Posted in Alana's Wine Picks on Apr 8th, 2013
I’m introducing a bunch of wines to you today as a group. Lots of fun details, I hope you enjoy and find some that you want to try.
The wines in the picture each have a unique story. Starting from left to right, here they are:
- Maquis Cabernet Sauvignon 2010. Anyone who reads my blog knows that I have been following Chile closely for a few years. Many imported Chilean wines are made at very old family wineries, this one being over 100 years old. Known as a grape producer for other wineries until 2005, the Maquis label is all about terroir–conveying a sense of place. It’s only $19 and has a very cool logo that is raised a bit. Wonderful conversation piece as you share this wine with friends.*
- Quivira 2009 Elusive. As a big fan of their winemaker Hugh Chappelle, I bought this red blend to see what it was all about. It’s a GSM which stands for Grenache, Syrah, Mourvédre, a classic blend of grapes originating from the Rhone Valley in France. The wine is bold, fruity, balanced and delicious. At $23.99 (discounted at Bottle Barn) it’s a wonderful wine to bring to a special gathering or just enjoy over a romantic dinner. My only problem is that the cursive of the name is so small I thought it said “Eloise.”
- Now here’s a surprise for you, Jacobs Creek, 2008 Reserve Shiraz, Barossa. This well-known Australian winery promoted their new Reserve line with an innovative campaign where they sent unlabeled bottles to a bunch of wine writers and we had to judge the wines not knowing who they were from. I had no opinion about Jacobs Creek before so it actually made me suspicious that they thought they had an image problem. Regardless, I liked the Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a perfect opportunity to introduce you to a terrific blog, The Reverse Wine Snob, Jon rates and writes notes about less expensive wines. The link above goes to his review of this wine because it has lots of detail.
- Morande 2009 Gran Reserva Pinot Noir. When I visited Chile one of the most interesting things I learned was that there are cool growing regions. As often happens, I had misperceptions about an entire country’s wine because I hadn’t been there. I thought all South American wines were grown in that country’s hot regions. For a virtual tasting, Wines of Chile sent me three Pinot Noirs, a grape that doesn’t grow well at all in a hot climate. Each of the samples were quite different from the other. I especially liked this one from from the Casablanca Valley. It has a balanced, seductive light touch that I appreciate in the grape. It’s $17.99, which is considered a good value for quality Pinot Noir.
- Balletto Russian River Valley 2011 Pinot Noir. I’ve written about Balletto before and this is their new release that I found at Bottle Barn, a famous local store in Northern California wine country. (You can buy a lot of great wines there and have them shipped, they even have a wine club. I took a chance and spent $18.49 on this Pinot Noir, instead of hitting the winery and tasting it first. It was as lovely as I suspected it would be.
- The next three wines are from Cornerstone Cellars. I’m very enthusiastic about their wines. A feature article about them is in the works.
- Cecchi 2009 Chianti Classico. Yeah Italian wine! It’s been awhile since I’ve had a Chianti Classico, until I received and enjoyed this sample I’d forgotten how much I like Italian wine. When I was first learning how to pair wine and food I must have served Italian wine 3 times a week. It’s a very food friendly wine. This wine is $13 and widely distributed. I happily lived in North Beach (the Italian district) in San Francisco and stayed in Little Italy while visiting New York. The fact that I’ve never been to Italy is astounding to me. It really needs to be my next trip.
- Ventisquero Grey 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. I have wanted to write a feature post about this wine since I visited them in early 2011. Finally it’s here. If you collect wine or love incredible value, read this post.
*Check out Wines of Chile and the Thomas Collective in New York; I truly admire their approach to introducing folks to a region’s wine and the fresh, modern approach they convey as companies.
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Many of us have a hobby. I have friends who love deep sea fishing, searching for plants in the woods or doing puzzles. A hobby brings out childlike curiosity and pure enjoyment in a person. It releases us from the mundane chores of life and noise of the day.
This wine’s unique label is like a map to understanding my wine hobby. The brand name, Terroir Hunter could be a movie title. The place is Alto Maipo, a higher elevation (Alto) wine growing region in Chile. I see a local viticulturist in old boots, with a walking stick in his hand, exploring acres of dirt and rocks in the Andes. He looks up at the side of a mountain and sees the outline of natural terraces caused by water draining through rocks and layers of sediment. Just like the label, his footprints stop and he marks the spot in his mind, “this is the place I’ll plant Cabernet Sauvignon.” He can imagine a mature vineyard and smell the ripening grapes. Years later, this bottle of wine is shipped across a continent to California, and his dream is shared with me.
Wine Enthusiast Magazine has a wonderful article about Maipo Cabernet Sauvignon. Reading about a region, or better yet, visiting, is part of a wine hobbyist’s activities.
