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Is Riesling Your Next Favorite Wine?

Sommelier Paul Grieco Talks German Riesling - agoodtimewithwine.com

Sommelier Paul Grieco Talks German Riesling

Passion is contagious. When someone is passionate about a topic, they are often able to transfer that passion to you. You see how excited they are about the topic, and you get enthralled. You want to be that passionate about it. You want to be that passionate about ANYTHING. Paul Grieco, Partner and Sommelier of NYC’s Hearth restaurant and Terroir wine bars, is passionate about Riesling. And, if you have the chance to sip some with him, perhaps during the Riesling Road Trip, you may just become passionate about it too!

What is The Riesling Road Trip?

The Riesling Road Trip is a brilliant marketing idea from the PR team of Wines of Germany US. They travel up the East Coast, from Key West to NYC, stopping at various cities to meet and greet everyone and anyone who will take a moment to learn about Riesling!

The Riesling Roadtrip Mobile Wine Bar - agoodtimewithwine.com

The Riesling Roadtrip Mobile Wine Bar

The schedule of Riesling Road Trip stops – is it coming to you?

  • Orlando, FL May 8th 2014
  • Savannah, GA May 9th
  • Charleston, SC May 10-11
  • Raleigh, NC May 12
  • Charlottesville, VA May 13
  • Baltimore, MD May 14
  • Washington, DC May 15
  • Berkeley Heights, NJ May 16th
  • New York City, NY May 19th

They’ve partnered with Paul Grieco, dubbed The Riesling Overlord, who is behind the Summer of Riesling! Short story long, Paul only served Riesling at his wine bar/restaurant for the 94 days of Summer 2008, and has continued the annual event, which caught on at over 200 restaurants. Paul is joined by Stuart Pigott, author of The Riesling Story, BEST WHITE WINE ON EARTH, due out June 17th 2014, who has spent  the past 20 years studying, writing about, and living German Riesling.

Stuart Pigott - Author and Riesling Fanatic! Agoodtimewithwine.com

Stuart Pigott – Author and Riesling Fanatic!

Riesling as a very dynamic wine grape that has a terrible reputation. Maybe it’s the Monica Lewinsky of wine; it got a bad rap a few years ago, and people haven’t let it go. I implore you to let the past go, for both Monica and Riesling. They both deserve a second chance! Seriously. Riesling has this image of being a poorly made sweet wine that comes in a ridiculous blue bottle with a nun on it. I won’t get into the fact that this nun wine was probably Liebfraumilch, made from Müller-Thurgau, and not Riesling… although Paul did! He explains how Riesling has been tarnished by its past associations, and it’s up to us to forgive, and forget. Just like with Monica Lewinsky. (Seriously, people, give the woman a break, and stop writing about her, Eminem!)

In another article, I will share about the six German wines we had a taste of with Paul and Stuart at Virginia Philip Wine Shop & Academy, the West Palm Beach boutique wine shop owned by Master Sommelier Virginia Philip! However, first I want to talk a little about the grape itself, briefly cover the diversity and dynamic nature of Riesling, and offer you snippets of the entertaining and educational hour I spent with Paul and Stuart.

What Is Riesling?

Riesling Wine Grapes - agoodtimewithwine.com

Riesling Wine Grapes

Riesling is one of the most ancient German grape varieties, with the earliest documented mention of Riesling dating back to 1435. Riesling is related to the Gouais Blanc grape, which is also related to Chardonnay, Gamay Noir, and Fermint. Think Kevin Bacon and Six Degrees of Separation, they’re easy to connect to one another! Riesling is a grape that does well in cool climates, which is why you see it not only in Germany, but New York, France (Alsace), Northern Italy, and many other cooler zones in wine growing countries.1

Riesling is a very aromatic wine, with a high natural acidity and can be made in a dry, off dry, sweet, or dessert style. Fruit flavors often found in Riesling include stone fruit (apricot, peach, nectarine), as well as citrus such as lemon and lime. White flowers and honey, or honeysuckle flowers, are often found on the aroma and palate. German Riesling is known to have an aroma of Petrol or even pencil eraser, which can be off-putting to some. This aroma does not translate to the palate.

