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Behind The Wine: Tasting Clos Pepe With Winemaker Wes Hagen

Uncorking Clos Pepe Pinot Noir 2009 | agoodtimewithwine.com

Uncorking Clos Pepe Pinot Noir 2009

Nestled in the northeastern corner of the Central Coast’s Sta Rita Hills AVA sits Clos Pepe Estate. Purchased in 1994 as a horse ranch by Steve and Cathy Pepe, Clos Pepe winemaker Wes Hagen began at the Estate full-time in 1994 as well. The estate was planted with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from 1996 to 1998, and made the first commercially available vintage of Clos Pepe in 2000. I had the chance to “talk” to Wes Hagen during a Twitter Tasting, where a group of bloggers received samples of the Clos Pepe Pinot Noir 2009, tasted, and tweeted about it with Wes. A cerebral straight shooter, Wes had a lot to say about a lot of things!

“Sta Rita Hills has poor soil, wind, fog, cool temps, long hang time and passionate explorers of flavor” was one of Wes’ first tweets during the tasting. That was soon followed by “And not to be topical or anything. Dirt Does NOT Lie, and this AVA is a testament to that.” Of note is the Hashtag used during our tasting, #DirtDontLie. A hashtag, for the uninitiated, is a way to aggregate tweets (or status updates) by a subject. With all of us adding the same hashtag to each tweet about the 2009 Clos Pepe Pinot, you should able to pull together the entire virtual conversation, and follow along. The hashtag speaks volumes about Wes, and his thoughts on where the wine is made, the vineyard!

Speaking of the vineyard, The Concise World Atlas of Wine describes the poor soil of the Sta Rita Hills AVA as “a patchwork of sand, silt, and clay.” The diurnal winds and fog keep the grapes cool at night, prolonging the growing season to help the grapes reach peak maturity, and ripeness. However, Sta Rita Hills is one of the coolest wine grape growing regions, lending itself to that bracing acidity.

I noticed Wes tweeting about decanting his Pinot Noir about an hour before the tasting began. When I asked about it, he said

I decant everything I drink 5 years and younger, whites pink and red. Decanting whites and then laying the decanter on ice is a new thing for me…and it’s revelatory.

Oh, revelatory in a sentence. I feared I would need to break out my dictionary, as I do when tweet with Randall Grahm. I digress. Few Americans I know are patient enough to decant a Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, no less a normally approachable and easy to drink Pinot Noir. I tried the Clos Pepe 2009 Pinot Noir right after I pulled the cork, and was punched in the face with ripping acidity. I grabbed a decanter and gave it an hour of air.

Clos Pepe Pinot Noir 2009 | agoodtimewithwine.com

Clos Pepe Pinot Noir 2009

My first taste of the Clos Pepe 09 Pinot was strawberry, smoked bacon and the ripping acid I mentioned previously. Masculine on the palate, there is firm, assertive fruit and acidity. Think of it as a dapper, but manly James Bond. 007, in your glass. As the wine opened, flavors evolved into dark red berries, smoked bacon, great baking spices, with sea smoke on a long-lasting finish. This wine, which was four years from vintage when sampled, has the potential to age and develop nicely, in part because of the acidity. Experts like Parker/Galloni and Laube give this delicious red wine a drink window through 2020, though Wes himself feels you should enjoy your Clos Pepe 2009 Pinot Noir by 2016!

Speaking of drink windows, I recently came across a tasting note from March 2013 discussing Wes’ 1999 vintage. The wine was a his first at Clos Pepe, a year before their commercial launch, and was unlabeled. Nearly 14 years after harvest, the reviewer said the wine was “holding up remarkable well, with primary fruit still in evidence.” This speaks not only to Wes’ wine making prowess, but also the quality of the grapes grown at the estate.

The Clos Pepe vineyard practices are sustainable, and quite straight forward: Take care of the vineyard, and the people working in it. They try to “Encourage a healthy, diverse vineyard environment by using sheep, chickens, owl boxes, raptor perches and policies that guarantee a healthy farm. Promote soil health by composting and organic fertilization, but only enough to make the vines able to support a small crop”

Likely written by Wes, Clos Pepe does “believe that organic practices that help improve our wine are worth implementing, but we do not believe in organic for organic’s sake, nor do we practice Biodynamics, which we consider (mostly) the ravings of a charlatan, and voodoo fluff/marketing fodder.”

