Tag Archives: Sauvignon Blanc

MY YEAR IN WINE – 2017

This has been a very unique year for me in terms of wine exploration and enjoyment. After traveling full time between North America and Europe for 2 ½ years, Dorianne and I have settled in Lyon, France. Although we continue to travel for various reasons (I’m writing this in Southern California), we have been exploring the local wine scene in and around Lyon since July – and have discovered that there is a lot to learn, and even more to enjoy.

Lyon France

The year began with our annual few days in Pismo Beach, CA with our friends to explore wineries from Paso Robles, the Edna Valley, Santa Maria, and the Santa Rita Hills AVAs. The highlights of that trip were Sculptera Vineyards in Paso Robles (we all joined the wine club and bought two cases), Presqu’ile Vineyards in Santa Maria, and Pence Winery in the Santa Rita Hills. (LINK to Post about the last two)

The cases from Sculptera (mixed cases) were sent to Roam Miami (LINK), where Dorianne and I stayed last winter. A co-living/co-working space, Roam offered a haven of tropical peace and calm right next to downtown Miami and the Brickell area. We were surrounded mostly by Millennial digital nomads, and we conducted a few wine tastings and seminars to help educate them about wine enjoyment. (LINK to Post about Millennials and Wine).

In late March, we headed back to southern Oregon, Medford and Ashland, to see friends and explore more of the Rogue Valley wine scene. A month there took us to several wonderful wineries (LINK to Post) and some great restaurants.

The next highlight was two weeks in New York, staying in my daughter’s Harlem apartment, where we got to explore the burgeoning Harlem French wine and restaurant scene (LINK to Post about Harlem). Lots of good experiences there.

In June I traveled solo to Kelowna, British Columbia, the heart of the rich Okanagan Wine Region in western Canada (Link to Post about the Okanagan). Here I explored a variety of wineries and wines, as global warming has opened the region to growing red grapes, from Cabernet Sauvignon, to Tempranillo, to Syrah. Kelowna is a boomtown for vacation homes and recreation on its 90-mile-long glacial lake. The wine scene is growing more sophisticated with over 200 wineries in the area. Dirty Laundry Winery showcases much of what is fun in the Okanagan (LINK to Post).

After Kelowna, we spend some time in London (LINK to Post) it was off to Ireland’s Connemara area, where we drank Guinness for the most part. Then, in July, we made the move to Lyon (LINK to Post on Living in France).

Lyon has been a revelation in terms of wine. Centered between Burgundy to the north, the Rhône Valley to the south, Beaujolais to the west, and Jura to the east, there is an embarrassment of riches. And some surprises.

  1. The French don’t like to spend a lot of money on wine. I’m sure that there are exceptions, but you rarely see a bottle above 20€ in a grocery store or over 40€ in the local wine cave (shop). Restaurants generally sell wine bottles at or just above retail. And winemakers sell wines for half to 2/3’s what they would cost in the US. A potis a 460ML bottle – a bit more than a half-bottle – of house wine which will cost 8 to 12€ in a Bouchon (Lyonnaise for bistro). There are also demi-pots and rare 500ML bottles.
  2. Box wines are better quality than I expected. For about 25€ you can get a 5-liter box of a very drinkable Luberon Valley red wine; 18€ for the rosé.
  3. Rosé wines are very good at 4€ per bottle, excellent at 7 to 10€. We drank rosés almost exclusively during the hot summer months.
  4. Maconnais Chardonnays are wonderful wines. Just north of Lyon, the vineyards of Macon produce some wonderfully approachable wines which sell for ½ or 1/3 of what their Burgundian cousins to the north fetch. Another nice surprise was Aligoté, the other Burgundy white – crisp, with a mineral/floral nose, it is a great value choice from the same winemakers who make the expensive stuff.
  5. In France, Cabernet Sauvignon is just Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc is just Sauvignon. Cases in France are 6 bottles. Just FYI.

As I noted in the Moving to France Post (LINK), we tend to shop every day for fresh items at the open-air marchés and the mom-and-pop bakeries, butchers, etc. This may also include a stop at the wine cave to pick up a bottle or two and have a conversation with the proprietor about what is new and interesting.

We have not yet begun to explore the wineries and vineyards in the area – our focus has been on learning French, getting to know the city, and finding a flat to purchase – however, we expect to do a lot of that in 2018.

We are winding up 2017 in Southern California with friends and family. Our New Year’s Eve dinner with friends will feature a cold lobster appetizer that I am making and a Ken Brown Chardonnay to accompany it; then roast leg of lamb with a 2005 Opus One and a 1994 Harlan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon to see the year out with something wonderful.

Next week, we return to Pismo Beach to explore the Central Coast some more, then . . .

Who knows?

Thanks for being a part of this year on the blog.

As always, your comments and suggestions are welcomed!

Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

RETURN TO SOUTHWEST OREGON

Dorianne and I are spending three weeks in Southwest Oregon, and wine tasting will be part of the experience (of course!). We were here just about a year ago (LINK).

Our first two winery visits were to 2Hawk Winery (LINK) in Medford and Ledger David (LINK) Wine Tasting Room in Central Point. Both are part of the Rogue Valley AVA (LINK).

2Hawk was within walking distance of where we were staying for the weekend in Medford. The tasting room, winery, and the family home are all on the 23.5 acre estate, where many of the grapes are grown – others are sourced from other vineyards in the area. The tasting room, completed in 2012, is very nice, following historic California architectural styling and using a variety of rustic building materials, both local and imported.

When we arrived, the two “flagship” estate wines were sold out. We tasted their 2015 Viognier and Chardonnay – the Chardonnay is estate grown. Both showed good balance and nice fruit from the nose through the finish. The Viognier was especially nice – in the French style. The reds, a Malbec and a blend, were less impressive, and made us wish those flagship reds had been available, especially their Tempranillo. We also tried their rosé, made from Grenache. A very nice wine. We purchased bottles of the Viognier and Grenache Rosé.

Later in the week, I visited Ledger David Cellars tasting room without Dorianne, but with three friends. The tasting room is a small, but nicely appointed space in Central Point, a small town north of Medford that does not appear the be the central point of anything.

At Ledger David I had one of those amazing experiences where pretty much everything turns out beautifully. A good group of friends, a nice atmosphere, a very high caliber staff, and some amazing wines constellated in that couple of hours – along with some very nice chocolates!

Let’s cut to the chase – the wines. At worst, the Ledger David wines I tasted were better than average. At best, they were superb; all are estate grown just north of Ashland. Production is just 3500 cases, 11 varietals, on about 40 acres of vineyard (some fruit is sold).

White varietals: Chenin Blanc, Malvasia Bianca, Viognier, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc

Red varietals: Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Malbec, Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Petit Verdot

We explored beyond the basic tasting list and were ably guided by Scott Oakley, something of a tasting room legend in the Rogue Valley, and a relative newcomer to Ledger David. Scott is one of those people who was born to work in the hospitality business, and would be equally at home in a Michelin Star Restaurant. Our experience was made more amazing because of his efforts to ensure that we had the best possible experience. But I digress.

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Scott and Alecia in the Ledger David Petit Tasting Room

The wines, whether white or red, were superbly crafted, well-balanced, and each had its own character. The 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, as an example, fell somewhere between French and New Zealand Sauv Blancs. It was grassy, but neither heavy on citrus nor on green fruit. There was a hint of minerality and a generous mouthfeel. A nice wine for summer and it will be excellent with oysters. The 2016 Viognier was very nicely crafted, with hints of pear and apricot and a floral nose. This is a very impressive white wine – the winemakers of this area are doing very nice things with Viognier.

The reds at Ledger David were varied. We tasted six reds, and each was unique – to me a good sign of a relatively light touch indicating the winemaker lets the fruit speak for itself. If I were a 100-point scale person (which, as a rule, I am not), I would place all of these wines in the 89-95-point range. I have not checked to see if anyone has done this. One of the wines, a 100% Petite Verdot, was nearly gone, down to 6 bottles (4 when we left), so I won’t critique it other than to say it was unique, full bodied, and cried out for a rack of lamb.

The other reds, mostly blends, were excellent. I purchased a few bottles of a wine called Epitome of ThreeTempranillo, Sangiovese and Syrah – an Old World tour, that was very nice. It’s only available at the tasting room.

Reds that are available via the website include a 2014 Dark Night blend, a 2014 100% Tempranillo, a 2014 100% Cabernet Franc, a 2013 Orion’s Nebula blend (did not taste this one), a 2013 Sangiovese, and a 2014 Sublimus blend. Of these, the Cabernet Franc and the Sublimus blend stood out for me.

We left with a number of bottles and will enjoy these wines over the next few weeks (I can’t take more than a couple with me to our next stop!).

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The Rogue Valley area wines are showing some maturity, a very good sign that the wines produced here will take their place among Oregon’s best over the next few years.

Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

Follow me on TWITTER: @JimLockardWine

WHAT KIND OF WINE DRINKER ARE YOU?

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans”

~ Ernest Hemingway

There are a lot of ways to categorize oneself (or, for more fun, someone else) as a wine drinker. Let’s look at a few . I will provide some recommendations for those in each category to enhance the wine experience based on personal habits and preferences. It is important to have some balance, I think. I realize that all of us may cross categories from time to time, or as part of our evolution as wine drinkers. But, just for fun, let’s explore this idea a bit.

“All generalizations are false, including this one.”

