Saturday, October 18, 2014

BRAMBLES: Change Buy Design

Buzet, France 2007
Once harvest is done the winemakers attention goes into his workshop, the cellar. Outside in the vineyards, grapevine leaves are changing color and dropping. Chlorophyll in the vines leaves breaks down, its work is done, and the eventual leaf fall prepares for the dormancy of winter. Yet here, it can be the most beautiful, colorful time of year to be outside. There is still plenty of Sonoma County sunshine, but there is also the feeling that things around us are slowing down.  It is nature's change by design.

A discount coupon and a need for wine to complement a beef and onion stirfry brought me to discover Trapiche Oak Cask Malbec 2012 from the hills of  Mendoza, Argentina. This historic and bio-dynamic enterprise grew with its nation's developing rail transport to become one of the biggest wineries in Argentina from its humble origins more than 100 years ago. Its entry level Malbec displays a opaque purple hue, smoky floral black plum and cassis; firm, refined tannins grip the front of the mouth, with resinous dark fruit and spice that linger. With wide distribution it offers a suggested retail of $14, a discounted price of $11 or below, and cost a staggering $5.99 with my coupon at check-out. How can they afford to offer delicious, quaff-able wine at this price, I thought?

Trimmings & Pomace:
  • With an early start to this years North Coast grape harvest, as reported by the North Bay Business Journal, overall tonnage is expected to be above average following record harvests of the previous two years, with good to excellent quality.
  • Harper's reports, following a low 2013 harvest which followed consecutive unexceptional vintages, which has translated into a downturn in global sales(US/UK/China), Bordeaux's(world's most regulated and orchestrated wine region) Conseil Interprofessionel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB) has announced its first ever global marketing campaign to help counter fall in wine sales and volume.
  • Reported recently by Nation's Restaurant News, the nation is seeing the best sales trend in two years, traffic remains constant, however spending by customers is on the rise. On-premise wine and alcohol sales remain a consistent growth segment for this developing market.
  •  Federal regulators with the Tax & Trade Bureau(TTB) have approved eleven(11) new (sub)viticultural areas within the existing Paso Robles AVA, dividing up more than 614,000 acres. Created in 1983, the Paso Robles winegrape area had grown from less than 5000 acres to more than 32,00 acres and more than 200 wineries in the last grape-lovin generation. Marketing jobs to follow...

  • Industry rag, The Drinks Business, reported on the "Top 10 Wines in the U.S. Press", offering single selections from France(Beaujolais), Spain, Argentina & Italy. The list was filled out with two(2) selections each from California, Washington State.....and Virginia!! 
In the Spring that follows the cycle starts again. Even as California produces about 90% of the nation's wine, other regions are beginning to earn well-deserved acclaim, adding to consumers choices. After a string of successful harvests, domestic supply is steady, markets continue to evolve, and wine consumers benefit. International distribution into our markets continues to grow, and even the seemingly immoveable standard bearers of the wine market are beginning to change with the times.  For us global wine consumers, these are each positive changes, all buy design.

Salute' 







Wednesday, September 24, 2014

BRAMBLES: A Summer's Harvest

Harvest of Pinot Noir in Cote du Beaune
Early picking for higher acid grapes used in sparkling wines began here in August as usual, but a few weeks earlier than is typical. August is usually a time when wineries check crush equipment, assess barrel inventories and try to schedule production activities, like bottling a prior harvest, around the frenzy that is the anticipated fruit-picking season.  Not unlike spring baseball, every producer has renewed dreams of crafting award-winning, critically acclaimed wines from their soon to be harvested and newest, best cuvee. It is an annual cycle, where almost nothing is always exactly the same as prior years.

