Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ben's Bubbly: Jean Vesselle Brut

Ben is starting to get mobile. He began sitting up a few weeks ago and this past week he has been rocking while he sits. He also is scooting and spinning around while he is on his stomach. He isn't quick, but his 3' x 3' floor blanket is now just a recommended play area. He often rolls or scoots off of it in pursuit of a toy (usually a red plastic cup or plastic water bottle that he adores) or a cat. In fact, while he was sitting a few days ago, he reached out and grabbed a cat that got too close. He kept his grip as the cat walked away, he was pulled over and dragged a few inches until the cat lay down in defeat. Maybe it was just my sleep-deprived brain, but I thought this was one of the funniest things I had seen in a long time.

NV Jean Vesselle Brut Reserve, Champagne

This week is the second week in a row we've toasted the little man with a Champagne. While we've had plenty of sparklers from around the world, there is nothing quite like the "real" thing. While champagne is the term most people use to refer to all sparkling wine, true Champagne only comes from the Champagne region in northern France. The chalk sub-soils and marginal climate make for unique conditions that produce special wines. While it is common knowledge in wine circles that Champagne is made from chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, three other grape varieties, pinot blanc, arbanne, and petit meslier are allowed but account for less than one percent of grape production. Some day I will get to try the Moutard Cuvée aux 6 Cepages, but this week's wine is a blend of only 20% chardonnay and 80% pinot noir. This multi-vintage is a golden wheat color. The nose is pleasant with apple blossom dominating. Smooth and crisp, tasty flavors of green apples and strawberries are most prominent on the palate. I tend to prefer blanc de blancs or chardonnay dominant blends, but this wine showed a softness and delicacy that I enjoy while still providing the body and fruitiness of a pinot-heavy wine. If you see a bottle of this, give it a try! 12% abv Purchased $44. Very Good

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

An afternoon in Healdburg (and visits to Skewis, Davis Family Vineyards and Roadhouse Winery)

Skewis pinot noir
During my recent trip to California, I stopped in Healdsburg to wander the streets. On my way into town, I saw Holdredge Winery, and decided to stop because of a few recommendations on Winberserkers.com but they were closed. Just next door was Skewis. Despite the broken air conditioner, boy am I glad I made it in there. Hank and Maggie Skewis have been making vineyard-designated pinot noir since 1994. They recently opened a new tasting room in Healdsburg and I was lucky enough to taste through some of the current releases with Hank. All of the pinots were quite tasty. I tried the 2008 North Coast Cuvee, the 2007 Montgomery Vineyard from the Russian River Valley, the 2008 Salzgeber-Chan Vineyard from the Russian River Valley, the 2008 Peters Vineyard from the Sonoma Coast and a rosé from an unknown vintage as I did not write it down! All the wines are under 200 case production and very light and Burgundian in style. People accustomed to drinking Napa cabernets might even think this lineup borders on being a bunch of rosés! I quite enjoyed the Salzgeber-Chan for combination of meaty spices and bright red fruit with a finish that seemed like it wouldn't ever stop. The Peters Vineyard was equally impressive with its tart cherry pie flavors with a sprinkle of cinnamon, cloves and sweet tobacco and equally long finish. Not on the list, but definitely one of my favorites from Skewis was the rosé. A mix of juice taken from all of the barrels (known as saignée), this is not your mother's rosé. Just slightly lighter in color than the reds, this wine is full of dark cherry, strawberry and cranberry flavors. This is a big rosé with and unbelievably long and spicy finish. Next time you're in Healdsburg, definitely seek out the Skewis tasting room; I'm sure the air conditioning will be working by then!

Monday, August 29, 2011

A drive up Eastside Road (with stops at Copain, Marcassin and J Vineyards and Winery)