~ Mark Twain

So as a caveat to any categorization scheme, I will acknowledge that this is in no way representative of anything approaching ultimate truth. It’s just for fun, and it may contain just enough truth to make it humorous.

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1. THE CREATURE OF HABIT DRINKER

This kind of wine drinker is predictable to a fault. She may always drink the same varietal, even label, just about every time she has wine. She always drinks at the same time of day, for example, only with dinner. She may be a bit expansive and drink the same varietal from more than one region, but probably not. The wine shop employee knows just what to have on the counter when she comes in to purchase.

RECOMMENDATION: Break out of the box, at least a little. Add a varietal to your routine, such as Merlot if you drink only Cabernet Sauvignon. Or, create a day of the week or of the month when you explore other wines.

“his lips drink water but his heart drinks wine”

~ e.e. cummings

 

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2. THE EXPLORER

This kind of wine drinker seeks variety in all ways. He may drink a different wine every time, exploring different varietals, regions, decanting techniques, glasses, etc. While he may have a few favorites, he returns to from time to time, he is on the prowl for something new and interesting. He badgers the wine shop employees to get in some more interesting wines, and likely explores the shelves of every wine shop in town.

RECOMMENDATION: Find a couple of favorite wines or, better yet, varietals. Then explore them in greater depth to get a deeper knowledge and appreciation of the variety within them. You might try Sauvignon Blancs from a number of producers, regions, and countries to get a sense of how that varietal differs across the range of viticulture and wine making techniques.

“I rather like bad wine. One gets so bored with good wine.”

~ Benjamin Disraeli

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3. THE COLLECTOR

This wine drinker is primarily focused on developing a wine cellar that will be the envy of some target audience, or that will appreciate as an investment. He drinks around the edges of his collection, waiting until wines are “ready to drink,” or are on the downside of their life-cycle and no longer as valuable. He is driven more by the labels and the calendar than by his palate. The wine store employee never sees this wine drinker, as he purchases mainly via auction and directly from high-end wineries.

RECOMMENDATION: Have a little fun. Set your concerns for increasing the value of your cellar aside for a bit, let the urge to wheel and deal go and settle in with a couple of bottles that you really enjoy and have some friends over. Wine is a social lubricant and good wine is best enjoyed with friends. Do this occasionally and see how it feels.

“I drink Champagne when I am happy and when I am sad.  Sometimes I drink it when alone.  In company I find it compulsory.  I sip a little if I’m hungry.  Otherwise I don’t touch it — unless I’m thirsty of course.”

~ Lily Bollinger

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4. THE WINE SLUT

This wine drinker will drink whatever wine is being offered. He has no sense of appreciation of wine. His desire is to be sociable and get buzzed. If his host is serving Trader Joe’s Charles Shaw or Screaming Eagle, he will drink it all the same. The wine store employee points him to the sale bin and the bulk wine shelf in the wine shop.

RECOMMENDATION: Take a course on wine. Your wine shop or store may offer one, or the local community college. Increase your knowledge and learn to cultivate a better palate. Realize that a lot of the cheap wine you guzzle is full of additives (LINK) that you may not want in your system.

“As you get older, you shouldn’t waste time drinking bad wine.”

~ Julia Child

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5. THE WINE SNOB

This drinker is all about image – being seen as an authority on fine wines. She may also be a collector, but that is not the driver of her wine consumption. The Wine Snob is about seeming to be the authority in the room. She will spout grandiose tasting notes (including characteristics that no one else seems to taste or smell), turn up her nose at “everyday wines,” and let others know when their wine choices or opinions don’t make the grade (her grade, of course). See will name-drop wine makers, labels, authorities, and distant vineyards that she has experienced. The wine store employee has a happy/sad relationship – she will be a pain to wait on, but will buy expensive wine.

RECOMMENDATION: It may be hopeless. But if you can, try saying NOTHING about wine in a social setting. No, really. A winemaker friend of mine once attended a dinner at one of the premier Burgundy wine estates. Wines worth thousands of dollars a bottle as old as 100 years were served. He said that the amazing thing was not there was no mention of the wine at all during the dinner. The conversation was about other things. Try that sometime.

“This wine is too good for toast-drinking, my dear. You don’t want to mix emotions up with a wine like that. You lose the taste.”

~ Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises  

 

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6. THE SOCCER MOM/DAD

This drinker is looking for a reliable wine that meets three criteria: consistent, inexpensive, and gives a buzz with minimal hangover. The primary reason that this person drinks wine is as a reminder that there is more to living than the stresses and routines of everyday life. Wine is to relax and forget. The wine store employee sends cases of the same everyday wine home with this drinker a few times a month.

RECOMMENDATION: Learn to manage your life without self-medicating. You may be using wine in a non-beneficial manner. And you are missing most of the joy of the beverage. Read a self-help book, maybe see a therapist. Then, drink wine for enjoyment.

“Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.”

