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  • Lodi Rules, Sunflowers, Herbs, and the M2 Wines 2014 "Old Vine" Zinfandel, Soucie Vineyard

    Posted: 2017-04-25 11:03
    In 2005 the Lodi Winegrape Commission implemented California’s first 3rd party-certified sustainable winegrowing certification program with The Lodi Rules™ for Sustainable Winegrowing Program. The program is accredited by Protected Harvest and certifies sustainable management of the ecosystem, soils, water, business practices, human resources, and pest control. There are 101 measurable standards that emphasize sustainable measures such as reduced pesticide risk to farm workers, consumers, and wildlife.  Lodi is home to over 80 wineries and over 36,000 of the approximately 100,000 acres of premium wine grapes are certified green.

    April is Down to Earth Month in California and to celebrate the month and Lodi Rules™ LoCA created a wine kit containing a wine made from Lodi Rules™ grapes packaged in a reusable wine box. The package I received contained the 2014 "Old Vine" Zinfandel, Soucie Vineyard - Lodi, Mokelumne River, Block 1916 ($30, 15.7 abv) from m2 wines. The wine is excellent: big, chewy, and assertive; cherry cola and spices; with a hot chocolate finish. The zinfandel vines were planted in 1916 by Edward Soucie and is now managed by his grandson and fifth-generation Lodi native Kevin Soucie. As a bonus the kit included not only herb seeds for the wine box that can be re-purposed into a kitchen garden, but a compost bottle tag embedded with sunflower seeds. Let the garden growing begin. Cheers to Lodi Wine and Lodi Rules.
  • A Trio of Portuguese Reserve Ports from Symington Family Estates

    Posted: 2017-04-22 18:09
    Portuguese Port is rather redundant since thanks to the European Union Protected Designation of Origin guidelines most wine labeled as "Port" or "Porto" must be a fortified wine produced exclusively in the Douro region in the northern provinces of Portugal. This may not always be the case outside of Europe, but most countries are accepting the Portuguese Protected designation of origin.

     Port wine is a classic style -- produced from grown and processed in the Douro demarcation and fortified with neutral grape spirit. There are over a hundred sanctioned grape varieties eligible for Port, but in general, expect the use of these five: Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional. There are also several categories of Port: White, Tawny, Ruby, Reserve, and Vintage.  (See The Wine Coach for specifics.)  Ruby Ports are aged in large vats for two to three years before bottling whereas Vintage Ports are from a single harvest designated as an exceptional year and aged additional years in the bottle.  The Reserve Port category was created by Cockburn's (founded in 1815) to bridge these two styles where the wine is aged longer in large barrique casks. The goal was to create a wine similar in quality to the Vintage Port but drinkable early like the Ruby Port.

    Symington Family Estates is a major player in Port as well as Douro Valley wine production, owning several brands such as Cockburn's. I recently received samples from three of their brands described below.

    Cockburn's Special Reserve Port ($18). This is apparently the world's most popular Reserve Port and is considered "The Original Reserve Port". The wine is produced from grapes harvested from their Quinta dos Canais vineyards in the Upper Douro and aged four to five years in oak casks. And this port is a great baseline for beginners. It is full bodied, with lush fruit and nut flavors, savory spices, a big mouthfeel, and a very healthy finish.

    Warre's Warrior Port ($19). Warrior is the oldest continuously bottled Port brand (1750's) as Warrior has been branded on the casks of Warre’s finest Reserve Ports since the earliest days of the firm. The grapes are drawn from Quinta da Cavadinha and Quinta do Retiro, Warre’s best quintas in the Pinhão and Rio Torto valleys that also produce Warre’s classic Vintage Ports. The wine is fruity and chewy, lot's of texture, with another long lingering finish. Apparently the higher altitudes and cooler climate lead to this ripe fruit character. For full bodied, yet fresh, easy drinking Port wine, start here.

    Graham's Six Grapes Reserve Port ($24). "The distinctive depiction of the six bunches of grapes on the bottle originates from the marks long-used in the Graham's Lodge to classify the quality of the wines in the casks. The six-grapes symbol is Graham's age-old mark of quality, used to identify the very finest wines from the best vineyards, which were destined to make up the Vintage Port or Six Grapes lots". The grapes are sourced from five vineyards that are responsible for the brand's Vintage Ports, including Quinta dos Malvedos. The wine was the freshest of the trio, vibrant acids mingling with the dark blackberry fruit. The finish is long and clean. Well done.
  • Single Vineyard Wines from Wente Vineyards

    Posted: 2017-04-19 13:38
    Wente Vineyards, California's oldest family winery, uses their Single Vineyard series to showcase the winery's plots in the Livermore Valley AVA and Arroyo Seco, Monterey AVA regions.  "Both regions provide climate patterns that are beneficial to wine grapes, which need warmth for healthy growth, maturation, and development, and cool nights and mornings to retain delicate flavors".