Tasting Room at Copain Wine Cellars
After judging the NextGeneration Wine Competition (results now posted), I had a an afternoon free in the Russian River Valley AVA. I only had one appointment made ahead of time, and planned to just drive around and see what I could find after my first stop. The day before the competition, I contacted Copain Wine Cellars via Twitter to arrange a visit. After the unveiling of the sweepstakes winners, I made my way up Eastside Road to one of the most beautiful views in Sonoma. The winery overlooks the Russian River and the vineyards that line the banks. Unfortunately, my appointment did not make it on to their calendar, but I did still get to taste through the wines that they had open. First up was 2009 Tous Ensemble Viognier from Mendocino County. This was a nice crisp and acidic viognier with notes of citrus, melon and honeysuckle on both the nose and palate. The highlight of the lineup for me was the 2010 P2, a blend of 50% pinot noir and 50% pinot gris co-feremented. This unique red wine was filled with strawberry and floral aromas. The flavors of tart cranberries were quite intense and complemented the zesty herb flavors of savory and thyme. It is a good thing that Copain decided to make more of this after the initial vintage was bought in its entirety by the Napa culinary mecca, The French Laundry. The Les Voisins pinot noir and syrah that I tasted were very good wines, but did not meet the expectations I had from comments about Copain on Wineberserkers.com. The 2009 Les Voisins Pinot Noir was a blend of vineyards from the Anderson Valley. It was a typical pinot with hints of brush, red raspberry, strawberry, hints of spice, nice tannins with just a touch of cherry cola and violets. It was very refined when compared to many California pinots. The Les Voisins Syrah from the Yorkville Highlands was bright purple, with big fruit, grippy tannins and woody herbs. Both were very good wines, just not anything special. The two single-vineyard designated wines that I did get to try did approach being special wines. The 2007 James Berry Les Copains was a blend of 40% Grenache, 40% Mouvedre and 20% Syrah. This sample showed big, yet supple dark fruits along with smooth tannins. It was well balanced and provided a long, rather complex finish. Likewise, the 2007 Alder Springs "Spirit Rock" Syrah was impressive. It had a very aromatic, floral and fruity nose. The tannins were much grippier than in the GSM, but still refined. Blackberry and blueberry jam combined with a Rhônish meatiness and subtle herbs to produce a quite tasty wine. I can see why the buzz with Copain lies with their reasonable prices (all the wines I tried were less than $42 a bottle) and quality (higher-end) single-vineyard labels. The view alone is worth a visit.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Drive Through Napa Valley (or how social media influenced why I visited Pine Ridge and Alpha Omega)

Last week, I was a judge at the NextGeneration Wine Competition in Santa Rosa, CA. Instead of flying directly into Santa Rosa via a 5 hour stop in Seattle for twice the price, I flew into Sacramento and rented a car for the remainder of my journey. I also flew in the day before to avoid waking up at 3 am the first day of the competition. Apparently karma is getting even and since I've been back, Ben has been getting me up at 3 almost every day. Flying into Sacramento the afternoon before the competition started allowed me to meander my way through the Napa Valley the afternoon of my arrival.

Caves at Pine Ridge Winery

A few days before my visit, I saw a tweet from Pine Ridge Vineyards (I believe my only Napa Valley winery follower at the time) announcing a vertical tasting of their top of the line Fortis label the evening after the competition. Unfortunately, my schedule precluded me from getting back to Napa on Friday afternoon, but I was able to schedule a visit on my way in. After a brief stop at my first In 'N Out Burger (well worth the two U-turns), I was greeted at the winery by the e-marketing coordinator for Crimson Wine Group (Pine Ridge's parent company). As I arrived only 30 minutes before the tasting room closed, I did not get to tour the winery, but did get to taste through most of the wines.

I started with two chardonnays, but the 2009 Petit Clos showed the crisp yet full-bodied flavors I enjoy in a chardonnay. It was very floral on the nose and provided flavors of pear, green apple, lemon and even a bit of grass along with fresh vanilla bean. Of the five 2007 cabernet sauvignons (Napa, Stags Leap, Oakville, Rutherford and Howell Mountain) I tasted, the Rutherford bottle stood out to me as providing the best balance between fruit and body. It could be great tonight or in 15 years. Those who want more assertive tannins might enjoy the big Stags Leap cabernet a bit more.

While I did not get to taste the Fortis, I did taste the 2006 Andrus Reserve, 2006 Epitome and 2008 Onyx. All were very nice wines, but the sweet cherries and plums of the Andrus were the tastiest of the bunch. The Epitome was (as it is no longer being produced) made from select blocks of estate cabernet and has gobs of raspberry, tobacco and tannins that will integrate even more with a few years of bottle aging. While the Onyx was nice, I'd rather drink (several) Argentinian malbecs for the cost of admission. Overall, I was impressed with both the wines and the use of social media at Pine Ridge. Having a good social network presence that is matched by high quality wines will lead to more success at Pine Ridge. Not shilling product, but announcing events and interacting with consumers who happen to follow on Twitter or like on Facebook is the way that wineries need to use these networks, and Pine Ridge gets it.

