I discovered wine, or rather it found me, on the Central Coast. I was in my mid 20s and living a rather simple but happy life in San Luis Obispo. I had my best friend and partner in wine, my newspaper writing job, and dozens of burgeoning appellations around me.
For whatever reason, we felt a kinship to the wines of Paso Robles. They were big and fruity and even though they’re not necessarily the style of wines that grace my table these days, they still represent that fun, adventurous and innovative part of my winetasting journey. Paso Robles is a very important region in terms of American Rhone blends. And even after 180 bonded wineries, the people in the vineyards and those behind the tasting room bars still have an ease and unpretentiousness that seals my love for this region.
If you haven’t made it down to Paso in a while you’re in luck. The vintners are coming to us on April 22. The Consumer Grand Tasting runs from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Quadrus Conference Center in Menlo Park. There will be appetizers and more than 150 wines to taste. For tickets, visit the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. Some of my longstanding favorites from the region: J. Lohr, Justin, Wild Horse.
Perhaps the most interesting tidbit about Paso Robles is that 58 percent of the grapes grown there are sold to wineries outside of the area. They are found in dozens of Napa Valley wines, which raises interesting questions about value and ageability, all of which will surely come up when Sunset Magazine wine editor Sara Schneider gives a talk on Paso wines from 1 to 2 p.m. that same day in the same location.
Food-friendly Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is almost an oxymoron these days. The wines are typically big and ballsy with whopping alcohol levels and a ripeness better suited for a bag of dried fruit.
So imagine my surprise when I opened this Weinstock Select 2006 Napa cab last night to wash down a simple spice-flecked grilled chicken. It was the third night of Passover, and I was rocking a kosher meal, so I needed a kosher wine.
The fruit was definitely there. The wine exhibited the bold, tobacco and blackberry aromas and flavors indicative of Napa cabs, but this wine had soft tannins and “only” 13.8 percent alcohol. It was elegant with good acidity and refreshed my palate after every bite of charred chicken.
Not only is it in line with kosher law, but the wine is mevushal, meaning that it was flash pasteurized and fit for the most orthodox Jewish wine lover. Looks like Snooth shows the Weinstock wine retailing for $24.99.
If you like balanced cabernet sauvignon and find it challenging to find one from California, I suggest you give this one a swirl.
My Hebrew friends. Passover is in full swing, and I for one am already sick of corn flakes and macaroons. However, for most of us heebs, the culinary self-flagellation continues another six days, so why not have some fun?
Judd’s Hill winery in Napa Valley certainly knows how. Recently, winemaker and social media powerhouse Judd Finkelstein organized a tasting at nearby Cindi’s Backstreet Kitchen to tackle the fifth question of the Passover holiday.
Not ‘Why is this night different from all other nights,’ but ‘What wine goes with gefilte fish?’
For serious food and wine dinners east of the Caldecott Tunnel in the Bay Area, Prima Ristorante in Walnut Creek always delivers. Over three decades, wine director John Rittmaster has become a pioneer for his world-class wine program. Executive Chef Peter Chastain is a master at creating an Italian sense of place that is both rustic and contemporary.
For their annual Women in Wine Celebration on March 30, these gents pull out all the stops. They even have a fab new female sommelier, Angela Luciano.
I always get a bit giddy when the press release arrives, curious and anxious to see who they landed for the four-course meal and party that usually lasts hours and involves too much excellent wine.
If you’ve been holding out this year on committing to any big-ticket wine dinners, I suggest you jump on this one. It’s $88 and the menu includes duck, pork and wines from some of the biggest names in wine, including Delia Viader and Eileen Crane. There are seven winemakers participating this year.
Go to the Prima website for tickets or call 925-935-7780
It took six years, but Calistoga, the home of the venerable Schramsberg Vineyards and a region of the Napa Valley famous for growing cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, and syrah, is finally legit.
The Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau of the U.S. Department of the Treasury made Calistoga an official American Viticultural Area in December. Calistoga has been known for winemaking for more than 100 years, but in recent years, the lack of official designation made it possible for wine producers to include Calistoga in their branding when the wine did not in fact come from there.
According to a press release from the Napa Valley Vintners, they owe the strides to U.S. Rep Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena), who worked since 2003 on the fight for truth in labeling.
It’s not too late to purchase tickets to what I imagine will be a very cool inaugural event. Tomorrow night, March 13, 22 Lodi appellation wineries will pair their wines with dishes created by students from the Art Institute of California at Sacramento.
The concept is great. If you’ve been to Livermore’s annual Taste of Terroir, it’s similar except there’s an educational component here because the dishes will be created by students. Trust me – these kids can cook. Like Taste of Terroir, general audience members also get to vote on a People’s Choice Award. Judging will be based on presentation, pairing creativity and quality.
Tickets are $60 and get you samples of all 22 culinary creations and wines in addition to a recipe book and glass. Purchase your tickets by visiting the Lodi-Woodbridge Wine Grape Commission or call 209-365-0621.
Traditions 2007 Pinot Gris, Washington State: A racy little one. Most of the grapes for this tangy wine hail from the Millbrandt’s 1,600-feet-high Evergreen Vineyards. Combine that mountain climate with the broken basalt soils and the result is an almost chalky minerality that begs for leafy greens or raw fish soaked in lime vinaigrette. Around $12.99.
Traditions 2006 Merlot, Washington State: Merlots such as this one remind us of the grape’s potential for elegance and quaffability. It’s got a lot of soft, ripe fruit flavors and a dusty edge with lovely, lush tannins. It’s a sexy, sophisticated wine, and a steal at $14.99.
Estates 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington State: This cabernet hails from Eastern Washington’s Wahluke Slope, where long, hot days and virtually no rain fall produces full-bodied, intense blackberry flavors and a smokiness I usually associate with Paso Robles Syrah. Robust yet integrated. $24.99.
OK, proud East Bay moment. Winemakers and proprietors Jared and Tracey Brandt of A Donkey & Goat Winery in Berkeley will be the only Americans at the 7th Annual VinNatur in Italy this April.
VinNatur is among Europe’s largest gatherings of natural winemakers. This year, the Brandts, who specialize in Chardonnay and Rhone varietals, will join more than 100 winemakers from nine countries to share ideas and practices.
And, you won’t see a Mega-Purple stained shirt in the bunch.
Natural winemakers believe in hands-off, terroir-driven winemaking over the chemicals and wizardry that are taking place more and more often behind cellar doors. In the United States and other New World regions, the idea is taking off as chic, but in many older wine regions, like Alsace and Burgundy, it is simply tradition.
The Brandts implement a lot of these techniques, including adding ver jus (unripe grapes) to Chardonnay for acidity; minimizing sulphur, and staying away from cultivated yeasts, fining and filtration. They learned natural winemaking from Eric Texier in the northern Rhone Valley.
To see the Brandts off and taste their latest vintage of naturally made wines, check out their spring open house from 1 to 5 p.m. March 20 at the A Donkey & Goat Winery, 2323B 4th St., Berkeley. Admission is $20 in advance and $30 at the door.
With harvest officially under way – Bartholomaus said whites are picked at the end of February, typically – vintners are going to have to rely on generators to keep drip irrigation systems working.
Without infrastructure, some wines will have to sit in tanks outside. Still, vintners with larger facilities in the northern Maipo Valley can send their wines there for production.
Bartholomaus witnessed the 8.0 Santiago earthquake back in 1985, and is confident the country will rebuild. But he did add: “I wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of the new president (Sebastian Pinera), who starts in a week.”