Friday, December 26, 2008

My Favorite Wines of 2008

It isn't my thing making New Year's resolutions, and if it were they'd likely be Drink More, Eat More, and Listen At Louder Volumes, but around this time of year I do like to reflect upon the highlights of the past. Perhaps you had some stellar moments that you would like to share here too. Below I've included the top five red wines, top five white wines and top five sparkling wines of 2008, many of which I've shared on this blog during the year. Please email or comment if you have any specific questions about the wines.

The main characteristics I looked for when choosing the favorites where those that they taught me something new, e.g. Stryker's Petit Verdot, brought out the amazing flavors of food, e.g. Ferrari Carano's Fiorella, and typified specific varietals, e.g. Imagery's Cab Franc. Kistler's 1999 Chardonnay (the vineyard of which I unfortunately cannot remember) made me specifically contemplative, as it did those who drank it with me, for when again would we be lucky enough to drink a white wine from the 1900's?

Top 5 Red Wines (in no particular order)

Chehalem Winery's 2002 Stoller Vineyard Pinot Noir
Stryker Winery's 2004 Petit Verdot
Imagery Winery's 2004 Cab Franc
Ridge Winery's 2005 Oltranti Vineyard Zinfandel
Wellington Winery's 2004 Merlot

Top 5 White Wines

Kistler Vineyard's 1999 Chardonnay
Chehalem Winery's 2006 Pinot Gris Reserve
Schug Winery's 2006 Sauvignon Blanc
St. Supéry Winery's 2006 Moscato
Ferrari Carrano Winery's 2003 Fiorella Chardonnay

Top 5 Sparkling Wines

Carpene Malvolti NV Prosseco DOC Extra Dry
Korbel Winery's 2007 Reisling
Perrier-Jouët NV Grand Brut
Scharffenberger Cellars's NV Cremant
(not surprising) Veuve Clicquot NV Brut "Yellow Label" Champagne

Top Dessert Wines

Arrowood Winery's 2005 Late Harvest White Riesling
Icardi Winery's 2007 Brachetto D'Aqui

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas! - Oregon's Christmas Wines

Wineries all like to celebrate the holiday season in their own way, and in Oregon's Willamette Valley several wineries were touting wines designed specifically for the holidays. Willamette Valley Winery's Made In Oregon's Nog was the first Christmas concoction that I experienced; a semi-sweet and very fruity wine made from grapes, blueberries and cranberries.

Argyle Winery offered a complimentary tasting of three of their sparkling wines in exchange for a donation of canned foods. The winery advertised in the Statesman Journal and on their own web site, but I don't think the word got around enough. When we arrived with our bag of food the donations looked pretty scarce though the tasting room was full. The gentlemen behind the bar said that Argyle hoped to offer the same exchange next year, and perhaps word of mouth will produce a larger turn out.

At the Eola Hills Winery, seven of their most popular wines bore holiday labels that featured Rudolf and other Christmas icons. Though I thought the labels were a fun idea, they were a bit tacky for me. I mean, who wants a wine for Christmas that looks like it came out of a gun-ball machine? The winery has the ability to print unique labels for their wines without much trouble because their wine production facilities are all under the same roof. In fact, Eola Hills's facility and staff bottles wine for five different wineries in their facilities.

I must admit that I hadn't expected much from Eola Hills when we decided to taste there, but this assumption was wrong. I really enjoyed some of the 23 wines they were pouring that day (no, I didn't try all of them), the 2007 "Lodi" Sangiovese was a particularly integrated wine. Also, the 2007 Reserve Pinot Gris had the unique character of being aged in Acadia wood, rather than oak. Perhaps the wood was the result of the smokey and creamy characteristics of the wine.

Well, I'm now in Maine enjoying a foot of snow and some of the mulling spices I purchased as Willamette Valley Winery. I've got a few weeks of rest before my girlfriend and I head to Italy, so I'll be sharing plenty of great wines in the new year. Stay warm wherever you are, and Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Why Cheap, Good Pinot Noir Doesn't Exist In Oregon... Or Anywhere For That Matter.