I read somewhere that many of the grapes grown on the estate are sold to other wine makers, keeping only a fraction of what Clos Pepe grow. Only 900 cases of the 2009 Clos Pepe Pinot Noir were made. With a suggested retail price of $54, the 2009 vintage is likely sold out. The wine is mostly available online.  The current Pinot Noir release, 2010, was given 93 points by Robert Parker/Antonio Galloni.

Joe Roberts of 1winedude asked Wes for the geeky productions details on the wine. Wes replied

Geeky production details: I didn’t fuck up a perfect vintage. That’s it. I’m a farmer.

Other BRIEF geeky production details include the Clos Pepe 2009 used all 4 Pinot Noir clones grown on the estate, 667, 115, Pommard 4, and 777. The wine aged 11 months in oak, very loose filtration, no racking or fining, picked at 23.2-24.7 brix at 3.26 to 3.38 pH final TA is 6.8 g/l, 14.1% ABV

We went on about where and when terroir exists and other cerebral, wine geekery. And just plain geekery, as I believe Wes mentioned if he wasn’t making wine, he’d still be an English teacher. It was an awesome evening with a great wine lover, who happens to make great wine. You can see what Pamela, Melanie, and Dezel thought about the Clos Pepe #DirtDontLie Twitter tasting. Wes also has his own blog, definitely worth checking out!

 

Six Bordeaux Wines Made For The Holidays!

Regardless of which holiday you celebrate, there is usually the need to have a party, or go to a party. And that means either serving adult beverages to your guests, or bringing a hostess gift to a party. If you’re hosting the party, you want to be sure that every detail is perfect, especially the wine you serve. And if you’re bringing a host gift, you want to ensure it won’t be re-gifted, along with the President Obama Chia Pet that someone else brought. A delicious French red is the perfect holiday wine idea! Here, we round up six Bordeaux red wines under $15, four of which are tremendous Quality to Price Ratio bargain wines! And make sure you check out the entire post, as I’m going to announce a giveaway this week, and you won’t want to miss it.

Planet Bordeaux for the Holidays wine tasting

Six Bordeaux Red Wines for the Holidays

As part of a media campaign, Planet Bordeaux engaged several wine writers to taste a selection of six red wines from Bordeaux. Dubbed “Planet Bordeaux for the Holidays”, we were asked to taste and tweet about the wines. The wines were all merlot dominant blends, and selected for their food friendly nature, as well as their very budget friendly price.

wine review Moutdon Cadet Bordeaux 2011

Mouton Cadet Bordeaux 2011

The most budget friendly wine of the tasting was the Mouton Cadet 2011. A scant $10, the Mouton Cadet Bordeaux 2011 is a blend of 65% merlot, 20% cabernet sauvignon and 15% cabernet franc. A dark inky purple and garnet in the glass, the bouquet is black and blue fruit, cranberry sauce and spice. Not elegant or sophisticated, the Mouton Cadet Bordeaux 2011 palate is medium to full body, and is dusty dry with flavors of black tea and black pepper dominating. There are very subtle hints of black cherry on the palate, but the fruit is barely a supporting character in this play. During the tasting, my friend Melanie of Dallas Wine Chick agreed this is really more a food wine than sipping wine, as this Bordeaux red wine was very cheese friendly, and worked fine with Cabot Cheddar cheese.

wine review Chateaux de Camarsac Bordeaux 2011

Chateaux de Camarsac Bordeaux 2011

Maroon and ruby colors in the glass, the Chateau de Camarsac 2011 is a $12 blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. There were some funky barnyard scents on the nose, something I personally am not a fan of, even if they’re not terribly strong. Nothing like the bouquet, the palate was is earthy leather, with dried blueberries from the merlot integrated with earthy mushrooms. There was mild but noticeable acidity and firm tannin, which will almost disappear when paired with beef, lamb, or even cheese.

