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Behind The Wine: Lunch with Sequoia Grove Director of Winemaking Michael Trujillo

Wine is about the story. It’s not about tart cherries and blueberries wrapped in a blanket of cedar and sprinkled with generous amounts of pepper. Likewise, it’s not about making sure you’re pairing Merlot with lamb shank and Chardonnay with lobster. Sure, those things are nice, and work their way into most of my articles. However, in the end, wine is about the people behind the juice, who they are, as well as where and why they do what they do. I had the chance to meet, and have lunch with, the man behind Sequoia Grove, President and Director of Winemaking, Michael Trujillo.

Sequoia Grove Winemaker Michael Trujillo Talking Napa Red Wine - agoodtimewithwine.com

Tasting barrel samples with Sequoia Grove Winemaker Michael Trujillo

The son of a Colorado rancher, Michael has been in the wine industry for over thirty years. While in college studying architecture and engineering, Michael took a spring break vacation in California, and it changed his life. Leaving his college studies in his 20s, Trujillo packed his belongings and moved to Napa, landing a job at a vineyard that would eventually become Domaine Carneros. There, he had the chance to learn from wine industry legends such as Tony Soter and Mike Grgich, helping shape his ability to craft excellent wine.

Michael soon transitioned to working in the cellar at Sequoia Grove with founder Jim Allen, as well as consulting winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff. Here, Michael Trujillo learned quite a bit about making wine. So much so, he started his own side project in the 1990s, Karl Lawrence, using the Sequoia Grove winery as a custom crush facility. In 1998, Trujillo was appointed as assistant winemaker of Sequoia Grove, and in 2001, when founder Jim Allen retired, Michael got his call to the big leagues.

Wines From Sequoia Grove - Cambium, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay - agoodtimewithwine.com

Wines From Sequoia Grove – Cambium, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay

In 2001, the Kopf family, which had acquired 100% of Sequoia Grove, brought Michael to New York for a meeting. Meeting with “the three sisters”, Michael was rather relaxed and aloof when they started asking him questions about how he would change Sequoia Grove. He was quite candid, discussing things like improving the quality of the winemaking equipment, elevating the quality of the grapes sourced, and the fact that the winemaking facility was “like cooking for an army on a Coleman stove.” The Kopf family was impressed with his vision to improve the brand, and handed the reins over to Michael, who was made President and Director of Winemaking at Sequoia Grove. He began immediately putting into place the improvements he outlined.

By the end of 2002, the winery was buying and using only “A” quality grapes, where it had previously been sourcing “C” quality grapes. Vineyard Manager Steve Allen began replanting the winery’s estate vineyards, including the purchase of an additional 48-acre vineyard in 2006. The goal was to eventually provide 80% of the fruit for Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon and Cambium, and have that fruit be top quality. Michael brought on UC Davis grad Molly Hill as Assistant Winemaker in 2003, who was promoted to Winemaker in 2008. All of these measured steps elevated the wine from an average California wine at a good price, to an excellent Napa wine at a good price!

Pairing Sequoia Grove Chardonnay 2011 with stone crab claws - agoodtimewithwine.com

Pairing Sequoia Grove Chardonnay 2011 with stone crab claws

Back to our lunch together, which started with the Sequoia Grove Chardonnay. Beautiful aroma of vanilla and pear, with a crisp palate of Granny Smith apple, vanilla, rounded out by warm baking spice. The wine is crisp while being full bodied, seeing oak aging but no malolactic fermentation. The oak is well integrated, however, and there are no splinters in your glass, I assure you.  The acidity of the Sequoia Grove Chardonnay, which is excellent for the $27 price, worked perfectly with our Florida stone crab claws, as well as the Alaskan king crab legs.

We then took a pause from the serious look at Sequoia Grove wine, to play with… wine. Michael brought two barrel samples from the newer Sequoia Grove vineyards, 100% Petite Verdot, and 100% Cabernet Franc. These two wines show a lot of promise, and I look forward to seeing what Sequoia Grove does with them once they’ve aged.

