A Lyonnaise friend took me for some wine tasting and purchasing to northern Beaujolais, first to Fleurie to visit the Co-op there and then to Romanèche-Thorins to visit the Georges DeBoeuf négociant wine cave. We drove north from Lyon on a beautiful sunny afternoon and through some beautiful Beaujolais countryside after getting of the A6 Motorway at Villefranche-sur-Saône.
A French Wine Cooperative (LINK)“produces and sells wine made from the grapes grown by its members. It mutualizes such tasks as winemaking, storage, selling, and, in some cases, the bottling process.” It is a community of vignerons coming together for mutual support. So, you won’t find single-vineyard production, it is more of a collective effort to produce wines under the name of the appellation where the cooperative is located.
A French wine négociant (LINK) is “a merchant who buy grapes, juice, or finished wine from growers, then bottle and sell them on the market wholesale.”
In general, you’ll encounter three types of wine négociants (LINK): those who buy pre-made wine and bottle it, those who make some improvements on the wine before bottling it, and those who take whole grapes or unfermented juice to make the wine virtually from scratch. This last type of négociant is called a “négociant-éleveur,” and they are the négociants with the most prestigious reputations.
Like all Beaujolais wines, the Fleurie reds are made from Gamay (they also produce a tiny bit of Pino Noir), the whites from Chardonnay. The famous Noveau Beaujolais, a soda-pop like wine bottled just after fermentation will be released in early November. I would have avoided it even if it had been available. It can be a fun way to celebrate the recent harvest, but it isn’t good wine.
The cooperative offers about 20 wines for sale, including a rosé made from Gamay and three créments (sparkling wines).
I tasted several whites and reds before purchasing a few bottles to take home to Lyon. The wines are well-crafted, not premier crus, but very good, drinkable wines. Most cost under 10 euros per bottle. The cooperative offers a couple of “Burgundian” wines, as parts of the area are on the southern side of Burgundy.
Then we drove a few kilometers west to the village of Romanèche-Thorins to visit the Georges DeBoeuf négociant wine cave (LINK). This is a huge operation, and many of my American friends will be very familiar with Georges DeBoeuf wines.
As a négociant, DeBoeuf operates across all three types listed above. Labels will indicate what the relationship between the négociant and winemaker are for each bottle.
The cave is expansive, featuring the DeBoeuf wines as well as a selection of other premium world wines (even a couple from the US – I won’t name them, but they were not premium wines. One seldom finds really good US wines in France), and a large area of gift items, wine accessories, glasses, etc.
The tasting room is an old-time bar connected to a large area where food is served and there are entertainments (a calliope) for those who have just exited the adjacent wine museum and Hameau park (LINK) (which we did not visit this time). It was a quiet afternoon, so we got some personal attention. You can taste as many wines as you want, and the tasting is complimentary. I was interested in comparing wines made from the fermentation through bottling and wines only bottled by DeBoeuf. The Brouilly samples were representative of this. In this case, I found the wine processed by the vigneron superior to the DeBoeuf-made Brouilly (reds); DeBoeuf sells both for just about the same price.
I purchased a few bottles of the Brouilly I preferred, plus a few others to take home, including a very special Cahors Malbec from their premium wine room. I passed on the Château Haute Lafitte-Rothchild this trip. By the way, the premium wine room has an excellent selection from all over France and the world at very good prices.
If you are in the area, for a day trip or longer – southwest of Mâcon and northwest of Lyon, Beaujolais offers beautiful countryside, picturesque villages, good restaurants, and wine at very reasonable prices. At home, check your local wine shops for Beaujolais wines – see what they recommend. Despite the reputation of Nouveau Beaujolais, there are some very nice wines coming from the area at very reasonable prices.
REFUSE TO BE INTIMIDATED. The world of wine is populated with a few, well, snobs. There are people whose income depends on you, the consumer, feeling like you don’t know enough to order a wine you will like. There are some whose income depends on getting you to buy a wine whether you like it or not. There are also few who want to make you feel uncomfortable just for their own ego gratification.
That said, there are also lots of folks who can and will help you feel more comfortable. These can include wine stewards or waiters in restaurants, employees in wine shops and at large retailers like Costco, tasting room employees, and, yes, wine bloggers like me. Take advantage of their knowledge and willingness to help. Even with the first group, you will usually find if you ask a couple of clear questions and let them know what you like and what you are willing to pay, you will get what you desire.
