognized by wine aficionados that are in very limited supply such as Dehlinger, Kosta Brown, Paul Hobbs, Rochioli, and Williams Selyem.
Image from

Some of my favorite RRV Pinot producers that are a bit easier to find in the market are Balletto, Benovia, Davis Family, Dutton Estate, Dutton-Goldfield, Freestone, Gary Farrell, Inman, Merry Edwards, Nalle, Papapietro-Perry, Russian Hill, Siduri, and Twomey.  Yes, it's a long list plus there are many other topnotch Pinot Noir producers in the area from Alysian to Zmor.  And yes, some of these producers tend to be more fruit-forward like Papapietro, and others much more restrained such as Freestone, but all show proper balance.

What I love about Pinot Noir is its versatility in matching with food. It's a red wine that can go with "white wine meals," such as many seafood, chicken, and pork dishes plus anything from burgers to pizza to filet mignon. Meals with mushrooms, cloves, a plum or cherry sauce, or smoked meats usually match well with Pinot Noir.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Siduri / Novy May 2012 Open House

Siduri is considered one of the top Pinot Noir producers in California. They have a second label, Novy, primarily for Syrah. They have several, mostly single vineyard, Pinots and Syrahs. Siduri has an open house a few times every year.

Siduri Pinots listed from my favorite to least:

2009 Cargasacchi Vyd (Santa Rita Hills), $50
2010 Hirsch Vyd (Sonoma Coast), $50
2010 Sonatera Vyd (Sonoma Coast), $49
2010 Hawk's View (Willamette Vly), $39
2010 Lewis Vyd (Russian River Vly), $45
2010 Santa Rita Hills (Santa Barbara), $30
2010 Clos Pepe Vyd (Santa Rita Hills), $50
2010 Chehalem Mts (Willamette Vly), $30

I would recommend all but the last two. Both of those I'd like to try again in a few months to see how they've changed.

Novy Syrahs from favorite to least (didn't try all that were available):

2009 Christensen Vyd (Russian River Vly), $29
2009 Simpson Vyd (Dry Creek), $29
2010 Santa Lucia Highlands (Monterey), $27
2009 Garys' Vyd (Santa Lucia Highlands), $33
2009 Rosella's Vyd (Santa Lucia Highlands), $29
2009 Susan's Hill Vyd (Santa Lucia Highlands), $34

The Christensen Syrah stood above the rest.

I was last at their open house in December 2011. At that time I liked the 2009 Clos Pepe Pinot, but didn't care for the 2010 here. Maybe it needs more time as I found it really tight. In December I also liked the 2009 Cargasacchi and 2009 Sonatera Pinots. Didn't sample the Hirsch Vyd Pinot last time.  See my notes on the December open house.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Riesling -- The next hot white wine?

Chardonnay has been number one forever and is in no danger or losing its ranking with U.S. consumers. Sauvignon Blanc was second in white wine sales for a long time until Pinot Gris got hot.

Over the past few years the buzz has centered around everything from Viognier, Roussanne, Pinot Gris, to most recently Muscat. In the meantime some have missed the growth of off-dry Riesling. It's still a drop in the bucket (or would it be barrel?) to Chardonnay in terms of sales, but it's growing fast.

Why? One reason it probably because it can be easy drinking in the off-dry style with a bit of residual sugar. It will still have decent acid making it refreshing. Also, it's rarely over $25 and there are many for half that. In the last few years the biggest growth has been with wines selling for less than $12.

One of Riesling's (and Gewurztraminer's) problems with wine shoppers has been not knowing if you're getting a dry, off-dry, or slightly sweet wine as American labeling laws don't require this though some wineries will let you know. Gewurztraminer's other problem is nobody can pronounce it. Just try saying, "I'll have a Gundlach-Bundschu Gewurztraminer please." (I just say "gah-verts). So for these American-made wines to really catch on in the U.S. they will have to be labeled with something like Dry, Off-dry, Sweet, and Dessert.

Riesling is best known as an import from Germany though at one time it was heavily planted in Napa and Sonoma. In the U.S. you now find it mostly in the Finger Lakes and Niagara regions of NY, in Washington state, and in cool coastal areas of California, mostly Mendocino and Monterey Counties. But there are places as diverse as Michigan and Southern California growing it. I would think the cool coastal regions of Sonoma County would be great for Riesling but these are currently being planted in Pinot Noir plus some Chardonnay and Syrah.

Locally a couple wineries making quality Riesling are Smith-Madrone (just over the "border" into Napa) and Navarro in Anderson Valley (Mendocino County). I've said in the past if more wineries could make Riesling and Gewurztraminer like Navarro then more Americans would drink them.

One thing that may be interesting to watch for if Riesling sales really take off is what happens to Sauvignon Blanc. Sauv Blanc's flavors are somewhat similar to Riesling's, but Sauv Blanc is made pretty much bone dry. That style is too acidic for some people. Will winemakers start making off-dry Sauvignon Blancs?

Actually, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc are great summer whites. Give one a try and save several bucks over one of those big, flabby Chardonnays.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

May morning in Sonoma Valley (photos)

May 9, 2012 in northern Sonoma Valley
Photos taken near Kunde, Kenwood, Chateau St Jean, and St Francis wineries
Click on photos to enlarge

Monday, May 7, 2012

Napa Valley Wine Wave

This will be fun.

