Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for December, 2009

Recession is driving down price of wine; and grapes

Leaving grapes to rot? That’s what this recession has come to for wine. Check out this well-reported MSN piece on how the economy is creating great deals for consumers but major trouble for growers of chardonnay and pinot noir.

Posted on Tuesday, December 8th, 2009
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Hannah Nicole Vineyards winery is open in Brentwood!

Hannah Nicole Vineyards Viognier

It feels like eons ago that I was talking to Hannah Nicole Vineyards proprietor Neil Cohn about opening a winery. He and his wife Glenda had been making wine from Brentwood grapes since 1999, but getting the appropriate permits with the city seemed impossible.

Well, lo and behold, I’m hanging out with olive guru David Navarette yesterday in Brentwood for a story on olive oil, and he says to me, “Do you want to stop by Hannah Nicole winery?” I almost swallowed the olive pit in my mouth. The Cohns made it happen.

Open a little over a month, Hannah Nicole Vineyards winery is fully-functioning and open for tastings on Balfour Road. The winery itself is huge – 18,000 square feet with a double tasting bar, outdoor fountain, and enough space for dream weddings, and, I hear, a phat New Year’s Eve party.  

They grow Bordeaux and Rhone varietals – you might recognize their rose-covered label for the aromatic and lively viognier they’ve made since their inception – but even though almost all of the grapes that go into their 10 wines come from the estate, they can’t put “estate grown” on their bottles because Contra Costa County isn’t an AVA. Screw that.

Anyway, Neil was kind of enough to sneak me in the back to taste a few wines out of barrel with winemaker John Sotelo – hehe, sorry Dave – and I was super impressed with what will be the 2009 chardonnay. I know, right? Jessica and chard? Yes! It’s Russian River Valley fruit and had been in American (and a dash of French) oak for a few month, and it was gorgeous.

It had a crystal clear nose of tropical fruits, and when I say tropical, I mean you could pluck out the guava and pineapple and a super clean finish with just the slightest hint of coconut cream. I liked it more than the 2008 chardonnay, which I tasted afterwards in the tasting room. It had too much residual sugar for me.

The 2009 viognier will be a stunner too, as will two spry sauvignon blancs I tasted out of tank. Despite the stress they endured to make the winery a reality, time has been good to the Cohns. Their wines have improved in quality and elegance. I’m anxious to taste a petit verdot softened with cabernet franc that Neil was kind enough to give me on my way out. Question is, what do I eat with it? If you have any pairing suggestions for petit verdot, let me know.

In the meantime, make a trip out to Hannah Nicole Vineyards. You won’t be sorry. The tasting room hours are noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Or check the Events section of their web site.

Posted on Friday, December 4th, 2009
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Academie Culinary Wines

cooking wine

Casey Cobb got the idea for his line of cooking wines after an experience in the grocery store several years ago. He wasn’t a wine geek yet, and was shopping for a recipe that called for a “dry red wine.” No one was able to help him, and even though he knew better than to buy a low quality cooking wine loaded with salt and preservatives, he was still at a loss.

Several loans (and many years of living off potatoes) later, Cobb launched Academie Culinary Wines, a line of four, half-bottle wines specifically blended for cooking. They retail for $7.99.

Cobb, 28, sources wines from Napa, Sonoma, and Lodi and consults with professional chefs before blending at his Concord winery. He has developed wine blends and recipes ideal for red sauces, and meat, seafood, poultry, pork, game birds, fish and lamb dishes.

Each blend is intended to lend certain flavor elements, whether its refined sweetness (Blend #4) or depth and complexity (Blend #1).

According to Cobb’s research, 40 percent of people that have to cook with a wine don’t know what to use. It’s strange to me that they would think a rancid or old wine in the fridge is OK to drink, much less cook with, but it happens, he says.

I used Blend #4 to poach pears and created a sort of mulled wine, but I feel it was a waste. The recipe called for a full cup of sugar, which I wasn’t willing to use. So I think I would’ve gotten a better understanding of the versatility of the wine if I’d used it to saute seafood in a pasta dish. That’s what I recommend you do if you try it.

Still, I took a swig before cooking and the white wine – maybe a blend of viognier and muscat? – was of good quality with plenty of fruit and acidity. Like any quality brand in the value space, it was a pleasure to drink.

And I think that can be a challenge. As more and more people learn about wine, they’ll be able to reach for a balanced bottle to cook with, just as they’d reach for one to drink.

Posted on Tuesday, December 1st, 2009
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