Deciphering German Riesling Labels

I think one of the biggest barriers for Americans related to German Riesling are the labels. While my past colleagues from Europe always were great linguists, knowing three or more languages, most Americans barely know English, or American as my South African friend Kurt likes to remind me. And, if we do know a second language, it’s usually Spanish. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it’s just a lot more familiar than German. Which, as I mentioned, seems to be a barrier to ordering their delicious white wines!

Weingut Robert Weil Rheingau Riesling  - Agoodtimewithwine.com

Weingut Robert Weil Rheingau Riesling

Paul does go into the art of German wine labels. He hit on a few very important pieces of information:

  • Sweetness Level – Trocken means dry! You’re going to associate this more with a Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, or even an unoaked Chardonnay such as Chablis! Halbtrocken wines are semi-dry and may not have more than 18 grams of residual sugar per liter.
  • Ripeness Level – This can be a little Wine Geeky here, so I’m going to try to not go over to the Somm Side,which is similar to the Dark Side! The ripeness of the grape can be classified as Qualitätswein, Kabinett, Spätlese (means Late Harvest), Auslese, BA (Beerenauslese) and TBA (Trocken Beerenauslese). BA and TBA are typically dessert wines. These Ripeness levels, or quality levels, denote how much sugar (ripeness) the grapes have when picked. And while the wines can have more residual sugar (sweetness) the higher in the ripeness category they are, wines from Qualitätswien through Auslese can be made Trocken, or dry. YOU ARE NOT CONFUSED! Stick with me!
  • Origin – Where the Riesling comes from can denote a lot about the style of the wine. Getting into the 13 Anbaugebiete (Wine Regions) is a bit ambitious for this post, but we had some great Riesling from Baden, Mosel, and Rheinhessen with Paul and Stuart.
  • Producer – This one CAN be tricky. Weingut So and So means Producer So and So. Oh, and the W is pronounced like a V, so it’s Vinegoot. Yeah, we’re back to that language barrier thing. DONT LET IT GET TO YOU!  In some cases, you wont see Weingut, such as with Dr Loosen German Rieslings.
  • Still or Sparkling – Yes, there is sparkling Riesling. It usually has the word SEKT on it, or perhaps the word Schaumwein. Slightly less yeasty than Champagne, perhaps a little more mineral driven than fruity, German Sparkling Riesling, Sekt, is a fun sparkling wine worth trying.

Don’t Let Language Be A Barrier

Seriously, the language thing should NOT be a barrier between you and German Riesling. I’m a Certified Sommelier, who has devoted a lot of time to studying wine and wine regions, and I still have an issue pronouncing German wine labels. And French wine labels. And American wine labels. That does not stop me from ordering them, drinking them, and enjoying them.

In most cases, you can “sound it out” and get close enough to the pronunciation. Of course, the W in Weingut pronounced as a V throws a monkey wrench in that! But, seriously, do you think people will laugh at you, or worse, NOT SERVE YOU WINE, if you said WEENGUT instead of Vinegoot? I think not. Ask your server, Sommelier or store clerk if they can help you with the pronunciation. Or, just ask them what German Riesling they recommend. I’m fairly sure they will have a TON of great options that could make Riesling your next favorite wine.

German Riesling, Drink Now or Let It Age?

YES! German Riesling is quite approachable when it hits the market. Stuart suggested that Riesling “settles down” a bit during the first year it’s on the market, and holding them for a few months before drinking them is the best course of action. Of course, unlike Budweiser Beer, there’s no BORN ON date on your German Riesling, so this is a little difficult to figure out timing wise. However, what it does bring to mind is German Riesling can age, quite nicely.

