Friday, December 30, 2011

Ben's Bubbly: The Jumping Grape

Well, with my family in town and four different Christmases to attend I am finally getting around to this week's (well, last week's wine) bubbly write-up. Ben enjoyed having the grandparents, aunts and uncles around all week, but that is for next week's post! If Ben knew that I was posting almost a week late, he would probably throw a mini temper tantrum. That, after all, is his new thing of the week. He is quite fascinated by the TV remote control, but when we try to take the thing away from him he throws the biggest hissy fit. He screams and glares at you. We've tried coaxing him with other remote controls, but the TV remote is the only one he wants. This makes watching TV a bit difficult when he keeps his little fingers pressed down on the channel up button. The only way to get it away from him is to really stoke his interest in something else. We are hoping that this little temper control problem is only just a phase, but we shall see...

The Jumping Grape, Sparkling Red Wine, Padthaway, South Australia

Most sparkling wine is white, although some is pink. A few Australian wineries are trying to make a new trend with sparkling red wines (yes, I know Italy produces some sweet red bubbly). Unfortunately, I am not a fan. This blend of 80% shiraz and 20% cabernet sauvignon would be a very nice still wine, but it was not to be. The base wine for this bubbly was aged five years in oak, and you could taste every year. Lush red raspberries are accented by sweet vanilla and a hint of cracked black pepper on both the nose and the palate. I like Aussie shiraz and I like sparkling wine, but I do not like the outcome when they combine forces. I am hopeful that next week's (New Year's Eve's) bubbly will more than make up for this disappointing bottle. 12.5% abv Purchased $16. Average

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Meet the Winemaker: Brian Stevens (Talon Wine Brands)

Brian Stevens
As you may or may not know, one Colorado winery has some serious California connections. In 1976, W. Reed Foster helped found the icon Ravenswood winery. A few decades later, his son Glenn worked as a winemaker at several small wineries in Colorado. In 2008, after owning and operating a retail store in Fruita, CO, Glenn bought three small wineries of his own. As the Talon Wine Brands grew, Glenn brought on a second winemaker. Brian Stevens was an elementary school teacher and home brewer, but is now the winemaker for one of the state's largest wineries.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Meet the Winemaker: Steve Flynn (Vino Salida)

Steve Flynn
Like many of Colorado's winemakers, Steve Flynn started as an amateur home winemaker. In 2009, Steve decided to start Vino Salida in Salida, CO. One of the unique characteristics is the winery's location. Most of the state's wineries are located in the Grand Valley AVA, the West Elks AVA or along the Front Range between Fort Collins and Colorado Springs. Salida is a old mountain railroad town and at almost 6,000 residents is Chaffee County's most populous city. Even at such a small size, Salida was already home to another winery, Mountain Spirit Winery. It is not the center of the wine industry or a large metropolis bustling with consumers eager to drink wine, but Steve has decided to make Salida home for his young winery.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Ben's Bubbly: Domaine le Capitaine Vouvray Methode Traditionelle Brut

Ben just keeps getting cuter each week. One of his new things is sharing. He loves offering his Cheerios or water bottle to us as we feed him. He gets super excited when we gladly accept his goodies. One of his new food goodies is tofu. We dice up the tofu into pea-sized cubes and dust them with crumbled Cheerios to make them easier to grab. While he enjoys eating the tofu, he also loves throwing it and smashing it on his high chair tray. He is really enjoying feeding himself and often ends up with the spoon in one hand and food from ear to ear and hair to chin.

Domaine le Capitaine Vouvray, Methode Traditionelle Brut

Yes, France makes sparkling wine outside of the Champagne region. This sparkling Vouvray is made from 100% chenin blanc (as is all Vouvray, still or sparkling). This wine is a lovely golden color and has fine bubbles. The nose is a bit richer than Champagne with notes of honey, baked pear, and orange blossom. The flavors are equally unique. The minerality and acidity combine to yield a pleasant saltiness, along with flavors of rye bread and orange marmalade. This is not going to be confused with top-notch bubbly, but at a fraction of the price it is a tasty alternative.12.5% abv Purchased $16 Good

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Key is Tasting (blind)

