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Pass the Pali Pinot

Pali Wine Company

Pali Wine Company

Don’t we all wish we could take what we are passionate about as a hobby, and turn it into a business? That’s just what entrepreneurs Tim Perr and Scott Knight did in 2005; they founded a winery that was focused on producing small lots of pinot noir that they loved to drink. Named Pali Wine Company, after their home town of Pacific Palisades, they set out to focus on producing wines that represent the areas in which the grapes are grown, as well as being varietally correct. I was sent samples of their Riviera Pinot Noir from Sonoma Coast, CA and Alphabets Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, OR, and they’re doing something right.

I’ve written about pinot noir a few times, and I love the various expressions you’ll find. The red wine can show flavors that range from ripe fresh fruit of strawberries to earthy and organic, and everything in between.  It’s found in both the New World and Old World, and is quite a food friendly wine.  It can be found in nearly every wine growing region, including France, New Zealand, Chile and of course, the US.  Pinot Noir is often a red wine I recommend to people who are looking to dip a toe in the red wine world, as it’s often soft and approachable, and an enjoyable glass.

Pali Wine Co Riviera Pinot Noir

Pali Wine Co Riviera Pinot Noir

The Pali Wine Co Riviera Pinot Noir 2009 bears the Sonoma Coast appellation on the label. This means that the grapes are not sourced from any specific vineyard, but rather from one more more sources within the Sonoma Coast AVA. This allows Pali to change it’s suppliers, should the grapes not be up to standards from one or another vineyard. As soon as it was uncorked and poured, the nose was chocolate covered strawberries, with some spice notes as well.  The palate was light, and bursting with fruit. Round and easy to approach, there were cherry flavors, and were almost reminiscent of the cherry cough drops you’d eat by the pack, cough or not.  After airing for about thirty minutes, the palate was still quite similar. It was perhaps a bit heavier, and showed a bit of tannin I didn’t previously notice.

The tannin could be a function of  aging 10 months in barrels, 20% of which is new French oak. It didn’t have gripping tannins, but some where noticeable. The Riviera pinot noir is not an over the top fruit bomb, and not terribly high alcohol, clocking in at 14.5% ABV. However, it’s round, fruit forward profile made this an easy sipper. While certainly a round, California red, the Pali Riviera Pinot Noir will make a good food wine. The acidity isn’t racing, but it’s somewhat noticeable. I think it played nicely with a bit of grilled Italian sausage and hamburger, and wouldn’t hesitate to pair it with a variety of foods.

A quick hour flight north of Sonoma takes us to Oregon, where we visit the renown Willamette Valley wine country. I was indeed fortunate enough to visit Oregon in May 2010, and enjoy some fantastic Willamette Valley and Dundee Hills pinot noir, including J Christopher, Cameron, and Ponzi. Oregon produces some world class pinot noir, and has been compared to Burgundian pinot noir time and time again. Burgundy, of course, largely produces old world pinot noir, where the flavors are more earthy, organic, and less fruit driven. While not a RULE, it’s indeed the case that many of the wines I’ve been enjoying from Oregon are made in this old world style. I believe that the Pali Wine Co Alphabets 2009 Pinot Noir is indeed ones of these wines.

Pali Wine Co Alphabets Pinot Noir

Pali Wine Co Alphabets Pinot Noir

The nose of the Pali Wine Co Alphabets 2009 opens up as bright raspberry and strawberry, and is very intense. While also aged in 20% new French oak for 10 months, and made from pinot noir grapes, that’s where the similarities with the Riviera end. The palate, right out of the bottle without any air, is medium, with lighter fruit notes. With thirty minutes decanting, the nose is still strawberry, but a bit darker, if you can imagine that. The palate, however, is much darker, and the fruit as “blown off”, leaving a very earthy, organic flavor that is mushroom like. The terroir, or earth where the grapes were grown, really shows in this wine. It’s markedly different from its fruit forward, approachable cousin. While still easily enjoyed, the Alphabets seems a bit more of a food wine than the Riviera. It definitely liked the hamburger and Italian sausages I made on the grill, and even brought out some of the fruit when sipped after a bite.