2. BE AN EXPLORER. Try some unfamiliar wines. Even if after doing so, you become a drinker of one kind of wine, you will at least know that you aren’t missing something better for you. Again, wine retailers and restaurant employees can be helpful. Like Malbec? Try something close, like a Barbera or a Tempranillo. Traveling? Try the local wines. (LINK to my post WHAT KIND OF WINE DRINKER ARE YOU?)
3. AVOID REALLY CHEAP WINES. The issue here is not so much about price or quality as it is about additives. Most new world (that’s everyplace but Europe) wines under $10 to $15 are laced with additives of various kinds. There are no labeling requirements, so you don’t know which ones or how much of them are in your wine. Some additives are benign, some are not. Many people who eat only organic food buy cheap wines filled with chemical additives – unknowingly, of course. (LINK to my post on ADDITIVES)
There are three main reasons that cheaper wines have more additives than more expensive wines: One, consumers of cheaper wines tend to want their wine to taste the same every time. They are not interested in seasonal variation – the kind based on weather which affect wine grapes from just about everywhere. So, additives can mask changes – and in cheap wines, the issue is not seasonal variations; most are bulk wines, made from whatever grapes or juice are available at that moment from any location. Second – additives can make a rough product taste smoother, smell better, look better. In other words, mask problems. Third – there are economic reasons to use additives in some products, and your health is not one of them.
4. NEW TO WINE? TRY A STARTER CASE. I blogged about this a while back. If you are new to wine or have someone, like in my case, my daughter, who is new to wine, consider a starter case. This is a mixed case of wines for them to try to learn about. Then, when returning to the wine retailer, you or they can say what you liked and would like to get more of, or maybe explore a bit with something like what you enjoyed previously, but different. (LINK to my post on STARTER CASE)
5. LEARN HOW TO SHOP FOR WINE. I often go into wine shops without intending to make a purchase – just to look around, familiarize myself with the kinds of wines available, the labels, the price points. I may engage someone in the shop in a conversation about a specific wine, or a wine region that they feature. And, truth be told, much more often than not, I walk out with a bottle or three.
Many reputable wine writers and bloggers will tell you to ask questions when shopping for wine. Wine shop employees will generally enjoy helping you (with the possible exception of the Holiday rush). For example, you might ask for a wine in the $20 range to go with a lamb roast, or something to take as a special gift to a lover of Argentinian Malbec. (LINK to my post on SHOPPING FOR WINE)
6. LEARN HOW RESTAURANT WINE WORKS. There are a few things to be aware of when ordering wine in a restaurant. One is the pricing structure. The norm is to mark up a bottle two to two-and-a-half times retail cost. Many restaurants are offering wines at a lower mark-up (in Europe it is often the same as in a wine shop). Wine is a significant part of the profit structure at many restaurants. For others, it is an afterthought; the wines may not even go with the food offered.
There are myths about ordering wine in restaurants. Most are false or only partly true. The reality is that if wine is a serious consideration in a restaurant, the wine list will have been chosen with care based on what is important to that restaurant’s management. It might be by region – focusing on Italian wines in an Italian restaurant; or by type of food served – an emphasis on white and rosé wines in a seafood restaurant; or it may be wines selected for the specific items on the menu. Some say that the best buy is the 2nd cheapest wine on the list. This is almost never true. If it is good value you are seeking, a good choice is to order a bottle of one of the wines they are selling by the glass. These wines are usually a good value and they are sold by the glass because they are well-received.
Again, don’t be afraid to ask the waiter, wine steward, or sommelier for guidance – and DON’T forget to give him or her your budget! I have never had a negative experience with wine in a restaurant when I have been given guidance (I don’t always ask for it). (LINK to my post on ORDERING WINE IN A RESTAURANT)
7. REMEMBER CORKAGE. In many places, you can bring your own wine to a restaurant. Normally, a corkage fee will be charged, to cover the cost of using the glasses and having the wine open and served by the restaurant staff. This is a good option if you have a special bottle to share with family or friends that will go well with the restaurant meal. Some etiquette – if you don’t know, check in advance on the corkage policy of the restaurant; don’t bring a wine the restaurant has on its wine list; don’t pay $20 corkage on an $8 bottle of Yellow Tail to save money. And, if the wine is corked or otherwise bad, don’t try to send it back for another bottle! (LINK to my post about corkage)
8. LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO DRINK BAD WINE. I know you have a budget, which, like mine, is limited. And maybe you don’t have an educated palate to justify really expensive wine. However, as I noted above, just about all of the really cheap wines are filled with additives and are bad for you. So, think about how much wine you drink and what it would take to get the average cost per bottle up to $15 or more. At that price point, generally speaking you are drinking wine, not just a mixture of random grapes made in bulk. You will notice qualities like minerality, or terroir – the effect of the soil on the wine. You will begin to tell varietals apart ($7 Cabernet Sauvignon tastes surprisingly like $7 Merlot). And you will be drinking a more healthful beverage.
