Washington Reds, Cowboys and Grit

img_3074This year is the 97th anniversary of the Reno Rodeo. It’s a big event that goes on the entire week. I’ve been to rodeos before, but not here. And there’s just something inauthentic about a Jersey cowboy. I’m not a huge rodeo fan, but the rodeo is huge in Nevada. It’s a big part of the culture. Nevada is a lot of other things, but a lot of it is cowboy country. The culture is gritty, , just beer. And light beer at that. So I had a glass of Browne’s Cabernet Sauvignon when I got home.img_3086

There’s something gritty about this wine that pulls me into it. Typical of Washington reds, Browne’s 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon has an inorganic mineral finish, a little iron, a little dustiness that anchors the wine. 96% Cabernet Sauvignon with 3% Petit Verdot and 1% Malbec, this wine is full of ripe dark cherries, black currants and black plums with some green bell pepper and a little eucalyptus, there are layers of aroma with each sip. But it’s the gritty finish that makes this wine so img_3088memorable.



img_2831Analysis is a useful tool while wine tasting. So are memories. My analysis of the 2016 Val do Sosego Albarino from Rias Baixas would be aromas of ripe peach, orange blossom and salt. It has a moderate plus acidity and a medium body with a creamy texture from lees contact. That analysis takes about three minutes of focused attention.

The split second that I put the wine in my mouth and take a breath through my nose I have a flash of a memory from childhood of playing in the ocean and getting knocked under by the waves. When I come up I can feel the salty water in my nose. That memory was instant and took me immediately to Albarino.

Wine transports us, or perhaps the aromas of wine evoke memories that transport us.

Transcending Time and Space Through Wine

“I don’t like funerals,” my son told me forthrightly. He was letting me know that he wouldn’t be coming with me to the memorial service for the husband of a family friend. He knows that funerals are for the living, the loved ones left behind, and that we would be there to let our friend know that we were thinking about her; we would be there to support her. He knows all that, but nobody likes funerals.

For my 57th birthday this year I opened a 1976 Rheingau Johannishof Auslese Riesling. I was 15 years old when the wine’s grapes were harvested. After 42 years of aging, the wine was amazing; deep gold in color with aromas of white tea, camomile, orange zest, dried mangoes and sage, the wine was luscious without being overly sweet, and acidic without being tart. It was perfectly balanced with deep, complex aromas. It was absolutely magnificent.

Wine can cross time and place. 42 years ago I was beginning my freshman year of high school in central Ohio while someone I’ll never know was picking grapes in Rheingau Germany. Our worlds intersected on my birthday this year.

It seems like only a few years ago I gave our friend and her husband a bottle of Champagne to celebrate their recent wedding. In truth it was 15 years ago.

Nobody likes funerals because they are a reminder to us of our own mortality. They are a reminder of how quickly time passes. What seems like eternity becomes a brief visit.  Living life is like raising children; the nights are long but the years are short.

The Texture of Wine in Shape, Movement and Conflict

“I like conflict. It gives life texture, “ is what my 17 year old daughter said as she defended her reasons for fighting with her long-time friend. It is hard to argue with that. Conflict does add texture both in life and in wine.

Light-bodied, acidic wines are described as lean, angular and vibrant, terms of shape and movement, as if one feels the shape and movement of the wine. It is the conflict of acidity and alcohol, with acidity winning, that creates an angular mouth-feel.

IMG_1212Savory Chablis is a lean, angular wine with a vibrancy that feels like quick rapid movement in the mouth. This quick movement is why angular, kinetic wines are used as aperitifs. They open the meal with sudden motion, like a jolt in the opening of a dance or a piece of music. That bolt of vibrancy wakes up one’s senses.