Pairing Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon with barbecue beef tri-tip - agoodtimewithwine.com

Pairing Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon with barbecue beef tri-tip

Lunch was served, and I chose a barbecue tri-tip sandwhich to pair with my two red wines. However, Michael encouraged all of his guests to order fish or lobster, in typical “Drink what you like” fashion. Several orders of fish tacos and lobster rolls were soon paired with Cabernet Sauvignon and a blended red wine, and no one was disappointed.

Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 - agoodtimewithwine.com

Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

The first red wine, the Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, had aromas of blackberry and black cherry, and sweet vanilla scents.  The palate was beautiful red fruit, sweet spices, with a hint of vanilla and soft tannins, which were “sweet”, as opposed to dry and astringent. The  Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2o10 is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon from multiple appellations, aged in 100% American oak for 22 months, with 40-50% of it new oak. Absolutely lovely wine, and for about $38, definitely one to  have with food. It paired perfectly with my well seasoned barbecue beef sandwich.

Sequoia Grove Cambium 2008 red wine blend - agoodtimewithwine.com

Sequoia Grove Cambium 2008

The proverbial icing on the cake was tasting the Sequoia Grove Cambium 2008. Michael said that when blending wine, his goal is to create the perfect blend, “where you smooth out the peaks, and fill in the valleys”. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, there are only about 400 cases of the Cambium made, and it’s sold mostly in restaurants. Aromas of soft raspberry and vanilla with soft baking spice waft from the glass. The palate is a wave of spice, start to finish, with tart cherry and cranberry mixed with mocha and espresso flavors.

The Sequoia Grove Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are two wines that are well priced, and fairly available. They offer great quality, and are definitely worth trying. You should be able to find them where you live, as I saw them in both Total Wine and Publix here in South Florida. I told Michael these were “Put your money where your mouth is” wines…. wines that I may have had the chance to taste for free, but I’m happy to spend my own money on. You’ll be happy you did too.

As for the rest of Sequoia Grove’s story, it’s still being written. Michael’s goal of elevating the quality of the fruit continues, with a focus on building the estate vineyard program while nurturing the relationships he has with his current grape sources. He tools around with various grapes at the home vineyard, the Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc mentioned earlier, as well as Malbec. He said we’ll just have to wait and see what happens next. I’ll be waiting, Michael!

Quick Sip: Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Matthew Horbund Reviews Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2012

My sipping the Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc during the nationwide Polar Vortex freeze had very little to do me taunting my frozen friends. Ok, maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was in shorts and flip flips while you were in a parka, and your tears froze before they dripped down to your nose. However, it was mostly due to the fact that I am not a seasonal drinker. I happily drink white wine in winter and red wine in summer. In the end, my sipping this delicious white wine really had everything to do with the fact that for $19, the Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc was darned good.

The Rutherford AVA is Home for Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc

The 2012 vintage marks the 8th bottling of Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc. The fruit for this crisp white wine is from their Rutherford Estate vineyard. South of St Helena, and north of Yountville, the Rutherford AVA is smack in the middle of the Napa Valley wine region. More prominently known for it’s excellent Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford is home to some notable wine names, including Quintessa, Frog’s Leap, Mumm Napa Valley, St Supery and Cakebread, to name a few. On the Napa valley floor, on the Rutherford Estate, Long Meadow Ranch farms a total of 74 acres of Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvingon vineyards. The Long Meadow Ranch vineyards are farmed using organic practices certified by California Certified Organic Farmers. In addition to wine, Long Meadow Ranch sells olive oil, grass fed beef, eggs, honey and heirloom fruits.

Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Tasting Notes For Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2012

The color of the Long Meadow Ranch 2012 Sauvignon Blanc is a pale yellow, bright in the glass, with a medium viscosity. The aroma of grapefruit, lime, and a little salt is very refreshing. The palate is light bodied and crisp, with more lime than grapefruit, candied lime peel, and a little “zip” on the finish from the medium+ acidity. There is a slight smokiness on the finish of the Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2012, and the length of it’s finish is moderate and enjoyable.

The Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2012 is definitely a white wine worth trying! Are you a fan of Sauvignon Blanc? Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

The un-retiring of Bernard Portet

Bernard Portet Heritance Wines

Bernard Portet Heritance Wines

When I was asked if I wanted to meet Bernard Portet for lunch, I immediately hit the internet. Didn’t the 30+ year Clos du Val veteran retire from the business? Why would they want me  to meet with someone spending his days playing cards or shuffle board, wine industry veteran or not? The first result when searching for “Bernard Portet” brought up a July 2011 Napa Register article about his retirement barely lasting a year, and his being involved in a new venture, Heritance wines. I jumped at the chance to meet Bernard, and taste his wines, even if I wasn’t getting a “scoop” story.

I met Bernard at Tryst, a trendy downtown Delray Beach, FL restaurant for lunch. As I walked in, Bernard stood, warmly welcoming me to the table. We sat, along with Tryst owner Butch Johnson, and chatted about the Heritance Wines endeavor. After only a year of retirement, Bernard quickly grew antsy when he saw grapes on the vine during 2010′s harvest, and realized none of that would be wine that bore his signature. He soon formed a venture with Don Chase, named Polaris Wines, and began buying juice he had been fond of from the 2008 vintage. Bernard Portet uses assemblage winemaking for Heritance as it has long been his signature style, where he blends different lots of wine to craft a finished wine that is greater than the sum of their parts. Bernard began his masterful blending, and we were soon given Heritance Sauvignon Blanc and Heritance Cabernet Sauvignon, two wines made in the old world style of Bernard’s native France, heralding from Napa.

Bernard said the intent of Heritance wines was originally to be a negociant, buying juice from vintners and blending and bottling himself. However, that plan changed when the wine glut of 2008 and prior dried up. Bernard said the difficult 2009 and even worse 2010 vintages had caused there to be less available wine for Bernard to purchase and blend.  This forced him to change his business plan, purchasing grapes and blending at a custom crush facility. Heritance would not give up the mission of bringing good wine to market, and quickly began sourcing grapes in Napa to continue their project.

Our discussion lead to the styles of wine we often see out of Napa today. We discussed, and all agreed that the age of big, over the top wines may be coming to the close. Bernard feels that the pendulum has swing to it’s furthest point, and is starting to swing back towards more reserved, balanced and elegant wines. Indeed, Bernard found himself wanting to make wines that were closer to his French roots, balanced between fruit, earth and acidity, and crafted with food in mind. With that, we ordered lunch and began to taste the wine.

Heritance Sauvignon Blanc 2010 review

Heritance Sauvignon Blanc 2010

First we tasted the 2010 Heritance sauvignon blanc, a blend of 91% sauvignon blanc and 9% semillion. The nose was full of fresh melon, with faint notes of citrus. The palate was soft and fresh tropical fruit, with a round mouth feel. As the wine opened, citrus notes of lime and lemon developed, and a light herbal note permeated the glass. The Heritance sauvignon blanc had crisp but not bracing acidity, and additional spice notes developed over time. It’s aged and fermented in 100% stainless steel, and has 13.5% ABV. With only 2,000 cases available, it won’t be around long. This white wine had good depth and balance, making it a great $18 white wine, good on it’s own or with food.

I had ordered the fish tacos from Tryst’s lunch menu, and was very glad. Fresh fish, with great taco seasoning, made a great pairing for the sauvignon blanc. The citrus notes balanced the heat of the taco seasoning, while the spice from the wine managed to keep the flavors lingering. I also thought the fish taco would pair nicely with the Heritance cabernet sauvignon, and I was right.