What I enjoy most about these wines was the price. At $19 each, they’re an affordable way to sample two distinct styles of the same grape, and from the same wine company. You can order Pali Wines Pinot Noir online, or ask your local wine retailer to order them for you. If you have had them, or have them in the future, I’d love to know your thoughts.

New versus Old

Do you have questions about wine?

Do you have questions about wine?

I love to answer your questions about wine. I’ve been soliciting them on Twitter and Facebook, with the hopes of making wine more approachable once they’re answered. A recent question came from my friend Joe who asked “What’s the difference between New World and Old World?”  Great question, and one I’ll answer simply. When people refer to Old World wine, they usually are referring to wines from traditional wine making areas in Europe, such as France or Italy, among other places. On the other hand, New World wine comes from regions such as the US or New Zealand, in addition to many other places.

The palate, or taste, of Old World wine is usually a bit less fruit, a bit more earth or vegetables, leather, and tobacco. Whites and reds of course will vary, with white wines perhaps showing more minerals, grapefruit or citrus than a New World wine with tropical flavors, including stone fruits or tree fruits.  Additionally, the nose, or bouquet of Old World wines will frequently mirror the palate, a bit more earthy for reds, a bit more mineral driven and austere for whites. In contrast, New World wines usually show a bit more fruit on the nose or palate, and can be more easy drinking and approachable.  Many Old World wines are food wines, and while they can be sipped on their own, food tends to bring out their qualities.  New world wines, on the other hand, are often good without food, though it’ll be find with food as well!

Christian Moreau Chablis 2008

Christian Moreau Chablis 2008

To compare a specific grape, we’ll take Chardonnay.  An Old World example is Chablis, which some have called the purest expression of Chardonnay.  There’s rarely any oak or malolactic fermentation, and all that shows is the grape.  However, the expression is often mineral driven, a little grapefruit and acidic, which is much different than a Chardonnay you’ll see from California, for example. I enjoyed a bottle of Christian Moreau 2008 Chablis, a Frederick Wildman selection. The nose was crisp and clean, showing a mineral focused bouquet. The palate bursts with lemon and grapefruit notes, and it had fantastic acidity. Awesome on it’s own, we paired it with mussels and clams steamed in white wine with garlic, and it was fantastic.  Robin found it a bit austere on it’s own, but with the food, she found the two were a great pair.

Passaggio Unoaked Chardonnay

Passaggio Unoaked Chardonnay

In contrast, the New World version of Chablis would be the Passaggio Unoaked Chardonnay I wrote about previously. The nose and palate are markedly different, and you may almost believe they’re two different grapes. The nose was a mixture of of pears and fresh fruits, and the palate was a very nice tropical pineapple and pear flavor. Perfect on it’s own, easy to drink and enjoy, the Passaggio also went well with Shrimp Scampi, proving to be food friendly similar to it’s French cousin from Chablis.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule of Old versus New World wines. Oregon, for example, makes some great Old World style Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, leaning towards Burgundian in style in many cases. Cameron comes to mind, a winery I visited in May 2010. Additionally, you’ll find some New World styles coming out of France or Italy, as the world market changes.

And of course, New World doesn’t only mean The US or New Zealand. You’ll also have the opportunity to experience New World wines from South America, such as Malbec from Argentina, or Chile. It’s polar opposite from Malbec from Cahors, France, which I’ll discuss in a future post.  What do you think about New versus Old World wines? Where does your palate live?

Pairing Napa Cellars 2009 Chardonnay with Sauteed Shrimp

Napa Cellars 2009 Chardonnay

Napa Cellars 2009 Chardonnay

I’ve always been of the opinion that two things enhance the enjoyment of drinking wine, food and friends. The mission of my writing has always been to make wine more approachable, which includes helping my friends make well informed choices in their wine selections. When my twitter friend Richard Auffrey issued a call to action for wine writers to step up our game in 2011, my response was to post more relevant food and wine pairing to help you have a good time with wine.