    The Livermore Valley is located twenty miles east of the San Francisco Bay, which along with Pacific marine climate, provides cool and foggy mornings (hence our favorite Morning Fog wine). The morning fog transitions to warm midday temperatures before early afternoon breezes and evening fog lower temperatures again -- preserving the fruit’s natural acidity.

    In 1962, Karl L. Wente planted some of the first vines in cool climate Arroyo Seco with the eastern part, influenced by the Salinas Valley winds, providing excellent conditions for growing Burgundy grape varieties. The vineyards also contain river stones deposited over the years which retain and release heat as well as providing excellent drainage.

    2015 Riva Ranch Chardonnay ($22, 14.5%). Wente is synonymous for Chardonnay after bottling the first varietally labeled Chardonnay in 1936 and creating a series of Wente clones that now account for 80% of all California Chardonnay.  The grapes are soured from the Riva Ranch Vineyard in Arroyo Seco, Monterey with 90% fermented in barrel with all undergoing 100% malolactic fermentation and is barrel-aged sur lie for 8 months with batonnage (stirring) occurring every two weeks. This process produces a well textured and creamy wine with noticeable vanilla and spices from the oak. Initially this creamy texture and vanilla seem to overwhelm the palate but quickly the grape's acidity brings the wine into balance.

    2014 Riva Ranch Pinot Noir ($30, 14.50%). The Pommard and Martini Pinot Noir clones are soured from the Riva Ranch Vineyard in Arroyo Seco, Monterey.  Each clone provides a distinct character to the wine, the "Pommard is especially fruit-driven providing bright lusciousness while Martini is more subtle with layered complexity on the nose and silky texture on the palate". The wine is also aged for 16 months in French and neutral oak barrels. This aging process provides a rustic quality and doesn't overshadow the light cherry flavors. And like the Chardonnay, expect bright acids for a long and smooth finish.

    2014 Charles Wetmore Cabernet Sauvignon ($30, 14.50%). The grapes are sourced from the Livermore Valley's Charles Wetmore Vineyard. This vineyard is named for "Livermore’s most prominent pioneers, California’s first Agricultural Commissioner, renowned for planting vine cuttings from many of Bordeaux’s top Chateaux in the Livermore Valley in the 1800s". The Charles Wetmore Vineyard contains gravelly loam soil similar to those in Bordeaux and the grapes for this wine are direct descendants from the vines first planted by Wetmore.  After fermentation the wind is aged for 20 months in 40% new French oak and 60% second and third use French oak barrels.The result is a fantastic wine, fresh fruit, smooth velvety tannins, and a long fresh finish. Simply fantastic. It can pass for a Napa Cab at twice that price.
  • A March of German Styled Pilsner

    Posted: 2017-03-31 09:45
    Apparently March, or at least its last two weeks, has tilted towards German styled pilsners as that beer style surfaced regularly over that period. But what's the difference between the German styled pilsner and it's Bohemian (Czech) relative? Whereas both beer styles are lagers, Czech pilsners are brewed with soft water (lower levels of calcium and magnesium) and utilize Czech Saaz hops which provide a very mild, earthy, herbal and spicy aroma. That's a Pilsner Urquell. On the other hand, the German styled pilsner is generally dryer, lighter, and crisper. They typically use German noble hop varieties, especially Hallertauer (highly floral, slightly earthy, and weaker spicy flavor) and Tettnanger (mild, floral, and slightly). 

    The beer style first appeared during a weekend trip to Philadelphia where the Sly Fox Brewing Company Pikeland Pils and Victory Brewing Company Prima Pils were available at restaurants and bars. Both were earthy and herbal, light, clean and refreshing. This style was also available during a stop at 2nd Story Brewing Co., which is highly recommended for both its beer and food. They offered the Daisy Point Pils, perhaps their best offering, which hit all the flavor points.

