Grenache, Halloween and Surprises!

The best part of Halloween is seeing the costumes. At a party, you never know what people will dress as. Last week-end I saw a zombie Fred Flintstone, an Oompa Loompa and a Spy vs. Spy.  But the most surprising costumes were the Downton Abbey couple. She was dressed as a chauffeur and he as the maid, the 6′ 5”, full-bearded maid. Part of the fun of costumes parties are the surprises.

Though long disputed by Italy, most would agree that Garnacha/Grenache is originally from Spain, and from there moved to the South of France and to Italy, Sardinia specifically where it is called Cannonau.

Garnacha is not a noble grape mainly because it doesn’t necessarily age well. It has low tannins and often low to medium acidity. It is often used in blends with other more tannic grapes to give the wine structure.

But, just because it is not a noble grape, does not mean that it is not a worthy grape. A typical Grenache, while low in acidity and tannin is high in alcohol and oxidizes quickly. It is a grape that thrives in the heat, thus the high alcohol. Its famous regions are Priorat, Rioja, and Navarra, in Spain, the southern Rhone Valley in France, Sardinia in Italy, and Australia, and California in the new world. Oz Clark points out that the grape can have, ‘wild, unexpected flavors.’ This is what makes the grape so intriguing. You never know quite what you’re going to get. The typical flavor profile of Grenache/Garnacha is red fruit aromas such as strawberry, sour cherry, cranberry with some purple flowers, such as violets and maybe a dash of black pepper or spice.

I tasted through several Grenache recently with my wine group.   The wines were from different regions and each one had something a little different to offer. The Priorat presented a marzipan, almond, almost Amaretto flavor, a flavor most often associated with white wines. But this highly oxidative red that was aged in oak presented the unexpected. The Riaza from Lodi had a strong tea flavor. Our second Spanish wine, Fabla, had a coconut flavor. The Dolia from Sardinia had a strong coffee aroma. The French Chateauneuf du Pape was very earthy. And the Black Hand from Paso Robles had dried fruit aromas. Each wine was a little surprising.

RiazaRiaza, 2011, Lodi Clement Hills 100% Grenache. Sight: Clear, pale, garnet. Aroma: Clean condition, no off odors. Medium intensity with aromas of oak, red fruit, spice and vanilla. Developed. On the palate: dry, medium acidity, no bitterness, medium tannin, medium/high alcohol, medium plus body with medium intensity flavors of red fruit, spice, tea, and vanilla. No off flavors. Medium finish.



Fall 2014 022La Cartuja, 2012, Priorat 70% Grenache, 30% Carinena. Sight: brilliant, medium ruby. Aroma: Condition is clean with no off odors. Intense aromas of spice, black fruit and nuts. Developed. On the palate: dry with medium/high acidity. No bitterness. Medium tannins, medium alcohol. Medium/plus body, medium/plus intensity flavors of black fruit, oak and spice. No off flavors with a medium to long finish.



Fall 2014 023Fabla, 2012, Calatayud. Sight: brilliant, deep, ruby. Clean condition, no off odors. Aromas: medium intensity of black fruit, red fruit, tea, nuts and coconut. Developing. On the palate: dry with medium acidity, no bitterness, medium tannin, medium/high alcohol. The body is medium with medium intensity of red fruit, spice and earth. No off flavors. The finish is medium.



Fall 2014 027Dolia, 2012, Sardegna. Sight: brilliant, deep garnet. Aroma: clean, no off odors. Intense aromas of oak, coffee, and black fruit. Developing. On the palate: dry with medium plus acidity. No bitterness. Low/medium tannins. Medium alcohol. Medium body with medium intensity flavors of red fruit, coffee, and oak. No off flavors. Medium finish.



Fall 2014 025Telegramme, 2011, Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Sight: brilliant with medium garnet color. Aroma: clean with no off odors. Medium intensity of red fruit, spice and earth. Developing. On the palate: Dry with medium acidity, no bitterness. Medium tannins, medium alcohol, medium body. Medium plus intensity of flavors of red fruit, spice and earth. No off flavors. Long finish.



Fall 2014 026Black Hand, 2006, Paso Robles. Sight: brilliant with deep garnet color. Aroma: clean, no off odors. Intense aromas of butter, oak and red fruit. Developed. On the palate: Dry with medium high acidity. No bitterness, medium tannins, high alcohol, medium plus body, medium plus intensity with flavors of oak, red fruit and dried fruit. No off flavors. The finish is medium.





Happy Halloween!  Enjoy the surprises.


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Hand or Land?