Review heritance cabernet sauvignon 2008

Heritance cabernet sauvignon 2008

The Heritance Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 is a great under $30 Napa cab. A bouquet of dark cherry and spice box waft from the glass. The palate has beautiful fruit, black cherry and blackberry mix harmoniously with a mid-palate of earthy leather. This old world leather transitions into a finish of cedar and soft spice while holding on to the fruit. The finish absolutely kicks on this red wine, bold and prominent but not overpowering. At just 13.8% ABV, the Heritance Cabernet Sauvginon 2008 is a blend of 92% cabernet sauvignon and 8% merlot, and was aged in a mixture of new and used medium-toast French oak barrels. With only 3,000 cases made, you’ll find Heritance cabernet sauvignon mainly in restaurants on their website online.

The fish taco paired nicely with the Heritance cabernet sauvignon. The spice from the wine pumped the spice from the taco, while the dark Mexican seasonings worked nicely with the black fruit. However, I think this wine would prefer beef roasted or grilled, as well as lamb, or veal.

Bernard has no plans of stopping with just the two wines currently in his portfolio. There are plans to bring another red wine to market shortly, and while I can’t mention what it is, I look forward to this South American gem gracing my glass and palate soon. Additional plans are in the work to expand past that and I look forward to seeing what the future holds for Bernard Portet, Heritance and his wines.

Stepping Stones 2010 ROCKS! White Wine

Matthew Horbund Sips Stepping Stone 2010 ROCKS! White Wine

Matthew Horbund Sips Stepping Stone 2010 ROCKS! White Wine

A good white wine has it’s place in your glass, regardless of time of year. It may be fall, and temperatures are dropping, but we’re enjoying a nice white wine with dinner tonight. Living in Florida, we still eater lighter meals in autumn, and roasted chicken makes it’s way onto our plate at least once a week. I went to the cellar and looked for a white wine to serve, and a bottle of Stepping Stone 2010 ROCKS! white wine was my choice.

Stepping Stone is a second label from Cornerstone  Cellars, producers of some excellent Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ve received media samples of their wines previously, and this bottle was part of a tasting of various Stepping Stone wines, red, white and rose. An entry level wine, the Stepping Stone costs $15, and is available on their website. It’s a proprietary blend, but other bloggers disclosed it’s made of chardonnay and muscat. Definitely meant to be an easy back yard sipper, the wine has a pleasant bouquet and palate that makes it easy to drink alone, or pair with food.

Lighter in color than a typical California chardonnay, the Stepping Stone ROCKS! offers a bouquet of soft citrus and white flowers. It’s reminiscent of a sauvignon blanc and vigoner on the nose. The palate is light to medium bodied, very soft and gentle on the approach. The first sip gives way to a little spice, making me think of a gewurztraminer with nice soft floral notes and spice on the mid-palate and finish. I let the wine sit a little, to breathe as well as warm a tad. The flavors opened up a little, and soft lemon  became a little more prominent, and coupled with the white flowers, honey suckle and jasmine, coated the palate.

Matthew Horbund Sips Stepping Stone ROCKS! with roast chicken

Matthew Horbund Sips Stepping Stone ROCKS! with roast chicken

Though the palate is very smooth, and the acidity is barely noticeable, the Stepping Stone ROCKS white wine worked wonderfully with dinner. The palate held strong, even with asparagus on the plate, and the citrus and floral flavors complimented the roast chicken and potato dinner very well. An affordable wine, good on it’s own or with food, definitely a wine to try.

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below, and share this article with your friend!

 

Sipping Chardonnay – Franciscan 2009

Franciscan Napa Chardonnay 2009

Franciscan Napa Chardonnay 2009

For over thirty years, the Franciscan Estate winery has been making small lots of wine and blending them together to bring to market what they believe is a fantastic wine. They offer multiple lines of wine, including the Signature Wines, as well as the Limited Selection Magnificat and Cuvee Sauvage lines. Their main line, Signature Wines, offers Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and the wine I’ll discuss now, the 2009 Franciscan Napa Valley Chardonnay.