Also, if you buy a decent bottle and it’s bad (corked or chemical tasting for example), don’t drink it! Pour it down the sink, or if it’s not too bad, save it for cooking. If you get a bad bottle (meaning there is a flaw of some kind) at a restaurant, let the staff know. They should replace it. If they disagree with you, let them know that you may not be an expert, but you find the wine undrinkable. They should replace it with another bottle. If the first one was bad, you will taste the difference in the new bottle. It is bad form to ask for a different wine in this situation. Maybe you will get lucky and that will have been their last bottle of that kind in stock! (LINK to my post on EXPENSIVE WINES)
9. WINE ENJOYMENT IS SUBJECTIVE. No matter what the experts tell you, for 95% of wine consumers – the ones who haven’t trained their palates for years and taken rigorous certification classes – wine enjoyment is subjective. You either like a wine, have a “meh” reaction, or don’t like it at all. Robert Parker can’t tell you if you will like a wine. I try to look at tasting notes only after I have tasted a wine, to see if they got it right for me. There are things to know about specific wines, but, let’s be realistic, most who drink wine will never invest the time and energy to learn more than a few of them.
Wes Hagen, currently of Central California’s J. Wilkes Wines (LINK), shares his way to taste wine for most consumers:
Swirl the wine in the glass and look at the color; put your nose to the glass and sniff the bouquet; if it smells like something you want to put into your mouth, take a sip; if it tastes like something you want to swallow, swallow it; notice the finish.
If you begin from there and add some knowledge as you go, you will never get to a point where Wes’s advice doesn’t hold true.
10. HAVE FUN WITH WINE. Wine is both a beverage and, for some, a lifestyle. I love sharing a good bottle with friends and family, and almost never have an expensive (say over $30) bottle when alone. Dorianne and I used to have wine dinners, where we would ask our guests to bring a special bottle, like the one they’ve been saving for a special occasion for ten years, and a dish to accompany it. At the dinner, each guest will tell the story of their wine as everyone shares it. Or bring a bottle from a trip and share the story of the trip.
Go wine tasting when you travel near wine country – there are hundreds of “wine countries” these days. We have tasted in Mexico, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, England, and in Michigan, Maryland, New York, Virginia, and Texas, to name a few outside of the normal wine destinations. You will meet some great people in the local wine industry, and fellow tasters are often interesting as well.
I am sure that there are other guidelines for enjoying wine. These are my top ten and I hope you find them of value!
“But now that wine drinking has become so very much more commonplace than it used to be, wine has definitively lost its elitist veneer. For heaven’s sake, it has long been the drink of choice not just for The Archers but on Coronation Street.”
“I would honestly be delighted if every wine drinker felt confident enough to make their own choices dependent on their own individual responses to wines previously tasted. But I do recognise that for many people it will always be simpler to be told what to like.”
I am re-posting and quoting this because the idea of taking responsibility for your own wine drinking decisions, of reading the “experts” but finding your own way and developing your palate in a personal sense – is for me the best way forward in today’s wine world. But as Ms. Robinson says above, there will always be people who want to be told what to drink – but there are now many more people willing to tell them, myself included. So there will always be experts, but few, if any, will rise to the stature achieved by my fellow Baltimorean, Robert M. Parker, Jr. in today’s crowded field of bloggers and other influencers.
On the other hand, there are simply too many wine regions, varietals, producers, and labels for anyone to be a true expert in the generalist sense any more. Those who specialize in a single region or varietal may be exceptions, but even there, it is becoming more difficult (Bordeaux has 8500 producers and counting).
I am heartened by the prospect of a reduction in the influence of the 100 point scale to govern so wide a swath of wine consumption – even if you don’t adhere to it, your favorite restaurant or wine shop likely does. Variety is the spice of life, and making a choice of an unknown wine that you end up not particularly liking can actually increase your ability to judge wines for yourself. The experts of the past had to drink a lot of bad wine to become decent judges of quality. There is still some truth to that idea.