On my second visit to the Willamette Valley, located just outside of Portland Oregon, the beautiful, rolling countryside, made even more dramatic by threatening rain clouds battling against sun breaks, was quiet. Few of the tasting rooms we visited had anyone inside. Perhaps it was just a quiet Thursday in December, or perhaps wine lovers are staying at home due to the economy.

After all, Oregon's most famous grape is Pinot Noir, one of the most expensive wines on the market. It costs a lot to grow and a lot to produce. A 2005 study showed that only 7.65 tons of Pinot Noir grapes could be crushed per hectare (a hectare is around 107,639 square feet). Cabernet Sauvignon produces 12 tons, Merlot 18 tons, and Rubired 35 tons per hectare. The study concludes that "Pinot Noir’s low specific yield is second to none."

As I put my palate to the workout, I found some basic trends of Oregon's Pinots. First, the very good Pinot Noirs, such as those crafted at Chehalem Winery, Panther Creek Cellars, and Van Duzer Winery, were all medium bodied, and very dark and brooding. Achieving the rich characters of these wines takes time. Oregon winemakers use long fermentations at controlled temperatures and slow pressings to extract velvety "mouthfeel" and dark colors without bitter tannins. In the end, you get beautiful, plummy, earthy, complex wines.

The other trend I noticed, was that good Pinot Noirs could not be purchased for under $20. I know that some wine writers, such as Nancy Oakley, do not like any Pinot Noirs made in the States, but I think that's a little dramatic. The only one I tasted for under twenty bucks that was any good, was the Brandborg Umpqua Valley Bench Pinot Noir that I taste in the Barbur grocery store (the store is located a block from my girlfriend's mother's house, and has a tasting once a week that we try to get to when we're visiting. Just further proof that the good things in life can be had by everyone).

But I found that every other moderately priced Pinot that I tasted was a waste of money. The first one I tried was Ankeny Winery's 2006 Hershy's Red Pinot Noir, at $15.99. The wine was almost neon pink in color, produced a head when poured, and was so bright that I couldn't see for a while after the first sip. The wine was so bad that we returned it to Barbur Foods in exchange for Sass's 2007 Pinot Noir, which also cost $15.99. Unfortunately, the Sass was only a slight improvement, and by the time I was on my second glass I considered it the most expensive bottle of cranberry juice I'd ever purchased.

So what is the problem? Well, all the Sideways hype and marketing aside, nobody is going to give something away for less money than it cost to make, so cheap Pinot Noir necessitates cutting corners. Two of the most common ways to cut corners in wine making are over-extracting the grapes and padding crop yields, viz. allowing larger quantities of grapes to grow on the vines at the expense of their quality.

In the extracting process, winemakers develop a wine's tannins, color, glycerol, and flavor, such as the commonly experienced strawberry and cranberry. When winemakers over extract, these characteristics become messy, and cheap Pinot Noirs can often be distinguished by a very bright, sometimes neon coloring and a corresponding transparency. If your Pinot looks like an 80's windbreaker in the glass, you might want to return it immediately.

As for grapes that are not properly thinned, they do not receive the high amount of sunlight and nutrients required to make fine wines, but they do provide higher yields and therefore more wine. The grapes have thinner skins, again resulting in weakly pigmented wine, and are thin on flavor, making them incapable of creating complex wine and, ultimately, the perfect balance of plum, spice and earth that characterize great Pinots.

There are many other short cuts that ruin wine, such as harvesting over mature or young fruit in order to lengthen the harvesting season, quickly fermenting and pressing the grapes, or aging wine in the barrels for inadequate periods of time. Whatever the reason, the majority of the time it just isn't worth buying a bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir for less than $20. You'll likely be stuck with a disturbing wine, as I learned the hard way.