A tweet from the folks at Food Network inspired a mid-week quick and easy meal of sauteed shrimp.  Their idea was to saute shrimp with garlic, and deglaze the pan with Champagne.  A simple enough idea, and one that included wine or Champagne, so I was quite excited.  I knew I had a host of wines to pair with such a dish, so I prepared the following recipe:

1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 medium cloves of garlic, chopped
2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 to 1 cup of Sparkling wine (you can use a California Sparkling Wine or Italian Prosecco, Cava, or a Champagne)

In a large saute pan, I heated the olive oil on medium for about 4 minutes, then added the chopped garlic to saute for about 3 to 5 minutes, stirring the entire time.  I then added the cleaned shrimp, and sauteed them until pink, about 5 minutes. You want to ensure you don’t over cook the shrimp, or they’re rubbery. Cut one open and ensure the inside is pink and no longer the translucent white. Once they’re done, take them out of the pan and put them in a serving dish. Pour the sparkling wine into the pan, and deglaze, ensuring the crusty bits come off the bottom of the pan.  Stir for about three minutes, as the wine will reduce and thicken, mixing nicely with the flavors in the pan.  Pour over the shrimp, serve over pasta, rice or on it’s own, and pop a cork.

This dish could have gone with quite a few wine options, but I selected a bottle of Napa Cellars 2009 Chardonnay, which cost around $24. After giving the bottle a few minutes to open and breathe, the bouquet of ripe pears pops out of the glass, followed by a little creme brulee.  There are even scents of sweet white floral mixed in with those pears, and it’s a great nose. The palate is light to medium body, and is a good mix of buttery and crisp. Some of the wine goes through malolactic fermentation, which will produce the buttery, heavy mouth feel in a white wine like chardonnay. However since not all of the wine went through “malo”, it retains some of the crispness chardonnay can show. There is good fruit, apples and pears,  and spice right up front, with some nice toast, but not over done as you can find in “Over Oaked” chardonnay. There’s a lingering smokey spice flavor on the finish, but it’s warm and inviting, not overbearing.

There are some great examples of Napa chardonnay on the market, and I truly believe that this Napa Cellars 2009 Chardonny is one of them. Winemaker Joe Shirley, head winemaker since 2007, is a California native who’s doing some nice things at Napa Cellars. He worked at Sonoma Cutrer in the late 90′s, which almost typifies buttery California Chardonnay. At $24 for the Napa Cellars 2009 Chardonnay, it’s quite nice when compared to chardonnay in the same price range, such as Paraiso’s Chardonnay, which I also enjoy and have brought to various TV segments to recommend.

Don’t think that chardonnay only pairs with foods prepared with Shrimp. I love chardonnay with chicken, from baked to fried to roasted. As a matter of fact, this Napa Cellars Chardonnay sample came with a recipe for Chicken Saffron Brochettes with Spanish Chorizo. YUM, we’ll have to make that and discuss in the future! And of course, lobster, whether boiled and dipped in drawn butter, or in a lobster roll, is a natural pair for most California chardonnay. What is your favorite food and wine pairing with chardonnay? Leave a comment below, I’m dying to know.

A Look a Red Wine Blends from Chile

Tasting Wines of Chile

Tasting Wines of Chile

As a wine writer, it  is sometimes difficult to know exactly what your audience will want to read. Do they want to know about wines that are fruity,  jammy and just easy to drink? Do they want to know about complex wines that have multiple layers of flavors or perhaps need food to be enjoyed? One thing I know, almost everyone drinking wine is focused on its quality to price ratio or QPR. I recently participated in an event that allowed me to taste some wines from Chile, typically known for it’s QPR wines. These wines ranged from $15 to $50, which may push the envelope for QPR wines, but they definitely were worth trying.

In the fourth such event, the PR folks from Wines of Chile sent eight wines, this time blends of different red grapes, to sample and write about. Over 40 wine writers had the opportunity to join Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer as he moderated a video conference with the eight Chilean winemakers in  Santiago, Chile. We had an absolute blast not only talking, but also joking with the winemakers to learn about them and their masterfully made wines. We had a fun time sipping and tweeting, and now writing about wines I’m excited to share with you.