There is a little wine cave near where I live in Lyon called Cave Chromatique (LINK), where the owner takes great care in selecting his wines. When I shop there, I don’t get directed toward a particular style. When I inquire about a wine, I get a description of the wine, thewine producer, the terroir, the process, and maybe the vineyard. I make my purchase and try it. Now, I am an Explorer(LINK to What Kind of Wine Drinker Are You?), so I like to try different wines – and some end up set aside for cooking or even go down the drain. But I also get some amazing experiences with wines that I would not have otherwise tried.
So, I appreciate the post by Jancis Robinson. And I will continue to read her and others who are knowledgeable about wine – but I will be making my own choices including exploring things outside of my own experience recommended by good wine retailers, wine stewards, and friends.
And if you want a treat, there are a number of videos of her wine lessons from 1995 on YouTube.com (LINK) that still stand up well and are very informative and entertaining.
I recently spent a couple of days in the Santa Rita Hills (LINK to Prior Posts), located north of the city of Santa Barbara and west of the cities of Santa Ynez and Los Olivos in Santa Barbara County. The unique geography and geology of the Santa Rita Hills AVA (the mountains and valleys run west to east allowing cooling Pacific winds and moisture to come further inland), make this an excellent location for Burgundian grapes, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. There is also a decent amount of Syrah grown here, along with a few other varietals in smaller lots.
Over two days, we visited five wineries and stopped at a sixth just to buy some wine. I am going to feature four, Ampelos, Foley, Hilliard-Bruce, and Pence Ranch.
Pence Ranch Vineyard & Winery (LINK): I visited here last year, when they were relatively new as a tasting room operation (LINK). At that time, I was told that their plan was to open the tasting room for regular hours in the future. When we stopped without an appointment, I was told that they were back to the appointment system, but there was availability. Jake, took us via a large golf cart to a part of the property where an outdoor tasting room area had been created. We had a very nice experience tasting the Pence wines, and then got a tour of the vineyard portion of the property. The Pence Ranch is relatively narrow and runs nearly two miles deep off Route 246 between Buellton and Lompoc. The front of the property is where the vineyards and wine tasting rooms are, the back is an equestrian center and a working cattle ranch. The winery is in Lompoc.
At Pence, you taste the Pinot Noirs before the Chardonnays, the former being elegant in style, the latter being more pronounced, if not the traditional butter-bomb California Chardonnay. Their wines are uniformly well-crafted and made to enjoy with food. This year, we also tasted a Gamay wine, which is young and crisp but very complex. I plan to take a bottle back to France to share with my friends used to drinking Beaujolais. So, make an appointment to visit, or order their wines from their website – you are not likely to find Pence Ranch Wines at your retailer.
Foley Estates Vineyard (LINK): Foley has been making great wine in the Santa Rita Hills for decades. Their tasting room is nicely appointed, next to the huge “barrel room” where special events can be held. Like all the SRH wineries with some history, Foley makes very good Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. They also make a very good Syrah. Their blended Chardonnays, Pinots, and the single vineyard versions of these varietals each have their own characteristics. We particularly liked the 2015 “T-Ranch” Chardonnay and the 2015 “T-Ranch Pinot Noir (there are also 2013 and 2014 Pinots available currently), but all were good. Foley is worth a visit when you are in Santa Barbara County. You can also order wines from their website.
Hilliard Bruce Vineyards (LINK): A smaller, boutique producer, Hilliard Bruce Vineyards occupies 101 acres (21 under cultivation) to the west of storied Clos Pepe Vineyard along Route 246. This was my first visit to Hilliard Bruce and you have to be impressed with the beautiful grounds, architecturally striking winery/tasting room building, and the vineyards of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. The wines do not disappoint. Four 2014 Pinots from their Earth, Sun, Moon, and Sky vineyards, each have nuances that separate them from the others, yet all are clearly in the same family. Spicy, peppery, soft and velvety Pinots will go well with food.
The Chardonnay is also made to go with food, as the bottle we bought to have with our picnic lunch showed. Well-structured, with a hint of buttery mouthfeel, the 2014 Chardonnay is classic Santa Rita Hills in style and should drink well for several years. We did meet John Hilliard during our visit – he was most cordial and, like almost everyone in the wine industry, liked to talk about his wines and his property. Hilliard Bruce is open by appointment; their wines are available via their website.