A summer's harvest is an exciting time in wine communities, and the buzz is felt in surrounding localities.  There are the hard-working migrant workers that swarm to the vineyards, the early morning arc lights that pop-up in otherwise undisturbed locations, and the short-lived fruit flies that are nursed in the grape pomace. At the winery there is the well orchestrated dance of arriving fruit trucks, the snake-like noodles of hoses that seem to go everywhere, and the smell of crushed grapes ready to get happy from the conversion of their sugars to ethanol and carbon dioxide.
Grapeskin cap in open top fermentation tank

On a hilltop south of a quaint Russian River Valley town there sits a 44 acre sustainably-farmed vineyard estate, award-winning Chardonnay and Pinot Noir anchored to its Goldridge soils. Morning and late-afternoon fog are chronic visitors here on this southern boundary of the Russian River Valley AVA, but so too is the warming mid-day sun.  It must have seemed as idyllic to the retired couple who in the late 1990's became the stewards of this beautiful land, as it remains today. But after more than a decade of cultivation, Rick & Diane DuNah sold their estate in mid-2013.  From their first vintage in 2001, the quality of their site and clonal selections, and the quality of the retired couple's stewardship was evident. It was advantageous as well to have a heralded and skilled winemaker, scientific traditionalist Greg LaFollette, at the helm.

It too is part of the cycle. Local farmers diversify and become grape growers, and grape growers become winegrowers, and after riding for a time the industry roller coaster that is commercial agriculture you may just think about getting out. One of the earliest adages I remember hearing in wine marketing classes was, 'the easiest way to harvest a small fortune in the wine industry is to start out with a large one'. It is a usable adage because for the most of the small producers it is still a chosen business and it is still true. In Matt Kramer's New California Wine, he states that unlike the Old World, we here lack a 'true primitivism', an adhesion to place. European winegrape farmers historically had no choice but to continue to work the land that their fathers had.  Grape growing on their family plot was their subsistence, for better or worse, cycle following cycle.

Unlike the current global trend, our national wine consumption per capita is growing with America(California) ascending to be among the largest producers in the world. For consumers there are more choices in bottles and retailers than ever before.  The ranks of domestic producers have swollen as well over the past two decades.  Even though a handful of big guys(corporations) produce & distribute most of our domestic vino, California's 4000+ wineries & almost 6000 grapegrowers remain predominantly family owned and multi-generational. Just like the DuNah's.

According to the industries Wine Institute web site, the large number of domestic alcohol products 'continued to squeeze distribution channels, and many small- and medium-sized wineries look to direct-to-consumer sales through tasting rooms, wine clubs, online marketing and other direct sales channels, using social media and other digital communications to reach out to consumers'.  So today small producers not only need to be passionate about viticulture or winemaking, but also need to know how to reach the diversity of this saturated market thru contemporary & diverse means. Fortunately for Generation X to Millennial(Generation Y) consumers, and even us Boomers, there is today a new and impassioned upcoming generation of wine producers, from Sonoma's venerable Benzinger Family Winery to Livermore's Wente Vineyards. They too are part of our domestic cycle, just like a summer's harvest.

A cool night harvest in the warm Sonoma Valley AVA

A special thanks to Rick & Diane for great wines and warm memories.
 
Notable wine: LaFollette 2012 Sangiacomo Vineyard, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir; bright notes of cherries & raspberries rise from a brilliant garnet hue that offers integrated red fruits, like cranberry, with accents of roasted nut and warm earth that dance across the palate gracefully with good acidity and fine tannins, to a lingering finish.

Salute!


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

PAIRING: Acid is Our Friend!

Uniquely, different wines engage foods distinctly

A Dinner Party Food & Wine Pairing can strike fear into any well intending host. Selecting wines for an engagement containing plates I had not seen before, the August Supper menu of seven(7) courses was going to be a challenge for pairing.  The described food creations were intended to offer a broad range of flavors and textures, and only one of the dishes I was fortunate to have tasted previously, but at a foreign Michelin star restaurant. Knowing that a proper pairing will not only contrast or complement the flavors offered on the dish, it will actually 'enhance', I considered the food and selected a range of fine wines.  Fortunately, those wines with good strength of acid are our friends.