C H Berres 2002 Wehlener Klosterberg Kabinett Riesling - Mosel - agoodtimewithwine.com

C H Berres 2002 Wehlener Klosterberg Kabinett Riesling – Mosel

The vintage date on a bottle of wine, any wine, tells you when the grapes were harvest. Therefore, if the wine says 2013, which is the vintage of many white wines coming to market now, it means the grapes (or the majority of them) were harvest during 2013. Using that vintage date as your starting point, don’t be afraid to set a good bottle of Riesling down in your cellar or cooler for a year or so before you open it. Stuart says that screw caps, which some love and others loath, are excellent at preserving the freshness of German Riesling while allowing them to age nicely over 10 years or so. We then got into the great Cork versus Screwcap debate, which was brought back on track with “I’ve had rieslings over 100 years old, and they were delicious.”

Wines will change with age. The primary fruit notes will diminish a bit, and secondary notes take center stage. Not everyone loves older wines. So, don’t let this little paragraph force you into waiting a year before you open your newly acquired German Riesling. OR WORSE, don’t let it dissuade you from drinking it at all. There is absolutely nothing wrong with opening a bottle of German Riesling the day after it hits the store shelves. Just be aware that it will age nicely, if you want to lay it down.

Should You Catch The Riesling Road Trip?

ABSOFRIGGENLUTELY! First, Paul is a New Yorker, and I was surprised that within his color commentary on wine he didn’t say “RIESLING, FUHGEDDAHBOUTIT” at least once. He’s a dynamic speaker, who brings Nietzche quotes to the table as easily as he does wine descriptors and German geography. Stuart, a Brit living in Germany, has an amazing amount of scientific knowledge, wine research, and practical experience that makes LEARNING about German Riesling interesting. I was quite jealous Stuart’s recollection of having German Rieslings dating from 1811, and 1893. Clearly, he’s had wines older than I have, and I’m green with envy!

Enjoying The Riesling Roadtrip - agoodtimewithwine.com

Enjoying The Riesling Roadtrip

I’m going to talk about the six wines I had this evening, as well as a few more I have in my cellar, in a few days. So, come back soon, or even better, Subscribe to the blog! However,  if you can catch the Riesling Roadtrip, the German Rieslings, and one Pinot Noir, that you’ll be exposed to during the Riesling Road Trip will definitely impress you! Probably enough to make you consider Riesling as your next favorite wine! 

 

1  Wine Grapes, Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding & Jose Vouillamoz

Enjoy Delicious German Riesling with Riesling & Co Road Trip

I will confess that we don’t drink a lot of riesling in our house. We have plenty of riesling on hand, bottles from Germany, bottles from the US, and even a bottle or two from Australia. It’s just not something we sip often! However, I know there are some amazing German rieslings to be enjoyed, so, when the Wines of Germany PR team invited me to the Riesling & Co. Road Trip here in West Palm Beach next week, I accepted the invitation.

Riesling & Co  Road Trip Wine Bar - agoodtimewithwine.com

Riesling & Co Road Trip Wine Bar

I think the coolest part of the Riesling Road Trip is the truck that brings the wine town to town! Hello, this is a shipping container that has been converted into a MOBILE WINE BAR! Then, that bad boy make stops at wine shops like Virginia Philip Wine Shop & Academy here in West Palm Beach, bringing the tastes of Riesling, and Germany, to you! It can only get better if it actually came to your house! However, if the cool venue wasn’t enticing enough to get you to come sip some Riesling, the people you’ll meet are great reasons to make it to the next Riesling & Co. pit stop!

When you come out to the Riesling & Co events near you, you’re going to get to meet some very interesting people while sipping on Riesling. I am excited to meet Paul Grieco, whose New York City restaurant, Hearth, is currently nominated for a James Beard Award. Paul is joined on the East Coast Riesling tour by Stuart Piggot, who has a book about Riesling coming out in June of this  year. And, when you join me in West Palm Beach on May 7th, you’ll probably meet Master Sommelier Virginia Philip, one of only 19 women, and a total of 135 people in North America, to earn the distinction of Master Sommelier.

banner-roadtrip2If you’re in South Florida, come to West Palm Beach and learn more about Riesling on May 7th! We can compare and contrast the  differences between Rheingau versus Mosel Riesling. Or, we can just sip on the wine and enjoy the South Florida sunshine!