~ Benjamin Franklin

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7. THE YOUNG MILLENNIAL

Think Yellow TailBarefoot, and box wines. That’s pretty much all you need to know.

RECOMMENDATION: You will likely grow up anyway, but you can hasten the process. See the recommendation for The Wine Slut above.

“I went to the hospital for a blood transfusion and they gave me a wine list.”

~ Dean Martin

 

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8. THE OLDER MILLENNIAL

On the path of The Explorer, but not in a traditional sense – seeks out wines from obscure or emerging regions as long as they are organic or biodynamic. A wine gets extra credit if it comes from a third-world country. Enjoys paring wines with trendy and ethnic foods. Talks more about the “vibrations” of the wine than fruit vs. minerality. The wine shop employee needs to be up on the ecology of the wines in the shop.

RECOMMENDATION: You are driving the wine market. Keep seeking out wines produced sustainably with little or no additives. Keep expanding your pairings and urging winemakers and restaurateurs to be more creative. If anything, take yourself a little less seriously, but you are on the right track. Oh, and find ways to honor the great traditions of wine making while you create a new future.

“We are all mortal until the first kiss and the second glass of wine.”

~ Eduardo Galeano  

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Wherever you fall in or beyond any of these categories, may your wine drinking bring you great pleasure and add to the overall quality of your life. That, after all, is what it’s all about.

“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”

~ Ernest Hemingway

 Your comments are welcomed!

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Text Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard;  some images are re-posted. If your image is here and you do not want it here, please let me know and I will remove it.

TWO WINERIES TO VISIT IN SANTA BARBARA COUNTY

Recently, Dorianne and I visited two very impressive wineries in Santa Barbara County with friends. The purpose of the trip was to scout locations for a wine tasting tour to benefit a non-profit organization. We tagged along to be of any possible assistance!

The first winery, Presqu’ile Vineyard & Winery (LINK), is located in the Santa Maria Valley AVA (LINK) near the Bien Nacido vineyard in northern Santa Barbara County. A family run operation set on a beautiful 200 acre  vineyard property and boasting some amazing architecture, Presqu’ile (pronounced press-KEEL; it means penninsula) focuses on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. The beauty of the tasting room, cave, and winery seem beyond what one finds at a vineyard & winery operation producing only 1600 cases per year.

Matt Sobczak, the Tasting Room Manager, conducted our tasting. The wines that we tasted were very good, even exceptional in the case of the Chardonnays; and the Pinot Noirs were a close second. The Sauvignon Blanc was also very good. The 2013 Steiner Creek Vineyard Chardonnay was particularly good, with a rich mouth feel, ample green fruit on the nose and palate, and a pleasant finish. We bought a bottle to share with some cheese and snacks after the tasting, and several of us bought more to take home.

The 2014 Presqu’ile Vineyard Chardonnay is also beautifully crafted and should please those who love the traditional California-style Chardonnays in a slightly less oaky, more modern form.

Dieter Cronje is the wine maker at Presqu’ile. We did not meet him, but I will laud his talents in crafting Burgundian-style wines with a California influence. Presqu’ile wines can be ordered from their website (LINK) and the winery is worth a visit and not far from other wineries off the 101 Freeway.

Our next stop was Pence Ranch Vineyards & Winery (LINK), along Route 246 West in Buellton, California in the Santa Rita Hills AVA (LINK). As I have noted before (LINK), the Santa Rita Hills AVA is unique in that the mountains and valleys run east to west due to a geological anomaly – the AVA is on land not connected to the North American Tectonic Plate. The Pence Ranch property is relatively narrow and runs north from Route 246 West, just west of the part of Buellton made famous in the film, “Sideways.”

Josh Hamilton was on duty in the small, but nicely appointed tasting room (open only by appointment for now). There is also another area adjacent to the tasting room that can accommodate more visitors. Pence has a relatively small production, under 1500 cases, and is expanding into a second label for restaurants. The Pence labels represent depictions of images of freedom and coins from the founding of the United States.

For our tasting, Josh poured the Pinot Noirs first, then the Syrah, and only then the Chardonnays. The reason for this is that the Pinots are elegant by California standards, as is the Syrah. The two Chardonnays are rich and fuller-bodied, yet still retain a sense of elegance. So, this unconventional tasting pattern – reds first – makes sense at Pence Ranch Winery.

The wines at Pence are exceptionally well-crafted. The Pinots are a bit spicy and peppery, but hold their soft fruit on the nose and in the mouth. They are very well-balanced and will work sipping alone, with light cheeses, or with foods such as salmon or vegetarian dishes.

The Chardonnays, both single-vineyard as are the Pinots, are rich yet very smooth. There is an oakiness present, but it does not dominate. The mouthfeel has a nice viscosity and there are many layers to both wines – great complexity here. All the Pence wines (LINK) are well-crafted. Get your hands on some if you can! We took away several bottles.

