Tag Archives: Sauvignon Blanc

IN CATALONIA – A WINE REGION FULL OF LIFE

Dorianne and I are in Sitges, Spain this week, which is a beach town south of Barcelona. Just east and slightly inland from Barcelona is the Penedès DO Wine Region, home to a variety of wines, including Cavas, the sparkling wines of Spain. More about cavas in later posts. This concerns our visit to Bodegas Torres (LINK), in Villafranca del Penedès, one of the largest wine makers in Spain.

penedes map catala
The Penedès DO Wine Region

Bodegas Torres is truly a huge operation with a storied history and wine production all over the world (LINK). The Penedès Winery is a state of the art facility producing wine and brandy and is located next to the family home. It is roughly on the level of a Mondavi or a Gallo-sized operation, to give you an idea. The wine tour (which we were given alone with a guide, Archie, a young man from England) includes a tram and Universal Theme Park-like effects, which were inspired, we learned, by a family visit to Universal Studios in Los Angeles. So this is not your boutique winery.

2015-04-15 12.34.47 2015-04-15 12.34.58 2015-04-15 12.35.47 2015-04-15 12.36.32

That being said, the company is taking strong steps at environmental sustainability (LINK), including recycling, energy and land conservation, increased organic and biodynamic farming practices, and the like. The tour highlights many of these practices, which the company obviously sees as a good way to market their wines. I agree with them.

2015-04-15 12.36.06
Reservoir used to clean equipment – water is recycled through the artificial wetlands.
2015-04-15 13.38.42
Sand dome over a reserve cellar to provide insulation
2015-04-15 13.55.57
Pheremone capsule to keep flies from laying eggs in the grapes

2015-04-15 13.40.17

The winery facility in Penedès processes millions of bottles of wine annually. It has the look and feel of a place that has the resources to create whatever the owners want – the buildings are nicely appointed, the vineyards well tended, the equipment is in excellent condition, plus there are very nice touches for the customer at every turn. There are about a dozen wines and several brandies produced here. Our tasting after the tour was limited to five wines from three regions in Spain. Archie our guide, has been with the company for about a year and is working toward wine certifications in England. His plan is to work in the wine industry. He showed a great deal of knowledge about the entire process, and he was able to answer most of our questions. The tour would be an excellent introduction for someone new to wine production, and we learned a thing or two as well.

2015-04-15 13.43.33
Barrel Storage Cellar
2015-04-15 13.51.32
Bottle Aging Facility
2015-04-15 13.54.35
Our guide, Archie, describing pruning techniques.

2015-04-15 13.54.18

As to the tasting – the wines we tried – two whites (blancos) and four reds (tintos), were all well-crafted and balanced wines. We tasted across several of the labels of the winery – (there are dozens). The blancos, were a 2013 Jean Leon Chardonnay from Penedès DO, and a 2013 Torres Fransola Sauvignon Blanc. The Chardonnay was 50% oak barrel aged and 50% stainless steel. It was similar to the increasingly popular style of Chardonnay from California, which is less buttery and powerful. The wine was refined and nice on the nose and in the mouth. Very good. The Sauvignon Blanc was more in the French style – smooth and elegant. The wine did not jump out at you with citrus or grassy notes like New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs; rather it seduced you a bit – this wine would be amazing with shellfish, we both agreed.

The four tintos were also all well-structured and balanced wines. They included a 2012 Torres Altos Ibericos Crianza Rioja, a Tempranillo with good character. Moderate tanins and acid make this wine good for drinking alone or with food, such as barbecue or some wonderful Iberico Jamon. The second tinto, a 2012 Torres Celeste Crianza from  Ribera del Duero DO, a Tinto Fino (the name for Tempranillo in that region). This wine was more fruity and had lower tanin – but was clearly well-crafted. Very nice. Next, we moved on to the two higher-end wines in the tasting. A 2012 Torres Salmos a blend of Cariñena (60%) Garnacha Tinta (20%) and Syrah (20%) grapes from the Priorat DO. I have really enjoyed just about every Priorat wine that I have tasted, and this one was no different. A very dark, rich color, fruity and spicy on the nose, and bold fruit-forward in the mouth, very thick (but not unpleasantly so) mouthfeel and a long, silky finish. I really love this wine. Finally, we go to the 2010 Mas la Plana Cabernet Sauvignon from the Penedès DO. This wine brings a greater complexity with some mushroom on the nose and hints of minerality just behind the fruit. Good tanins and acidity balance on the tongue and the finish is smooth and elegant. I liked this just a tiny bit less than the Salmos. The latter two wines should age beautifully. You can research more details at the Torres links above. This may not be the winery visit and tour for everyone – it is a very large facility and run like one. But it does give good insights into the Spanish Wine Industry. There are a number of smaller wineries in the region as well.