On May 7th, Wines of Germany will be teaming up with Virginia Philip Wine Shop & Academy to host a unique wine tasting as part of the Riesling & Co. Road Trip. The tasting will feature a variety of German wines.

Where: Virginia Philip Wine Shop & Academy
                    101 North Clematis, Suite 150
West Palm Beach

When: May 7, 2014
6:00pm – 7:00pm

Ticket information: The event is open to the public. Call (561) 721-6000 for ticket purchase information. You can buy tickets and register online too!

Wines of Germany is the first wine board to conduct a multi-city road trip in the U.S., in an effort to bring Riesling to interested consumers, beverage directors and restaurateurs, no matter where they may be located.

Does the Riesling Road Trip stop in your home town? Are you going to attend? Let me know!

What is the oldest wine you’ve ever sipped?

A bottle of Troplong-Mondot 1893 Bordeaux - agoodtimewithwine.com

A bottle of Troplong-Mondot 1893 Bordeaux

It often seems the world is all about youth and being young. Cosmetics promise to “stop the aging process,” and drink supplements are called “the fountain of youth.” However, wine aficionados buck this trend, and seek out the old, coveting the aged wines that have matured and evolved. It’s often quite a celebrated experience to sip wines with 5 or 10 or more years of age on them. When I reviewed The California Wine Club, I did not get into the details of their Ancient Cabernet series. I felt discussing aged wines needed a post of its own.

I still wholeheartedly endorse The California Wine Club. Some bloggers reviewed The California Wine Club Premier Series, which for $39.99 a month offers two wines per shipment. It’s also what was offered to one lucky winner of the 3-month California Wine Club subscription giveaway! They have 4 other series, the Signature Series, International Series, The Aged Cabernet Series, and the Pacific Northwest series. I was asked to review their Aged Cabernet series, receiving two wines to review. I was quite certain I would receive two no-name, long-lost wines that would be vinegar in a pretty box. Glad I was wrong.

Reviewing Martin Ray 1993 and Delectus 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon - agoodtimewithwine.com

Reviewing Martin Ray 1993 and Delectus 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon

The wines were from fairly reputable and well-known wineries, Martin Ray and Delectus. As a matter of fact, I was recently invited to a Delectus tasting here in South Florida. Of course Martin Ray Winery is owned by Courtney Benham, and you can find both of those labels in stores everywhere. The bottles seemed to be in good shape, with very little wear on the label or capsules. Of course, the fear of opening older wines is that they are over the hill, or worse, spoiled! Fear or not, I opened the wines in preparation of tasting them. I decided I would use the older Martin Ray as an opportunity to practice decanting old red wine for my upcoming Certified Sommelier Exam, even though the CA Wine Club said it would not be necessary.

Opening the Martin Ray 1993 Cabernet Sauvignon was uneventful. The cork was still firm and taut, and there was very little seepage up the cork, even after nearly 20 years of cellaring. I decanted the wine, leaving about 1/4 of a glass in the bottle with the sediment that occurs as part of the aging process. I can geek out about how the sediment forms, but just know, older red wines are likely to have sediment that you don’t want to drink. For a 21-year-old wine, it was still very taut and tightly wound, and did need to breathe a little bit.

Tasting the Martin Ray 1993 Cabernet Sauvignon  Napa Valley - agoodtimewithwine.com

Tasting the Martin Ray 1993 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

The Martin Ray Cabernet Sauvignon 1993 Napa Valley started off with tart cranberry and cherry, with a little wood and cough syrup. With about 20 minutes of air, it softened a little, with a bouquet of pine needles and decaying roses, cinnamon and subtle vanilla scents as well. The palate was exceptionally dry, with walnut, sour cherry, and baking spices. While it was on the decline, it was still quite drinkable, and had a good bit of life left. It went quite nicely with our Easter Dinner of Prime Rib!