wine review Les Hauts de Lagarde Bordeaux 2011

Les Hauts de Lagarde Bordeaux 2011

The third wine of the tasting really knocked my socks off. At $12, this wine is made with organically grown grapes, and can be found in most whole foods. The Les Hauts De Lagarde 2011 Bordeaux is 65% merlot, 25% cabernet sauvignon and 10% cabernet franc, with it’s organically grown grapes hailing from vineyards in Saint Laurent du Bois, Bordeaux. The bouquet reminded me of an old, leather bound book, with organic scents mixed with cranberry and currants. The palate was medium bodied, leaning towards full, and was not dusty at all. Fine, well integrated tannin, a little blueberry mixed with black currant, there’s great oak integration on this wine. The wine is almost soft and feminine, with a lingering finish that has hints of spice. This wine will work with almost any holiday fare, and I even recommend this delicious Bordeaux red wine for Thanksgiving. Drink now through 2014.

Speaking of Organic, later this week, Wednesday or Thursday, I’ll be posting about Harry & David‘s organically grown pears. I’ll feature them, as well as a recipe and wine pairing for you enjoy this holiday season. However, the best part is that you’ll be able to enter a giveaway to win a box of the pears! So, make sure you check back later this week to have your chance at a delicious holiday gift from Harry & David. To be sure and not miss the post, subscribe to my blog via email via the form on the top left of this article!

wine review Chateau du Bois Chantant Cuvee Laurence Bordeaux Superieur 2011

Chateau du Bois Chantant Cuvee Laurence Bordeaux Superieur 2011

The Helfrich family is the proprietor of the next wine, the Chateau du Bois Chantant Bordeaux Superieur 2011.  A blend of 90% merlot and 10% cabernet sauvignon,  the Chateau du Bois Chantant is a full bodied, well balanced Bordeaux wine, and quite a bargain at $13. Similar to the Les Hauts de Lagarde, this budget friendly Bordeaux red wine was quite elegant.  The nose is much more floral than the previous three wines, with violets swirling around the glass, along with notes of cherry cola and soft cinnamon. A deep, dark purple in the glass, the full mouth feel showed elegant plum and cherry with soft, well integrated tannin all around. There was a little black tea on the finish, which leads into a nice, toasty spice which was warming like a holiday fire. While it will work with almost any holiday dish you serve, I felt the Chateau du Bois Chantant would work well with poultry, perfect for your Christmas goose. Drink now through 2014. As an aside, I had the pleasure of meeting Anne Laure Helfrich earlier this year, and have some of their fantastic Alsatian pinot blanc and riesling to talk about in upcoming articles.

wine review Chateau des Arras Bordeaux Superieur 2010

Chateau des Arras Bordeaux Superieur 2010

The next wine from Bordeaux in this tasting was the Chateau des Arras Bordeaux Superieur 2010. A blend of 70% merlot, 15% cabernet sauvignon, and 15% cabernet franc, this $14 budget wine from France really was excellent for the price. The color was more garnet than purple, with a meaty, gamey nose that showed some fruit. It wasnt a terribly expressive bouquet, but deep sniffs bring blueberries and spice. The palate, however was elegant and refined, with fine integrated tannins. This is the wine to pair with your holiday roast, so bring on the prime rib, as the Chateau des Arras can handle it nicely. Flavors of blueberry and cranberry layered with a dusty earth component, and flavors of cherry intermingled in. This wine absolutely sung with cheddar cheese, as the tannins eased, the dried cherry and blueberry fruit came froward and there was a long, delightful finish. My final tasting note on the Chateau des Arras Bordeaux Superieur 2010 was “loved the last sip, the fruit was swirling around my mouth, the spices were soft and so back stage, there was an earthiness to this that sung, there was nice structure $14 worth of yum.” Drink now through 2016.

wine review Domaine de Courteillac bordeaux Superieur 2010

Domaine de Courteillac bordeaux Superieur 2010

As you end your year on a good note, we end this post (and tasting) on a good note. The last Bordeaux red wine of the tasting was the Domaine de Courteillac Bordeaux Superieur 2010. The bouquet is teeming with earthy spice, and doesn’t show much fruit. Inky black in the glass, the palate is very elegant and complex. Layers of flavor start with coffee and mocha, with dark cherry and cola flavors as well. Merlot dominant, but blended with cabernet sauvignon, this $15 wine is harmonious and balanced, bringing power, length and flavor. Another very food friendly wine, it loved the cheese course, but will pair perfectly with beef, lamb, and venison as well.  My last tasting note of the evening was “This wine is REALLY so good with the cheese !!! wow!!!” Drink now through 2016.