Alpha Omega Winery
Another aspect of social media PR is promoting others in your industry. As I was leaving, the tasting room staff recommended that I visit Alpha Omega Winery. I have read good things about this newish winery on the Wineberserkers.com online wine forum, but had not had the opportunity to try the wines. I don't know how many wineries monitor the conversations on forums such as Wineberskers, the Wine Spectator Forums or the Wine Library Forums (I used to read the bulletin board over at eRobertParker.com before the pay-wall went up), but I would highly recommend that they do so. Reputations can be made or lost with a only a few positive or negative comments on these sites. With the recommendation at Pine Ridge and the positive reviews from other digitally savvy winelovers, I made my way to the other side of the valley and up to the tasting bar at Alpha Omega.

Alpha Omega is a small (less than 5000 cases annually) winery that uses flying winemaker Michel Rolland as a consultant. The facility just off Highway 29 is exquisite and inviting. I started my tasting with a sauvignon blanc and chardonnay that did not impress me, but the 2010 Rosé was quite memorable. Pomegranate and strawberries flavors were present on the forepalate, but as I had a few more sips, a strange (but good) creamy yogurt flavor presented itself only to morph into a white chocolate covered cherries finish. Not the usual light and crisp rosé, but a tasty wine nonetheless. I did not find the 2008 cabernet sauvignon all that impressive, but the 2008 Proprietary Red Blend and 2009 Era (barrel samples because the 2008 is sold out) were both big and bold wines showing blackberries, raspberries, currants and espresso. The Era was slightly deeper, jammier and more complex than the Blend with sweeter fruit and more supple tannins, but both will undoubtedly impress those who like big Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon dominated blends. Neither are cheap, but might actually be steals considering what some other Napa wines are going for nowadays.

While Alpha Omega does not use Twitter or Facebook nearly as much as Pine Ridge, they definitely have a following on wine-centered social network Wineberserkers.com. Understanding how these marketing tools work, whether a winery chooses to participate or not, is important because consumers are participating regardless. Many consumers choose which wineries to visit and which wines to buy from recommendations via social networks. Even wineries in established wine regions like Napa can be helped or hurt through social media, but developing regions like Colorado have the most to gain from utilizing these tools to develop personal relationships with current and potential customers.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Ben's Bubbly: Philipponnat Champagne Royale Reserve

This week, Ben started daycare. We are lucky that he is at school with mom in the infant house just a few buildings down from her classroom. She gets to go visit him during the day which makes the transition easy. Four days a week, Ben gets to hang out with three other infants of Mom's work friends. On Fridays, I get to spend time with the little man. Ben is the youngest of the crew, but the oldest is only 4 months older than he is. The pack is lead by the only girl, and she has just started to crawl. Both she and Ben are very active and outgoing and we suspect that Ben is going to learn to crawl before we have time to baby-proof our house! It is great that Ben has a built-in group of friends that he can grow up with.

A few months ago I started attending semi-regular wine tastings with a group of guys who frequent the online Wine Spectator Forums and their significant others. We have tasted some very special and tasty bottles of wine during our meetings, and the group is very generous with the wines that they bring. For example, last week  we opened a few lovely bottles of vintage Champagne; 1998 Delamotte Brut Blanc de Blancs, 1998 Vueve Clicquot Brut La Grande Dame and a 1999 Charles Ellner Brut Seduction.While I often bring wines modest in comparison, I have opened a few eyes with a few of the Colorado Wines that I've brought, though not all. When one of the guys found out that we were drinking a bottle of bubbly each week for 52 weeks, he gifted us a bottle to contribute to our goal. I hope that Ben will some day be so lucky to have such wonderful  friends. So this week's Ben's Bubbly is brought to you by that generous individual.

Philipponnat Royale Reserve Brut

The color of this wine is medium gold. With the disgorgement date on the bottle being April 2006, the majority of the juice probably came from 2001 or 2002. However, with the large percentage of reserve wines put into Philipponnat blends, the color is not unusual for a wine that is 10-15 years old. The nose is fairly toasty with lots of red fruit aromas and a hint of dark honey. The large percentage of pinot noir in the blend gives this wine flavors of biscuits with raspberry and currant preserve with a good long finish. I've read good things about Philipponnat and this bottle has confirmed the high quality of this Négociant. 12% abv Gift. Very Good

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The NextGeneration: How Millenials do Wine Competitions

 Wine: the final frontier. These are the voyages of a group of Millenials. Our continuing mission: to explore, seek out and declare our tastes in wine. To go boldly where no one has gone before. Ok, well maybe it's not totally unexplored territory. Last week, I judged in the NextGeneration Wine Competition at the beautiful Santa Rosa Junior College's Shone Farm in Santa Rosa. The competition was marketed as a way for wineries to gain exposure through the various social channels that we younguns use. And guess what, it is working. Somewhat. I'll mention the few wines that impressed me from the sweepstakes tasting.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ben's Bubbly: Gruet Winery Demi-Sec

I spent most of the past week in California, as a judge for the NextGeneration Wine Competition. The competition was organized by Vineyard and Winery Management Magazine and judged by a group of  Millenials (under 35-yrs old for this competition). It was a good time and I will have more on the event and the several wineries and tasting rooms that I visited during my free time in coming posts.