Valdivieso Eclat 2005

Valdivieso Eclat 2005

The first wine of the evening was the Valdivieso Vineyard 2005 Eclat, from the Maule Valley. A blend of 56% Carignan, 24% Mourvedre and 20% Syrah, this wine retails for about $27.  The winemaker, Brett Jackson, was one of the only non-Chilean wine makers at the video conference, as he hails from New Zealand. The wine’s bouquet was bursting with lush red berries, fresh, and was very inviting. The palate was full and silky, with more earthy and spicy notes than the nose eludes to. It was the lightest of the eight wines, though full bodied, and even though it was aged 12 months in French Oak Barrels, the oak flavors were well integrated in the wine. I loved that Carignan was the predominant grape in this blend, as it’s often a subordinate blending grape. Carignan lends this wine it’s deep ruby coloring, and is typically high in acidity, making it a great food wine. You can throw a steak at this wine, and enjoy, though the winemaker recommends soft meats such as lamb, turkey, fish, or lightly sauced pasta.

De Martino Las Cruces 2006

De Martino Las Cruces 2006

The next red blend wine comes from the De Martino winery, founded in 1934 in Isla de Maipo, Chile. The blend of 66% Malbec and 34% Carmenere comes from a single vineyard planted in 1957 in the Cachapoal valley. While Malbec is a grape most associated with Argentina, Chile’s neighbor on the other side of the mountains, I’ve seen some great offerings from Chile. Wine Maker Marcelo Retamal has been with De Martino since 1996, and is very focused on the Terrior, or the location to grow the right grapes. The wine’s nose has a fantastic mint component, while the palate was a silky smooth symphony of great, dark flavors, subtle fruit and sweet spices. No flavor competes with another, and they work beautifully together. I found this wine very easy to sip on, and it worked nicely with the steak I had that evening.  The winemaker suggests pairing this wine hearty dishes such as lamb or venison. The De Martino Single Vineyard Old Bush Vines “Las Cruces” 2006 retails for about $45, and while not an inexpensive wine, I thought it was a wine worth trying at the price.

Estampa Gold Assemblage Carmenere 2008

Estampa Gold Assemblage Carmenere 2008

Our third red blend of the evening was the Estampa Gold Assemblage Carmenere 2008, from Colchagua Valley, Chile. A blend of 57% Carmenere, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc and 8% Petit Verdot, this dry red wine worked best with food. Winemaker Ricardo Baettig has been with Estampa since 2004, and his wines have earned quite a few awards. I noticed the nose, which was sweet red fruits reminding me of Hubba Bubba bubble gum with some woody brambles underneath, was nothing like the palate. The palate was very earthy, with tobacco and leather coming through. The wine was very typical Carmenere, which is a favorite varietal of mine, and was quite dry. The Estampa Gold Assemblage Carmenere retails for about $22.

Montes Liited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Carmenere 2008

Montes Liited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Carmenere 2008

While the Montes Limited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Carmenere 2008 was the most inexpensive wine of the evening, it’s price was certainly not indicative of quality. Montes makes a number of different wines at different quality and price levels, and I’ve enjoyed many of them. Winemaker Aurelio Montes Del Campo joined the winery in 2007, and has a history of making premium wines in Chile. This 2008 Montes Limited Selection is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Camenere, and was aged in American oak for 6 months. The nose may be a bit awkward for some, and I can only describe it as a barnyard smell, but in a sexy way.  Think earthy, organic scents, almost primal in nature. Pair that with the palate of great earthiness, amazing spices, and subdued fruit, and you’ve got a very interesting wine at $15. One of the interesting notes of the tasting, Montes plays classical music in the barrel aging room 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and practices Feng Shui. Whatever they’re doing, I think it’s working!

I’ve got four more wines to discuss, but I’ll save them for tomorrows post.  I’m curious if you’ve had any of these Chilean wines before, and if so, your thoughts. If not these Chilean wines, how about sharing the last Chilean wine you had, even if it wasn’t a red blend! I’d LOVE to hear from you!

Sparkling Wine Selections for Your Holiday Party


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Conventional wine wisdom dictates you should always have a bottle of bubbly on hand, as you never know when cause for celebration will arise. That wine wisdom holds especially true at this time of the year, as we celebrate holidays, family gatherings, and of course, ringing in the New Year. Fortunately, there are a number of options available in every price range, so serving your family and friends a delicious sparkling wine is nearly foolproof. Whether a Champagne, a Cava, or a sparkling wine from Napa, pouring the perfect bubbly is simply a cork pop away.