I hope you were nice this year, and Santa, or Harry Hanukkah, brings you presents as good as these wines. I highly recommend the last four, as they offer the most quality for the price. The Les Hauts de Lagarde Bordeaux 2011 at $12 is a steal, as is the Chateau du Bois Chantant Cuvee Laurence Bordeaux Superieur 2011 at the same price. The Chateau des Arras Bordeaux Superieur 2010 is still a budget friendly wine at $14, and a great example of what Bordeaux wines can be at reasonable prices. Finally, at $15, the Domaine de Courteillac Bordeaux Superieur 2010 may be the perfect wine for your holiday party this year!

I’d love to hear from you! Have you had any value driven wines from Bordeaux lately? Let me know below!

 

Tasting Three Bordeaux Wines Under $20

Planet Bordeaux Wine tasting Three Bordeaux Wines Under $20

Three Bordeaux Wines Under $20

I believe many people in the US are afraid of French wine! I feel this fear is the product of three factors, the inability to pronounce the wine’s name easily, the inability to identify the grapes readily, and the inability to be comfortable with the previous two factors given lofty prices of some French wines. Of course, the first factor, the language, is the most difficult to get over. I’ll give you that one. The second factor is changing, and you’ll see that on at least one of the three wines below, the grape varieties are right on the front of the bottle. The last fear factor of price for French wine given the uncertainty of what’s in the bottle can be overcome by learning that nice French wine can be had for $12.

When I was asked to participate in a recent virtual wine tasting on Twitter by the team at Planet Bordeaux, a group charged with educating consumers about wines from Bordeaux, I was of course interested. I’ve been doing these virtual wine tastings since 2008, and think they’re a great opportunity. It gives me the chance to try wines, and share the results with you. This increases both of our exposure to wines that perhaps we otherwise would not have tried. I knew this event, tasting three wines from Bordeaux, France under $20,  would be a hit.

Chateau de Bonhoste Bordeaux Blanc 2012 wine review

Chateau de Bonhoste Bordeaux Blanc 2012

The first wine of the evening was a crisp white wine from Chateau de Bonhoste, the 2012 Bordeaux Blanc with a suggested retail price (SRP) of only $12. A blend of three grapes, 60% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Semillon and 10% Muscadelle, the wine is pale straw in color. It’s bouquet is a soft, pink grapefruit, light floral scents, and a touch of honey. The palate is light, crisp and refreshing. There is nice fruit on the approach, a blend of tree fruit, stone fruit and a good bit of grapefruit that comes and wraps itself around the other fruits quickly. The wine has nice acidity, firm and zippy. This is a pleasant, inexpensive white wine, especially if you like citrus and acidity. There is a little hint of spice that seems to come on the finish, rounding out a very nice palate. For $12, it’s definitely worth trying this value focused white wine from Bordeaux. For the record, you pronounce the name Chateau de Bone-oste.

Tasting notes on Chateau Bonnet 2012 Rose from Bordeaux, France wine review

Chateau Bonnet 2012 Rose from Bordeaux, France

The second wine of the evening was a rosé from Chateau Bonnet (Shah-toe Bone-nay) Bordeaux 2012. The wines of Chateau Bonnet are made by Vignobles Andre Lurton, where vines were first planted in 1744. Made with merlot and cabernet sauvignon, two of the most prominent grapes of Bordeaux, France, this simple rosé wine cost only $15. With a dark, rich pink color in the glass, the bouquet is soft strawberry with a spicy floral floating on top. The palate is light and very soft, this is a very relaxed, laid back wine. The fruit isn’t explosive, it’s subdued strawberry and a tiny bit of dried cranberry.  The wine was a tad soft and subtle, but did show a bit more power as it opened.