To compare an inexpensive California Pinot Noir with those of Oregon, I tried the 2007 Mark West Sonoma County Pinot Noir, which costs a whopping $9.98. I preferred the Mark West quite a bit to the Sass and the Ankeny - it had more reserved fruit, a heavy dose of tannins and a fuller body - but ultimately it could not hold up. The Mark West quickly became a middle-of-the-road wine, with its main characteristics being tartness and again, cranberries.

If you know of a great Oregon Pinot Noir that I'm totally missing out on - please school me. Otherwise, leave the juice to the kids.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Designer Tasting Rooms - Van Duzer Vineyard

Perhaps the best dressed tasting room I've visited, Van Duzer vineyard knows what's in style. Its labels feature the wind-goddess Zephyr, and are drawn in much the same style as the trendy posters and magazine illustrations of Alfons Maria Mucha. Located down a dirt road, the winery is surrounded by the clean air and green fields of Oregon's Willamette Valley.

If you're looking for the winery, you can see it a long way off, perched at the top of a hill with rows of vines swaying down the slopes. The view from up there is exquisite, but once inside, visitors enter another visual playground:

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

La Poire Fizz - Perhaps The Best Drink In The World

My friend, who works at the Starlight Room in San Francisco, introduced me to the Poire Fizz the other day. Poire, in French, means pear. At my going away party (I will soon be traveling to Europe to taste wines from all over the continent, particularly Italy) he bore no restraint, and mixed some of the best Poire Fizzes ever to grace the earth.

I wanted to learn more about the Fizz, but no web site other than the Starlight Room's featured it with the exact ingredients we used. The Starlight Room or Harry Denton's Starlight Room is a dramatic night club located on the top floor of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco that features huge chandeliers, plenty of red plush fabric and a staff that knows mixology on levels that I aspire to. Perhaps the bar invented the concoction?

The drink involves pear-flavored vodka, St. Germain liquor, champagne or sparkling wine and pineapple juice. Living up to his title, Reym the mixologist whipped out Grey Goose la Poire and Veuve Clicquot as ingredients and went to work. The Fizz he created was perfectly balanced, mixing the wonderful pear and pineapple fruit with the succulent sweetness of the elderflowers used to make St. Germain. St. Germain liquor comes from France, and touches on the flavors of peach, pear, citrus and lychee. To make all of these flavor truly ignite, a topper of the Veuve Clicquot and its bubbles is added.

Here's the recipe so that you can make your own Poire Fizz at home.

Pour the following into a shaker:

2oz pear flavored vodka
2oz St. Germain
2oz pineapple juice

Mix and pour into champagne glasses leaving room for a sparkling wine or champagne topper, top off, and let the good times roll!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Getting To Know Dolcetto - Brutocao, 2006

The dolcetto grape is not wildly popular in the United States, but has many of the same qualities as a Pinot Noir and Beaujolais. The Piedmonet-grown varietal is very light, but filled with delicate hints of fruit and rich licorice. The fact that I like this wine despite this licorice flavor should say something right off the bat. The most striking characteristic of dolcetto wines is their high level of acidity that result in strong tannins at the very end of the finish. It wouldn't be an Italian wine without the appearance of acidity, now would it?

Dolcetto grapes are commonly called Douce Noire in the Savoie region of France (think: French Alps) and Charbono in California. Due to some recent conflicts about true DNA, the grape varieties grown under these names have been proven to be different varieties than Dolcetto. Perhaps that is is why Brutocao Winery in Anderson Valley chooses to use the Italian name of the grape on their bottles.