Champagnes , and sparkling wines made in areas other than Champagne, France,  come in a number of sweetness levels. The most common levels are Brut, Extra Dry, and Sec, with Demi-Sec and Doux rounding out the five levels. Each denotes how much sugar is in the sparkling wine, with Brut being the most dry with less than 1.5% sugar and Doux being the most sweet with over 5% sugar. Today we’ll discuss Brut,  Extra Dry, and Sec options.

J Vineyards & Winery Cuvee 20 Sparkling Wine

J Vineyards & Winery Cuvee 20 Sparkling Wine

Our first selection comes from J Vineyards & Winery, the Cuvee 20 which is a Brut sparkling wine from the Russian River Valley appellation in Sonoma California. A blend of the three grapes Champagne can be made from, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, this dry sparkling wine has great flavors.  Dry on the palate, there are crisp lemon citrus flavors with a typical yeasty, doughy note. There’s a light floral and nut note as well, and the sparkling wine is fresh, crisp and clean. Perfect on it’s own, the J Cuvee 20 will pair nicely with appetizers or little bites, whether smoked salmon and caviar or popcorn and french fries. This wine can be found relatively easily, and retails for about $22.

Lamberti Prosecco Extra Dry Sparkling Wine

Lamberti Prosecco Extra Dry Sparkling Wine

Our next selection is the affordable Lamberti Prosecco from Vento, Italy. For about $14, the Lamberti Extra Dry Prosecco has a fabulous crisp palate, with flavors of lemon zest and amazing bubbles. Even though it’s an Extra Dry, there’s very little sweetness, and it must be on the cusp of Brut / Extra Dry. This is definitely a great option to offer as an aperitif, a little bubbly to serve to your guests as they arrive and get comfortable at your gathering. Perhaps a little less widely available, you should be able to go into any reputable wine store and ask them to order this, as the importers Frederick Wildman are fairly well known.

Mumm Napa Cuvee M Sparkling Wine

Mumm Napa Cuvee M Sparkling Wine

Rounding out our sparkling wine selections is the Mumm Napa Cuvee M. The sweetest option offered today, the sparkling wine is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Pinot Meunier. You’ll taste fresh peaches and tangerines on the palate. There are also secondary notes of vanilla and honey, yet for all of it’s sweet flavors, this wine is far from cloying.  Perfect for the holidays, your guests will want to toast you again and again with this sparkling wine in their glass. Also perfect as an aperitif, the Mumm Napa Cuvee M is flexible enough to pair with spicy foods as well as creamy desserts.  This wine can be found in a broad range of stores, and retails for approximately $20.

Looking for the best sparkling wines for the holidays, whether a Champagne such as Pol Roger, or a Cava such as Rondel? While these certainly will fit the bill,  I’ll have a few additional selections available on my website in the coming days.  Cheers.

Tasting Trivento Reserve Torrontes 2009

Trivento Torrontes white wine from Argentina

Trivento Torrontes white wine from Argentina

What are we drinking?

I was in the grocery store picking up the ingredients to make a quick dinner of chicken and yellow rice, and spotted the Trivento Reserve Torrontes 2009 as I walked by the wine aisle. Perhaps it stood out as a white among reds, perhaps I was just in the mood for Torrontes. Whatever the reason, I picked the bottle up, tossed it in the cart, and planned on a light, fun white wine with my dinner.

Where does the wine come from?

Argentina is known for many wines, and Torrontes is perhaps their signature white. Trivento Bodegas y Vinedos is located in Mendoza, Argentina, in the northern-central part of the country, located at the foothills of the Andes mountains. This wine comes from their Rivadavia vineyard, and is 100% Torrontes grapes fermented 25 days in stainless steel tanks.  The Trivento website does not list this wine as one of their releases, and I believe they have recently re-branded the Select line as Reserve. Trivento is wholly owned by Concha y Toro, one of the largest, if not the largest, producer in Chile.

What does Trivento Reserve Torrontes taste like?

