David and Goliath: The Independent Winemakers

22 Jul

I’ve been a long time fan of small, independent wine makers. It’s easy to see, by my reviews.

With the independents, you can find great personality, unusual choices, sometimes chances being taken that can be greater highs and perhaps greater lows. But the highs can be mind-blowingly good, and create loyalty amongst followers. Even more importantly, oenophiles find amazing VALUE and personalized service from independent winemakers. For example, I can’t call Prince Robert of Luxembourg (the owner of Chateau Haut-Brion) personally, but I can call up Jason Moore or Blair Fox and ask for a case of wine to be shipped in time for Thanksgiving, and get it! You might even find something you like as much as that second growth/premiere cru. At least, you can find things that you will adore to come back to time and time again, affordably!

Here are a couple of resources that might point you in a direction to try:

The Observer’s David Williams’ “California Wine: Why the Independents Rule”

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/feb/15/california-wine-david-williams?CMP=twt_fd

http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/technology&id=9201811

http://www.winesnw.com/news_reviews/archive-goingsolo.htm

 

Here are MY personal favorites from the USA for right now.

http://www.orinswift.com/

http://moduswines.com/

http://www.blairfoxcellars.com/

http://ripkenwine.com/

These are winemakers who have thrown a stone from a sling and hit time and time again, square in the temple. They might appear small, but they are powerful, equipped, and skilled winemakers! Over a period of months, Dave Phinney exploded from anonymity to fame based on one wine. Who will follow? Only time will tell.

What are YOUR favorites independent winemakers from the USA?

à votre santé!

Furious Live Wine Blogging. Day 2- Reds!

13 Jul

It’s hard to explain the insanity of Live Wine Blogging at the WBC14  Wine Blogger’s Conference, but let’s try: 300+ people crammed into a conference room with round tables for 8 with a number in the middle. 50 minute time limit on the event! Wine makers run around the room, changing tables every five minutes from table number to number (in order), trying to shout above the din what their wine is while they both pour tastes and answer questions. Bloggers furiously try to taste each wine, scribble notes, and tweet or record their findings as they try not to spit wine on themselves or their digital devices. All of this while the conference leaders shout furtively into a wireless microphone that only feeds a speaker in one small corner, far below the room volume. A tiny bit of insanity, strangely fun, while frustrating. Did I mention the intermittent internet connectivity, or the lack of good signal in the basement? Oh- never mind. :)

Regardless- we tasted some good, some not so good, from $8 to $60 (Jordan Winery’s 2006 Cab: Tasty!). Here is my pile of tweets for your enjoyment!

 

Labyrinth Pino ’12 clone 667 “More Cary grant than John Wayne”

2011 SB Syrah Brett and barnyard on the nose, very mixed palate. Grill pleaser for sure.

Monterey Pinot. Black cherry, boysenberry, nice tight finish. Stelvin & $15- easy to drink!

2010 vineyard 511 Cab- aged 30 mo’s in oak! Menthol & Forest, black fruit and long pull.

Symmetry Meritage ’11 Classic Sonoma, where’s my steak?

Carmenere Reaerve 2011. $13, earth & brown spice, ideal for Classic French aka boef bourg.

’06 Cab. Lovely Alexander valley, menthol and perfume- so old world! Luxury-Yum!

à votre santé!

Sanford Wines- Tasting Passion in the Bottle!

12 Jul

Over the last few days I’ve been tasting a great deal of wine. So when I came across a winemaker that made a serious impression on me, instinctively I wanted to know more. Here’s the story:

Sanford Winery was the last tasting of the day for me in Santa Barbara, CA, a town loaded with local winemakers that have shops and tasting rooms dotting the town. At Sanford’s tasting room, I noticed a level of complexity and depth in the wines I was tasting- an impression that showed a great level of care, as my palate began to compare these new world wines to old world wines, finding more in common than most of the wines I’d found from this region.  I needed to find out more.

 

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A few calls later and a nice trip up the Pacific Coast Highway found me in the beautiful hills of Lompoc.

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Sanford Winery (owned by the Terlato Wine Group) has a lovely tasting room, but fortune had smiled upon me. Not only did I get a chance to see the grapes up close, but they were bottling and I was able to see the process from vine to bottle, in its entirety. IMG_0458

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For the wine lover, it’s a huge (and incredibly rare) treat to be able to walk through a winery with the employees, see everything from the vines to the hoppers, crushers, stainless steel fermentation vats, filtration tubs, french oak barrels, the cold pressing and filtration systems, and top it off with bottling!

But of course, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Every single person I met at Sanford was both happy and passionate about their work. Everyone smiles, wanted to shake my hand and chat about their work while they continued their jobs- with fire in their eyes and love for the process. I noticed as we walked through the property… this person had been here for ten years, this person, twelve… 18, 20, even employees who have been with the company for over 24 years. Its impressive!

That passion and love for making a great product shows. Not only can you see it in the eyes and faces of the employees, but you taste the difference in their wines!

Maybe you noticed that I didn’t bother giving you any tasting notes about these wines. In the last week, I’ve tasted hundreds of wines. While some were lousy and some were great, many were nice but very few of them made a serious impact on me. The people and the products from Sanford Winery made an impact on me, and after meeting them and seeing their operation up close, I knew that tasting notes would not be what I wanted to share with you. Instead, I wanted to share with you the passion I experienced in drinking their wines, because that same passion was apparent in every person I met at Sanford and every element of my experience visiting the winery.

Tasting a beautiful wine might make you question your adoration for wines from other world regions.  For this wine lover and reputed French wine snob, I was duly impressed by a current club-offering pinot which compares beautifully to northern burgundy, in the nose, color, palate, and finish. If you are an oenophile, you might know what that means to me, and what high praise it is. It’s why I wanted to take the trek to walk among the vines, touch the grapes, meet the people behind the magic in the bottle at Sanford- because they made a significant impression on me, and that’s why I needed to share Sanford with you. I have seen it ever so rarely: Passion, in the bottle. 