Brutocao Winery first earned my respect when my girlfriend brought home a bottle of their Primitivo (the same DNA as California Zinfandel) from an Anderson Valley trip. When I visited the winery myself, I learned that Winemaker Fred Nickle had a lot more up his sleeve. The day we arrived their wonderfully acidic Chardonnay was on sale for $4 a bottle! Don't think we didn't take advantage. But the Dolcetto was the wine that really stood out - it was perfectly light, with the nice tartness of cranberries, and a beautiful tannic finnish that made it a perfect food wine. We enjoyed our bottle with stuffed mushrooms and a simple pasta of fresh, sliced tomato, arugula, lots of garlic, and lots of olive oil.

Even though Dolcetto is meant to be drunk young, I suggest allowing it to breathe fifteen minutes to a half hour before drinking. By then, the sharpness of the acidity resides to reveal its bright and rich characteristics. Brutocao grows its own Dolcetto grapes on its Feliz Vineyard near Russian River and a bottle of Dolcetto costs $18.

Monday, November 17, 2008

San Francisco's Farmer's Market Celebration

It was hot in San Francisco last Saturday and the heat from the Prop 8 protests added to that. Of course, withholding equal rights from anyone is libel to raise the temperature in a room. To escape the heat of an angry city, my girlfriend and I decided to visit the Farmers Market at the Ferry Building at Embarcadero. James Baird, who works at the Hayes Street Grill stand at the Embarcadero Farmers Market each Saturday (he also bartends at Eos Restaurant and Hayes Street Grill during the week), invited us to an annual party held for the farmers at the market.

The party was held at the MarketBar after the farmers had finished packing up what was left of their delicious fruit and vegetable stands. At around 2:30pm we decided to check out the open bar. It featured artisan beers and plenty of fine wines, including a Mendocino Farms red, a dry DaVero Sangiovese rose, and two wines from two especially wonderful winemakers, a Chardonnay by Dave Guffy at Hess Winery and a Cabernet Sauvignon by Michael Beaulac at St. Supery.

When the SF skyline finally eclipsed the sun, the party was underway and I met several friendly farmers, such as Jesse Schlesinger who works at Dirty Girl Produce. Jesse, who is part of the Trigger Collective, currently has a show up of his photography at Milk and Honey Art Gallery in Mill Valley.

The day reminded me once again just how important the Meal is. A meal served with wine becomes an event. Wine can actually make me thirsty for food. The flavors of a pasta with pesto cream sauce are heightened by an earthy, dry Merlot - and after the sip of Merlot I crave the next bite of food which will in turn compliment the wine. One necessity for complimenting anything is, of course, those around us. When people come together for a meal they celebrate life. And shouldn't we be doing that three times a day? Thank you Bay Area Farmers, for another year of uncompromised flavor and freshness.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

... And Another Very Pretty Bottle

The 2nd bottle of the day was a 2004 Cabernet Franc from Imagery Winery in Sonoma Valley. Imagery is a sister-winery to Benziger and uses biodynamic farming to cultivate their wines. I visited Imagery a few months back (Click here for an in depth look) and was absolutely blown away by their selection of wines, which include many less appreciated varietals - each of which has its own unique label designed by a professional artist.

The Cab Franc has a thick consistency and is complex enough to confound Socrates. It does not become inky however, and is actually quite bright. The Cab Franc had the delicious characteristic of tasting purple.

As the sun set and we were wrapped in night, the lights of San Francisco shown out over the ocean between us. It became hard to determine where exactly our Riedel glasses were located on the cement ledge where we were sitting, and so we headed toward our hotel and then to an always amazing dinner at the Sand Dollar Restaurant in Stinson Beach.

A Pinot Noir From Oregon's Best Growing Year And Another Very Pretty Bottle

To celebrate two years of drinking just enough wine together, my girlfriend and I grabbed two bottles that we'd been saving and headed north to Stinson Beach, California, and the little town of Bolinas. Sitting on the sunny beach, we uncorked the first and most important bottle: a 2002 Pinot Noir from Chehalem Winery.