Winemaker’s Notes: Undurrage TH Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 is from Pirque, an area in Maipo Alto with an exalted reputation for excellent Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is made from a small lot that yields very little fruit. Grapes are carefully sorted to find only the best berries. The wine underwent cold maceration under anaerobic conditions for five days. Fermentation took place at 28° – 29°C for 14 days, with three to four daily pump-overs. The wine was left on its lees and skins for an additional 12 days to further its structure. It was then racked into French barrels, 25% new where the wine was aged for 14 months.
The 2011 vintage in Maipo, especially in Pirque is considered a cool vintage. The same was true in 2010, which was one of the best vintages in recent times. The sugar, tannin and acidity levels were in balance by the third week of April, only one week earlier than in 2010.
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If you have ever been wine tasting, you have experienced tasting five wines in one sitting. Now imagine this at every lunch and every dinner for eight days. The trick of course is to not drink full glasses. Eat small amounts and sip a bit of wine with each bite. Wine writers don’t normally use dump buckets during meals but I have been in situations where I have left the table and dumped my glass if we have several wines to get through and I don’t like a wine enough to finish it. I only have so much room for wine, food or alcohol and it’s better to admit it than not enjoy myself.
As would be expected, in Spain, Cava producer, Segura Viudas served sparkling wines with meals. I’ve always enjoyed sparkling wines but I rarely served them with meals. I was serving sparkling wine only when it was the main event. I would pair appetizers with it, but the food was chosen to complement the wine. With our hosts, I had the opportunity to taste sparkling rosé and white wines with various courses and it seemed like the most natural thing in the world. The wines are light, refreshing and lower in alcohol. I learned that the right (dry not sweet) Cava pairs quite well with various foods. There’s a special bubbly stopper that you can buy to keep an open bottle fresh.
I am still a habitual still wine person preferring lower alcohol white wines and well-balanced reds (if a red has higher alcohol, as long as I can’t taste it, I don’t mind). During my trip, Segura Viudas Creu de Lavit was served at most meals. It’s a still white wine made from a Spanish grape called Xarel-lo. It’s imported to the states and part of their excellent Heredad Collection.
On a side note, while I expected to be happy when a still red wine was served, I found that it made me much sleepier than the other wines. My trip to Spain has fundamentally changed my perspective on pairing wine and food, what a surprise!
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My favorite holiday is Valentine’s Day. I like it better than New Year’s Eve or Christmas. It’s better than New Year’s Eve because I prefer intimacy to crowds and it’s better than Christmas because it doesn’t require so much planning. For me, celebrating Valentine’s Day focuses on enjoying a great meal and great wine. My only problem is choosing from the many wonderful options.
My first option includes this beautiful bottle of Spanish Cava. It’s made by the famous and popular Freixenet (“fresh-eh-net”) Group. I’ve always been a fan of Spanish sparkling wine which is called Cava; it was part of my Valentine meal in 2010 and a musing in 2008.
Gloria Ferrer, located 20 minutes from my house, is part of this company’s portfolio of wineries too. It’s fascinating to take their tour in Sonoma County and learn that it is a Spanish-owned company making bubbly in a traditional way while producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay still wines that are all about expressing the terroir of their location–Carneros. Highly recommended for a visit.
I am a big fan of Cava and encourage you to try it. If you can’t find it locally, try wine.com. The tasting notes there are right on as well.
PS: I will be a guest of Segura Viudas in Spain in March and I can’t wait to tell you all about it!
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Posted in Alana's Wine Picks on Dec 17th, 2012
Two easy-drinking reds, La Famiglia Pirovano Barbera Oltrepo Pavese DOC (Whole Foods on sale $10, alcohol 13%) and Lava Cap, Estate Bottled Barbera El Dorado 2009 (Whole Foods $18, alcohol 14.7%). These are both excellent examples of how elegant yet casual Barbera can be. The Italian version has plenty of flavor with no harsh edges and the low alcohol pairs nicely with dinner. The California foothills version is like it’s bigger cousin, same accessible table wine with a bit more attitude. They are both staples in my wine fridge.
In the same food friendly, easy-going red group, I’m a fan of Serrera Bonarda 2008 from Mendoza, Argentina ($20, Imported by Taste-Vino.com I purchased it at Paradise Foods in my neighborhood). I don’t know anything about this vineyard/producer but it feels like a real find. Well-made food friendly wine. I’ve written about Bonarda and this is a very accessible example for someone just getting to know the grape.
Fields Family Wines 2010 Old Vine Zinfandel, Sherman Family Vineyards Lodi 2010 ($24) this is my “house red” at the moment. It’s has a lovely pulled-together quality and I find it enjoyable by itself and with a variety of dishes from pasta and red sauce to roast chicken. It’s not “too” anything; it has excellent fruit, earthiness and complexity disguised as simplicity. Winemaker Ryan Sherman is one to watch.