I am a huge fan of Santa Rita Hills wines, where the Burgundian style has been carried forward by such local legendary labels as Sanford, Clos Pepe, Ken Browne, LaFond, and others. Pence is establishing itself among those names – they produce Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays that reflect the Santa Rita Hills terroir very well.

I really didn’t find anything to complain about at either winery. The price points are a bit high, but they make sense when you understand the size and the quality of the operations at both vineyard/wineries. Both Presqu’ile and Pence are wineries worth your time if you are in the Santa Barbara County wine regions. And if you can’t visit, you can order their wines to enjoy at home.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

 

Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

WINE HISTORY IN DOWNTOWN LA?

On a trip to Olvera Street (LINK) (LINK) in downtown Los Angeles, across from the iconic Union Station, one finds not only links to the earliest settlements in the area and its Hispanic heritage, but vestiges of some of the earliest California wine production as well.

Wine was introduced into California by the Franciscans in the late 18th Century. By the early 1800s, there were a number of vineyards around the Los Angeles pueblo, where Olvera Street sits. Olvera Street was originally called Calle de las Vignas or Vine Street, because of the many wineries there.

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Later, French immigrants began to make wine using cuttings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc from France in the Los Angeles area and shipping it to northern California. Later, Italian immigrants joined the party on what is now Olvera Street.

Several of the restaurants on the street are housed in former wineries, including El Paseo Inn (LINK), where Dorianne and I had lunch. See the photo of the sign over the door. But, alas, there was no wine in sight, so we settled for an appropriate local beverage – a Cadillac Margarita.

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Nearby is the Avila Adobe (LINK), where two large grapevines grow. Over 150 years old, these vines were recently determined to be a hybrid of a native California grape and a European grape. They are related to the Vina Madre, or the mother grape, at the San Gabriel Mission (LINK).

 

So, winemaking in California pre-dates the Napa-Sonoma area by quite a bit. It was fun to explore the historic area of downtown LA, and then to go home and have a glass or two of California wine.

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

CREATING A STARTER CASE OF WINE

On a recent visit to New York to visit our daughter, Grace, we decided to purchase a starter case of wine for her and to set up an account at a wine shop. There are a number of very good wine shops in Manhattan, as you might imagine. We chose Union Square Wine Starter case -USQLogo_WBShop (LINK) after some online and in-person research, because of proximity to Grace’s school, a good selection of value-priced wines, and free delivery in the city when you purchase $95 or more worth of wine.

Grace, at 22, has developed a pretty good palate. She has been to France a few times and enjoys French wines very much, especially Bordeaux blends. My thoughts in filling the starter case were to take that preference into account and expand her experience a bit with reds, plus add some whites and rosès since summer is just around the corner. I also wanted to keep the prices under $25, being mindful of the budget of a starving aspiring Broadway star.

After discussing our goals with some of the sales staff, we (Dorianne, Grace and I) began to fill the case. I wanted to find some French wines that she would like first, which we did – one Bordeaux red blend, a Pomerol, two Sancerres, a Burgundian Chardonnay, and a wonderful rosè from Tavel, the only French A.O.P. that produces Au Bon Climat only rosès. To this, we added a reliable California Pinot Noir from, a favorite of ours; a nice Oregon Pinot Noir to  compare to the Au Bon Climat; a wonderful Rhône-style blend from Tablas Creek in Paso Robles; a Spanish Tempranillo blend; an Italian Barbara d’Asti and a Nebbiolo from Langhe; and an Australian Shiraz.

Here is the list:

Starter Case Chart
There is nothing here from Germany or eastern Europe, no New Zealand or South America, etc. Fortunately, Grace has a long future to explore these and other options as she chooses.
Now, you can argue with any or all of these selections, but this starter case was built with some preferences in mind. That is the idea – you decide the parameters of the selections and then you find the best representatives of those parameters based on availability, price, and certain intangibles. Our bias was toward France, with an additional parameter of expanding outward from there and focusing on the Old World with some New World representation as well. That is a lot to cover in twelve bottles.

Starter case -USQ
Union Square Wines and Spirits Shop

My suggestion to her was to make tasting notes of each wine as she drinks it and then replace bottles with a balance of things she likes and things she would like to try. Having a set of preferences helps when she is at a restaurant or a party and there are a variety of options. She already knows to steer clear of the bulk wines and the cheap “critter wines” that populate lots of party bars among people her age (and, unfortunately, people my age as well).

To create your own starter case, for yourself or for your children, my suggestion is to begin where you, or they, are. Start with what you already like and populate part of the case with those wines, then expand outward from there. The value of a good wine shop is that they will have staff who can make good recommendations – something you will not get at most supermarkets or places like Target and Costco (with some exceptions).