Full-bodied wines are described as round, and while one would never call a wine lethargic, heavier wines do seem to curl up and take a nap on one’s palate. Lingering isn’t quite all of it. Sauntering might come closer. The origin of the word saunter is described by John Muir as, “ Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, “A la sainte terre,’ ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers.  The reverence with which one would go ‘ a la sainte terre’ accurately describes the movement of a full-bodied wine. It is slow and thoughtful.image

A wine like Chateau Brane-Cantenac, 2008, though it has moderate acidity in its structure, is a round, slow moving wine. Here the elements of alcohol and tannin are softening the acidity. There are no jolting angles in this wine. It is a deep, rich wine, much denser than the Savory Chablis. Its energy is more static than kinetic. Its movement is more of a slow waltz, a reverent walk, a saunter. This is a perfect wine to enjoy after a meal, at the end of the day. It is a thoughtful, lingering wine.

We often talk about the aromas of wine and the structure of wine. But, though we use the vocabulary of shape and movement, we don’t really talk about the shape and movement of wine. Yet, the shape of wine, the movement of wine is so paramount to the experience of wine. How it feels in your mouth, how the structural elements in conflict play out is what gives the wine texture.

Grace and Hospitality

“Never have I been so graciously hosted,” is what I could have said at the end of each night during the Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Rosa last week. But it wasn’t just in Santa Rosa. I was feted in Healdsburg. I was wined and dined in Hopland Mendocino. I was well entertained in Fulton. I cannot say each meal was better than the last. They were all magnificent.

img_1920Our dinner the first night, hosted by Fetzer and Campovida was in Hopland in Mendocino County in a barn, a beautiful, well-lit barn at the Campovida Winery on a cool rainy night. We were entertained with a live band, Easy Leaves, and fed oysters and cheeses paired with a crisp, citrusy Fetzer Echo Ridge Sauvignon Blanc and a crisp, light Grenache rosé from Campovida before we all sat down to a family-style feast of chicken served with mozzarella, herbs, and tomatoes, which paired quite well with the Campovida Nebbiolo. The red fruit and tomato leaf character of the wine came alive with the herbs and tomatoes of the dish. The salmon with lemon capers was quite nice with Campovida’s Arneis, a medium-bodied and tart little white wine. The potato gnocchi paired well with Fetzer’s rich and round Sundial Chardonnay. Both dessert wines, the Fetzer Shaly Loam Gewurztraminer and the Campovida Innamorari Late Harvest Viognier paired nicely with the warm apple crumble.

img_2044On our second night of the Wine Bloggers Conference, we pulled up to the Kendall Jackson estate in the dark. Seeing the winery we glowing from the inside with warm lights may have turned our charter bus into a chariot, at least in my mind. We were greeted with hors-d’oeuvres and Kendall Jackson Chardonnay before we were escorted to the dining room. The long table was set with a beautiful herbal centerpiece from the sensory garden. At the end of the room on a sideboard was a chocolate sculpture that looked like, well, a sculpture. The dinner was as elegant as the table centerpiece, three beautiful courses beginning with gnocchi, persimmon squash and sage dish paired with the Jackson Estate Camelot Chardonnay, full-bodied and ripe, this wine stood up to the richness of the gnocchi. With the duck confit, we were served the Jackson Estate Outland Ridge Pinot Noir, whose pretty red fruit danced around the rich duck. Our dessert, which turned out not to be the chocolate sculpture on the sideboard, was a flourless chocolate cake served with the Jackson Estate Hawkeye Mt. Cabernet Sauvignon, deep and dark, I drank it all before I got to the sweets.img_2037

img_2076“This wine is from the vineyard over your head,” is something one only hears while eating in a cave. That was the fabulous situation in which I found myself at Thomas George Estates. It was an elegant cave set with a long table. As we entered the cave we were greeted with the lively and elegant Thomas George Blanc de Blanc and some lovely salamis and bruschetta. Dinner began with a warm brussel sprout salad paired with a crisp Thomas George Chardonnay that was fermented and aged without oak. The wine also saw no malolactic fermentation. This was a true, clean expression of the fruit. The entreé was star anise duck with pork belly, a dish bursting with flavor and texture and paired perfectly with the aforementioned “above our heads” Pinot Noir, elegant with ripe rich fruit, savory herbs, and a soft silky finish. It was sublime. The woman across from me took a sip and said, ‘I think I just had an orgasm.’ Yes, it was that good. Dessert was an apple tartin with bourbon gelato. What?! And served with an aged late harvest Viognier that was both aromatic and spicy just like the dessert.