As long as the perceived acid was stronger than what is prominent on the dish, I figured we have a chance to complement or contrast strong flavors.  For a muse of Gazpacho Blanco, I chose a lively, dry Prosecco made from the grape Glera of the Veneto region near Trieste.  With its austere dryness and notes of dried yellow fruits and biscuits, the Adami Garbe'l  had a tart zest that refreshed and seemed to bring out the melon/cucumber flavors of the chilled summer soup. That was followed by the only dish I had previously enjoyed, a Chicken Liver Pate' dusted with Pistachios and dressed with a Cherry-Balsamic smear. Earthy flavors of the livers would dominate, and also coat the tongue, but the smear was a sweet counterpoint. I chose a wonderful red fruit mousse of Cremant Brut Rose' of Pinot Noir from quality producer, Lucien Albrecht of Alsace. Aromas of watermelon and strawberry gave way to a refreshingly tart, bright flavor notes of white strawberry that clensed the palate and danced with the richness of the Pate' while introducing the sweet counterpoint of the smear. It was a very happy time in the mouth!
Both of these bottles of bubbles used their prominent acidity to wash the palate, while they also allowed the fresh flavors of the soup to amplify and its tongue coating richness of the Pate' to be thinned in the mouth.  What followed was also to be mufti-faceted. Seared Sea Scallops(mild) with Green Raisin Salsa nested on Watercress and Pears would introduce a sweet heat to be countered by the bitter-sweet of the greens & fruit nest. A chilled 2011 Rene Mure Pinot Gris Signature presented itself with generous, fresh aromas of acacia and stone fruits, a hint of stony-minerality.  Bone dry, its lively acidic zest was a deliciously refreshing foil to the salsa, and allowed the sweet pear flavors to be perceived more prominently.  The spike of heat was there, but surfaced between sweet impressions in the mouth offered by the pear and then the raisins.
Acid strength varies within the citrus family.

Good acid strength cuts the mouth-coating flavors and texture of fat, as well as refreshing the palate. It can reduce the tart impact of acidic foods, such as vinegars, and soften the cloyingly sweet perceptions of sugars in the mouth. Expecting a rich and earthy profile combined with beefy, mouth-coating sinewy flavors, the entree of Beef Short Ribs with Truffle-Celery Root Puree did not disappoint. It challenged the pairing of a deep, evolving richness of a prized 1980 Chateau Palmer Bordeaux Rouge. This beautiful aged Third Growth wine from prestigious Margaux with its black jam and forest floor nose was terrifically soft and yet complex on the palate; but its declining structure allowed the beef dish to muscle it around the mouth.  Equal to the task was a 2006 La Sirena Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, as its firm structure and bracing acidity were still quite prominent as a framework for its stewed dark fruit and spice.  Both of these beautiful red wines, terrific on their own, engaged the same dish distinctly, each bringing something different to the flavor party.

To finish after a light Butter Lettuce Salade of Seedless Grapes, diced Red Onion & Pepper Goat Cheese, we delighted in a light presentation of Me'Me's Beach Cake with Fresh Strawberries & White Nectarines. The Beach Cake was compact, but featherweight, filled with dried fruits and topped with whipped creme. A smothering of pick of the season fruits and the biscuit qualities of the cake found a wonderful partner in a vintage dated honeysuckled Sauternes from Chateau de La Chartreuse.  It demonstrated easily how good acidity in the wine can keep the cloyingly overly-sweet perceptions for dessert wines in balance, allowing its textured stone fruit flavors to gracefully sail through.

For more food & wine pairing recommendations, visit www.Your-Wine-Guy.net, and as always, we should have fun with food and wine.  It really helps to work with liked wines or foods that you are familiar with, and to remember always that acid is our friend!

Salute! 


Thursday, July 31, 2014

BRAMBLES: Summers Zenith, Again

Zinfandel Veraison in July

It is just lazy. They are called 'dog days'. Orchard and vine fruits are growing slowly, a fine dust in the air. It is a warm, dry vapor that lifts our passive spirits as we play & work outside, measured by the dramatic change of fruit on our maturing vines. Veraison, the ripening physical change of the grape berries structure from acid producer to sugar producer has started early and with a flourish on our local vines. Each sunny late-July day away from the summers zenith we grow a little closer to the fruition that is our richly anticipated grape harvest.

As vegetative growth in the vine naturally slows, the grapevine puts more of its sun nourished resources into ripening fruit by producing sugars. White grape varieties change from tart green to more of a golden-lime, and red varieties go from an opaque green to softer garnet and violet. Soon their sugar levels will evolve high enough to balance their piquant acids for the regions many sparkling wine producers, and harvest begins.  For grape growers this is the short lazy just prior to the frantic annual culmination of their seasonal cycle.