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à votre santé!

Live Wine Blogging for Ten Wines, via Twitter

11 Jul

“Complicated” 2013 Sonoma coast chard from . Green apple, Meyer lemon, nice acidity.

Summerland Wine

10 Jul

While visiting Santa Barbara, I had an opportunity to do a tasting with Summerland Wine. Winemaker Etienne Terlinden seems to be quite busy, as they already have six wines from 2013 that include an orange muscat, a sauvignon blanc, a grenache rosé, a viognier, two pinot noir, a syrah, and a cabernet sauvignon, each of these wines is made from local grapes sourced from either Montery, Santa Barbara, or Paso Robles. In addition, they have a library of vintages from 2006-2012 that includes several single-vineyard chardonnay and pinots, a sparkling, and zinfandel. Here are some shots from my tasting, more notes are below!

grenache rose

chardonnay

 

viognier

solomon

 

 

 

Here is my hands-down favorite:

Summerland Cabernet Sauvignon,  Santa Barbara County, 2012. 

Summerland

Deep purple color with violet edging. Nose of blue and black fruit, the scent of  alcohol burns off with more exposure to air, revealing vegetation and fresh cedar. In the mouth, the cab features boysenberry, blueberry, and black cherry fruit along with notes of dark chocolate, licorice, and a hint of potting soil on the upper and back palate. The nice, lingering finish is one more element of this wine that complements food well. Note: all of the Summerland wines have high alcohol content, the cab is no exception with 14.1%ABV.

 

I was also impressed by two other wines, the 2012 single vineyard pinot noir from Wolff Vineyard, as well as their 2012 “Trio”, a mix of syrah, grenache and mouvedre grapes, which is Summerland’s take on the classic Rhône style wine. Summerland has a little of something for everyone, it seems. I’d love to see their Cab or Trio in a 3L large format bottling, which seems to be popular for their single vineyard pinots. A note for pinot lovers, I much preferred the older vintages I tasted,  -they felt settled, while younger vintages seemed like they still needed time to blend- so age may be a determining factor in your enjoyment. YMMV.

wolf pinot trip

 

à votre santé!

 

UnCorking the 2009′s

4 Jul

As the title says, I’ve just begun to taste and open a few of the ’09 Bordeaux. Each taste makes me wish I’d purchased more.

Chateau Saint Julian Bordeaux Supérieur 2009. $14/bottle, from Sherry Lehmann. 14%ABV.

On the nose: black fruit, fresh cut wildflowers, hint of must. Color is violet with ruby edging. In the mouth, this wine exudes a mountain of cassis, ripe blue and black fruit. Hints of clay, flint, new oak and black earth evoke from the mid and back palate. Good acidity and tannins with a lengthy finish, on first tastings I had notes of limestone and saddle leather but they dissipated with more air.

This is only the second Bordeaux bottle I’ve opened from the famed 2009 vintage. On the one hand, I wish that I had left the bottle to age, as one can really taste where this wine will be in three to five more years. On the other hand, it drinks quite nicely at the moment. With 14% alcohol, I find this a “hot” wine but it cuts through a rich meal and drinks nicely on its own. It would be nice to have a few cases of this and open a bottle every few months to do long-term notes, but alas, I missed the opportunity- my local vendor only has the 2010 left.

Uncorked, this is a nice wine that drinks well but shows great promise and potential for the future.

Cht Saint Julian

 

à votre santé!

Desert Island Whites

3 Jul

Is there a red wine you’d drink with breakfast? Perhaps not. But if I were on a desert island and had to choose one wine, I might choose one of these three. They’d certainly be on my list (along with a couple of impossibly expensive choices, including several Montrachets, Cheval Blanc, and one Prüm- most of which I can’t afford) and most importantly, would pair beautifully with island food- fruit, shellfish, seafood, white meat, salad. Right? Easy to enjoy, day or night!

Best of all, these are easy to share with your friends. You’ve already seen the “dark horse” wines I served at a recent neighborhood wine tasting. Now I get to share the three “heavy hitter” wines I served as the culmination to that evening’s selection of white wines. Scroll below the picture for more info:

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Paul Pillot Bourgogne Aligoté  2010. Approx $16.

http://www.domainepaulpillot.com/english.htm

 

DuMol Russian River Valley Chardonnay, 2011. Approx $50

http://dumol.com/ 

 

Far Niente Napa Valley Chardonnay, 2012. Approx $65.

http://farniente.com/wines-vineyards/napa-valley-chardonnay/

I’m not providing my personal tasting notes for these wines because in writing them, I quickly got sidetracked with my personal relationship with each wine. Away they went!  So instead, I’ll explain why they are worth celebrating:  

Each of these wines is beautifully made and expresses the winemaker’s skill, the perfection of the grape, as well as terroir with minimal outer influence. Each also demonstrates precise fruit, driven minerality, clean acidity, and expansive depth. They are amazing alone and absolutely stunning with a proper food pairing. The great beauty of serving these wines at a tasting is watching as a person tastes the wine for the first time, comes back to the well a second and third time, finding new notes as the wine opens and expands, evoking additional flavors and expressions. Tasting these wines is wonderful, watching the taster’s face and excitement during the process is also wonderfully addictive and exciting!

While not necessarily “showy” wines, they are instead, massive crowd-pleasers. It was a joy to share these with others and to see them experience such well-made wines after such a long tasting, but the effects were not lost on the group. Everyone found at least one of these three they loved and truly appreciated, and that makes a wine tasting all the sweeter.

What would YOUR desert island wine be?

à votre santé!

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