WineSmallBigSometimes there is nothing better than a big wine, a wine with loads of tannin, loud fruit right up front, and the heat of high alcohol. After a meal, in the dead of winter, when everyone is in for the night, that big, loud, hot wine is a meal in itself. Like a brash guest at a party, it won’t be particularly interesting or intriguing. There will be nothing subtle about it. But sometimes that lack of subtlety can be oddly satisfying. Sometimes we want a wine that doesn’t make us think or work too hard to enjoy it.

Sometimes there is nothing better than a delicate wine, a wine with soft tannins, gentle fruit that whispers quietly mid-palate, and the tang of cold-climate acidity. With a complex meal, this wine comes to life playfully weaving itself into the flavors and textures of the meal. Like the quiet guest at the party who speaks so softly, you can’t quite make out what she’s saying. But the more you catch, the more you want to hear. Sometimes you want a wine with enough complexity that it takes some time to get to know it.

In his book, Essential Wines and Wineries of the Pacific Northwest, Cole Danehower uses the term ‘hand over land’ to describe the first style of wine which he calls ‘plush.’ It is a wine that is made by man, where harvest is delayed for higher alcohol, maceration is prolonged for greater tannins, and more new oak is used for more flavor. The second style is what Danehower describes as ‘poised.’ This is the ‘terroir’ wine, wine that is made by the land. No winemakers here, only grape growers.

The author goes on to point out that one is not better than the other. He is writing specifically about Willamette Pinot Noir when he says, ‘Between poised and plush, neither is considered better than the other; they are both viable and popular wine styles.’

In a recent article about heat in wine, The Rising Tide; Alcohol in Wine Creeps up the Glass, Natalie MacLean writes that too high an alcohol content in a wine can overwhelm the other elements and ruin the wine experience. Her article points out that high alcohol is more likely to occur in new world wines where vineyard temperatures are higher. With global warming we’re likely to see more heat in our wines. Though early harvesting can reduce the alcohol levels.

MacLean does defend higher alcohol levels as an appropriate stylistic choice for many wines, such as Amarone and Chateauneuf du Pape. Certainly grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel have the tannic structure to hold higher alcohol levels. But how big should these wines be?

Simon Burton wrote about this style dichotomy in his article, Marques de Casa Concha; ‘I want to make wines I enjoy. I don’t want to make wines for a market.‘ Through his interview with Marcelo Papa, winemaker for Marques de Casa Concha, it’s clear that this big style in wine, a style that has been trendy for the past several decades in part because, as MacLean points out, we moved from high alcohol cocktails to high alcohol wines, may be on the wane. According to Burton’s article, ‘“super premium” is wine code for “red wine made using very ripe grapes and lots of new oak”, and increasingly winemakers – including, now, Papa – are backing away from that kind of thing.’

It seems somehow inappropriate to talk about trends in wine. Unlike in fashion, where trends turn every six to eight weeks, wine trends might take decades to wax and wane. Yet, the wine world does seem to be moving from big wines to cerebral wines, from brash to subtle, from plush to poised. Big wines will always have a place, certainly at my table, but there’s something more interesting about a refined wine. The harder we work to understand it, the more it gives us to think about.

Marques de Casa Concha: ‘I want to make wines I enjoy. I don’t want to make wines for a market’


Another excellent post from the Cellar Fella

Originally posted on :

Marcelo Papa of Marques de Casa Concha

There’s something particularly winning about a winemaker who tells you that he doesn’t like his own wine very much. Ultimately it might not be considered a particularly wise tactic – winemakers, or at least those of them that I come across, are employed with two tasks in mind: to produce wine and then to sell it. Telling people their wine’s not very good suggests a basic failure in task one, and more or less guarantees failure in task two.

And if Marcelo Papa doesn’t like his wine, it’s a serious problem. He is, after all, chief winemaker at Casillero del Diablo, who stick their label on 4 million cases – near enough 50 million bottles of wine – every year, which works out at around 250 million glasses of the stuff or, to put it another way, approximately enough to invite the entire populations of the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal and Italy round for a…

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Jory and Willakenzie

Spindrift Cellars2Who are Jory and Willakenzie? They are in part responsible for the world-renowned quality of Oregon Pinot Noirs. Neither vintners, nor grape growers, Jory and Willakenzie are not people at all. They are two soils found in Willamette. According to Cole Danehower, author of the book, Essential Wines and Wineries of the Pacific Northwest, Jory is a volcanic soil that gives its Pinot Noir red fruit aromas, silky texture and a hint of minerality. It is found mainly in the valley vineyards. Willakenzie is a sedimentary soil made up of marine sandstone and silt. It gives its Pinot Noir dark fruit aromas, along with aromas of earth and herb. This soil is found at higher elevations.

Willamette Valley is where 75% of Oregon’s vineyards are located. It is part of the cool region of Oregon. The grapes for which this region is best known are Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. The warm regions of Oregon are found to the south, in Rogue and Umpqua Valleys as well as to the northeast in Walla Walla. These regions are known for warm climate grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Tempranillo.