2002 is a famous year in Willamette Valley, Oregon, for three reasons. First, the valley enjoyed an early, warm growing season that allowed grapes to begin developing early than usual. Second, a brief rainy-period took place in the early fall, right before harvesting, which helped to stabilize the wonderful sugars and acids. Too much sugar in grapes results in a high brix reading which can lead to 'hot' or high-alcohol wines (I know it sounds like a good thing, but it isn't) and the acids in grapes are responsible for a wine's aging potential. Lastly, the harvest season was not rushed due to threatening frosts, which is highly unusual for Oregon, and instead lasted an entire month, resulting in fully ripened fruit. Fully ripened fruit helps winemakers retain acidity in wine and create rich, highly concentrated wine.

What this really means is that the Pinot we drank was exceptionally balanced.

Chehalem Winery creates their Pinot Noirs in the tradition of Alsace, France. One element of this tradition is to allow the specific character of a region's climate during its growing year to come through in the wine. Some winery's prefer to manipulate the grapes more in order to control the final wine. Alsatian winemakers and Chehalem owner Harry Peterson-Nedry prefer to taste the year in their wines.

As for me - could I taste it? Let's just say that, at $60 a bottle, it was the most expensive bottle of wine I'd ever bought. I knew I had to buy it when, while tasting at Chehalem winery, my girlfriend and her sister began drawing hearts on the wine description. On the beach, it tasted wonderful and then was gone.

(2nd bottle to be announced shortly...)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Wine Stompin' Good Time At Stryker Winery in Alexander Valley

Alexander Vally produces awesome Zinfandels and Stryker Winery is producing some of my favorite. Stryker is the only wine-club I've ever joined, and its benefits have been well-worth it, particularly its members only parties. I never thought I could afford a wine-club, but as it turns out, shipping is the bulk of the cost. If you live near wine country, you can skip the shipment and instead have a day in wine-country while picking up your order. Last weekend my girlfriend and I arrived to Stryker's "Zinternship" with some friends. The Zinternship was more than I had expected.

When we arrived, Stryker was pouring their newly released Zinfandels: the 2006 Speedy-Creek Zinfandel, the 2006 Patty's Patch Zinfandel, the 2006 Monte Rosso Zinfanel, and the 2006 "OZ" Zinfandel. They also had two Cabernet Sauvignons, their Speedy-Creek Vineyard and their Rockpile Vineyard, and a Chardonnay. I can't remember the details on the Chardonnay, but I do remember what it tasted like: no oak, lots of grapefruit and petrol.

Stryker provided an all-you-can-eat taco bar and they also scheduled a wine quiz to help us learn more about California wine and their winery. I learned that Stryker produces 7,500 cases of wine, has 150 acres of vineyards on their estate, and that the barrels they use hold sixty gallons. I also learned that the first grape variety or vine planted in California was the Mission grape, so-called because the missionaries who moved in to California in the late 1700's. The true identity of the grape is still a mystery. Another interesting fact about Mission vines is that when they are bred with other Mission grapes, the result is almost always another Mission vine. While this sounds obvious, almost all other varieties of domestic grapes will not do this.

The true highlight of the day was the wine-stomping competition; it was as messy as it was fun (photo story to be published imminently). Two half barrels were filled with grapes and fitted with spouts. Contestants rolled up their pants, took off their shoes, and stomped like mad while their partners kept the spouts clear of stems. Partners also used their shoulders to support the unsteady stompers. Almost everyone took part in the event. I wondered if they were really going to use the grape juice for wine, but of course they poured it down the drain.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Getting Wasted On The Tears Of Christ, and other wines...

Last week we took a trip to Los Angeles to visit my girlfriend's father. He has a great taste in wine and we're always excited to see what he's picked up for the occasion. Our first night, he grilled a gigantic piece of wild-Alaskan salmon with zucchini with rosemary on the side.