There are a lot about misconceptions of Colorado wine. First, and most egregious, is the quality factor. Sure, just as with any wine region, Colorado wineries produce some not-so-tasty juice. But consider Bordeaux. There are somewhere on the order of 10,000 producers just in the broad Bordeaux wine region. 10,000. That is more than all of the wineries in the United States! When most wine aficionados discuss Bordeaux, we are referring to less than 100 producers. The current evolution of the 1855 Bordeaux Classification includes 61 châteaus. A handful of right bank producers in and around the towns of Saint-Émilion and Pomerol are now as highly regarded as the classified châteaus of the Médoc. My point is, only about 1% of the wineries are Bordeaux are considered to produce high-quality wine. The rest is probably mediocre to less than mediocre (or at least by the standards of the wine tastemakers). The same concept can be applied to the wineries of California. There are more wineries in California producing plonk than meticulously crafting fine wine, and I bet you can name a few wineries in both camps. The good news is, if you know which wineries to seek out, you can find wine you like.

Colorado is no different. With over 100 wineries in the state, I'd be willing to bet (not $10,000) that the average wine consumer in the state could not name more than 5 wineries. If they were to taste wines from all 100, consumers might find wines that they consider to be at the same quality level as wines from California or even (gasp!) France. One of the best ways to get wine drinkers to try new wines is through restaurant wine lists. When I worked in the retail tier of the industry, I was surprised how often people came into the store and said they tried a wine at a restaurant and wanted to by a bottle. I was relieved when people actually new which wine it was and not just that it had a red label. Unfortunately, one of the problems with the idea of getting Colorado wine onto reputable restaurant wine lists is convincing the wine buyers!

Luckily for Colorado, there are more than a few chefs and sommeliers who are open to the idea of adding more local juice to their lists. With the help of Colorado Wino (Jacob Harkins) and Swirl Girl Denver (Kendra Anderson), we've put together the #DenverWineCru where we blind tasted Colorado Wine against the world. Our goal is to see how Colorado wines compare to wines from established wine regions.

We were joined at the first by a group of eager winos and Jensen Cummings, Executive Chef at Row 14. We tasted a lineup of five different wine styles with wines from Colorado and elsewhere around the world in each flight. When things were all said and done, everyone left impressed with Colorado's quality. Colorado didn't "win" every flight, but even when it didn't there were many more home runs than strike outs (and there were a few...).

Here are my notes of the wines that I took as we tasted without know what was in each bottle:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Meet the Winemaker: Debra Ray (Desert Moon Vineyards)

Debra Ray
One of the common misconceptions about the Colorado Wine industry is that all of the wineries are located on the western slope of the Rockies. Yes, most of the vineyards are located in the Grand Valley and West Elks AVAs, but 60% of the wineries are actually located east of the Continental Divide. The major reason for this is the customer base is located along the Front Range. This fact was motivation enough for one winery to relocate from Palisade to Centennial. Desert Moon Vineyards was founded by Paul Hilbink and Debra Ray in 2002 with the first vintage released in 2004. Last year, they decided to move the production facilities (i.e., winery) to the Front Range to better meet consumer demand while maintaining the vineyard in Palisade. Debra designed a stylish tasting room where they host events, including wine education seminars, business meetings, weddings, dinners, & social get-togethers. Keep your eye on Groupon and Living Social to take advantage of great deals on their selection of educational, yet entertaining classes. And with that, this week we welcome Debra Ray from Desert Moon Vineyards in this edition of Meet the Winemaker.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Nothing beats Champagne for sparkling wine

It is that time of year again when all of the newspapers start publishing their Champagne stories in time for the New Year celebrations. Both the New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle have gotten in on the action. The NYT piece focused on how the big négociants (they buy grapes from independent growers) are dealing with the push for terroir-driven wine, whereas the Chronicle described how grower-producers have gained ground in the Champagne conversation. Several weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend a tasting of importer Terry Theise's grower-producer Champagne selections. I think these wines offer some of the best value (not necessarily inexpensive) for sparkling wine from around the world, and I wanted to share the highlights of this tasting with you.