Matthew Compton moved from New Jersey to Willamette Valley Oregon, originally to manage vineyards. He moved into wine production a little over 10 years ago. Spindrift Cellars in Philomath Oregon is certified sustainable. Compton’s focus is mainly on Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, though he does produce some Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Syrah as well. He sources from both valley and hill vineyards using grapes with both Jory and Willakensie influence.

Spindrift Pinot Gris, 2013 Aromas of apple, citrus, grapefruit with a crisp, refreshing finish.

Spindrift Rosé, 2013 78% Pinot Noir, 22% Pinot Gris Aroma of watermelon with a Southern France minerality on the finish.

Spindrift Pinot Blanc, 2013 Tropical fruit aromas with a hint of oak

Spindrift Pinot Noir Croft Vineyard, 2011 Aromas of spicy cherries, oak and smoke. Light body, organically grown grapes. 12 months in oak, 25% new.

Spindrift Pinot Noir, 2012 Sourced from five different vineyards, all Willamette. Aromas of sweet cherry, almond, tang with some bittters on the finish.

Spindrift Pinot Noir, Lewisburg Vineyard, 2010 Medium bodied. Earthy, dark fruit with spice and minerality.

Spindrift 7 Hills Syrah, 2010 Sourced from Walla Walla in Northeast Oregon. Sustainable. Aromas of bacon, pepper, dark fruit.

Matthew Compton’s wines have garnered high point ratings from both Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast, especially his Pinot Noirs often rating in the 90′s. It is the Spindrift Pinot Noirs that so beautifully reflect the soils of Willamette Valley.Spindrift Cellars1

There is No ‘R’ in Delicious

Solune Rosé 002Yes, it is October, and while it is never stated, the unspoken rule seems to be ‘no rosé in months containing the letter r.’  May to August isn’t enough time to enjoy all the beautiful rosés out there, especially when temperatures reach into the 80′s  and there’s a  salmon on the grill.  Rosé just seems right.

Solune is a winery in Grass Valley, California.  While many of the wineries in the Sierra Foothills are making some nice wines with Rhone Valley varieties, the winemakers who are experimenting with Italian varieties in this hilly, warm region are finding their terroir.

Solune is a mash up of the French words for Sun and Moon.  Jacques Mercier, the winegrower, claims French as his native language, hailing from Québec.  Yes, a French-speaking, Canadian is growing Italian grapes in California.  Does that sound wrong?  It is no more wrong than drinking rosé in October.  The result is a deep orange-red, Barbera rosé, with earthy, citrus and red fruit aromas.  The body is medium, the acidity is tart.  The flavors are cranberries and sloe gin with a hint of bitter lime peel on the finish.  It is juicy, tart and rich with color and flavor.

An Efficient Riesling Tasting

Riesling Tasting, 2014I recently had a wine tasting using the Society of Wine Educators’ tasting rationale. We tasted through six Rieslings from different regions, starting with the driest and going to the sweetest. Sticking to the form was a little like writing a lab report. It was somewhat frustrating to have to describe the flavors and aromas with the general terms given rather than using the words that came to mind. Words like ‘lemongrass’ had to be substituted with the word ‘grassy.’ What was ‘candied pineapple’ on our palates became ‘tropical fruit’ on paper. And ‘sweet iced tea’ became ‘honey’ and ‘tea.’ But there is a world of difference between ‘sweet iced tea’ and ‘honey’ and ‘tea.’ The former conjures up images of hot, lazy summer afternoons whereas the latter reminds one of a sore throat in the dead of winter.

While we addressed each quality on the form, there were other qualities to the wine that were not part of the form. For example, while one wine was quite interesting and stimulated a discussion about the importance of balance in not only the structural elements of the wine but also in the flavors and aromas of the wine, another wine could be described as nothing less than beautiful. Wagner Riesling from the Finger Lakes region had flavors of citrus, tree fruit, honey and tropical fruit along with a sweet iced tea flavor, but the flavors were a little disjointed, like the wine didn’t know quite what it wanted to be. But that disjointedness also made the wine interesting. The C.H. Berres, also had honey and fruit aromas with some petrol and floral, but that wine was downright beautiful. It knew what it wanted to be, and it just kept talking to us.

I love the SWE form for its efficiency. It really forces one to focus, study and identify. But in that efficiency, some of the poetry of the wine is lost.

Trefethen, 2012 is from Oak Knoll California. The clarity is brilliant, the depth of color is pale, the hue is lemon green and it has tiny bubbles. The condition is clean, no off odors and medium intensity. The aromas are citrus fruit, honey, tree fruit, petrol, vanilla and floral. The maturity is young. The sweetness is dry. The acidity is medium high. There is no bitterness, no tannin, a low/medium alcohol and a light/medium body. Flavor intensity is medium/plus consisting of citrus, spice, honey, tree fruit, and tropical fruit. There were no off flavors and the finish is short to medium.