I can’t overemphasize the importance of finding a wine store employee or owner who you feel comfortable with. I was recently in an independent wine shop in Baltimore that stocked many wines with which I was unfamiliar. When I asked for recommendations from the owner/manager, he told me that he could only help me with Kosher wines; “That’s all I taste,” he said. No one else in the shop had tasted any of the non-Kosher wines! Interesting business model.

A good wine shop staff member will be of great assistance, especially when deciding what to add to your own preferences. He/she will have the experience needed to make recommendations that are very similar to those, or that are different enough to give you a new tasting experience. Good wine shops will also have tastings that you can attend to expand your wine experience.

It is important that you be clear about what you want. Don’t let the sales staff give you a wine that you are not interested in, or one that is too expensive for your budget.

Keeping these things in mind, creating a starter case can be a really great experience. Your comments, as always, are appreciated.

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

BRAND TASTING – LOS VASCOS WINES

A while back, I purchased five current offerings of Los Vascos wines (LINK) from Wine.com (LINK) to do a tasting. Los Vascos is the Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) holdings (since 1988) in the Peralillo area of the Colchagua province of Northern Chile. I have blogged about Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon before (LINK).

The wines were:

2015 Sauvigon Blanc, retail $14.00

2014 Chardonnay, retail $8.99

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, retail $8.99

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Grand Reserve, retail $20.00

2012 Carmenere Grand Reserve, retail $20.00

I did not get the rosé (90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah, retail $11.99), or the LE DIX (retail $65.00), which is their highest-end Cabernet which were both available at the site, but are generally not available locally.

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The table is set for the tasting. And note those fancy spit-buckets!

For the tasting, ten of us gathered at the home of Mary Stec and Richard Clark. Richard is the winemaker for the Conejo Valley Wine Co-op (LINK). Those joining Dorianne, Richard, Mary and me were Steven and Diane Brabant, Brad Kieffer and Karen Oxrider, and Doug and Corrine Draper. All of these folks know wine very well.

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The Tasting Team hard at work at mid-tasting.

The tasting of these wines, which fall into the Everyday Wine category, was to get a sense of the product line of a South American Producer who has a couple of big sellers in the U.S. market, but also has some other wines that are a bit harder to find, but are around. I judged the two wines not included as too difficult to find in retail stores.

The red wines were opened about an hour before the tasting. All of the wines were kept at about 50 degrees Fahrenheit in Richard Clark’s wine cold room, where they have been for about 6 weeks. We served a variety of cheeses, crackers and olives with the tasting, which did affect how the wines tasted. Everyone tasted each wine and made personal notes before we all discussed the wine. The wines were tasted individually, although the Cabernets were poured at the same time to allow for comparison.

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My seat at the table.

The tasting notes and the conversations revealed what you might expect – there was some agreement and some disagreement about each of the wines. There was a rage of opinions as to the presence of tannins in the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, for example. Almost everyone noted the presence of grapefruit-citrus in the Sauvignon Blanc, but not everyone. Some found the Grand Reserve Carmenere very smooth and a couple of people found it to be harsh.

Some comments about each wine, with an attempt to capture the essence of the notes and comments from the group for each:

2015 Sauvignon Blanc: light, citrus/grapefruit with a hint of tangerine, lemon grass, high acid, crisp, New Zealand style, mineral finish; better with food than alone.

2014 Chardonnay: Minimal nose, hints of butter, crisp, light, hints of nuts, minerality, more like a Pinot Gris, pear, apricot, neutral oak, not much of a finish; improved with the cheese.

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon: Nose red fruit, alcohol, ashes, acid; thin, minerals, hint of cherry (minimal fruit), slightly astringent finish; also improved with food.

2012 Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: Inky red color; plum, ripe fruit, cassis on the nose; balanced tannin, acid, and fruit (one comment too much tannin, needs longer decanting); nice finish; needs some time – 2 to 3 years; more substantive than the 2014 Cab, but still a bit thin for a Cabernet Sauvignon. Clearly a superior wine to the 2014 (with one dissenting opinion on that).

2012 Grand Reserve Carmenere: Dark, inky color; rich bouquet of black fruit, green pepper, cloves and spice, tobacco, earthy soil on the nose; nicely balanced with light tannins, hints of currant, prune and figs; smooth finish; approachable wine; described as “smooth” and “harsh”; “pick of the litter”; would be great with lamb.

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The line-up of wines.

I asked each person to rate the five wines from 1 through 5 in terms of their impressions of the realizing this has an apples to oranges quality, but aiming at which of these would you be most likely to purchase yourself?):

1 Table

The upshot – all of these wines are drinkable and have both positive qualities and drawbacks that are largely subjective. Los Vascos wines are reliable go-tos for everyday drinking. If your budget calls for the inexpensive Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon, go for those – even though the Chardonnay was not well reviewed by the group, several people liked it very much – at $9.00 or so, you can find out for yourself; if you can upscale a bit to the Grand Reserves, you will find a good increase in value at the higher price-point. The Sauvignon Blanc is at a good price-point if you enjoy a citrusy New Zealand-style, and grab that Grand Reserve Carmenere if you can find it.

