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

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