There is a lot of sparkling wine in the world. Unfortunately, only a small portion of it is Champagne. Champagne is sparkling wine from the Champagne region in northeast France. True Champagne is made predominantly from three grapes (chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier) though up to seven cultivars are permissible (more on that later). Sparkling wine from other regions can be made from any number of grapes, and while the style may be similar to Champagne, it is not Champagne. If you're drinking sparkling wine from Germany, it is called Sekt, Spanish bubbly is called Cava, and the most predominant Italian sparkling wine is called Prosecco. Even in other French regions, the term Champagne may not be used. One of the main reasons for the seemingly strict semantics is terroir. Champagne's distinctive natural characteristics are based on its exceptionally northerly location (it is France's most northern viticultural area) and its location in a geologic formation known as the Paris Basin. Here, the grapes take root in Cretaceous chalk, which is key to true Champagne. While the method of production may be duplicated elsewhere, the terroir is unique.

Despite this uniqueness, there is an increasing dichotomy of Champagne. Most of the Champagne that you and I see on retail shelves or on restaurant wine lists is dominated by a few brands. The big luxury négociants produce millions of bottles of wine each year in an industrial process that rivals the biggest wine factories of Modesto, California. These négociants own very little of the vineyards and buy most of their grapes from grape growers and blend grapes from all over the region. Only 3.8% of the Champagne sold in the United States is made by small growers that handcraft their Champagne from individual vineyards and villages. Terry Theise is one of the main U.S. importers of this "farmer fizz," and sells some of the best Champagne that money can buy. After tasting over 50 different wines, I found 6 that should be purchased when spotted on store shelves. I used to think that most bubbly was the same (and still do to some extent), but these 6 wines are well worth their cost and will open your eyes to what Champagne really means.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Ben's Bubbly: Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Sofia Mini

Ben has really started to discover his voice. Rarely is there a quite moment in our house anymore. While he has babbled for quite some, he is learning how to adjust his volume. When mom and dad are talking and Ben is not included in the conversation, we usually are notified of the injustice by very loud baby noises. When we recognize Ben's presence (and usually pick him up), we get a smile and quiet from the little man. He also lets us know when he wants our attention by cruising the furniture and attempting to pull himself up our legs. He definitely makes sure that we don't ever forget about him!

Our sparkling wine (or at least the packaging) this week is also trying to insert itself in the wine conversation. Canned wine has been around for almost 75 years, but is recently seeing a resurgence. Last week, The New York Times, Palate Press: the online wine magazine (written by yours truly) and The San Francisco Examiner all published articles about the revitalization of putting wine into aluminum cans. Just as with Ben, canned wines are starting to discover their voice. I predict that we will start to see more wines in cans in the near future.

Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Sofia, Blanc de Blancs, California

This funky little can should fool you about what is inside. With less than 1% residual sugar, this is true sparkling wine and not a gimmick. This fruit forward bubbly also comes in a tradition glass bottle, but the straw-adorned travel-size cans add a bit of zestiness to the boring row of bottles on the liquor store shelf. This blanc de blancs (82% Pinot Blanc, 10% Riesling, 8% Muscat) is very aromatic with pear and flowers tempting your nose. The bombardment of fruit continues in the mouth with pears dominating the show, but golden apples and zesty lemons make a cameo. We drank it with the straw, from the can and poured into a flute. I definitely recommend using a glass. But, when you’re in the mood for something different, yet familiar, grab a can from this reputable produce and try drinking from a straw. You might have more fun than you think you can with wine. 11.5% abv Purchase $5 (187 mL) Good

Thursday, December 8, 2011

‘Can’ Packaging from Beer World Work with Wine Too?

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but does an aluminum can always signal a low brow beverage? Less than ten years ago, canned beers were limited to low-flavor, mass-produced macrobrews. A small craft brewer decided to change that stigma. In November 2002, Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons, Colorado launched its “Canned Beer Apocalypse.” Dale Katechis decided to can an assertive and flavorful Pale Ale, one can at a time. With an expanded lineup of bold and critically acclaimed canned brews, great canned beer is no longer an oxymoron. Now, over 130 craft breweries can beer, including Oskar Blues’ much larger neighbor to the south, New Belgium Brewery.