In the four days I was gone, it seems like Ben has grown so much. He is now sitting up without any help from us or other objects. However, he doesn't stay up for too long as he is extremely grabby and wants anything within an arm's (or dive's) reach. This means he is getting harder to hold on to and we can't leave him out of our view for more than a few seconds. Unfortunately, his sleeping schedule is still not getting any better either. He's still only sleeping for about 3 hours at a time and he fights his naps during the day. He starts daycare this week, so we're hoping that playing with his friends will tire him out!

Before I left, we opened a New Mexico sparkler from Gruet as I thought I would be tasting mostly California wines. I still don't know 90% of the labels that I tasted, but looking at the rows of open bottles after everything was finished, there were lots of labels from Virginia, New York, and Washington. I even spied a few from Wisconsin, South Dakota and New Jersey.

NV Gruet Winery Demi-Sec

While you won't confuse these New Mexican wines with a true Champagne, I continue to be impressed with what Gruet is producing. Semi-sweet demi-sec wines are rare when compared to their more popular brut cousins, but a welcomed change of pace. This bottle yields light aromas of tangerine and shortbread. Granny Smith apple, lime sherbert and sugar cookie rounds out the palate. The sugar is noticeable, but this wine is not at all sweet. Be aware of this if you're planning on drinking this as a dessert wine, because it is not. 12% abv Purchased $12. Good/Very Good

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Ben's Bubbly: TÖRLEY Fortuna

A day after getting back from our Midwest road trip, Ben started rolling from his back to his stomach. Unfortunately, he seems to have forgotten how to return to his back. He frequently flips over and then gets frustrated he is on his belly. He has yet to put a few rolls together to actually move across the floor, but by the look in his eyes when the cats walk just beyond his outstretched arms he will do so quite soon. This means that we will soon need to baby proof our very baby unfriendly house.

An unfortunate side effect (and I hope it wears off soon) is that his sleeping pattern is not what it was. He seems to enjoy waking up at 3:30 in the morning ready to go. It is impossible to get mad when he is babbling and smiling at you with the sweetest little face, but we both can't wait until he returns to his well-behaved pre-Wisconsin sleeping routine.

NV TÖRLEY Fortuna, Hungary

This Hungarian sparkler has a golden hue reminiscent of a low-end Tokaji or a gold bracelet adorning an aging Floridian golfer's wrist. The nose is distinctly muscat (not a surprise since it is made from muscat lunel, muscat ottonel and irsai oliver), with flowers, dark honey and a bit of salt, but mostly reminiscent of a light apple brandy. The carbonation is minimal and I would probably call this frizzante and not full-on sparkling. Mostly grapey flavors are met with a bit of bitter grass, honey and melon yogurt. I'm not especially impressed with this wine because though it has decent fruit it fades quickly and lacks acidity and focus. 8.5% abv Purchased $8. Average (tasted 8/5/11)

Friday, August 5, 2011

No Such Thing as Wine Perfection (and ESPN Gets in on the 100-pt Rating System)

With every other wine writer wanting to make a splash about the 100-point wine rating system over the last few days I was planning on staying out of the crowded pool. But after reading a blog by Mike Sando on ESPN.com about passer perfection and the Total Quarterback Rating (QBR), I couldn't help but reread the article and replace NFL names with wine names. I think that the idea that perfection is impossible in both fields is spot on (just forget for a second that ESPN is promoting their brand spanking new 100-point system as a way to show that perfection is unattainable). I've paraphrased the article below with my wine-centric substitutions.

Before you begin, I want to state that in no way do I mean to disrespect Schrader Cellars by referencing their wine. I have not had the pleasure of tasting it and I am sure it is a very good bottle of wine. In fact, I will be passing through the Napa Valley next week and if I were to get an invite from the Schraders to come and taste it, I would love to do so...

The Wine Advocate, Issue #186 proclaimed that the 2007 Schrader Cabernet Sauvignon CCS was a perfect wine for Robert Parker, Jr. in December 2009.

Your palate knows better.

While the CCS was brilliant that day, receiving 100 points along with copious hedonistic descriptors, its performance could have been statistically superior. The CCS only scored a 98 on the 100-pt scale from the one Cellartracker user to rate it.