I receive many press samples of Franciscan wines, and have thought they were all nice wines. This chardonnay is the first I’ve written about, because I feel for the price, it offers a solid wine. For $18, this offers a taste of a Napa chardonnay without paying exorbitant prices. This white wine needed to breathe, something I’m finding more and more whites can benefit from. As soon as it was uncorked, the bouquet was pears slathered in buttered popcorn, and the palate was light to medium, with a very round mouth feel. The acidity seemed a little off and the fruit seemed over ripe.  However, after about 15 minutes open in the glass, the wine was much different.

After breathing, the palate was much more round, a function of the malolactic fermentation as well as the 8 months sur lie in a mix of American and French Oak. Sur lie means the lees, or expired yeast left after fermentation, stays in the barrel with the wine, which gives it a rounder, softer mouth feel.  There were notes of pear, vanilla and buttered popcorn on the palate, and the acidity was much more subtle.

The Franciscan Napa Chardonnay is fermented in oak barrels, using wild yeast which results in lively, fruit and mineral flavors with some layers of complexity. When fermenting wine, some winemakers use specific yeasts to achieve specific notes. Using whatever yeasts are in the air and vineyard naturally is thought to allow nature to guide the wine’s outcome. If you are a fan of oaky, buttery chardonnays then for $18 this is one to try. However, if you prefer a crisp chardonnay, or one with more fruit, then you’d skip the Franciscan. While the pear and fruit notes are definitely present on the wine, I feel with even such a light oak aging of 8 months, the vanilla, butter, and oak takes center stage.  If you’re looking for a nice chardonnay food and wine pairing, this wine will pair nicely with a roast chicken and side dishes such as mashed potato or macaroni and cheese.

Pairing wine with Easter and Passover meals

wine to pair with easter or passover dinner

Happy Holiday

Easter and Passover are on their way, and that means family will be getting together to celebrate the holidays. Whether your family has a tried and true menu, or likes to change it up year after year, having the right wine on the table makes everything better. Recently, I brought four wines to the CBS12 WPEC station as recommendations for your holiday celebrations.

The segment starts with two kosher for Passover wines. There is not a tremendous difference between kosher wine and non kosher wine. In general, because kosher wine is used in the Sabbath blessing, as well as holidays, it can only be handled by Sabbath observant Jews. Additionally, no animal products can be used in the winemaking process, such as gelatin or egg whites to fine the wine (remove particulates). The difference in Kosher for Passover versus Kosher wine is that they make sure no grain yeasts are used, since during Passover Jews do not eat any grains (no bread, for example). That’s it, otherwise, it’s fermented grape juice, just like any other wine. I’ve discussed kosher Chardonnay previously, and compared to a non-kosher chardonnay.


Click above to watch Matthew Horbund talk Kosher for Passover and Easter wines on CBS12 WPEC

The first wine in the TV segment above was Hagafen 2008 Chardonnay from the Oak Knoll District of Napa, California. This wine retails for $20, and is a nice Napa Valley chardonnay at this price. Irit and Ernie Weir founded the winery in 1979 with their inaugural vintage in 1980. With a total production of only 8,000 cases annually, they produce small batches of various wines including merlot, cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, chardonnay, and riesling. Their wines are well made, and for this segment I tasted the merlot, cabernet and chardonnay. I selected the chardonnay as I thought it offered a nice rich and full mouth feel, having good pear fruit with the toasty spice from the oak aging. This wine sees malolactic fermentation, which gives it that rich mouth feel, often associated with a buttery quality, and a little oak which gives it the buttery taste, as well as a little spice. This wine will pair well with the appetizers, as well as any lighter fare served at the Seder such as chicken. For the record, the name is pronounced Ha-Ga-Fen, not Hag-a-fen as I said in the above TV spot. Clearly, my Hebrew needs as much work as my French and Italian. In the Hebrew prayer over grape juice or grape wine, the ending words “p’ri hagafen” translates to Fruit of the Vine.