2015-04-15 13.59.44
The Tasting Room at Torres
2015-04-15 14.01.31
The Blancos (whites)
2015-04-15 14.17.16
The Tintos (reds)
2015-04-15 14.46.03
Dorianne, Jim and Archie after the tasting.

CASA BARRANCA WINE PAIRING DINNER IN OXNARD

On Friday, eleven of us made the short trek from the Conejo and Simi Valleys to the Oxnard/Port Hueneme area for a wine pairing dinner at the Waterside Restaurant (LINK), featuring Casa Barranca Wines (LINK). The dinner was set up in the back of the restaurant and included a table for 12 or so in a back room and a table for 16 in the front room.

I will speak to the food, the wine, and the execution of the concept. I want to begin by giving kudos to the owners of the Waterside Restaurant, who have created a very nice wine bar on a scenic marina in Oxnard. We had lunch there a while back and everything was good – the food, the wine, and the service. They hold a number of events during the week, and are working hard to bring a good wine experience to an area that has been generally lacking in good cuisine and good wine venues.

2015-02-27 18.47.49

As you can see, the menu was both ambitious and inventive. I should also note that some of the dishes were prepared differently for a member of our party who had allergies.The service was efficient and friendly.

2015-02-27 20.08.21 2015-02-27 20.44.51

That said, there were some problems with the wine pairing event. The food was both inventive and beautifully presented, the chef used the paired wines in most of the courses. However, almost everything was served at a luke warm temperature at best. Part of this was due to the desire to have the chef explain each course after it was served AND having the winemaker describe the wine each time.This had to be done twice, as they could not be heard at both tables. They did finally alternate, with each speaking to a table then switching. I did taste a couple of courses as soon as they hit the table, and they were not hot. Something to think about for future events.

The Casa Barranca Wines are organically grown at a historic winery in Ojai, CA. The winery shares space with a spa retreat facility. Grapes are sources from Santa Ynez for the most part. Winemaker Samuel Tulberg, represented the winery at the dinner. He was very knowledgeable about the wines and their process, as you would expect.

The wines served were their 2013 Viognier, 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, 2010 Pinot Noir, 2013 Craftsman Red, and a 2011 Vino Noche Port. The Sauvignon Blanc and the Craftsman Red (56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, 22% Merlot – and just 12.5% alcohol) were quite good. The Pinot Noir was very average, and the Viognier and the Vino Noche were just not very good. The wines that I liked (and this was the general consensus at the table) were complex and somewhat elegant, with nice hints of fruit and terroir in there. The Viognier was anything but elegant, had a chemical nose, and simply was not a pleasing wine to drink. The Vino Noche Port was very harsh on the palate and hot with alcohol. It was better with the dessert – chocolate lava cake, but still . . .

I am sure that a visit to the Casa Barranca Winery is a fun outing, but I would not be going for the wines. Perhaps, over time, the wine making process will mature and even out.

As for the Waterside Restaurant, I encourage them to keep on trying and working on their presentation timing for food at events such as this.

A FIND IN SANTA RITA HILLS – MARGERUM WINES

Continuing our series on the wineries I visited on a group wine tour in the Santa Rita Hills Appellation on Saturday, we will take a look at Margerum Wine Company (LINK). Our group tasted at the winery near Buellton, but the regular tasting rooms (LINK) are in Santa Barbara. Assistant Winemaker Sam Smith conducted our tasting on Saturday.

2015-02-07 14.05.56
Sam Smith describes Margerum Wines.

2015-02-07 14.05.47

Margerum produces a number of wines from a variety of vineyards (LINK) in Santa Barbara County. They produce small quantities of each wine, seeking to maximize the quality. Their stable of wines runs from Sauvignon Blanc (including a rare late harvest dessert version), to Pinot Gris and a Grenache Rosé on the white side, with Syrah, Pinot Noir, Grenache, and Rhone and Chateauneuf-du-Pape style blends under a couple of labels. You can read about each of the wines at the link above. I really enjoyed the 2013 LATE HARVEST SAUVIGNON BLANCa very light and smooth dessert wine that has a light mouthfeel and not too much sweetness.

2015-02-07 14.45.43

I found the wines we tasted to be well-crafted with a tendency toward lightness and elegance, even a sense of understatement, which is consistent with the style that many winemakers adopt in this region. As noted in earlier posts, if you want the big fruit-bomb reds, you need to head north a bit to Paso Robles, where that style is more prevalent.

The owners of Margerum Wine Company are also involved in the Wine Cask Restaurant (LINK) in Santa Barbara. The restaurant has an excellent reputation, and, I am pretty sure, you can get some Margerum Wines on the premises.

Later, more posts on the other two wineries we visited, LaFond and Tyler, each very interesting in its own right.

2015-02-07 14.45.55
Stainless Steel Barrels at Mergerum.
2015-02-07 14.49.37
A Line Up of Rosés.