Two of us (Steven and I) who had first encountered the Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon in the 1980’s and early 1990’s noted that it seems to be a very different wine than in those days. A reading of the website (LINK) bears this out, as extensive replanting has occurred since that time. And, both of us are drinking wines at higher price-points today, which may also be a significant factor in our impressions. Perhaps we have changed along with the wine.

Comments about your experience with these wines is, of course, most welcome.

 

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

 

PREVIEW – LOS VASCOS WINE TASTING

In a few days (OK – in a month or so – we didn’t get this done before leaving for Oregon for five weeks), I will assemble a panel to taste the range of Los Vascos wines from Chile. We do not have every wine that they produce, but five will do for this purpose.

 

I have always listed the Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon as one of my go-to everyday red wines. Now we will extend out a bit an add the 2012 Grand Reserve Cabernet, the 2012 Carmenere Grand Reserve, the 2014 Chardonnay, and the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc.

Watch this space for the tasting report.

A DAY IN THE COTSWOLDS – BEAUTY, HISTORY, FOOD, FRIENDSHIP, AND WINE

Last Saturday, we took a mini tour of the Cotswolds region, a beautiful rural area of southwestern England dotted with picturesque towns. We spent a week in one of those towns, Fairford, which is very friendly and beautiful.

On Saturday, our friends, Charlie and Avril, who live in Broughton Poggs, picked us up and took us out for the day. The first stop was in Lechlade, a town between Fairford and Broughton Poggs. While Dorianne and Charlie went to the store, I spied a little wine shop called Vin Est . . .; I told them to stop on their way back and pick me up.

The Vin Est . . . shop (LINK) is very small, a front room stocked with wines on shelves, in bins, on tables, and three casks for those who want to bring their own container. In the back are a couple of more rooms, one empty on this visit – about to become a beer room and to be used for tastings, and a smaller room where the premium wines are kept. They also distribute wines to a number of restaurants and pubs in the area.

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Some of the Good Stuff.
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Fill Your Own Bottle.
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Nice Wine Shop in Lechlade.
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The Main Shop Floor

I spoke with Rachel Jenkins, who owns the place with her husband Mike. They moved out from London to this idyllic spot and noticed a hole where a premium wine shop should be. The shop is inviting and intimate, and the Jenkins’ know their wine. If you are in the area sometime, this is the go-to wine shop once you get away from Oxford. I bought a nice bottle of Pouilly Gris that is sitting comfortably in the fridge now.

Back in the car to Charlie and Avril’s beautiful home in Broughton Poggs. A cup of tea or coffee and some conversation, then we are off to The Plough Inn (LINK) in Kelmscott for a hearty lunch. Sauvignon Blanc for Dorianne, grapefruit soda for Avril, and the local Buttcombe Bitters for Charlie and me. Great food in a really nice spot – and you can book a room if you like.

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The Plough Inn Barroom.
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Some Wine Choices at the Plough Inn

Then a walk down the lane to Kelmscott Manor (LINK), the former home of the great arts and crafts movement’s William Morris and his family.

After a tour of the stately home and grounds, we headed back to Broughton Poggs, where we examined a very old stone barn that Charlie and Avril are reconditioning into a home. A remarkable transformation is done with these old buildings, keeping the historic charm while remaking them with all the current conveniences.

Then to their home, which is in a converted 15th Century mill, with about an acre plus of gardens on the property – truly a remarkable place. We toured the gardens with a nice glass of Crémant (my fault in not noting the maker) from near Macon in France.

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Glasses of Crémant for our Garden tour.
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Jim, Avril, Dorianne and Charlie. Well into a Very Good Day.

Then more tea and conversation before heading out to dinner at The Five Alls (LINK), a pub about 50 meters from Charlie and Avril’s home. The same management as The Plough Inn, it is a nicely appointed pub with a barroom and several dining rooms. We were seated in short order and I perused the menu and the wine list. The list is interesting, mostly French, of course, but with a number of New World wines from South Africa, New Zealand, Chile, and Argentina. And, the wines are sourced thought our friends at Vin Est . . ., mentioned earlier. The only U.S. wine is a (cringe) White Zinfandel. But, we’re in England after all.

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Door to the Gents Room at The Five Alls.