Reviewing Delectus Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 Napa Valley - agoodtimewithwine.com

Delectus Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 Napa Valley

The Delectus Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 Napa Valley give me a bit of a fit with the cork. I could not find my Ah-So opener, which is also called a Butler’s Thief. That is the two-pronged device that you wiggle into a wine bottle, and slowly wiggle out older, delicate corks. Sadly, the cork was so brittle that the regular corkscrew demolished it, and it end up falling into the bottle. However, I am NOT going to let a little cork slow me down!  I decanted the Delectus 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, again practicing for my Certified Sommelier exam, leaving as much sediment and cork in the bottle as possible. I then placed a piece of cheese cloth over the decanter, and poured it into our glasses. I would have possibly used a coffee filter, which would have been even more effective than the cheesecloth.

Using Cheesecloth to filter out the crumbled cork

Using Cheesecloth to filter out the crumbled cork

The Delectus was 12 years old and still had fresh fruit of black cherry, blackberry, and plum with coca and leather. There was a fistful of baking spices and the 15.2% ABV still packed a whallop! There was still quite firm tannins on this older cabernet sauvignon, and decanting it for air was definitely the right thing to do. Again, it worked perfectly with our Prime Rib dinner, and was a very nice bottle of wine.

I want to add that I am a Money Where Your Mouth is kind of guy. I only write favorably about the wine club and services of The California Wine Club because I feel it is good value for the money. I am also ordering some of their older bottles of wine for my cellar. I believe one will be this Clos du Val Wine Company 1981 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which was made by Bernard Portet, whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting twice. I don’t just write favorable articles because people sponsor my posts and send samples. I write because I believe in what they’re offering. I will, however, order before May 22, 2014 and use one of these California Wine Club codes:

Club25: This is good for $25 off your first box (or a case or gifts!)
Club4for2: Double your club membership: 4 bottles for the price of two

Now, I will get back to the original question in this post’s title. What is the oldest wine you’ve ever sipped? For me, it was a 1967 Chateau Haut-Brion, which I enjoyed with friends in November 2013. Not the best year for Bordeaux, it was certainly memorable!

Chateau Haut-Brion 1967 - agoodtimewithwine.com

Chateau Haut-Brion 1967

What about you? What is the oldest wine you’ve ever sipped? Leave a comment below, I’d love to know!

 

 

 

 

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!

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!

 

Wine, Chicken Wings, and Sriracha score a Superbowl Touchdown

superbowl snacks made with Sriracha Chili Sauce

Sriracha Chili Sauce

Sriracha is the hottest thing on the internet now. No, really, it’s hotter than Matt Cutt’s rant on Guest Blogging Is Dead. And, with the Superbowl coming up, every food blogger is talking about their Sriracha Appetizers for the big game. My favorite Superbowl finger food is chicken wings! So, I found three chicken wing recipes perfect for the Superbowl, two of which are made with Sriracha. I then, of course, paired wine with them, because that’s what I do. Touchdown, Sriracha!

I went with three red wines for the Superbowl appetizers this year. I’ve previously written about Wine and Wings, and stand by my pairing of Riesling with hot wings. Riesling is the perfect white wine to pair with spicy foods, as the fruit flavors and residual sugar balances the heat perfectly. However, some people don’t want balance, they want heat. And lots of it. So, I picked red wines that keep the heat hot. We’ll look at those wines after the wings.

Sriracha Oven Fried Chicken Wings from Honestly Yum Blog

Sriracha Oven Fried Chicken Wings

The first Superbowl appetizer hails from Honestly Yum’s Sriracha Oven Friend Chicken Wings recipe. Her complete hot wing recipe calls for Sriracha, butter, jalepenos and cilantro for the sauce, and cooking the wings on wire racks in the oven. She has this nifty method for making the skin crisp while baking, and it would have been cool if I was patient enough to try it!