Chateau Majoureau Hyppos Bordeaux Superieur 2009 red wine

Chateau Majoureau Hyppos 2009

The third wine in this tasting was the Chateau Majoureau (mah-zhohr-oh) “Hyppos” Bordeaux Superieur 2009. A big, bold Bordeaux red wine with 55% merlot and 45% cabernet sauvignon, we decanted the Hyppos for over an hour, and sampled it every thirty minutes for over three hours. There were scents of dark black fruits on the nose, as well as a cedar box component and mixed spice scents. The palate is a lot like the nose – the cedar box and spice is powerful up front, the fruit is really hidden behind the rest of the tastes. Not a “sipping wine”, we paired this with a pot roast, and with the food there is a little more harmony to the Hyppos. However, ultimately, this wine was a bit big, with a zealous amount of oak showing, and it really didn’t have the finesse I was hoping to find. This is a $20 Bordeaux red wine that will appeal to those who really enjoy the nuances that bold oak gives to red wine.

Let’s get back to those three factors that I believe cause Americans to shy away from French wine: language, unable to discern the grapes in the bottle, and price. Again, there isn’t much I can do about the language. As a matter of fact, I had to reach out to the PR firm who supplied these wines as samples, to ensure I was pronouncing them right. I wasn’t, for the record. It’s a matter of learning a different language, to whatever extent you are comfortable with. However, the second item, the grapes in the bottle, that’s changing.

Chateau Lafite-Rothschild wine from Bordeaux, France

Chateau Lafite-Rothschild wine from Bordeaux, France

It used to be the case that unless you studied the wine regions of France, you had no idea what grapes made the wines. If you didn’t learn that Burgundy reds are largely pinot noir, and Bordeaux left bank is predominantly cabernet sauvignon while right bank is predominantly merlot, you had no idea what you were drinking. That, of course, could cause  someone very particular about what they’re drinking to steer clear of these enigmas. However, recent changes in french wine labeling laws are allowing the grape variety to be printed on the label. While you probably won’t see them on all of the wines of France any time soon, you’ll definitely see them more often. And, if you’re ever wondering what grapes are in a bottle, feel free to ask me! I’ll do my best to answer right way!

The last factor, the price of French wines being prohibitive, is likely no longer a concern. Sure, you’ve heard of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild going for hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. And I’m sure you’ve walked into a store and seen the bottle of Petrus for $2,500 and more. However, you’ve now seen how French wine can be found under $20.  There is a wide array of wines coming from France, and they span the price spectrum. And  I hope we can explore that wide world of wine together! Let me know the last French wine you had by leaving a comment below, as I’m very curious about your experiences!

Cheers!

Wine and Chocolate for Valentines Day

Rodney Strong red wines

Rodney Strong red wines

With Valentine’s Day approaching, wine and chocolate will be bought and consumed in astounding numbers. About 58 million pounds of chocolate will be purchased, and I’m sure more than a few bottles of wine will wash that down. For the past 23 years, the Rodney Strong Wine & Chocolate Fantasy event has paired wines with gourmet chocolate, inviting guests to revel in the sensory delight. The Rodney Strong twitter team asked if I’d participate in a Twitter Tastelive event, pairing three of their red wines with chocolate, and tweeting about it. I admitted that my personal palate preferred food to sweets when pairing wines, but I’d love to challenge my palate.

Rodney Strong 2009 Knitty Vines Zinfandel

Rodney Strong 2009 Knitty Vines Zinfandel

First we taste the Rodney Strong Knotty Vines 2009 Zinfandel, as well as paired it with some grilled hamburgers. Spending 16 months in a mixture of French and American oak barrels, this $18.50 zinfandel displays a bouquet of red berries such as red raspberry and even dark cherry, while the palate offers bright red berry fruit, raspberry on the front, with the flavor getting darker on the mid palate and the finish. There are notes of black pepper on the back end, and the wine has good California fruit, and is big and powerful without being overblown. It’s a perfect wine for a bbq, whether ribs or burgers, and we had to struggle not to finish it with our meal, for the upcoming chocolate tasting.