The company that helped Oskar Blues break the mold, Broomfield, CO-based Ball Corporation, thinks that they can (pun intended) do the same for the wine market that they did for craft beer. Dan Vorlage, Director of Business for Ball’s Beverage Packaging Division thinks, “canned wine offers an elegant way to deliver wine and ultimately allows consumers to have a ready-to-drink package that can go places where glass bottles can’t go.”

Continue reading at Palate Press: the online wine magazine.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Meet the Winemaker: John Garlich (Bookcliff Vineyards)

John Garlich
Well, after a week without a winemaker interview, we are back with one of Colorado's elite winemakers. Last year, Bookcliff Vineyards won Colorado's second ever Jefferson Cup for their 2009 Petite Sirah (their Ensemble red blend was also a Jefferson Cup Nominee). They continued to rack up top honors as they won two best of category awards at this year's Colorado Governor's Cup. While starting to gain a national reputation for producing excellent wines (see Daily Grape #77), they remain a local favorite. They produce a argosy of wines, their robust reds and luscious muscat-based dessert wines are some of my favorite in Colorado.

One of only four Boulder wineries, Bookcliff Vineyards has sort of a split personality. The winery is located in an urban industrial park in North Boulder next to Upslope Brewering Company, but they also own and manage 24 acres of vineyard in Palisade, CO, growing ten different varieties. If you haven't tried a wine from Bookcliff, I urge you to go get a bottle and come back to read our interview with owner and winemaker, John Garlich.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Ben's Bubbly: Humberto Canale Extra Brut

Each week, Ben is developing new traits. During the past few weeks, he had four top teeth come in, and he's developed a funny face where he opens his jaws with his lips tightly pulled over top and bottom teeth. We call it his turtle face. We assume that he is doing it because of the odd sensation of teeth against his lips, but either way it is still funny. The other new thing that Ben has started is pointing, but in a style that is truly his own. Instead of using the traditional pointer finger, he uses his whole arm with this hand open, palm side up a la Vanna White. Mom likes to think that he is channeling his inner Steve Carrel from when Michael Scott (The Office) meets Holly and realizes that they have a lot in common, raises his arm and says, "Acting!" (sorry, can't find a video to link).

Humberto Canale, Extra Brut, Patagonia, Argentina

I always keep my eyes out for interesting wines, so when I saw this bottle on clearance at local retailer I didn't hesitate. This blend of 50% semillon, 30% pinot noir, 10% merlot, 10% sauvignon blanc comes from one of the southernmost wine regions in the world. It is pale yellow with greenish tint. The nose is very floral and full of fresh peach and apple aromas. White peaches and tart pineapple flavors dominate the palate. Overall, this unique bubbly is very dry (too much so for my wife at first taste), yet very smooth. I quite enjoyed it and would definitely recommend it as an unusual blend of grapes.

12.6% abv Purchased $12 Good/Very Good

Friday, December 2, 2011

2009 J Vineyards and Winery Pinot Noir, RRV

2009 pinot noir from California and Oregon are slowly being released. The past few months have seen several reviews of 2009 pinot noir from Jon Bonné, in the SF Chronicle and Allen Meadows just released Burghound #44 (subscription required) with his reviews of CA and OR 2009 pinot noir. Consensus among most pundits has been that following the smoke-tainted 2008 vintage (I was in the Russian River Valley during the fires) the 2009 vintage offers some spectacular wines. Sad to say that I haven't had many. However, I did have the pleasure of drinking a 2009 pinot noir from J Vineyards and Winery several months before its January 2012 release date. I know that it is inappropriate to judge an entire vintage based on one sample, but given that this wine is produced under the broad, and newly expanded, Russian River Valley appellation when most wineries save their best grapes for vineyard-designate and special cuveé releases, I would think consumers should be on the lookout for well-priced 2009 California (and Sonoma-based producers in particular) pinot noir.

2009 J Vineyards & Winery Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

The first thing you notice in this medium red elixir is the complex aromas of cherries, cedar, cloves,  raspberries. Only a slight bit of alcohol noticed on the nose causes pause. Luckily, the alcohol is nowhere to be found on the palate. Lots of red fruit (cherries, raspberries, dark strawberries) are complemented by hints of spice and black tea. This basic pinot noir offers an excellent value from a producer with pedigree. Look for it to be on store shelves come February. 14.3% abv Sample $35. Very Good