    When I returned home two German styled pilsners had ascended their draft list at our local WholeFoods Market: the Sixpoint Brewery The Crisp and the AleSmith Brewing Pilsner. Both were steller with the Alesmith completely balanced between hops and minerals, earth, and herbs and the Sixpoint providing a more pronounced hop presence.  A day later I stopped into my local beer store (Norms Beer & Wine) and a representative from Starr Hill Brewing was pouring their Warehouse Pils - a refreshing high mineral and herbal beer with a decent hop payload.

    I wonder where the next German Pils will pop up this weekend. Cheers.
  • Ned Luberecki's Take Five and Chateau Ste. Michelle's Columbia Valley Dry Riesling

    Posted: 2017-03-27 20:09
    On March 31st 2017 banjoist Ned Luberecki releases his newest album Take Five. I'm a fan of Luberecki's Sirius XM Radio Bluegrass Junction show, but I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical when receiving an early download link. I'd never listened to a solo banjoist album before; and in hindsight, there was no reason to be skeptical. First, Luberecki organized a stellar supporting cast from vocalists to fiddlers and guitarists. (This cast consists of Missy Raines and the New Hip, Jeremy Garrett of The Infamous Stringdusters, Becky Buller, the Helen Highwater Stringband (Mike Compton, David Grier, Missy Raines, and Shad Cobb), Chris Jones and The Night Drivers, Dale Ann Bradley, Amanda Smith, and Stephen Mougin -- guitarist of the Sam Bush Band and the other half of Nedski & Mojo.) Second, the interplay between the fiddle and banjo is hypnotic (See Cleveland Park). Finally, and most importantly, the album is as varied as possible.  There are fiddle tunes, train songs, and even concludes with the Theme from Star Trek. Higher Ground is my favorite track with Dale Ann Bradly on vocals. Blue Monk handles the blues and there's an excellent Buck Owens Medley.  And his take on the Brazilian bossa nova jazz song Girl From Ipanema sums up this album -- anything is possible with Ned Luberecki's banjo.

    Riesling is the wine equivalent to the banjo; it's underappreciated and misunderstood. (Such as Riesling wine is always sweet.) Yes some are, but the majority range from dry to off-dry with enough acidity to balance any residual sugar.  Normally I would think Finger Lakes Riesling, but recently I purchased a bottle of Chateau Ste. Michelle 2015 Columbia Valley Dry Riesling ($9, 12% abv). Like Take Five, this wine is refreshing and versatile - with apple and citrus flavors, some petrol, and all balanced with refreshing acidity. The winery has even implemented the International Riesling Foundation Sweetness Scale to inform the consumer of the wine's inherent sweetness -- with this wine solidly in the Dry range. And at that price and abv I could drink it every day while listening to Luberecki. Cheers.

Featured Visit

Wine & Food Festival; National Harbor - Saturday, May 14, 2011
Under overcast skies and threatening rain we attended the 2011 National Harbor Wine & Food Festival. What makes this event different than most festivals at National Harbor is that it utilizes the piers in addition to the parking lot so it has a more marina feel. And those with VIP tickets were able to enjoy the Belgium beer tent surrounded by water. This year we didn't have the time to hone our cooking skills; but had plenty of time to sample new bourbons and beer. The Jim Beam Bourbon tent was surprisingly sparse so we were able to quickly sample some excellent scotch from Laphroaig and Ardmore and distinguish the difference between whisky crafted in the highlands and those by the sea. The Laphraoig was smokey and salty while the Ardmore was more subtle. For the first time in 52 years Maker's Mark has released a new product, the Maker’s 46. Compared to the original Makers this bourbon is 96 proof, instead of 90 proof, fuller and sweeter at the finish. I didn't care much for this extra sweetness and definitely prefer the standard bearer. As in added attraction in the tent we watched cigars being rolled by Cortez Handmade Cigars.

As for beer, there were several nice options. The Belgiums (Stella Artois, Leffe Blonde, Hoegaarden) were at the forefront and always a good option. There was also a new Canadian entry, Alexander Keiths, from Nova Scotia. The brewery is over 190 years old but for the U.S. market it looks like production is location in St. Louis (aka Budweiser). For the domestics, we stuck with Kona Brewing Company and Chicago's Goose Island. We paired their ales with oysters from Pepper Creek Shellfish Farm. A nice combination.

Since our palettes were consumed with beer and bourbon, we didn't bother sampling the wine - but there was plenty available. Maryland wines were represented as well as some Oregon Pinot Noir, the same from Burgundy, Italian Soave, and many more. Besides the lack of bathrooms, this was an entertaining festival. Particularly when grabbing a rum concoction and sitting at the "beach" listening to Steel Dynamics.

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