THANKSGIVING DINNER WINES – ALWAYS A CHALLENGE

As we plan for the US Thanksgiving next week, the topic of what wines to drink is always a challenge. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, Thanksgiving Dinner tends to last for hours of prep time, appetizers and snacking, football, the dinner itself, then desserts, etc. Eric Asimov of the NYTimes recommends going with wines that have less alcohol, given that you may be imbibing over a longer period of time.

Thanksgiving - Hitchcock
You never know who might show up for Thanksgiving Dinner!

Second, the kinds of foods served in many American homes runs a much wider gamut than on a normal day. I mean, how may other days do you serve sweet potatoes with marshmallows? So there are sweet and savory dishes on the table, plus whatever else has been laid out during the day. In Maryland, where I grew up, there was usually a bushel of fresh oysters in the garage or on the back porch from mid-morning on. By the time you get to the fruit and pumpkin pies, you have eaten a variety of foods.

So here are some ideas for wines – not specific wines, but varietals that will tend to serve you well with the chaos and wide variety of foods that you are likely to be served (or are serving). I also recommend less expensive wines for this day, unless you are having a relatively simple meal. Good wines can get lost in the mix of everything from those sweet potatoes to sauerkraut, to green bean casserole to well, whatever.

You will want red, white, and some bubbly for the day. Bubbly? Well, why not? Sparkling wines can be great for earlier in the day (like with those oysters) and for a toast to begin the main meal. Some of your guests may well prefer to have sparkling wine with dinner as well. I recommend Spanish Cava – very accessible both in terms of price and it’s flexibility to go with a variety of dishes. There are also some great California sparklers if you want to stick to American wines on this most American of holidays. Sparkling wine is great with dessert, as you do not want to add more sweetness to the end of a meal like this one!

As for whites, I think that this is a day for Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Torrontes, and Albarino. All of these are light, low in alcohol, and versatile. There are dozens of Sauvignon Blancs from California, France, and New Zealand that will fit your budget. The New Zealand wines will tend more to citrus notes, while the French produce wines with more floral notes. The Americans can be either – so ask you wine merchant if you have a preference for one style or another. Chenin Blanc is a French gem that is also becoming more and more popular  with US growers up and down the west coast. Torrontes is the top white wine of Argentina, light and crisp and affordable. Albarino is a Spanish beauty that translates well with anything from fish to poultry. I think that you will be happy with any of these varietals on your holiday table.

Looking at reds, we want to keep the alcohol on the low side, which makes it tough to purchase most California wines that are in the affordable range (under $25 a bottle). You can find some Pinot Noirs and Merlots that fit the bill, but you may have to do some searching. Actually, I think that your best answers are France and Argentina or Chile. French Beaujolais is an excellent choice. The wines tend to be lighter, lower in alcohol, and there are a number of good wines in this category that are priced right. Malbec from Argentina can range from lighter to heavier; the lighter versions are great for the holiday table, as are some of the Malbecs being produced in California’s Central Coast reason. Chilean Merlot is a great bargain, just watch that alcohol level. I recommend a variety of reds and whites – let your guests explore.

I would figure a bottle per person, plus any other beverages that you will be serving. Of course, you can also have a similar approach for your Christmas Dinner, which in the US is often a repeat of Thanksgiving. If you are having a beef or pork roast, you may still want white and sparkling wines for earlier in the day or with dessert.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Holiday and let me know you Holiday wine recommendations.

A SOJOURN IN MANHATTAN – WINE ON THE RUN

This past weekend, Dorianne and I visited Manhattan to see our daughter, Heather. During our short visit, we had three dinners with wine and went to a rooftop bar atop our hotel – The Indigo Hotel on W. 28th Street in Chelsea.

Friday, Heather made reservations at Giovanni Rana Pastificio & Cucina, known as Rana, located in the Chelsea Market (a must visit in NYC). Known for their fresh pasta and other Italian fare, the restaurant is bustling and noisy – in a good way. We had reservations for three and they put us at a table for six, which was fine because it was in a corner and allowed for our conversation to be heard without too much trouble.

We ordered a 2012 Guado al Tasso Vermentino from Tuscany – a white wine to go with seafood pasta. It was the second Vermentino I have had – oddly enough the first was the night before at a friend’s home where we had a Vermentino from Tablas Creek in California’s Central Coast to begin the evening. I did not take a photo of the Sicilian bottle – both wines were light and crisp with a hint of spice. The Tablas Creek was perhaps a bit spicier, and the Guado al Tasso had more of a green apple taste, but they were very similar. I recommend both the restaurant and the wine.