Last week at the Wine Bloggers Conference both Sonoma and Mendocino counties far exceeded our expectations in their elegance and gracious hospitality. The meals have all been stunning and hedonistic.

After these past few days I can say with all confidence, not only are Mendocino and Sonoma Counties open for business, they are alive an well, they are top drawer elegant and they are thriving. Thank you, Mendocino and Sonoma for your overwhelming hospitality.

The Zinfandel Mission

“Brave are we who are planting the old vines of tomorrow.” -Jonathan Lachs

img_2030It was said tongue in cheek, but this is exactly what Jonathan Lachs and other Zinfandel growers are doing. Owner and winemaker of Cedarville Vineyards along with Susan Marks, Jonathan has been planting his future old vines since the winery was founded in 1997. The winery and vineyards are located in Fair Play in El Dorado County at an elevation of 2500 feet. It is that elevation that gives the Cedarville Zinfandel its structure and acidity. It is the age of the vines that gives the wine its rich, intense flavor.

The Cedarville 2015 Zinfandel has aromas of rich red and black fruit with notes of pepper and spice. It is well structured and elegant, not an ‘in-your-face’ Zin, but a graceful, interesting Zin, one that could age.

Zinfandel is considered one of ‘America’s grapes,’ even though it is from the vitus vinifera species, the European species of grapes. In other countries, however, Zinfandel is not embraced as a single varietal the way it is here in the U.S.  America has embraced Zinfandel, (known as Crljenak Kastelanski in Croatia, its country of origin, and called Primitivo in Italy where it is also grown)  as its own. However, for most of their American history, these grapes have not been treated as great or noble grapes. There are a number of winemakers who would like to change that.

According to Jake Bilbro, owner and winemaker of Limerick Lane Wines in Healdsburg in Sonoma County, there are four misconceptions about Zinfandel that are holding back the wine’s reputation. Misconception number one is that all Zinfandels have residual sugar. The more elegant Zins will be fermented dry. ‘Zinfandel only pairs with Barbeque’ is the second misconception. More and more winemakers are making elegant, structured wines that will pair well with lots of dishes. And not all Zinfandels are necessarily fruit-forward and lacking structure. These are misconceptions numbers three and four. Many Zinfandel vineyards are grown in warm climates, but more and more winemakers are growing Zin in vineyards that are at high altitude or in cooler climates. This is what will give the wine its structure and subdue its fruit-forwardness.

The 1910 Block Zinfandel from Limerick Lane is made from grapes from a vineyard planted in 1910. The vineyard is located in the northeast corner of the Russian River Valley. The wine has the intensity of old vine fruit, blackberry, and spice with a lean acidity from the cool nights of the region. Its elegance bucks all the misconceptions that Jake Bilbro has set out to overcome.

Zinfandel has been grown in the United States for over 150 years. It has truly become America’s grape. And as America’s wine tastes have become more sophisticated and elegant, so has America’s Zinfandel.

The Longest Blog I Have Ever Written; Why You Should Attend WBC18

For my fellow wine bloggers who have not, yet attended the Wine Bloggers Conference, here is an overview of all the things I experienced in a short four days. I write this in an effort to persuade you to attend next year’s conference in Walla Walla Washington. It is a fantastic experience for many reasons.

img_1931We arrived in Santa Rosa on Wednesday morning and after a quick lunch at Jack and Tony’s where I had the best burger of my life, we boarded a charter bus for a field trip to Mendocino County, a place I had heretofore not been. Mendocino, the bottom of a temperate rainforest is breathtakingly beautiful! We were taken to Fetzer Vineyards, just outside the small town of Hopland. Fetzer was founded in 1968 and has been implementing sustainability practices since its beginning. The winery also incorporates organic farming and is biodynamic certified. This is quite a commitment, especially from such a large production winery.