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Vina Ventisquero, located in the gorgeous Maipo Valley is 25 miles from the Chilean coast and 100 miles from Santiago. According to our guide, the climate changes every 40 miles (I was there in early 2011). It reminds me of where I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where it can be 50°F in northern San Francisco and 85°F at my home 22 miles north. This winery has several brands and grows grapes in Maipo Valley, Apalta, Colchagua Valley, Peralillo, Casablanca Valley, Lolol, Rapel Valley, and Leyda Valley.
Although their output is huge by American standards, their young staff is dedicated to making vintage specific, terroir-driven wines. Their brand Grey caught my fancy. Grey is the Andean word for glacier meaning purity, beauty, harmony, character and impressiveness. That same philosophy runs through the entire organization. They hire innovative, environmentally-sensitive, caring, gutsy youngish folks (the founder was only 35 when he started the winery) and on their website, they use the words, “positive energy” to describe their philosophy. I’d say that they “walk the talk” as I met a lot of talented, happy, friendly people there.
Gray is considered a premium Chilean brand. They are striving to create benchmark wines, ones that represent the terroir and the grape in Chile. I find them to be highly-competitive fine wines and I’m planning on buying different vintages to see how they age. The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon is drinking especially fine. At only $25 USD ($270 a case) it’s a no-brainer for folks interested in collecting. It’s a wine that will hold up against $300 bottles of vintage Cabernet Sauvignon. My problem will be keeping it out of my sight so I don’t drink it.
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(Above: To mark the start of the 2012 harvest season, Father Ramon Pons, bilingual Associate Pastor at St. John the Baptist in Napa, blessed the first truckload of grapes to come into Mondavi winery yesterday morning—a tradition imagined by Robert Mondavi in 1966. The blessing was followed by a toast from Margrit Mondavi and a few words from director of winemaking Genevieve Janssens. Many winery employees joined invited guests for a hearty Mexican lunch.)
Yesterday I attended the blessing of the grapes at Robert Mondavi in Napa. It is a tradition that began in 1966. The gracious artist, Robert’s widow, Margrit Mondavi spoke in the ToKalon cellar…”we always remember Robert Mondavi, and on his cloud, I’m sure he’s winking…” then semi-retired employee and singer Bob “Bobby” Tyson sang America the Beautiful. and Genevieve Janssens, Director of Winemaking spoke. When Margrit introduced Father Pons she misspoke when introducing his church and said, “oh gosh, now I’m sure to be going to hell.” Born in 1926, she’s an absolute delight and had the crowd in stitches. (NEWSFLASH: her tell-all memoir was just released.) I can not wait to read it.
I tasted in the To Kalon Room (Insider Tip: highly recommend a visit in here, it’s where the reserve and spotlight small lot wines are poured. There is a reservation form on the website but if you decide at the last moment, I recommend just coming in; it wasn’t crowded mid-week, even during harvest.) I had a great time with Janie (a 16-yr pro at Mondavi) and Chris (an engaging 30-something ex-teacher turned novelist and wine collector moonlighting as a wine educator). Every wine I tasted was truly beautiful and well-made. My favorites were:
- A beautiful Unoaked Chardonnay with refreshing tartness (flavorful yet perfectly balanced) available only in the tasting room ($34) (vintage 2010)
- 2010 Fume Blanc Reserve, very dry from 1968 vineyards. ($40) Only 1100 cases.
- All of the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignons from 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007 & 2008 were delightful to taste with the 2002 being surprisingly bold still and the 2008 notably different since it is from a different vineyard (Stags Leap) and is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.
- My favorite was the 2010 Pinot Noir Reserve, an absolutely gorgeous wine that I will not soon forget. One of the best Pinot Noirs I’ve enjoyed from Carneros ever. ($60)
If you love Cabernet Sauvignon and want to enjoy Italian culture in the Fall sunshine of the Napa harvest season, here’s a party not to miss. Highly recommended.
Highlights: 10 years of Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve tasting with Director of Winemaking Genevieve Janssens and Master of Wine, Mark deVere in the First Year barrel room. Italian-themed lawn party in the afternoon.