Ampelos Cellars (LINK): Full disclosure – my wife has known Peter and Rebecca Work for a few decades, having worked with them years ago when they were all with Price-Waterhouse. But Dorianne was not with me on this visit, and Peter and Rebecca, sadly, were not at the tasting room in Lompoc’s Wine Ghetto when some friends and I visited recently. I have enjoyed their wines for years.
Ampelos uses biodynamic and organic farming practices (LINK) and produces a range of wines, some of which are atypical for the Santa Rita Hills AVA. These include their Viognier and Grenache (bottled as a single varietal and blended with Syrah for their Syrache red blend). Viognier and Rose of Syrah constitute the lighter end of their offerings; two Pinot Noirs in the mid-range; and Grenache, Syrah, and Syrache at the heavier end. Of course, none of these wines are really big wines like you would find in Napa Valley or Paso Robles these days. Ampelos focuses on balance and elegance, putting them well within the Santa Rita Hills style in this regard. The vineyard is down the 246 a way; the winery is also in Lompoc. Wines are available for order at the website, and you will find them at better wine shops here and there.
I also stopped at Ken Brown Wines in Buellton to buy some Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on our way out of the area. Brown is one of the pioneers of the AVA and produces some amazing wines in the Burgundian style. I frequently tell my friends in France about the Santa Rita Hills with their east-west mountains and valleys and their Burgundian style Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. Now I will have a few to take back and share with them.
I was directed to Dirty Laundry Vineyards (LINK)(LINK) by a friend from Southern California who hails from the Okanagan Valley area; her husband, also a transplanted Canadian, does the graphic design for the operation. It is a winery with a story.
Located in Summerland, about an hour south of Kelowna on the southwestern shore of Okanagan Lake, Dirty Laundry stands out, less for its wines (which are very good), than for its marketing and story. The first thing you see as you approach the tasting room and patio area is a life-sized cutout of my friend’s daughter, Skyeler, who has modeled for the winery (she’s also on the website and area billboards).
It seems that the main building that now houses the tasting room and offices was formerly a laundry on the first level and a bordello on the second. The winery has taken that story and run with it – in spades. The extensive gift shop has lots of bordello/saloon-related items along with the usual wine-related gifts. Tasting room staff are women in period clothes who regale customers with the story of the place as they pour complimentary tastings. There is a large patio overlooking the vineyards and the lake with an outdoor tasting counter, a beer bar, and an area for live music.
After our tasting (more about the wines in a bit), we met with co-owner HermanTeichtmeister, who asked if we had 20 minutes and spent two hours showing us around and telling the story of the vineyard and winery operations, the marketing plans, the graphic art that is so important, etc. It was one of the most thorough winery tours I have ever had – and we never entered the vineyards.
As one of nearly 200 wineries (some put the number as high as 285) in the Okanagan Region, Dirty Laundry has had an aggressive growth plan, moving from under 10,000 cases to about 35,000 in eight years. The plans are to get above 50,000 in the near future. The challenge, of course, is to do that while maintaining quality and finding more customers. Winemaker Mason Spink’s focus will be on the quality, while HermanTeichtmeister and fellow owners will focus on expanding the market.
Dirty Laundry produces 17 wines. While that is not all that unusual for a growing Okanagan winery, it offers many challenges in terms of consistent quality. I tasted 6 of the wines, and in my opinion, the quality ranged from average to very good. This makes sense in terms of the size and nature of the operation – they are looking for a wide audience of consumers, not the aficionados.
The 2011 Bordello Blend, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc, brings a Bordeaux blend to their lineup. The clever packaging adds to the experience. The label contains images from the bordello days, and one needs a magnifying glass to see what they are.
The 2014 Woo Woo Vines Gewürztraminer is a complex wine, nicely crafted, and stands up well to the best in the Okanagan, where Gewürztraminer is the king of white wines.
Dirty Laundry Vineyards is a great place to visit to have fun, be entertained and refreshed, and get something to eat. If you see their wines in the store (in Canada for now), you should give them a try.
I just spent a week in the Okanagan Valley, in Kelowna and the areas surrounding the southern half of Lake Okanagan. The lake, a 90-mile long glacial lake, which, at the moment, is at a record high, creating some havoc in the area. I was there for a conference, but had four days to explore some of the wineries and restaurants that make this area so inviting. How many wineries? I was told 235, 250, even 285 by various people. The WineBC website says it’s 172 (LINK).