In the glass, the Trivento Reserve Torrontes was a pale yellow and green hue, with a light floral nose followed by orange blossom scents. As it opened and warmed in the glass, those notes mingled with a spiced pear fragrance. The palate, or taste, was crisp citrus and honeysuckle, with a little green grassy note. The acidity was firm, but not bracing, and the finish was short, but pleasant. When paired with the chicken and yellow rice, the green notes all but go away, and the wine becomes more round and a touch more floral.

What to pair it with

Torrontes, whether this Trivento Reserve or almost any other, goes well with shellfish and seafood, as well as chicken dishes. The winemaker suggests pasta, Thai or Indian dishes. I would recommend a pasta with a light butter and garlic sauce, and not a heavy red sauce. Mexican and Spanish dishes will pair with Torrontes as well, and my chicken and  yellow rice worked perfectly.

Recap

For only $11 in the grocery store, this wine was pleasant enough. It worked fine with the meal, and would be nice on a warm summer afternoon. I wouldn’t, however, let it be the only Torrontes you ever try, as they can vary quite a bit from different areas of Argentina, as well as different producers. The Trivento Reserve Torrontes was almost Sauvignon Blanc like, with a touch of floral, and not quite as dry.  However, don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself, and leave a comment here with your thoughts. If you can’t find this Torrontes, get another, and let me know what you think!

Gramercy Cellars and DeLille Cellars Washington State Syrah

The non-profit group Hospice du Rhone endeavors to educate about and promote the Rhone grape varietals. Rhone varietals include Grenach, Mouvedre, and today’s topic, Syrah, along with other lesser known grapes such as Bourboulenc and Camarese. Syrah is a grape that offers many expressions, from the peppery Shiraz you’ll find in Australia, to the round and fruit focused Syrah you’ll find in California. It’s a grape that takes on the characteristics of the terroir, the earth that the grapes come from, and will be different whether from France, California or Washington. A group of wine writers received four Washington Syrah samples from Hospice du Rhone, and taste the wines together, using twitter to discuss our notes. I fired up the grill, cooking some mild Italian sausage and some hamburgers, and set out to taste the first two of the four wines.

Gramercy Cellars 2007 Syrah

Gramercy Cellars 2007 Syrah

The first wine of the night was from Gramercy Cellars which was founded in 2005 by Master Sommelier Greg Harrington and his wife Pam. The 2007 Lagniappe Syrah is co-fermented with 2% Viognier, which will add floral notes to the wine, and is then aged 15 months in neutral French oak. It’s made with fruit sourced from neighboring vineyards in Columbia Valley, while their own two vineyards mature.  Initially tight on the nose, displaying some “meaty berry” notes after about 30 minutes of air, the palate was subdued black fruit with some leather and pepper. However, paired with grilled Italian sausage, the wine began to shine, showing additional complexities including layers of mocha under the fruit.  With food, the pepper finish eased and the berry and mocha flavors come through, and the wine became a well balanced accompaniment to the meal.

The team at Gramercy indeed specifically makes their wines with a food pairing focus, and I found it all too easy to enjoy another sip after a bite of grilled hamburger or sausage. At $38, the wine not only complimented the meal, but it stood up well the next day. On the second day, the Lagniappe Syrah’s bouquet opened a bit more, showing dark fruit on the nose. The palate seemed a bit rounder, with a jammy berry focus, similar to grabbing handfuls of fresh blackberries and shoving them in your mouth, until it overflows. The finish, however, retained it’s white pepper component and was still screaming for some food to help tame it. All in all a nice wine which is definitely made with food in mind.

DeLille Cellars Doyenne 2007 Syrah

DeLille Cellars Doyenne 2007 Syrah

Next up was DeLille Cellars 2007 Doyenne Syrah from Yakima Valley, WA. This Syrah was blend with 2% Viognier as well, though aging and fermentation information were not available. The nose was not very fragrant after being open 45 minutes, and it could have decanted over an hour and a half to reach full potential. It had that “meaty fruit” bouquet, but nothing stood out as “wow”. The palate was dark fruit and cocoa, similar to the Gramercy, with a soft silky approach and a powerful finish. However, the Doyenne Syrah really screamed when paired with food. Sipping after a bite of the grilled sausage brought out a cascade of flavors, especially spicy chocolate.