Hagafen 2008 Chardonnay perfect for Passover Seder

Hagafen 2008 Chardonnay

For a red wine option, I selected the Baron Herzog 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Central Coast, California. The Herzog family has a long history of wine making, dating back to Philip Herzog making wine for the Austro-Hungary court more than 100 years ago. Emperor Franz Josef enjoyed the wines so much, he made Philip a Baron! During World War II, Philips grandson Eugene hid the family from the Nazis by moving them around the Slovenian countryside, and at the end of the war came out from a false wall in a friends shed to reclaim his family’s winery. Three years later they were driven from their home, and in 1948 arrived in New York. Eugene toiled in a small store front making kosher wine from Concord grapes, and instead of being paid for some of his work, was given shares in the company. All of the other owners eventually gave up their shares, and  in 1958 he became the sole shareholder. They renamed the company Royal Wines in deference to grandfather Philip, and turned the company into a success. They moved out to California, expanding in 1985, with a focus on making high end quality wine under two labels, Baron Herzog and Herzog Wine cellars.

baron herzog cabernet sauvignon for passover seder

Baron Herzog cabernet sauvignon

The Baron Herzog 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon is made mostly from grapes sourced from the Paso Robles wine region. It’s aged 18 months in stainless steel, which helps retain the fruit notes. The nose of the wine has bright raspberry and red fruits, which soften as it opens up. This is a very California wine, showing more fruit than earthy or leathery notes. While a tad dry and mild tannins, the round fresh fruit translates from the nose to the palate. It will pair nicely with your Passover Seder meal, whether that includes brisket, lamb shank, or some other roasted dish. For $13, it’s a nice California Cabernet, Kosher for Passover or not.

There were plenty of other Kosher for Passover wines I could have selected. I tasted the Ben Ami Chardonnay and Merlot, and while both were a bit on the lighter and easy drinking side, they’d make a fine showing at your Passover dinner. I also tried the Hagafen Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, which showed a bit more earthy and leather notes on the palate than the Baron Herzog. Any would make a fine showing at your meal. While selecting a Kosher for Passover wine requires a little work, visiting Total Wine will help make that work a bit easier. They’ve got a tremendous selection of Kosher wines, including other US made wines as well as Israel made wines. They’ve also plenty of wines to select for Easter. Selecting a wine for Easter isn’t as restrictive as Passover, so the field is wide open. For Easter, I selected two Argentinian wines for the TV segment, and think for the price, they offer great quality, though they aren’t Kosher for Passover.

Don David Torrontes a great white wine for Easter

Don David Torrontes

With about 1,500 acres of vineyards  5,500 feet above sea level, the Michel Torino Estate is a key player in the Cafayate Valley of Argentina. The winery was founded in 1892 by brothers Salvador and David Michel, and they produce a wide variety of wines from a malbec rose to cabernet sauvignion to pinot noir and more. In the TV segment, select the Don David Torrontes Reserve 2009 as a great white wine for Easter, and for $16, it’s great any time. The nose of this wine is absolutely beautiful, with soft white flowers and a slight melon note.  The palate shows some citrus and melon, and is light and quite delicious. It will pair well with chicken, sea food and shellfish, and as I mention in the segment, Thai food.

Don David Malbec perfect for your easter meal

Don David Malbec

As a red wine for Easter, I believe the Don David Mabec Reseve 2008 will be a fantastic wine selection. Malbec is a versatile wine, and it pairs well with beef or lamb prepared almost any way, as well as ham, which covers most of the meats at traditional Easter meals. Without any decanting this wine has a palate of simple red fruit, with restrained earthy notes. As it opens, the palate is powerful fruit of red cherries and a little chocolate, and shows definitely a bit more new world with it’s round flavor profile. The more this wine opens, the more dark the fruit gets, and the more complexities come out. With a price of about $15, it’s not only worth making an appearance on your Easter table, it may be the best value wine you can get for the holiday!

Of course, everyone is looking for the best wine for Easter, and Passover, and I’ve given just a few selections here. I’ll come back in a few days to offer some more Easter wine pairings, but I’d love to hear what you plan on serving this holiday season. Easter or Passover, what’s in your glass?