Rodney Strong Alexander Valley 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon

Rodney Strong Alexander Valley 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon

Next we taste the Rodney Strong Alexander Valley 2009 cabernet sauvignon, a $25 bottle of California wine. A full bodied red, the nose shows fresh dark cherry, ceder and baking spice. The palate opens nicely, showing more fruit than wood and spice, while retaining a nice firm tannin structure. With the burger, the California fruitiness of this wine tones down, and the earthy leather notes really show through on the mid and finish. It works nicely with or without food, and I was able to enjoy a glass up to three days after it was opened. It retained it’s fruitiness, while still having integrated tannins lending body to the wine.

Rodney Strong 2007 A True Gentleman's Port

Rodney Strong 2007 A True Gentleman’s Port

Finally we taste Rodney Strong 2007 A True Gentleman’s Port, from Sonoma County. A blend of 39% zinfandel, 30% touriga, 16% malbec, and 15% syrah, this wine is aged 40 months in neutral oak, after being fermented on the skins. This is a very limited release wine, available only to the winery’s Collector’s Circle members and at the winery itself. Without the benefit of air, the nose was hot and spicy, and the palate had a tremendous amount of power behind it, with plum, raisin and spice notes. However, on the second day, the Rodney Strong A True Gentleman’s Port opened to a big, full, round and silky palate, with flavors of dark chocolate, raisin, plum and fig.  There was fine spice on the finish, and it lingers quite a while.  The nose on the third day is dominated by chocolate, and the palate is even rounder, softer, more integrated, like a plum and raisin dark chocolate bar, instead of individual notes. For $30, it’s a very nice way to end a meal.

Dark Chocolate to taste with wine

Dark Chocolate to taste with wine

Now that we’ve taste the wines, how does the chocolate factor in? First, we had five different chocolates to try, including some 72% cocoa bits from Peters’ Chocolates from Sebastopol, CA, as well as 55%, 61% and 72% cocoa dark chocolate from Chocolate By Numbers. I also added a little Brix chocolate later on, which is supposidly chocolate made especially to pair with wine. We’ll cover that after the cover the first four chocolates.

Frankly, I’m still not a dark chocolate fan, and still don’t like chocolate with my wines. I found pairing 72% dark chocolate from Peters’ Chocolates with the Rodney Strong Port was my favorite pairing of the night.  The wine took some of the heat out of the finish, and brought out the chocolate notes in the wine, of course. However, there were tons of oohs and ahhs about the pairings, with other wine writers loving the different wines with different levels of cocoa. Everyone’s palate is different, and there are different sensitivities to sweet, salty, and sour. So don’t let my preferences influence yours too much. You can try some Rodney Strong wines and chocolate and attend the Wine & Chocolate event Feb 4, 2012 at the winery, and form your own opinion.

Brix 54% Cacao Dark Chocolate

Brix 54% Cacao Dark Chocolate

Back to the Brix Chocolate. The Brix was 54% cacoa and surprised me in terms of taste, in a positive way. Supposedly made with pairing wine in mind, Brix chocolate claims to pair well with Champagne, Riesling, Pinot Noir and Vintage port. At $10 for 8 ounces, it’s about double the price of a bag of Dove chocolate, which you can get in the grocery store. While I felt it was pretty good chocolate, and I felt it paired really well it with port, I’d have a hard time recommending you buy it just because it pairs with wine.  I’ve not paired it with anything other than port, and have a bottle of Prosecco that I’ll try it with later this week!

What are your thoughts on chocolate and wine? Do you love it? Do you hate it? Do you want to try it? Let me know your thoughts, leave a comment below!

 

All of these wines, and chocolates, were provided as samples to taste and discuss honestly with you. Nothing affects my opinion of the wines or products I write about, not even getting them as free samples.

Rodney Strong Vineyards – Changing the world one bulb at a time

Rodney Strong Vineyards Green Light

Rodney Strong Vineyards Green Light

Earth Day was April 22nd, 2011, and leading up to it was a wine blogger tasting of Rodney Strong Vineyards wines. The idea behind the tasting, besides trying four of their wines, was to learn about the earth friendly initiatives Rodney Strong Vineyards have been participating in. As part of their Rodney Strong Vineyards Green Light program, which I’ll talk a bit about below, the folks at Rodney Strong Vineyards provided each of with with a CFL blub to start our own earth friendly initiatives. Oh, and the wine was pretty good too.