img_1894As we exited the bus we were led to a barn where we were greeted by Courtney, a master of organization, and enjoyed a glass of Fetzer Sundial Chardonnay. We sat on hay bails hearing the rain come down on the tin roof as we listened to a panel of experts in the fields of sustainability and biodynamics. After the talk, we were led by winemaker Bob Blue in a Zinfandel blending. We each had a chance to make our own bourbon barrel blend that was later judged by a tasting panel.

img_1920At the end of a fun and educational afternoon, we got back on the bus and were taken to Campovida Winery where we entered yet, another barn and enjoyed a wonderful family style dinner along with some lovely wines including the Campovida Arneis, a crisp, zesty little white wine. After dinner and dessert, we were taken back to our hotel in Santa Rosa.

img_1965The next morning we got on the bus at 7:30 am and were driven back up to Mendocino where it was still raining. In Ukiah, we had a tour of the Bonterra Vineyards. I thoroughly enjoyed wandering through the vineyards on a misty morning while sipping a Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc which was as crisp and fresh as our rainy morning. Bonterra is another large producer that practices organic, sustainable and biodynamic grape growing.img_1961

img_1976Our walk led us back to a barn where we had the opportunity to fill cow horns with cow pooh to be buried in the vineyards as part of the biodynamic practices. We washed our hands and sat down to a wine tasting in the barn where the wines were presented by the Mendocino winemakers. We got to hear from nine winemakers and tasted through close to 30 wines.

Once the tasting wound down, we returned by bus to Santa Rosa to begin the conference. Yes, all of these activities were a pre-conference excursion. The conference had not, yet begun.

img_2031That afternoon back at the hotel I attended a panel discussion and tasting on Zinfandel. My next session was on Etude wines, a discussion, and tasting. After my education sessions, I cleaned up for dinner and had time to stop by the opening reception which featured several (20 to 30) producers offering tastes of their wines. I could only stay for a short time, sampling a few wines and visiting with old friends from previous conferences. Then it was time to board the bus for my Jackson Family Wine Dinner, where we were treated like royalty at the beautiful Kendall-Jackson Estate.img_2036

On the second day of the conference, we heard talks on professional wine writing by speakers such as Andrea Robinson, MS and Debora Parker Wong, DWSET, as well as Cyril Penn of WineBusiness.com and Fred Swan of the San Francisco Wine School. After a short break, I attended a panel discussion on What Companies Want from Wine Bloggers. Lunch was catered. After lunch, I attended a tasting and discussion on the Carinena DOP.  There was another short break and then we heard a talk from the keynote speaker, Doug Frost, MS, MW one of only four people in the world to hold both a Master Sommelier and a Master of Wine. His talk was very entertaining and inspirational as well as educational. But the day was not, yet finished. We spent the next hour and a half Live Wine Blogging white and rosé wine. This portion of the conference is also known as speed tasting. The producers (there are 25 of them) came to our table and had five minutes to introduce their wines. We tasted and made notes on Twitter. Even with only half the producers making it to our table in such a short time, this was a very intense session that required more gut reactions than thoughtful evaluation of the wines. But it was an awful lot of fun. The day ended with another fantastic wine dinner at the Thomas George Estate where we had dinner in a cave.img_2076

My last day of the WBC began with the breakout session, Take Your Camera off Automatic given by Jeff Burrows who taught us a lot of great tips on how to take better pictures both with a camera and with a phone. My second breakout session was Lights, Camera, Action, a panel discussion on using video and working the various social media platforms. After lunch, I attended the Rias Baixas discussion and tasting. The afternoon offered discussions on the Wine Country Fires and How Media Can Respond to a Crisis. They were both sobering but needed talks. Then it was time for more Live Wine Blogging, this time with red wines.

The conference closed with one final wine dinner, with all attendees together. And this is what I loved most. The meals, the talks, the wines, the winery visits were all wonderful. But what I love most about the WBC is the attendees. Throughout the conference, I could and did strike up a conversation with whomever I sat next to on the bus, or at the dinner table, or in the audience or at the speed tasting, and know I would have a good conversation. Wine bloggers are a warm, creative, thinking and collegial group. I enjoyed the wine, but I really enjoyed the fellowship.  Cheers to you, wine bloggers!