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Charlie asked me to select the wines, so I chose a 2014 Picpoul de Pinet from Racine (LINK) in the Languedoc, France. Charlie cringed a bit at my choice, noting that the Picpouls had been pushed in England as an alternative to Pinot Grigio and that he found most of them lacking in any complexity. So we would see. At the same time, I also ordered a 2012 Crozes-Hermitage from Domaine du Colombier (LINK), to go with the venison that we had all chosen for our main course. This rich Syrah with a peppery, dark fruit, favor and good structure proved a success with the venison. I had asked that the second wine be decanted when I ordered it, however, this did not happen, so it took some time to open up nicely.

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But back to the Picpoul de Pinet. When it arrived, I was wondering if Charlie would be right, and we would be getting a vin ordinaire with little to no character. Right off the bat, it had a strong minerality on the nose, with hints of pear, citrus and lemongrass – similar, except for the heavy minerality to a New Zealand Sauvingnon Blanc. The taste was strongly earthy with hints of floral notes, pear, and a saltiness around the edges. It opened up a bit more after about ten minutes in the glass – it smoothed out and the complexity showed through. Charlie approved.

This is a beautiful region, becoming more gentrified by the minute due to its proximity to London, but retaining much of its charm – and getting some very good restaurants in the bargain. We have thus far not had an English wine – we plan to do that next week in London, but we have stuck pretty much with the French, with a couple of forays into South America and New Zealand at the supermarket. I would love to hear comments about your wine experiences in the U.K., and any recommendations for London would be appreciated as well.

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WESTERN SONOMA – A TASTE OF THE POSSIBILITIES

The other day, I was joined by Sonic Nourishment (LINK) musicians Erika Luckett and Lisa Ferraro for a day in western Sonoma for some wine tastings and lunch. It was a perfect day weatherwise, and we began with a drive out to Iron Horse Vineyards (LINK) near Sebastopol.

Known for their sparkling and white wines, Iron Horse consists of just over 100 acres of vineyards. We opted for two tastings, with Lisa getting the sparkling wines and me getting the white wines (Erika was our designated driver). The sparklers were all well-crafted (with the exception of one that turned out to be a bad bottle – when we pointed it out to the tasting room personnel, another one was opened, which was fine). I am not a huge sparkling wine fan, but I do appreciate the bubbly from time to time, and these were all very drinkable to me. Lisa said that she was overall less impressed than on a prior visit to Iron Horse.

The whites, all Chardonnays, were equally well-crafted, especially the 2012 Rued Clone Chardonnay which was especially well-crafted with a nose of white fruit – pears and apples – with a hint of caramel. Very nice. We did not taste any of their Pinot Noirs, saving our strength for the long day ahead.

One note – the tasting notes pages at Iron Horse said nothing about the wines, only naming some suggested food pairings. Since there was no food available, I did not find this very helpful. On the other hand, the tasting room staff was very helpful and paid attention to everyone.

Next, we headed into Healdsburg (LINK) for lunch and to hit a couple of tasting rooms there.

After a healthy lunch at the Oakville Grocery, we headed over to Banshee Wines (LINK), for some Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, a Cabernet and a red blend. Banshee sources fruit from a number of Sonoma coastal and inland vineyards. They produce wines that are more Californian than Burgundian in style, which is not surprising. Lisa and I each did their basic tasting (there is also a reserve tasting), of three Chardonnays and two Pinot Noirs. They were all well-crafted and very good (think somewhere between oaky and stainless steel for the Chardonnays; the reds were very nice with one exception – The 2013 Mordecai Red Blend, made up of 9 varietals, had such an off-putting nose (think swampy) that neither Lisa nor I could get to the tasting. We asked the tasting room staff if this was a bad bottle, and were told that it was fine. We dumped that one.

Otherwise, the Banshee Wines that we tasted were enjoyable. Like many smaller producers in the area, their price points are a bit high for the average buyer – but if you like the wines, you will buy them.

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Our final stop of the day (we needed to beat the traffic back to the East Bay), was Thumbprint Cellars (LINK), whose tasting room is just off the square in Healdsburg. I had some of their wines a couple of years back, when they were regularly featured on the Wines Till Sold Out (www.WTSO.com) site, and liked them very much. When I mentioned that to the tasting room staff, I was told that those were special blends made just for WTSO at the time.

We started with their 2013 Arousal white blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier, a floral nose, very rich mouth feel, and smooth finish on this one. We also tasted the 2011 Climax red blend, a mix of 44% Syrah, 26% Merlot,
20% Zinfandel, 7% Cabernet Franc, 3% Viogner
. This one is very smooth and complex (as you might imagine), but well-balanced. Very nice. I brought a bottle of this one home; so did Lisa. The 2011 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon was everything you would want in a Sonoma Cab – rich, spicy, bold, and lots of dark fruit, but with an elegance that is so often missing in “big” wines.

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Thumbprint Cellars Tasting Room

Wine - Thumbprint - Sonoma

So that was our day in Western Sonoma. Like all such tasting outings, we had a great time and missed a lot of wineries. But that gives us something to go back for.