Saturday we went to the RoofBar at the top of our hotel (17th Floor) and watched the sun set and the lights of the city come on. Our wonderful bartender, Costa from Greece, showed us around the fairly spacious rooftop area, some covered and some open. The wine list is short, and features a number of Greek wines (the owner is Greek, we were told). We ordered the French Sauvignon Blanc – a “Lulu” 2013 from Touraine. It was everything you would want in a Sauv Blanc – crisp and fruity, with hints of citrus and lemongrass, but very well contained, unlike the wines from New Zealand, for example that tend to be heavily citrus based. We returned to the Roof Bar on Sunday evening for a repeat performance of the sunset and some more Sauv Blanc.

2014-10-25 17.41.35
Costa behind the bar at RoofBar in Chelsea.
2014-10-25 17.53.31
Manhattan sunset.
2014-10-25 19.04.41
Night Falls on the City.

Saturday dinner was at the Petit Poulet on 33rd Street off of Avenue of the Americas. The food was classic French (I had steak frites) and we chose a 2012 Les Jamelles Pays d’Oc Merlot, which was recommended by our waiter, a classic New York waiter who treated you grandly if you looked like you knew what you were doing and were also appropriately subservient to his opinion. The wine and the food were both wonderful.

2014-10-25 19.44.41
The French Merlot at Petit Poulet.
2014-10-25 20.09.16
Steak Frites at Petit Poulet.

Sunday afternoon, we had lunch at BoludSud, a Daniel Bolud restaurant across from Lincoln Center, next to Bar Bolud. As you would expect, food, wine and service were impeccable. It was warm enough to dine alfresco, which was a bonus. I had a glass of 2012 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay while Dorianne opted for tea. Jim Clendennon would have been half-happy.

2014-10-26 13.03.10
Dorianne making her selection at BoludSud – my Au Bon Climat in the foreground.

Sunday dinner, after our second stop at Roof Bar (which by the way, does not even have nibbles, which is unfortunate), we opted for the John Dory Oyster Bar at 29th and 6th Avenue. This is a beautiful restaurant with a very limited menu – shellfish based, as you might imagine. It is also the first restaurant that I have ever been to where I did not recognize a single wine on the wine list. The list is short, to be sure, but not a familiar winemaker in sight! There are four house wines that are “on tap.” The wine prices were, shall we say, sky high, so we opted for one of the on-taps and ordered a ½ carafe of Vinhos Verde (at $34). The wine was a fairly typical Vinhos Verde in my experience, young and raw – not very pleasing. It was ok with the oysters and clams that we ordered. This might be a good place to bring your own bottle.

2014-10-26 19.28.02
Where the Magic Happens at John Dory Oyster Bar.
2014-10-26 19.28.31
Waiting for our somewhat disappointing Vihno Verde at John Dory.

Oh, and we went to Eataly – which may require another post even though we did not drink any wine. So a quick trip into town, a bit hit or miss on the wine scene (we did not plan around the wine), some good food, and uniformly good service. I look forward to a more wine-centric visit to this great city in the future.

GO-TO WHITES FOR SUMMER

In the summer, my tastes move into the realm of rosés and whites, probably reversing the normal 75% red to 25% white ration of the rest of the year. Summers mean more lighter foods served cold, more seafood and salads and fresh vegetables from the garden.

Today, my go-to whites for this summer are featured. We’ll look at rosés in another post Thee wines seem to change each year, a factor of things like availability, special bargains that arise, and my own shifting tastes. A few years ago, Dorianne and I were visiting Laetitia Winery north of Santa Maria and discovered that they were selling their very nice Sauvignon Blanc for $60 a case. That became our go-to wine for the rest of that summer!Wine - les-portes du Bordeaux

This summer, there are two, and they are both from France. The first is Les Portes de Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc (2012) from Trader Joe’s. It sells for $6.99 and is a very nicely-crafted single varietal from Bordeaux. We tried a bottle in early June and have been buying it ever since. It is simply a very nice every day white wine.

The sec2014-08-05 19.36.54ond is Louis Latour Chardonnay Grand Ardèche (2012). It sells for $10.99 and is available in lots of places. For an every-day wine, it is very well-balanced and pairs well with a variety of dishes. Dorianne made an Italian sweet onion soup last night, and the Latour was a perfect match.

We have also had a couple of nice bottles of Sancerre Blanc from DOMAINE HIPPOLYTE REVERDY, a Kermit Lynch Wines pick.Wine - Sancerre Label Lynch I purchased this  at Total Wine and Spirits for $23.00 and have returned to buy more. It is a very nice, well-crafted special occasion wine. We were motivated to try it as we are following the New York Times Wine School each month with friends, and Sancerre was the wine last month.

In finding your own go-to whites, I suggest that you spend some time exploring and keep your eye out for bargains. Remember, you expect a $50 bottle of wine to be good – when you find a bottle around $10 that you enjoy – that is a find!

Let me know your favorite summer whites in the comments.