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Posted in Alana's Wine Picks on Aug 12th, 2012
“I challenge you to show me a great Pinot Grigio,” said a wine-loving friend from California. Well, Dave, here it is, Balletto, 2010 Pinot Gris, Russian River Valley, Estate Bottled, Sonoma County.*
I tasted it while visiting Balletto Vineyards at Passport to Pinot Noir. The owner, John Balletto is a personable and generous man who had to leave a promising sports career and college when his father died unexpectedly. At 17 years old, he and his mother started farming vegetables in Sonoma County. Their business grew to be the largest farm north of the Golden Gate. John told me he made the decision to turn his vegetable farm into vineyards after three bad floods in 1998. Today, he owns over 500 acres of prime grape growing land. 90% of his fruit is sold to others. In 2006, Balletto Vineyards opened a small tasting room and now sell their own label. You can find it online, by visiting and at Bay Area restaurants and wine shops.
I also highly recommend their 2011 Rosé of Pinot Noir and their Zinfandel Their 2007 Zinfandel is better than many Zins from neighboring AVA Dry Creek Valley, which is famous for Zinfandel.
Insider Tip: These wines are excellent value, especially considering their location in the Russian River AVA. All of their current releases are less than $30 a bottle. If you join their wine club, you get 20% off which make these wines a steal. The Pinot Gris is $18.
*Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are the same grape; Italians use the former.
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Posted in Alana's Wine Picks on Jun 19th, 2012
There’s so much buzz about Handley Cellars these days, I feel like I am the last person to “discover” these exceptional wines. In summary, they are delicious, well-made and well-priced.
My favorite Handley white is the 2010 Pinot Gris, a fun grape to get to to know. If you visit the western area of Northern California’s wine roads (Russian River’s west side, Anderson Valley and west Mendocino and Sonoma Coast) you’ll meet several producers making stellar Pinot Gris. If you can’t visit, look for them in your markets, they are usually very affordable and a nice change of pace for white wine lovers.
2010 was a very unusual long, cool season and many wines from these areas just didn’t fair well. If you score a bottle of the 2010 Handley Pinot Gris you’ll be able to experience the magic that can happen when a challenging vintage is in the right winemaker’s hands.
The rather deary weather in 2010 was especially hard on Chardonnay so Handley sourced their fruit from an organic vineyard in the Ukiah Valley (a bit warmer inland area). I paired the 2010 Mendocino Valley Chardonnay with trout and it was fantastic. I read later that Handley recommends it be paired with fish and chips or grilled fish. They know what they are doing with their pairing advice. Right on.
Currently, Handley has four Pinot Noirs available. My favorite is the 2009 Mendocino County Pinot Noir. It hit all the right notes for me. I paired* it with cast-iron skillet scallops with a relish of chopped mushrooms, garlic and bacon bits and a wonderful spinach salad with goat cheese brie, strawberries and pistachios. This wine is only $25 (excellent value for a great Pinot Noir). I predict it will be a best seller.
It’s Handley Cellars 30th Anniversary and I’ve heard they have a lovely property. I look forward to visiting later this year.
*The pairing suggestion above is a good choice for many light to medium-style Pinot Noirs because of the blend of fruit and earth-flavors.
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Posted in Alana's Wine Picks on May 14th, 2012
“I had been reminiscing about a small, hands-on entity where I could do it all myself again, like I did in the beginning.” Mitch Cosentino
Hands-on winemakers making small amounts of lovingly-crafted premium wine can be found all over the world. Some stay small while others grow into big wineries while retaining a personal touch. Mitch Cosentino has come full-circle. He started making his own wine in 1980 in Modesto; he then grew a 30,000+ case winery in Yountville/Oakville, bringing substantial attention to that part of Napa Valley at that time. Cosentino Winery is now owned by Vintage Wine Estates and Mitch is back to making small lots of “winemaker’s wine.”
I really like Mitch’s new PureCru wines. They are well-priced, well-made and I have succumbed to the cool factor of his label. I would bring this wine as a gift or to a party in a heartbeat.
PureCru wines are very approachable and food friendly with enough interest to hold the attention of connoisseurs. The 2010 Giovanni Vineyards Pinot Noir ($32) is from Carneros. I am pleased that it doesn’t have under-ripe green bell-pepper or cow-patty flavors that often plague Carneros wines. (I always say wine from Carneros is like a box of chocolate, you never know what you’re going to get. Nod to Forrest Gump.) I highly recommend PureCru’s Pinot Noir and everyone knows I’m a (picky) Pinot lover.
I also recommend PureCoz Red Blend 2007 ($65). Cosentino’s famous for his red blends and this one does not disappoint. Aged 36 months in French Oak, PureCoz is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Sangiovese. I can not say it better than what Mitch wrote on the label, designed for the fine cuisine of the world. It’s a beautiful wine and a real conversation starter.
For white wine lovers, I recommend the 2009 Purety blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion ($25). Intriguing and pleasant (with no malolactic fermentation).
Since they are made in such small qualities, this is the Wine Club you want to join. For a pittance compared to other Napa wine clubs, you get well-priced premium fruit made in small lots by a famous winemaker.
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