The second night found the Doyenne still smooth and silky, as the wine opened up in the bottle. There were great blackberry and black raspberry flavors, with the oak showing a little bit on the finish. At $50, I would have a hard time just plunking this wine down on the table to sip on. However, with a meal, such as grilled meats of any sort, I wouldn’t hesitate a second to pop open this bottle! I’d like to see how this wine matures over 3-4 years, and the DeLille Cellars website has an aging chart for their wines, which noted this Syrah as a “Hold”.

Have you had a Syrah from Washington, or anywhere, that really stands out? Let us know about it, leave a comment below. Next up, we’ll talk about the other two Syrah we taste that evening, including one from Charles Smith, the Food and Wine 2009 Winemaker of the Year.

Introducing you to organic and biodynamic wines

I am not naive enough that you hadn’t been introduced to organic wines or biodynamic wines before we (digitally) met. I’d like to think that after watching my short segment from CBS Daybreak above, and reading the information here, you’ll go forward into the wine world a tad more enlightened about the methods the grapes are grown, and wines are made. Three minutes was hardly enough to scratch the surface of this topic, plus tell you about the three fantastic wines I brought on the show, so please read on.

I tend to shy away from marketing hype, and feel all too often people will toss words on labels to influence your buying habits. Make it “Eco Friendly” and suddenly you switch everything from vegetables to dish washing soap, regardless of it being a better product or not. I shied away from organic wines for that reasons, and one other; historically organic wines were lousy.  Whether it was just poor choices on my part, the lack of sulfites to qualify for the organic labeling, or my disposition to the hype, up until a few years ago, I wouldn’t consider recommending an organic wine.  Actually, I still rarely recommend organic wines, but rather recommend wines made from organically grown grapes.

For a wine to be labeled an “Organic Wine”, it must be made from grapes that are grown organically and have no added sulfites. The sulfites act as a preservative, prohibit fermentation in the bottle, and allow for production of consistent wines over time. The Organic Wine label doesn’t mean sulfite free, however.  In fact, all wines contain sulfites, and though most people tell me they have “Red Wine Headaches” from sulfites, white wine contains a slightly higher amount of sulfite than red. It’s a natural byproduct of the fermentation process, and can’t be eliminated (practically) from wine. Speaking of wine, lets cover those first, then the details on the growing practices.

Seresin Estate 2008 Sauvignon Blanc

Seresin Estate 2008 Sauvignon Blanc

In Marlborough, New Zealand there is a winery making wines via organic and biodynamic principles that rock. The Seresin Estate 2008 Sauvignon Blanc is sourced from their two certified organic vineyards, Home and Tatou, and is made from 95% Sauvignon Blanc and 5% Semillon. I positively disagree with the winemakers tasting notes, who says it displays grass on the nose with chalky mineral complexity. This wine is quite straightforward, taking a tangerine, and sprinkling it with lemon juice. It’s bright, flavorful, with a bursting bouquet to match the palate. I think of sunshine in a bottle, and promise you a bottle of this on your spring and summer table, with a few different types of goat cheese will have your guests thinking you’re a wine guru! The Seresin Estate 08 Sauvignon Blanc is about $21.

Montinore Estate 2008 Almost Dry Riesling

Montinore Estate 2008 Almost Dry Riesling

Globe trotting over to the US from New Zealand, we land in Oregon, where we are enjoying Montinore Estate 2008 Almost Dry Riesling. Labeled as grapes organically certified by Stellar Certification Services as well as Demeter Certified Biodynamic grapes, this bottle delivers a wide range of wine experiences. The nose has an incredible petrol scent, laced with sweet apricots. The palate is semi-sweet stone fruit, but crisp, not cloying. It has a medium mouth feel, and also sings when paired with goat cheese, but this wine can be paired with salads, seafood, or drank on it’s own quite nicely. This delicious white wine is available for under $15.

Odfjell - Orzada - Malbec

Odfjell - Orzada - Malbec

The last leg of our World Wine tasting takes us to Chile, which I’ve written about often. I firmly believe South America offers some fantastic values on great wines, and think Chile leads that charge. Dan Odfjell, a Norwegian shipping magnate, settled in Chile after falling in love with it, and began planning vineyards about 15 years ago. Odfjell makes a number of different lines on their 85 hectacres, and have vineyards in the Colchagua and Maipo Valley where their Carmenere comes from, as well as organically farmed vineyards in Cauquenes and Curico, where the Orzada Malbec comes from.

