Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for the 'Corkheads' Category

2006 Sterling Albert Winery Syrah Mt. Diablo

I grilled up some lamb steaks last night with a rub I made on the fly: Cumin, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, and oregano (I was out of mint). I mixed in some oil, made a paste, and slathered it on those grass-fed New Zealand steaks.

Syrah was a natural pairing. But not just any syrah. The 2006 Sterling Albert Syrah, made from grapes grown on Mt. Diablo’s Mangini/Albert Vineyard in Contra Costa County, was ideal because it showed the savory, herbal (I definitely detected some oregano) and smoky elements that California syrahs with a touch of age tend to exhibit.

The deep purple color is misleading. This is a complex wine, but it’s not huge and brimming with alcohol. Still, just to make sure it wouldn’t dominate my lamb steaks, I uncorked the bottle half an hour before we were planning on eating, so the wine had a chance to mellow out. I think it will only get better in the next few days. It’s got soft tannins, balanced fruit, and a surprisingly long finish.

The wine is still available for $24 (a steal if you ask me) on the winery’s web site.

Posted on Tuesday, May 25th, 2010
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2008 August Briggs “Dijon Clones” Pinot Noir

August Briggs 2008 Pinot Noir

Before we were engaged, my husband and I had one of our most fantastic dates at Trattoria La Siciliana in Berkeley. It was one of those nights – cue cheesy music of girl retelling story – where you talk so many hours you shut the place down.

It was midweek, and the Italian waiter was grunting his disapproval as he piled chairs on table tops.

Anyway, during the winter months, I always keep cases of wine in my car’s trunk – a reality when you live in an urban area and run out of places to store wine. So I ran to my car and pulled out a bottle of red, something from California and far too big to enjoy even with the restaurant’s saucy, Sicilian fare.

Last night, after almost two years, we found ourselves in the same neighborhood. And just like we did on that early date, I ran to my car and grabbed this beautiful, unfined and unfiltered August Briggs pinot noir (about $40).Talk about sense of place.

This wine is made from grapes grown on the Green Island Vineyard located on the south end of Napa Valley. The biggest reason I like this pinot is because it isn’t suffocated by new oak – I know the 2007 was aged in mostly two and three year old French oak barrels – so it’s like the Briggs made this wine in the same style: Ripe with dusty fruit and soft, vanilla spices.

We enjoyed it with a fresh pappardelle loaded with pork meatballs in a spicy, basil flecked tomato sauce. It was a superb pairing, and we talked just as long as we did on that original date.

Posted on Wednesday, May 19th, 2010
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Not all New Zealand sauvignon blanc tastes the same

Kim Crawford 2009 Sauvignon Blanc

Recently, I attended a tasting of 25 California sauvignon blancs. A bottle from New Zealand’s Marlborough accidently made it in the bunch. And it stood out immediately: Crisp with intense grapefruit quality and acidity. After all, it just takes a whif to recognize that intense gooseberry, right?

Not always. Have you ever done a sub region comparison of Marlborough sauvignon blancs? They can be different, depending on vintage and sub region. There are four in Marlborough: Upper Wairau, Lower Wairau, Blind River, and Awatere.

I think I’ve mostly stuck with Lower Wairau, a warmer, wetter area with fine alluvial soils and a stony under layer. There, wineries yield more concentrated berries with tropical and gooseberry characteristics. If you’ve had most vintages of the Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, particularly the 2009, you know what I mean.

So I tried the 2009 Drylands Sauvignon Blanc, which sources its fruit from the Upper Wairau where the influence of the Wairau River and Cloudy Bay creates a slow and even ripening. Think grassy and full of citrus. Not loads different than the Kim Crawford, but if you’re looking for variations in prominent aromas and flavors, they’re there.

Lastly, I opened up a 2009 Nobilo Icon Sauvignon Blanc. Easily the most sophisticated and complex among the three, the Nobilo includes grapes from all four sub regions. Blind River vineyards are known for their free-draining gravel soils that limit vigor and yields. I got a lot of pineapple and even minerality on this one – to the point that I think it could be aged for a few years.

See, they’re not all the same.