Charles Krug Winery wants to get in the Guinness Book for the longest wine toast ever. It's actually a relay wine toast where people clink glasses in order from start to finish. I wonder how many will be broken? They need over 321 participants on October 7, 2012.
Image from

They are taking this seriously as there will be "clink" training beforehand. Says one of the organizers, "The art of the clink is not as easy as it looks."

As you could say, "Only in Napa!"


Saturday, May 5, 2012

May 9th National Moscato Day!

One of Gallo's brands
This is a 187ml airplane-sized bottle
Which works out cuz planes come with
handy barf bags.   :)
Well, here's a self-serving holiday to go with days likes of National Pastrami Sandwich Day and National Animal Crackers Day. Yes, these are "real" holidays declared by someone or another.

May 9th is now National Moscato Day per a press release by Gallo. If you haven't noticed Moscato is currently "in" with the 20-something urban types. Well, I don't know this for a fact, but that's what the marketing folks say.

Gallo happens to be a big producer of Moscato and why not? If anyone knows how to make a profit off cheap wine it's Gallo. In fact, they will host a Twitter Party with a virtual live toast on the evening of the 9th (see, I told you Moscato was for the 20-somethings).

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Summer 2012 Sonoma County Events (June, July, August)

Following are the bigger events for the summer of 2012. A number of these sell out in advance!

Summer in Sonoma County
Wine-related events


9-10  Russian River Passport to Pinot
Wine, food, and music at about two dozen Russian River Valley wineries. This is a new event. Info

30  All American Zin Day
Grilled meats and Zinfandel in Dry Creek. Vegans need not apply! Info


4  Many wineries are closed. Most others close early for the holiday.

Railroad Square (Santa Rosa) First Friday Street Party.
Food trucks, wine, music in the evening. Info

21 Rootstock
Food, wine and music in Santa Rosa's Vintners Square hosted by several small wineries. Info

22 Pinot Family Reunion
At John Ash north of Santa Rosa. Pinot and food then an optional dinner. Info


3  Eighth Street Wineries Open House
Yearly event for nine micro-wineries in Sonoma. Info

3 Railroad Square (Santa Rosa) First Friday Street Party.
Food trucks, wine, music in the evening. Info

3-5  West of West Wine Festival
It's all about west Sonoma County cool climate wines with winemaker dinners, seminars and a tasting. Info

18  Grape to Glass pre-harvest party
Wine, food, dancing with winemakers and grape-growers. Harvest is coming so it's their last chance to have fun until November! Info

25  Taste of Petaluma
Local wines, beers, foods along with art and entertainment. Info

31-Sep2  Sonoma Wine Country Weekend
"A wine, cuisine, and cultural event" presented by Visa Signature--check their website for discount tickets. Info
Sonoma Wine Country Weekend
Image from

Non-wine themed events
Peggy Sue's car cruise

1-12 Healdsburg Jazz Festival.
2   Beerfest. Northern California's micro-beer scene.
2-3 Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival (vintage race cars) at Sonoma Raceway (aka Infineon).
3   Ox Roast Community BBQ in the Sonoma Plaza
8-10 Peggy Sue's All American Car Cruise. Hundreds of old cars highlighted by a Saturday evening cruise in downtown Santa Rosa.
16-17 Sonoma County Hot Air Balloon Classic. You have to get up early for this one!
20-24 Sonoma-Marin Fair. Evening concerts, ugly dog contest, destruction derby.
22-24 Nascar at Sears Point Raceway/Infineon/Sonoma Raceway/whatever it's called now. If you're going to Sonoma or Napa this weekend stay away from the racetrack--there will be huge traffic jams.
23-24 Russian River Rodeo and Parade.


4   Lots of fireworks shows on or near the 4th. The big one is at the county fairgrounds in Santa Rosa.
14  Wine Country Big Q. Barbecue, beer, and music sponsored by the Kansas City Barbecue Society. Sounds like a perfect summer afternoon.
14-15 Civil War re-enactment in Duncans Mills.
25-Aug12 Sonoma County Fair. Rides, corn dogs, concerts and thoroughbred horse racing.
27-29 NHRA Nationals at Sonoma Raceway.


1-12 Sonoma County Fair continues.
18-19 Wings Over Wine Country air show put on by the Pacific Coast Air Museum.

Wings Over Wine Country
Image from

Ongoing Summer Events

Tuesday: Farmers' Market in Sonoma, Kids outdoor movies in Windsor, concerts in the Healdsburg plaza
Wednesday: Farmers' Market in Santa Rosa, Santa Rosa downtown market, Wines & Sunsets at Paradise Ridge Winery, Petaluma evening Farmers Market
Thursday: Wine Down Thursdays at Santa Rosa Vintners Square, St. Francis Winery outdoor film festival
Friday: Cloverdale Farmers' Market
Saturday: Farmers' Markets in Sonoma, Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Healdsburg

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

News: Winery visitors and sales increasing

More good news for the wine business as winery tasting room traffic is up. Per a survey in the number of visitors and tasting room wine sales increased in 2011 compared to 2010 for all of the U.S. It's another small sign of economic recovery. The biggest growth was in Washington and Oregon followed by Sonoma County with Napa and the rest of the U.S. trailing, but still showing growth.

The average amount spent in a tasting room is at least double in Napa compared to any other region. That's because the average bottle of Napa wine is probably over fifty bucks.

There's more to the article including survey data on tasting room fees and wine clubs. Link

The folks that predict this kind of stuff are saying the U.S. wine industry can expect about ten percent growth in 2012. More good news for the wine business, but what about the consumer? Will prices increase? I would say yes as demand catches up and maybe outstrips the supply in the coming years.