Albrect 2012 from Alsace, France is brilliant with pale depth and a lemon-green hue. There are small bubbles. In aroma the condition is clean with no off odors. The aroma intensity is medium with petrol, honey, spice, citrus and tree fruit. The maturity is developing. On the palate the sweetness is dry. The acidity is medium/high with no bitterness and no tannins. The alcohol is medium. The body is medium. The flavor intensity is medium plus with citrus, honey, tree fruit, and spice. There are no off flavors and the finish is medium.

Thorne Clark, Mt. Crawford, 2012 from Eden Valley, Australia is brilliant with pale depth and a lemon-green hue. There are bubbles. In aroma the condition is clean with no off odors. The intensity is medium with aromas of petrol, tropical fruit, citrus and vanilla. The maturity is developing. On the sweetness is dry. The acidity is medium high with no bitterness and no tannin. The alcohol is medium, the body is medium, the intensity of flavors is medium plus with citrus, tree fruit and minerality. There are no off flavors and the finish is medium.

Dr. Loosen Eroica, 2012 from Columbia Valley, Washington is brilliant in clarity with a pale depth and a lemon-green hue. There are no bubbles. On the nose the condition is clean with no off odors. The intensity is medium with petrol, honey, grass and citrus. The maturity is developing. On the palate is is off-dry and a medium acidity with no bitterness nor tannins. The alcohol is medium as is the body. The intensity is medium with flavors of tropical fruit, citrus fruit and honey. There are no off flavors and the finish is short/medium.

Wagner, 2008 (not affiliated with Wagner Family Wines of California) is from the Finger Lakes region of New York. The clarity is brilliant. The depth of color is medium, the hue is lemon. There are bubbles. In aroma the condition is clear with no off odors. It is intense with aromas of tropical fruit, honey, oak and nuts. The maturity is developed. The sweetness is light medium. The acidity is medium with no bitterness nor tannins. The alcohol is medium. The body is medium plus. The intensity on flavor is medium plus with citrus, tree fruit, honey, and tropical fruit. There are no off flavors and the finish is short to medium.

C.H. Berres, Auslese 1997 from Mosel Germany has brilliant clarity, medium depth and a lemon hue. In aroma the condition is clean with no off odors. It is intense with aromas of nuts, honey, and petrol. The maturity is developed. There is light medium to medium sweetness and low medium acidity on the palate. There is no bitterness and no tannin. The alcohol is low/medium with a medium plus body and a medium plus intensity of flavor with Floral, petrol, honey and dried fruit being the most prominent. There are no off flavors and the finish is medium to long.

Wine, Buffalo and Stewardship

The day after tomorrow I will be taking my son to college two states away. It isn’t so much the distance as it is the transition that is somewhat unsettling. The most comforting thing I’ve found to get through this impending change comes from the animal kingdom. What would a mother buffalo say to her boy if he left  for college? Part of the difficulty of transitioning a child into college has to do with stewardship.

Stewardship plays a big role in the world of wine. A vineyard site must be carefully chosen, looking at the climate, the soil and the culture of the area. In a new wine region, the grape grower will experiment with different varieties to find the right match for the terroir. All of this is a big investment in both money and time. Vines don’t produce until third leaf, that is three years after they are planted. The wines from that first harvest won’t be ready for market until a year or so after harvest. The soonest a vintner can begin to see any return on investment is at least four years, and often it is longer. During those years, the vines must be carefully tended, planted, pruned, and cared for in many ways including defending the plants against pests, mold, and bacteria, managing the canopy for optimal sun, and managing the plants so that they have the optimal yield, which usually means a smaller yield in order to produce flavorful grapes.

The constant care continues in the winery after the grapes are harvested. The vintner will make many decisions at each point in the process from harvesting, pressing, fermenting, aging, and finally to bottling. Each decision along the way will effect the flavor and body of the final outcome, the wine. It is a very focused labor much like parenting, the most important stewardship of all. As with wine, each decision we make along the way effects the final outcome. The final product, the good citizen we hope he or she will become is not the result of a few great and sweeping choices, but a million small daily decisions that accumulate over 18 years. The real difference between the stewardship of wine making and the stewardship of parenting is that the winemaker will never turn that responsibility over to the grapes themselves. Yet, we parents must hand over the reins of stewardship of our children to our children themselves as they become young adults. We just hope that we have made mostly good daily decisions and that our children continue to care for themselves as well as we hope we have cared for them.

So, what would that mother buffalo say to her boy if he left for college? Bison.

My Boy