Unfortunately, I was cooking three different types of wings at once, and had no patience for wire racks. I threw all of my wings on a cookie sheet, cooked them for 20 minutes, drained the fat, flipped the wings, and cooked for 15 more minutes, all on 475 degrees. They may not have been as FABU as Honesty Yum’s wings, but they were darned tasty. My son absolutely loved these wings, as did I. We didn’t garnish with jalepeno or cilantro, and they still rocked. These wings are not for the faint of tongue however, because they’re seriously hot!

harry and david blood orange marmalade and sriracha hot sauce chicken wings

Strange Bedfellows – Sriracha and Blood Orange Marmalade

The second Sriracha Chicken Wing recipe comes from The Little Kitchen. She puts together a sweet and spicy sauce for her oven baked wings that I liked. While I enjoyed it, I felt it was a tad light on the heat. Had I had time, I would have messed with the ratios a little, upping the Sriracha a touch, and reducing the Harry & David Blood Orange Marmalade a touch.

Sriracha Spicy and Sweet Chicken Wings

Sriracha Spicy and Sweet Chicken Wings

You definitely want to check out her blog, because she prepares the wings by boiling them first, then oven baking them. She claims it makes an awesome, crispy skin, and I am sure it does! Again, I didn’t do that, since I was pressed for time.

Though any old orange marmalade will do, I was very glad that I had a jar of the marmalade left over from my 2012 visit to Harry & David in Oregon. The quality ingredients made these Sriracha Spicy and Sweet chicken wings rock.

Garlic and Olive Oil base for Parmesan and Garlic Chicken Wings

Garlic and Olive Oil base for Parmesan and Garlic Chicken Wings

The last recipe that I made tonight was From Gate to Plate’s Parmesan and Garlic Boneless Chicken Wings. Oh. My. GAWD! Hands down, these were everyone’s favorite wings tonight. It wasn’t just the fact that they were boneless wings, because I used the same chicken in all three sauces. The sauce just rocked, and everyone agreed.

Roasting Garlic in Olive Oil for Chicken Wing Sauce

Roasting Garlic in Olive Oil for Chicken Wing Sauce

The Parmesan Garlic sauce required you to bake 8 cloves of garlic for 20 minutes, then mix together a number of ingredients with that garlic, like mayo, corn syrup, apple cider vinegar and more. I short circuited the process by using a small disposable aluminum baking pan, instead of a big cookie sheet for roasting the garlic. Worked perfectly. The house smelled AMAZING, like my Italian grandmother was cooking for the family. If I was Italian, that is.

Frying Chicken Breast Chunks for Boneless Chicken Wings

Frying Chicken Breast Chunks for Boneless Chicken Wings

This recipe has you frying boneless chicken breasts that you coat in flour, rather than actual chicken wings. I was a bit skeptical at first, because I don’t fry things. Ever. Not even eggs. Sunny side up, sure, but not fried. I digress!  I don’t have a deep fryer like she recommends, so I filled a cast iron skillet about 2/3 of the way with vegetable oil, put the burner on medium high, let it warm for 8 minutes, then began frying my chunks of chicken. I turned them once or twice, and cut into one after about 8 or so minutes frying. PERFECT! I call it beginners luck. So, after you fry up the boneless chicken breasts, toss them in the sauce, and mangiare. That’s Italian for EAT!

Pairing Wine with Parmesan Garlic chicken wings

Pairing Wine with Parmesan Garlic chicken wings

Now, what about the wine? I went with three very different red wines. One was a Garnacha from Spain, another was a Petite Sirah from California, and the third was a Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre blend from the Southern Rhone in France.

Spellbound 2012 Petite Sirah paired with spicy hot chicken wings

Spellbound 2012 Petite Sirah paired with spicy hot chicken wings

Though perhaps not the best example of Petite Sirah in the world, the Spellbound 2010 Petite Sirah from California was the best wine to pair with the hot wings. The fresh California fruit really balanced the heat from the Sriracha hot wings perfectly. The Spellbound Petite Sirah was a “Grocery Store Wine” that cost around $15. The aroma is ripe red raspberry, with hints of chocolate, and is very inviting. The palate is soft silky red fruit, not super complex or super structured. It’s definitely a California porch sipper, but I think it’s a nice wine and the hot wings are perfect with it – all fruit balances all heat!