Rodney D. Strong founded the winery in 1959 as the 13th bonded Sonoma County winery. The Klein family, a fourth generation California agricultural family, are the current private owners. The family has implemented some environmentally friendly initiatives, such as installing a solar electric system on the top of their barrel warehouse in 2003. The system generates enough energy to power 800 homes, and their dependence on the power grid decreased by 35%. Additionally, they have installed a lighting system that uses motion sensors and energy efficient light fixtures to reduce energy use, minimizing heat output, and optimize light quality. They also own the distinction of becoming Sonoma County’s first carbon neutral winery in 2009.

Rodney Strong Vineyards Charlotte's Home Sauvignon Blanc

Rodney Strong Vineyards Charlotte's Home Sauvignon Blanc

While the environmentally friendly projects are exciting, we were equally excited to taste the wines. The wine tasting was a mix of two white and two red wines. First up was the Rodney Strong 2009 Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc. With a retail price of $13.50, this crisp white is all estate fruit, from a vineyard planted in 1971 in honor of Rodney Strong’s wife, Charlotte. This white wine, as well as the chardonnay I will talk about next, needed time to open up. I’m finding more white wines lately that need to sit and breathe, or aerate, to really express their nuances. Initially the wine was very grassy and green on both the nose and palate. However, after 15 minutes of opening in the glass, the nose was still a bit grassy, but tropical and grapefruit notes began to show. The palate of of the Rodney Strong Sauvignon Blanc is crisp and light, with grapefruit and a touch of herbaceous or grassy note.  About 10% of the wine sees French oak when fermented, with malolactic fermentation giving it a rounder, more full mouth feel. The remainder of the wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks with no malolactic fermentation, retaining it’s crisp taste. An interesting wine, especially if you don’t want a fruit salad in your glass.

Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay 2009

Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay 2009

Next up was the Rodney Strong Vineyards 2009 Chalk Hill Chardonnay. In 1965, Rodney Strong was the first to plant chardonnay in what would later be recognized as the Chalk Hill American Viticultural Area (AVA). Made from 100% estate chardonnay, 86% of the wine sees malolactic fermentation and French oak aged 10 months. This gives it the rounder mouth feel and buttery quality while still retaining a portion of crisp chardonnay for balance. The nose is a buttery tropical fruit salad, and the mouth feel was indeed round, fully and silky. Up front, the palate was a subtle papaya with a tinge of oaked vanilla and spice on the finish. After over 20 minutes in the glass aerating, the palate was a bit more fruit forward, and the spice well integrated, with vanilla highlighting the fruit, rather than competing with it. Again, the Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay benefited from opening and breathing, just like the sauvignon blanc. Right out of the bottle, I would have passed on both of these whites. However, with time to open, they became very interesting and enjoyable.The Rodney Strong 2009 Chalk Hill Chardonnay retails for about $20, and while this isn’t necessarily a budget white wine, it’s certainly interesting enough to try.

Rodney Strong Reserve Pinot Noir 2008

Rodney Strong Reserve Pinot Noir 2008

This brings us to the red portion of our program, starting with the Rodney Strong Vineyards 2008 Reserve Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley. With a suggested retail of $40, this red wine needed about 30 minutes of decanting, or really aerating, to show it’s full potential. The nose has great dark strawberries and a hint of cocoa on it. I loved the complexity of the wine’s bouquet. There is delicious red fruit on the palate, a burst of it at first, followed by dark and earthy on the midpalate. It was not sweet, but it was just beautiful and fresh fruit. There were secondary notes of smoke as well, which added to the complexity and enjoyment. The Rodney Strong Reserve Pinot Noir had great acidity as well, and I would happily pair this wine with anything from salmon to steak, as it truly would work with that range. The wine is aged 10 months in 100% French oak barrels, has 14.9% Alcohol by Volume, and is certainly a big, but delicious RRV Pinot Noir.