While the fish cooked, he pulled out a bottle of 2006 Lacryma Christi. The wine was a beautiful experience, with nice ruby, round fruit, and bone-dry. A long maceration process of six days is responsible for the wine's dark color and strong tannins. Next time I will decant a bottle of Lacryma Christi because many of its true flavors came out fully in my last glass.

Lacryma Christi, which translates to tears of Christ, is an Italian grape variety grown around Naples. Red, white, and rose wines are all produced from the grape, but the bottle we had, a 2006 DOC, produced by Terredora di Paolo, was rosso, eh... red. The Campania region, in which Lacryma Christi grapes are grown, actually has two types of DOC designations, the usual, and the Vesuvio DOC. The difference? The latter requires an alcohol content that is 1 percent to 1 1/2 percent higher. Unfortunately, our wine was not Vesuvio DOC.

In true Italian spirit, the name of the wine comes from a poetic tale. When god cast the devil from heaven, the devil landed on Mount Vesuvios, the volcanic mountain outside of Naples. The devil caused massive destruction, of which Pompeii is an example, causing Jesus Christ to weep. When Christ's tears hit the volcanic soil, a grape vine took root in their place.

It turns out that the grapes are actually featured in several poems by well known poets.

We also tried a 2006 Melville Pinot Noir from California and another Italian wine produced by Terredora di Paola. The Melville was the perfect combination of simplicity and deliciousness. The second Italian was made from Fiano grapes. Fiano is "currently winning the Italian white varietal beauty contest," according to wine writer, Tom Maresca. While I am not sure what that means exactly, I do know that Fiano grapes are particularly sweet, and were traditionally used only to make sweet sparkling wines. But over time, Fiano grapes have been tamed into submission after years of experimentation among Italian winemakers.

Our bottle of Fiano was actually Fiano di Avellino, a celebrated variation of Fiano, and was not particularly sweet. It had a true burst of flavors, such as lemon, the grassiness of Sauvignon Blanc, and a light toastiness of California Chardonnay. Terredora di Paola made their Fiano di Avellino dry by picking the fruit during the first ten days of October and fermenting it at a cool temperature. The wine also ages for several months on its lees, deposits of yeest that separate from the wine during and after fermentation, giving the wine a somewhat yeesty flavor.

Fiano Di Avellino
Terre Di Dora (single vineyard)
Terredora Dipaolo

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Another Cheap Wine From Trader Joe's

It's likely that 2004 Salice Salentino from Epicuro Winery was the first cheap wine from Trader Joe's that surprised me. Salice Salentino (pronounced sah-leech-e sal-en-teen-o) is a small Italian town on the heel of the boot just north of Lecce. Salice Salentino red wine is made primarily of Negro Amaro, which literally translates black cherry. The wine also includes grape varieties Malvasia Nera di Brindisi and Malvasia Nera di Lecce.

This particular wine is DOC, which means that the government makes sure that the grapes are derive from a specific region and that the wine is produced by traditional methods. Another Italian label for quality insurance is DOCG, which is a more stringent label used to identify smaller regions within DOC regions. DOCG wines are usually better quality than DOC wines and more expensive.

Salice Salentino is one of my favorite wines in Italy because it is medium to full bodied with dark, rich fruit and spice. We had an amazing bottle of Salice Salentino when we were in Italy for 6.99 euros, so it makes sense that the wine can be found in the US for reasonable prices. Epicuro's wine has a nice brightness to it, followed by a medium heat and spice, and while it is not the best out there, is a good wine.

We had ours with White Bean Soup with Roasted Vegetables on the side:

Ingredients for Soup:
1 1/2 onions
2 stalks celery chopped
6 cups broth/water
1 1/2 dried white beans
2 whole cloves garlic unpeeled
2 tsp salt

Directions: Cook onion, celery, and butter for five minutes. Add liquid and bring it to a boil. Add beans, garlic, and salt and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat for an hour. After an hour, boil again for 1-2 hours or until beans have softened. Remove from heat. Strain the beans, catching liquid into a large bowl. Puree the bean mixture, then return to large pan. Add 1/4 cup milk and broth until desired consistency is reached. Finished with a touch of cream.