Domaine de la Maurelle 2010 Gigondas red wine

Domaine de la Maurelle 2010 Gigondas red wine

The Domaine de la Maurelle Gigondas 2010 was a very nice, but very different wine to pair with the chicken wings. This blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre has a spiced black and blueberry aroma. The palate is medium mouth feel, dominated by earthy leather on the palate with dried red and black fruit, with firm tannin, as well as some menthol rounding it out. Old world wine all the way, yet nice with the wings. This Southern Rhone red wine cost $25.

Las Rocas 2009 Garnacha red wine from Spain

Las Rocas 2009 Garnacha red wine from Spain

Finally, we had Las Rocas 2009 Garnacha. Disappointed. This was a wine that in 2008 I was singing praises of. Now, I’m just going to say, skip it. The aroma is subdued red raspberry with hints of a leather bound book. The palate is fresh and ripe fruit, with some earthiness. However, there’s a green celery component that really is NOT pleasant. The $15 wine was too simple and yet too awkward to really get behind. However, I believe a nice Spanish Garnacha (Grenache) would be perfect with the Sriracha chicken wings, or the parmesan and garlic wings.

So, there you have it, three, well two wines that pair perfectly with chicken wings for the Superbowl. Whether you go for Parmesan Garlic or Sriracha hot wings, you’re sure to score with the three recipes I linked above. So, tell me, what’s your favorite wine for the Superbowl? And what are you pairing it with? Let me know below, just leave a comment! 

 

Wine, Steak and The Godfather Part II

review wine pairing napa cellars merlot 2007 and steak

Napa Cellars Merlot 2007

On Sunday night, we like to get ready for the work week ahead, have a comfort meal, and watch some TV. This weekend, AMC ran a Godfather marathon, which seemed perfect to watch while eating steak and drinking red wine. With The Godfather Part II as a backdrop, we grilled some delicious porterhouse steaks, and popped the cork on a wine that’s been in my cellar for a few years. Sipping the Napa Cellars Merlot 2007 with Michael Corleone was a perfect way to end the weekend.

How Do We Grill Our Steak?

We’re steak purists. This is not to imply we don’t like interesting and exciting preparations for our steaks. I’ve have some amazing steaks with sauces that could blow your hair back. However, when we pull out the Weber charcoal grill, we only season our steak with two ingredients. Those ingredients are salt, and pepper. We grill the steaks over a high heat for about 5-7 minutes per side, and pull them off medium rare. Then, we pour the wine.

Grilled Porterhouse Steak with Sautéed Mushrooms paired with Merlot  red wine

Grilled Porterhouse Steak with Sautéed Mushrooms paired with Merlot

Tasting the Napa Cellars Merlot 2007

Part of the Trinchero Family Estates portfolio, I’ve written about Napa Cellars wines in the past. This bottle was a sample that I received in 2010, so it’s been sitting in my cellar a while. I opened the Napa Cellars Merlot 2007 about 30 minutes before we were ready to eat, and poured 2 ounces or so into a glass. This allowed the bottle to open up a little, and I was able to sip on some of the wine while grilling the steaks. The wine was an opaque purple to garnet color in the glass, with an aroma of fresh blueberry and brambles. The palate was full, having great layers of blueberry and vanilla, with wonderfully integrated oak in the form of warming cedar and spice that is noticed on the mid-palate and finish. This wine really benefited from the 30 minutes of air, and certainly evolved over the next hour as it was slowly sipped.

Napa Cellars Merlot 2007 Pairs Perfectly With Steak

Napa Cellars Merlot 2007 Pairs Perfectly With Steak

Wine Pairing With Steak

We do tend to eat a lot of red meat, steak being on the menu at least twice a month. While we usually pair a Cabernet Sauvignon, we’ve been known to break out an Italian red wine for steak before. Merlot does not make it into our glass often, but not because we aren’t fans. Rather, it’s a wine we just don’t seem to grab from the shelves often enough. However, as the Napa Cellars Merlot shows, Merlot a great wine time and time again.