We finished up the evening of wine tasting strong, pun intended, with the Rodney Strong 2007 Symmetry Red Meritage. First, meritage is pronounced similar to heritage. The inclination is to add some French accent to the word, but don’t. Wine geeks will quickly point out the error. Second, meritage is a proprietary term used to denote red and white Bordeaux-style wines without infringing on the Bordeaux (France) region’s legally protected designation of origin. The Rodney Strong 07 Symmetry is a blend of 85% cabernet sauvignon, 10% malbec, 3% merlot, 1% cabernet franc and 1% petit verdot. It’s aged 26 months in French oak barrels, and has 15.1% ABV.

Rodney Strong 2007 Symmetry Red Meritage

Rodney Strong 2007 Symmetry Red Meritage

Now that the wine geekery is behind us, this wine was fantastic. At a suggested retail price (SRP) of $55, it’s hard for me to say you must try this wine, as it may be outside of the budget of many wine lovers. However, if you find yourself looking to splurge, or if $55 is in your wheelhouse, swing for the fences and try this wine, you’ll thank me. The bouquet of the Rodney Strong 07 Symmetry Red Meritage at first is perfume and floral, which blows off shortly and shows dark red cherries and briar or brambles on the nose. The palate shows complex layers of blackberry, coffee, dark chocolate and spices. Tim Elliot of Wine Cast reviewed the wine recently and felt the oak was a bit generous and made a strong appearance. However, he mentions that with aging, the oak will integrate well. Perhaps our palates are different, as I felt the oak was nice on this, and didn’t need to pull any splinters from my tongue.

Overall I thought the wines were well done, and enjoyed what they had to offer. I also enjoyed the follow up from the team at Rodney Strong Vineyards, saying that their Compact Florescent Light initiative had tremendous success. They had over 85,000 pledges to switch from an incandescent bulb to a CFL, and caused the program to end over two week earlier than originally expected.  I’m a big believe in CFL bulbs, and have replaced all but 4 bulbs in my house with them. I did not use the CFL that the nice folks at Rodney Strong Vineyards sent me as part of their project, and will instead find a nice home for it in a family member’s home. We all need to do our part!

Get me to the Monk

The Blind Monk Wine Bar West Palm Beach

The Blind Monk Wine Bar West Palm Beach

There’s a great new wine bar in West Palm Beach, The Blind Monk. They boast over 90 wines by the glass, over 15 craft beers, and countless good times to be had. I had the pleasure of meeting with owner Ben Lubin and sommerlier Krystal Kinney, and will feature an interview in the coming days.

I’d like you to join us February 19th for a wine tasting event at “The Monk”. Space is very limited, and it will be on a first come first serve basis. For only $20 per person, we’ll taste three delicious wines, and pair them with artisan cheeses. I’ll be hosting the event along with the talented sommelier Krystal, discussing the wines and pairings, as well as answering any questions you have.

If you’re in the South Florida area, and want to join us for this fantastic event, simply RSVP for the wine tweetup at The Monk event. We look forward to seeing you!


All Wine and no Scotch Makes Matt A Dull boy

Battlehill Scotch at Total Wine

Battlehill Scotch at Total Wine

I absolutely love wine. It’s my passion. I enjoy talking about it, I enjoy drinking it, I love sharing it with friends. There’s very little about wine I don’t like, other than the fact that the bottles always end up empty.  However, I’m not a one dimensional man! I have other needs, and one of those needs is scotch. And on November 30th, I’m going to satisfy that need, and you can join me.

I’ve had the opportunity to host a number of wine tweetups, and some fantastic friends have joined me. During a few of them, several of us arrived early, to sip on and share our love for scotch. That spawned the idea of having a scotch tweetup, and while everyone was in agreement, we could never find the time or place to host it. However, a fantastic partnership with Greg Tuttle, Manager of Product Education for Total Wine, has given us a venue and a date to bring scotch lovers together to learn and taste four blended and for single malt scotch.

Our first South Florida #Scotchup will take place in Boynton Beach, Florida. We have space for 20 or so Scotch lovers to get together, learn about and sample the eight different scotch offerings, and of course, tweet about it. If you’re in the area, join us for a good time with .. scotch .. on November 30th from 6:30 to 8:30pm at Total Wine! Salute!

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