This was my third trip to the Okanagan since 2007, and the number of wineries has definitely multiplied. Another change from that time is the quality of the wines – there are some truly excellent wines being produced up and down the region. I made return visits to three wineries and two of them had improved their products greatly.
The Okanagan was initially home to white wines from Germany. Rieslings and Gewürztraminers are still prevalent, and used for ice wines and late harvest wines, which have precise definitions in Canada (LINK). There are also drier versions of these varietals being made today, echoing trends across the world.
The growing season has been lengthening here, as in other places. This means that red varietals are being grown across a wider area than in the past. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, and others are very common, joining Pinot Noir which has been widely cultivated for some time. Over the past decade, many wineries are producing excellent reds. As a rule, the wines are in the European style, more elegant than bold.
Kelowna is a beautiful city of about 200,000 on the east side of Lake Okanagan. With a temperate climate and warm summers, the area attracts vacationers and there are many large homes along the lake. Good restaurants, wine bars, brewpubs, and more are readily available. A number of wineries, both urban and rural, have restaurants.
Cactus Club at Kelowna Yacht Club(LINK): A modern restaurant with two bars (patrons must be seated at the bar to be served, a BC law), a view of the lake and downtown, and a very attractive and well-trained wait staff (think little black dresses). I only went here three times during my stay because I moved across the lake to West Kelowna for the last three days. Great food, ranging from casual to fine dining on the same menu, a nice selection of wines by the glass, and a good bottle list as well. Standard pours are either 6oz or 9oz; generous! The prices are a bit expensive, but the exchange rate works in your favor if you are not Canadian (currently about 70% of US dollar).
Oak + Cru, Delta Grand Hotel (LINK): A full-service restaurant and bar in the lobby of the hotel and extending out to a lakeside area. Also a wine tasting room featuring only Okanagan wines. I ate dinner there one night, had glasses of wine in the bar another, and did a tasting at the wine tasting room/wine cellar as well. Each experience was excellent – good food, good wines, a beautiful setting, and well-trained staff. If you want to taste a range of local wines without leaving town, this is the place. There are tastings each evening from 4 to 6 pm, each featuring a different area of the Okanagan region and different varietals, plus food pairings. The tasting room can be reserved for private dinners in the evenings for groups of six or more.
Tasting Room – Oak + Cru
Volcanic Hills Winery/Blue Saffron Bistro (LINK): In West Kelowna, a winery and restaurant. The bistro is outdoors and offers a view of sloping vineyards, with the lake and mountains in the distance. I went for lunch and a tasting (separate days), and enjoyed both. The kitchen does a good job, and their 2016 Gamay/Pinot Noir rosé wine was an excellent pairing with my lunch salad. Volcanic Hillswhites are their strength – especially their Gewürztraminer, Riesling, and Chardonnay. The Viognier was a bit thin and not to my taste. Reds were decent, but not outstanding.
In the next post, I’ll talk about the wineries I visited on this trip.
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 TastingRoom 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.
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 Three – Tempranillo, 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 2014100% 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!).
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.
Millennials (LINK) are in the process of redefining the wine industry, just as the Baby Boomer (LINK) generation has done over the past 40 years or so. But this post is less about large-scale trends than about individual decisions based on some experience and knowledge.
Summer Wines in Provence
The wine world contains a vast number of possible wines to drink, from many countries and many more wine regions. There are hundreds of varietals and tens of thousands of wine labels. These numbers are steadily increasing, along with total wine consumption (LINK). No one is going to know them all.
“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
Few young wine drinkers have had any instruction or experience as they have come of age to drink wine. Most will grab something cheap off of the shelf in the grocery store and look for sweetness and fruit in the flavor. This is understandable when you combine a desire to spend as little as possible with an untrained palate.
But now you are in your twenties (or thirties), and it’s time to craft your drinking patterns and preferences (if you drink at all, that is, and I assume that if you are reading this, you do).
In other words, it’s time to evolve.
“A bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books”
~ Louis Pasteur
Here are my recommendations for Millennials or anyone new to wine:
UP YOUR GAME: Get some knowledge about what you are consuming. If you eat organic food and drink cheap wine, the additives(LINK) in the wine will likely more than offset the benefits of the organic food. Find good value wines that are organic or biodynamic which you like and support them.
DEVELOP RELATIONSHIPS: Connect with the employees at your local wine shop and let them know your preferences and budget. They will be able to direct you to what you want. Note – most supermarkets will not have knowledgeable staff in the wine department (there are exceptions to this).