For vegetables, just chop up your favorites (we used eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, red onion, and red pepper) and toss them into a well olive oiled baking pan. Salt liberally (sea salt is the best) and add another dose of olive oil (note: the quality of olive oil for this dish is not as important as others). Preheat the oven at 450 degrees and roast for 20-25mins.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Weekend In Anderson Valley - Part 5

Esterlina Vineyards is hidden up a 2.2 mile long road, but it feels much farther. The steep grade, loose gravel, washboard ruts, and extreme drop-offs make for slow driving. To further dissuade casual wine tasters, Esterlina requires an appointment in order to visit. This just means that you should give them a few minutes notice. Most tasting rooms are happy to make the call for you.

I served Esterlina's Pinot Noir many times when I was a waiter at Eos Wine Bar in Cole Valley, San Francisco, and always felt confident recommending it to people. I'd wanted to see their tasting room for a while, but getting to Anderson Valley always seemed out of reach. The days before we visited Esterlina, several people described the tasting experience with stars in their eyes.

After the treacherous drive, Esterlina is situated on the very top of a big yellow hill, from which we could see in all directions. We were the only people there when we arrived, and as we walked toward the tasting room, who would appear but the same boisterous man who had served us at Greenwood Winery (see Part 2). Our hearts sank. His tone was subdued in comparison to the other day, but he did repeat several jokes. Perhaps it was the quiet setting. Esterlina's tasting room is a breath-taking second floor veranda with two tables with umbrellas. Intimate and delicious, the experience is an aesthetic wonderland.

The wines were all mind-blowing. The Chardonnay, in my mind, even rivaled my favorite Chardonnays in the world, produced by Williams Selyem, and at half the price. The man did tell us that Esterlina only likes to have tasters who are big spenders and who take a case or two home with them. Whether this was his own feeling or the vineyards, it made us self-conscious.

As a young writer, I do my best to buy a bottle of wine at every winery I taste at - if I like it. There are some places, like Standish Winery, where I discover that I couldn't afford the wines. But at Standish, the woman behind the counter didn't seem concerned with that and taught us a number of things about wine. If you want to look at it from an economic perspective, I have a great love for wine at a young age thanks to extensive tasting, and I will be purchasing many more bottles of good wine over my life than if I had not done this tasting. But I don't think about economics: I just enjoy awesome wine and learning about it.

With two bottles Zinfandel, we left Esterlina's beautiful winery and began our drive home. Of course, we tasted along the way. Meyer Family Winery was sharing one masterfully crafted Shiraz and one Port, both of which were delicious but not what we were looking for. Then we came upon Yorkville Winery and discovered their organic wines.

The knowledgeable man behind the counter, who'd studied Food Toxicology in college, the study of the chemicals found in food, poured a nice selection of white wines and a rose, which were perfect for the sweltering day. "You know that chocolate dip they put on soft serve icecream," he asked. "Well, do you know how much of that is petrolium jelly? 30%." From this perspective, organic farming is actually a more conservative method of farming. 20% of Yorkville's vineyards hold the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) certification and much of their vineyards are just a year or two away from becoming certified.

Yorkville also a number of less-common red wine varietals, including Semillon, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Carmenere.

We bought a bottle of the rose and sat on Yorkville's porch to have a picnic. We were all growing quietly sad as we pet a vineyard cat and stared out over the grapes. A firemen's benefit was taking place down the road and locals stood around gabbing. Our trip had come to an end. But like all trips to wine country, the end really isn't the end. We had a good collection of wines in the back seat that would take us back to the Navarro River and rolling hills with every sip.

Celebrate the Holidays With New Washington Grape Varieties

Looking for a rare and unusual wine to sip with Christmas dinner or on New Year's Eve? It's easy to throw cash at a well-known bottl...