At $22, the Napa Cellars Merlot 2007 is aged in new and 1-year old American Oak barrels, is 100% Merlot and is 14.5% ABV. When Fred from Norcal Wine reviewed the wine in 2010, he recommended it, saying it would drink through 2013, though it’s doing fine in 2014 in my opinion. While you’re not likely to find the 2007 vintage in stores, I would not hesitate to try the current, 2011 vintage of this wine. Napa Cellars wines deliver time and time again, and at a price that’s more than reasonable.

What are your thoughts on Merlot? Let me know below!

 

Quick Sip: Robert Weil 2010 Riesling Tradition

“People talk dry, but drink sweet.” The first time I heard that, I was interviewing the winemaker of Barefoot Wine, Jennifer Wall. It came up again during a twitter conversation yesterday, regarding a newspaper wine review saying a wine was dry, when it was technically off-dry. (Yes, splitting atoms for most wine drinkers, I know…) It seems that while we would like to think we like dry wine, in reality, many of us prefer a little sweetness in the glass. And that’s why this Robert Weil 2010 Riesling Tradition is a perfect quick sip for today’s article.

A Little History of Weingut Robert Weil

The historic manor house at the Robert Weil estate in Kiedrich.

The historic manor house at the Robert Weil estate in Kiedrich.

Founded in 1875, the Weingut Robert Weil estate is located in the village of Kiedrich. Even at over 130 years old, it is considered one of the Rheingau’s younger wine estates. The village of Kiedrich itself has been traced back as far as the year 950. The estate is still in the Weil family, and the founder’s great-Grandson, Wilhelm Weil, is currently continuing the family tradition of making excellent German wine. The Robert Weil estate cultivates about 222 acres (90 hectares) of vineyards, which are 100% Riesling. Weingut Robert Weil was part of Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries of the year 2012 and 2013. If you’re wondering what Weingut means, it’s definition is winemaker and indicates that the wine was grown, made, and bottled on the premises. It’s similar to the French use of Chateau.

This wine was a sample sent to me by the team at Loosen Bros USA back in 2011. I was curious how it would taste with two years of age on it. Well made Riesling can last quite some time if stored properly. As a matter of fact, a friend of mine visited the Dr Loosen estate in Germany in 2012, and said that Ernie Loosen pulled out a bottle from 1973, and it was fantastic.

Tasting Notes for Robert Weil 2010 Riesling Tradition

In the glass, the color of the wine was a clear, day bright pale hay. The Robert Weil Riesling Tradition had an aroma of dried apricot and dried apples, and it really wasn’t a very expressive nose. With a medium to full body, flavors of crisp nectarine and white peach filled the palate, with a little honey, and hints of white jasmine appear on the finish.  The wine is quite balanced, it finishes crisp and clean, and even has some nice acidity.

 

Robert Weil 2010 Riesling Tradition wine review tasting notes

Robert Weil 2010 Riesling Tradition

Back to what I said earlier about drinking sweet even though we like to talk dry, the website speaks to that. “Produced exclusively for the U.S. market, the “Tradition” series offers the traditional range of Rieslings with sweetness, balanced by a crisp mineral structure. The Tradition QbA has a delicious array of fruits and is a pure pleasure to drink.” The Robert Weil 2010 Riesling Tradition has only 10% ABV (Alcohol by Volume), and residual sugar of 29.1 grams/liter.

At $25, I think the Weingut Robert Weil 2010 Riesling Tradition is a very good wine. If you’re a fan of sweet fresh fruit, you’ll love it. However, even if you talk dry AND drink dry, I think this is a Riesling worth trying.

What are your thoughts on German Riesling? Do you talk dry, but drink sweet? Let me know by leaving a comment below!