About half of the over-the-top prose used Parker’s favorite terms that Tom Wark identified in his 100-point profile. Yet, Parker favorites like intense and mineral were nowhere to be found in the note.

Just as Total Quarterback Rating, showfully debuted by ESPN, keeps moving the carrot as quarterbacks chase perfection, using words and not numbers also keeps moving the carrot for consumers, winemakers and critics alike.

No matter how well a wine scores from a Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast critic, it could fare better (or worse) when an actual consumer drinks it.

Completing the 100-pt double (James Laube of Wine Spectator also bestowed perfection upon the 2007 CCS) shattered records. But the performance wouldn't rate as high as one featuring 100-pt scores from Steve Heimoff, James Suckling and W. Blake Gray, too. And so on.

That's why it's misleading to say a wine is "perfect" when its score maxes out at 100 points under the formula widely used since 1982 by the most exalted of wine pundits.

The CCS’s 100-pt score only translated into being #15 on the Wine Spectator top 100 wines of 2010. Other wines made huge gains displaying better value or intrigue to the editors, to a degree much greater than they would have done typically.

In theory, a perfect wine cannot be improved on. Yet, Robert Parker has added asterisks to some 2009 Bordeaux scores that were at or even below his 2005 decrees to signify the sample was perhaps the estate’s finest release ever.

Even with a “perfect” wine, the consumer still must have the palate, experience and desire to create the perfect wine experience. And once you drink perfection, why continue drinking? Isn’t everything else by definition inferior?

Prose takes into account many more variables. It explains each wine in relation to how it affects a taster’s emotions, putting more weight on a context than a meaningless number cherry-picked by retailers worldwide.

Nevertheless, this the discussion will continue ad infinitum.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Ben's Bubbly: J Winery Brut Rosé

Well, the last two weeks have been quite busy and unfortunately not on the blog. We actually missed last week's Ben's Bubbly and I am quite late getting this week's post up. The craziness started last weekend in Estes Park where we attended a friend's wedding. It was also the first time in Ben's whole life that he didn't spend the night in our home! I was going to include the bubbly for the toast as last week's sparkler, but the one ounce pour I received was faulty and I don't even know what the wine was. Ben was a charmer at the rehearsal dinner, but stayed with Grandma during the next night's ceremony and reception.

The day after the wedding, we started on our way to central Wisconsin (with a quick repacking stop at home). We got a few hours of driving in on the first day, only to find the last available hotel room (smoking no less) in North Platte, NE. Who knew that a softball tournament could fill up a city's hotels? Despite the less than ideal accommodations, Ben was more than perfect in the car both to and from WI. He slept most of the time we were on the road and when he was awake he was in a good mood and played with Mom in the backseat (in his carseat of course).

While in Wisconsin, Ben ate up being in the spotlight and entertaining his grandparents, great-grandparents, aunt, great-aunt and uncle and cousins of various degrees. We spent time at the pool, on the lake and even made it to Wollersheim Winery in Prairie du Sac. On his first winery tour, Ben was well-behaved despite trying to get our tour mates to play with him during the informational video. He also enjoyed the beach, but was denied his first jet ski ride by his mother (and I guess, me). On our way back home, we made a detour to go visit his 94-year old great grandma who was very excited to get to meet her first great grandchild. Overall, we spent four days in the car for three days of summer lake time, but good quality time with the family made it worthwhile.

Nevertheless, I made sure that the time in the car was not for naught. We had to make sure to pick up our fill of New Glarus beer, Wisconsin cheese, and even introduced ourselves to Iowan and Nebraskan wine with stops at Breezy Hills Vineyard in Minden, IA and 5 Trails Winery in Paxton, NE. I will write about these wineries in the near future, but I will say that I was quite impressed with some of the hybrid wines (especially frontenac and vignoles) that Big Ten land has to offer.

NV J Vineyards & Winery Brut Rosé, Russian River Valley

After a week of drinking hybrid wines, California was calling. Well, actually the bottle of J Brut Rosé was already chilled for the previous week's bubbly, so it was an obvious choice. Our flutes were filled with a beautifully light peach rose color. The nose tantalizes with hints of peach and blood orange. The wine goes down exceptionally smooth with gentle acidity similar to that of a yellow grapefruit along with fruity flavors of red delicious apple, juicy peaches and more blood orange. This is a very nice bottle of bubbly with a long finish that will not break the bank. Definitely recommended. 12% abv Sample $30. Very Good (tasted 7/31/11)