Malbec is typically an Argentine grape, but Odfjell does a great job with it. This wine has a bouquet of violets, and a palate of berries with the violets coming through as well. It’s a medium mouth feel and dry, while being delightful to just sip as the tannins aren’t too firm. Pair the Odfjell Orzada Malbec with some roasted or grilled meats, steaks or lamb chops for example, and it is fantastic. Definitely give this wine a good 30 minutes to decant and open up, or it’s a bit jammy on the palate and not it’s true potential. You can find the Odfjell Orzada Malbec for about $20.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, lets talk about the three types of “green” winemaking, sustainable, organic, and biodynamic.

Kris O’Connor, Executive Director of the Central Coast Vineyard Team pointed out that Sustainable farm practices “look at the whole farm – energy, water quality, habitat, water conservation, integrated pest management & people. Several of these issues aren’t necessarily specifically addressed in organic or biodynamic certification standards.” Some Central Coast Vineyard Team member vineyards are “Sustainability in Practice” certified, who’s wines I’ve enjoyed and written about such as Hahn Estates, Baileyana-Tangent, and Paraiso Vineyards.

Sustainable winemaking means that growers don’t use man-made chemicals to fertilize the vineyards to improve crop results. The growers will use natural fertilizers, composting and other cultivation methods to attract beneficial insects to the vines while feeding the plant. Additionally, sustainable farming practices will enrich the surrounding habitat, such as providing grazing areas for animals away from the vineyards so they don’t eat the crops, or restoring  nearby streams or rivers to enhance the entire local ecosystem. There are of course standards to be met, and upheld, to be certified sustainable by organizations such as SIP, much like in organic wine making.

Organic winemaking takes the basic premise of sustainable farming, and goes a step further. Organic vineyard management eliminates the use of not only chemical fertilizer, but any chemical pesticide, herbicide, or fungicide in the growing process. The vineyard will employ natural methods of controlling pests and vine threatening diseases, as well as promoting vine growth and health. However, just because the grapes are grown organically does not allow a wine to be labeled as organic. As I mentioned previously, the wine can have no added sulfites in addition to having organically farmed grapes to earn the “Organic Wine” label. Additionally, many wines will be produced organically, but not mention it on the label. Rather, they just let the quality of their wine speak for itself. There was an interesting piece on wines labeled as Organic, or Eco-Friendly, which sell for less.

Biodynamic winemaking takes sustainable, and organic farming to the next level. That next level does include a little bit of voodoo and witchcraft, with burying a cow horn full of cow manure on the Autumn equinox, and digging it up six months later on the Spring equinox to spread the contents in the vineyard. No, really. Biodynamic farming has it’s roots back in the lectures given by Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s. Quite a complex science and way of thinking, I can only summarize the biodynamic farming ideology by saying that it takes into account the spiritual forces of earth, animal, plants and brings them in line through a holistic, and natural approach to keeping them all healthy and in sync.

The crux of the methodology is the vineyard is a living system that is closed, and self-sustaining. It shares many of the attributes of organic farming; no pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, chemical fertilizers or other chemical preparations in the earth or vine.  Grapes are harvested by hand, and much if not all of the vineyard work is done manually without the use of powered machines. It then takes into account the rhythm of the universe, such as the use nine types of preparations to dynamize soil quality and stimulate plant life. The preparations are a mixture of extracts from minerals, plants, or animal manure. Furthermore, the farmers only sow and reap harvests according to principles they believe control the cosmos. For instance, wine is only racked under a new moon because sediment is at its most compact at this time. The tidal pull of a full moon causes it to puff up, insiders say. I could go on forever, talking about wines that are Demeter certified Biodynamic and what that means, but I think we’ve gotten the jist of it all.

What do you think about organic, biodynamic and sustainable wines? Do they impact your buying decisions? Now that you know about the differences, will it impact your buying decisions? Leave a comment below, I’ll be sure to reply, and possibly follow up via email! Cheers!