Posted on Friday, May 14th, 2010
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Grapevine moth lands in Fresno

The grapevine moth is spreading throughout California. According to this article in the Fresno Bee, it is not just preying on wine grapes. The moth also likes tree fruit, so the state’s olives and pomegranates are also at risk. I covered the quarantine caused by the moth in Napa, Sonoma and Solano a few weeks ago in our paper.

Posted on Thursday, May 6th, 2010
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H.R. 5034 threatens direct wine shipping laws – again

Great, comprehensive article in the Washington Post today about how if passed the bill HR 5034 could make it really hard to get wine shipped directly to your home.

It threatens a piece of 2005 legislation passed by the Supreme Court that you might remember. It put the job of regulating the distribution of alcoholic beverages in the hands of states as long as they didn’t discriminate against out of state producers. It’s a coup that today, 37 states allow their residents to go to a favorite out of state winery and have a case shipped back home.

I doubt HR5034, brought to Congress by wine wholesalers and Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass) will pass though. As the author says, Nancy Pelosi lives in northern California and owns a vineyard.

Posted on Wednesday, May 5th, 2010
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Clarksburg’s Dancing Coyote: Unique, value wines

 Dancing Coyote 

Anyone in California can make chardonnay and zinfandel. And, they do. So I was definitely intrigued by Dancing Coyote’s portfolio. Exotic, food-friendly white wines at an approachable, drink-me-know price point of $9.99 to $12.99. 

Maybe you can’t affored that Austrian tasting at Fort Mason in San Franisco on May 3. Maybe you’re not sure how to pronounce gruner veltliner, and so never bring it up to your local wine merchant.

That’s why producers like Dancing Coyote, which make 10,000 cases that they farm from 600 acres in Sacramento Valley, are important.  They’re introducing value-shopping Americans to gewurztraminer, verdelho, and to my surprise, gruner veltliner, of which barely any is planted  in California. Bravo.

They also make two reds – petit sirah and pinot noir.

Here’s a taste:

2009 Verdelho: I love this Portuguese grape, and I’m glad it’s gaining popularity in the States. Dancing Coyote’s dry version is surprisingly high in alcohol for a white wine (14.5 percent) with lovely aromas and flavors of pear and honeysuckle. I get a slightly bitter metallic finish at the end, but it’s not off-putting enough to keep me away. Especially with a bite of Greek salad.  

2009 Gruner Veltliner: Anyone in California who wants to take a stab at this steely Austrian varietal is OK by me. My gut reaction when I taste one from here, however, is that it’s not cold enough to grow gruner here. So you’re not going to get the acidity and minerality that are the core characteristics of the wine. Particularly at this price point, however, I think Dancing Coyote’s is great. It has peach aromas and flavors and finishes clean with a touch of pepper, another hallmark of the grape.

2009 Gewurztraminer: Ah, this is the stuff. Aromas of rose and lychee. Flavors of pear and honeysuckle. A hint of sweetness on the finish followd by a spicy exhale. I’d rock this wine with a spicy Thai noodle dish. A wine of this complexity and beauty at a food-friendly 12 percent alcohol? Get some before it’s gone.

2008 Petit Sirah: I don’t typically reach for wines like this, but I’ve judged many in competitions, and this one is spot-on accurate. Inky with big, mouth-drying tannins, and aromas and flavors of just-baked blackberry pie cooling on the windowsill while hickory wafts in from the outside grill.

Posted on Sunday, May 2nd, 2010
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Four great merlots for meat-sauce pasta nights

Seven Hills Merlot

Last night, I got home from work famished. I dumped some ground turkey in a pan, hit it with garlic, oregano, salt, pepper, tomato sauce and chopped onions, and put the farfalle on to boil.

Natch, I popped open an Italian wine, a Dolcetto D’Alba. Turned out to be corked. Disappointed and very annoyed, I did what any respectable wine writer would do. I grabbed my corkscrew and opened eight bottles of merlot.

I tasted through all of them – ranging from 2006 to 2008 vintages and hailing from the Central Coast, Sonoma, and Washington – as the juices in the meat sauce started coming together with the herbs and spices. These were the ones that tasted the best with the pasta dish I was cooking.