EXPLORE: Try different varietals, different regions, different winemakers. Branch out a bit and see if there are more areas of the wine world that appeal to you. You can also include wine exploring in your travel. There are wonderful wine regions all over the world that you can visit and expand your experience with wine.
GO DEEP: Settled on a varietal or a region? Study it, explore the wines offered, and learn as much as you can.
ENJOY: The number one rule of wine appreciation is to enjoy what you drink. Find your own sweet spot (or spots) and make a nice glass or two of wine a part of a very good day.
Wine enjoyment should be just that – enjoyable. Whether it is researching what to purchase, purchasing, tasting, drinking, or pairing, it should first be something to enjoy. If you aim for that, you will not go far wrong.
“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”
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 Burgundianstyle 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 Hillsterroir 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.
Earlier this week, Dorianne and I spent a couple of days in the California Central Coast Wine Country with friends. We stayed at the KonTiki Inn, a mid-20th Century gem in Pismo Beach. Don’t try to reserve a room at the KonTiki online – you can’t. They have a website (LINK), but you can’t reserve there or on the other online hotel sites. It’s very retro, very well maintained, very inexpensive, every room has an ocean view, and it’s very comfortable.
On Monday, we drove up to Paso Robles and visited three wineries. The first was Peachy Canyon (LINK)on Paso’s West Side. The tasting room is picturesque – they have been around for a while, since 1988 – and their wines are very drinkable. There is a nice selection of clothing and wine stuff in the tasting room shop. The $10 tasting fee is waived with a two-bottle purchase. Peachy Canyon is known for their Zinfandels, but their whites are also worth a look, as well as their other reds.
Next, we went over to Paso Robles’ East Side, to Sculptera Winery & Sculpture Garden (LINK). This was my first visit to Sculptera, even though I have been to Paso Robles many times. The first thing that you notice about Sculptera, after passing through the vineyards, is the amazing front sculpture garden. Here is a sample of what is there – there is another garden behind the tasting room.
Inside, the tasting room is nicely appointed, with more sculptures, including miniature versions of some of the larger sculptures. At this point, my suspicions were aroused – how often does an impressive winery and tasting room that clearly cost millions of dollars produce mediocre and overpriced wines?
Well, Sculptera is not in that category. The wines were uniformly excellent – so much so, that all three couples – all knowledgeable about wine – ended up joining the wine club. As I write this, two cases of their wines are on the way to our temporary residence, Roam.co (LINK), in Miami. And the tasting room staff was knowledgeable and very good at what they do. Their wines are priced from the low $20’s to $60.
Several of the wines on the tasting list (8 wines) were exceptional, including the first one poured, the newly-released 2015 Viognier, one of those whites that hits your palate and you instantly know that it is exceptional; it has everything you want, a rich bouquet – floral with hints of minerality; a slightly viscous mouthfeel; lots of green fruit and levels of complexity; and a smooth and very pleasing finish. At $26 retail, this wine is a bargain. Other highlights were the 2013 Pinot Noir, which was peppery and earthy, but the fruit held its own (yes, a good Pinot Noir from Paso Robles); the 2014 Primitivo (and the 2013 Primitivo Reserve, which was not on the list, but was poured for us), a big wine that also showed complexity and balance; the 2012 Merlot, also nicely balanced; and the two blends we tried, 2013 Figurine (45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Primitivo, & 13% Merlot), and the 2013 Statuesque (38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Syrah, 28% Petite Syrah). There is also a second label called Héroe Wines, which are also very good as well, and they honor the workers who produced it on the labels, front and back. So many good wines.
Our final stop was at Cass Winery (LINK), where we had lunch from their excellent kitchen. We did not do a tasting here, but had glasses of wine with lunch. Cass produces very good Rhône-style wines, and their whites – Rousanne & Marsanne and the blend they make with them are superior. It is a great lunch spot with indoor and outdoor seating and a very convivial atmosphere in the tasting room.
Paso Robles is one of the most interesting wine regions in California right now. There are some wineries that have been around long enough to develop some great wines, there are some who are very nearly at that point, and there are a lot of very innovative things happening with interesting varietals and new viticulture and wine making techniques. A great place to visit.
The next day, we drove south to the Bien Nacido area and the Santa Rita Hills AVA to visit two very interesting wineries – more about that in the next post.