2007 Anselmo Vineyards, Hollister ($40): This was the standout merlot of the eight I sampled. It was just the kind of juicy, plummy merlot you crave with a white meat sauce. It had chocolately smooth tannins.

Candor Lot 2, Central Coast: The folks at Hope Family Wines make this merlot by blending multiple vintages together, and I think it’s how the wine achieves the complexity of structure and finish I tasted. $20.

2006 Fernwood, Santa Cruz ($30): If you like lighter bodied wine with a bit more acidity, try this bottling made from four small vineyards in Los Altos, Saratoga, and Monte Sereno. It had lower alcohol, 13.7 percent, than its counterparts in the tasting. The peppery notes went well with my meat sauce.

2007 Seven Hills, Walla Walla ($28): This had the same alcohol level as the Fernwood, but it retained the deep, rich color and body that is so indicative of Washington merlots. The fruit hails from one of the oldest vineyards in the Valley.

Posted on Wednesday, April 28th, 2010
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2008 Patianna Sauvignon Blanc – lipsmacking good

2008 Patianna Sauvignon Blanc

This dry, crisp Patianna sauvignon blanc is made with biodynamically farmed grapes in gravelly Mendocino soil.  The result is a refreshing and full of minerals. If you like the New Zealand style, you’ll be stoked to drink this refreshing, screwcapped wine. It’s bright, fresh, and has all the tangy citrus and gooseberry flavors plus the acidity you come to expect from this variety. It’s a bargain at $14 if you ask me.

I love cooking with this style of white wine. I came home after the gym and tossed a splash of the Patianna with two handfuls of sliced cherry tomatoes, three cloves of garlic, certified California olive oil, parsley, butter and some butterflied shrimp. I poured the whole thing over some basil pasta and added a squeeze or two of fresh lemon. It was to die for. The wine cut the sweetness of the cherries and the richness of the shrimp, butter and oil. The lemon squeeze really mirrored the citrus flavor in the wine. 

Try it!

Posted on Friday, April 23rd, 2010
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Sarah Palin’s speech to Wine & Spirit Wholesalers of America

Wondering what Sarah Palin got paid $75,000 to say to the Wine & Spirit Wholesalers of America last week in her keynote address at their Las Vegas conference? Find out by listening to Palin’s speech here off a link in Tom Wark’s Fermentation blog.

What you’ll discover is she didn’t say much. Just a few bad wine puns and the usual finger wagging at Washington, which is all about special interest groups. Isn’t WASW a special interest group? According to attendees, the word wine wasn’t even mentioned.

Posted on Monday, April 19th, 2010
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Tuscan wines of Leonardo Frescobaldi

Had the great pleasure of meeting the Marchese Leonardo Frescobaldi during a tasting of his Tuscan wines last night at Pleasant Hill Wine Merchants in Pleasant Hill. Frescobaldi will be at Prima Vini tonight, April 16, at 5:30. Tickets for non club members is $20. I strongly recommend you check it out.

The Frescobaldis are Italy’s oldest winemaking family. They’ve been making gorgeous, powerful yet balanced wines for 700 years. They make their wines as naturally as possible, fermenting in barrel with little chemical intervention.

While their wines and reputation are firmly planted in tradition, they are also quite revolutionary in their thinking, creating the first Italian-American hybrid wines with Robert Mondavi in the 90s and planting merlot grapes in the Montalcino for the first time in the 70s.

My favorite from the tasting is as follows:

2006 Frescobaldi Mormoretto Super Tuscan: This wine is alive. It is an elegant blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc that hails from a single vineyard cru of Castello di Nippozano with percentages that remain fixed year after year. As Frescobaldi said, “I’m not in pharmaceuticals.”  

As for the wine, the tannins are fine and silky. The aromas and flavors are a complex mix of dark fruit, cocoa, smoke, and spice. I love this wine and think it will age beautifully in the years to come.

Prima is also offering a Tuscan dinner with the Marchese following the tasting at 7. The price is $58, which is half what Prima usually charges for winemaker’s dinners. Jump on by reserving your spot with Prima at 925-935-7780.

Posted on Friday, April 16th, 2010
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