Each year it is this weather that draws us outside, as we continue to explore venues and recipes for outdoor dining(alfresco).  Our wines typically are drawn from a chilled cooler or the refrigerator, some even get insulated to travel to remote locations offering pristine landscapes. It is the time to enjoy refreshing Albarino's from Spain or juicy-tart Sauvignon Blanc's from New Zealand or ever-popular dry Rose's from almost any warm growing wine region.  Additionally, a consistently good quality/value and wonderful food pairing wine is the Chenin Blanc-Viognier blend from Napa Valley's Pine Ridge Vineyards, with its ripe stone fruit and bright citrus notes.  There may not be a more uniform domestic wine value.
Galician vineyards of northwestern Spain


Colorful picnic items in all sorts of containers were pulled from the woven basket as we sat admiring the distant view.  Cheeses were sliced and bread was broken, yet that 'ahh' moment when came when the plastic glass of rich Chenin Blanc graced our lips. On another lazy occasion, we scattered around the ball court, purposely standing in the shade of the tall trees nearby.  Smoke from the nearby grill told us that roasted mixed vegetables and slow-roasted pork were close at hand. A glistening bottle of Senorio de Valei Rias Baixas Albarino from northern Spain was rescued from the cooler and offered refreshing lime and green apple liquid flavors across our thirsty palates.  We were outside, together, and celebrating being lazy in the sun.
Bordeaux ripens in September

Every spring optimism renews in the vineyard, and at the end of the summer zenith we hope to be rewarded, yet once again. Lucky dog!

Cheers!


Sunday, July 6, 2014

TASTINGS: Summer Values Found


Lazy, hazy, crazy daze envelops summer. These are long days, when it seems hard to get going early and surprisingly difficult to say a warm 'good nite'. In between we dine al fresco more often, have lighter meals and seem to make more plans to enjoy the out of doors.  This then was a prefect time to join our tasting group recently as we sat down and explored great international wine values for our warmer weather.

Kono, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013; widely available(ours via Trader Joe's) offers a bright Kiwi style with screwcap, and it's all there: hints of lemon grass, gooseberry, wet grass, a whisper of stone fruit, lime peel and tart, bracing acidity. It lingers on the palate, offering a wet but tart and refreshing finish. Bring on the cerviche'.

Domaine du Dragon, Côtes de Provence Rose', 2013; an offering of all the usual Mediterranean suspects: Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache grapes. Here is a delicious, light, pale salmon hue offering a nose of white strawberry, white cherry, rosewater notes, the brightness with good acidity and a little tannin crosses the palate to grab the upper lip, but leaves you thirsty for more. Here there are lingering flavors of white strawberries, Rainer cherries and rosehip that refreshes while offering a good pairing for many of our picnic items.
Commanderie de la Bargemone, Coteaux D'Aix En Provence Rose' 2013; a similar mix of sourced fruit, but one whiff and it becomes a rose' of distinction with its fresh nose of perfumed summer fruits and wet flowers. Its pale salmon hue is a clue to delicious white cherry and floral notes that are round in the mouth and linger for what seems to be an extraordinary amount of time to savor this fine summer wine.

Spainish Monastrell(Mourvedre)
 Yaso, Toro, Castilla y Leon, 2012, Tempranillo offers an opaque plue hue, and a nose of generous black fruits, licorice and pepper spice. On the palate there's notes of boysenberry, black plum, prune, tea, cola and earth spice. Complex enough to be very interesting and quite pleasant with its moderate length on the palate.  Pair this luscious import with some grillin' to do some chillin' with this found Spanish selection.

All of these selections are widely distributed and will set you back less than one(1) Jack$on. In fact, they are in the sub-15 range, and that makes them an easy addition to a lazy picnic blanket or a sizzlin' barbeque table. Summer seems to take things less seriously, as we sit back sippin' and listen' to our favorite baseball painting vocal pictures in the background.  We gather with friends and family to savor and to share.  Along the way, we have a great opportunity to delight in the find of summer values found.

Cheers!

ps. If you would like to see more of our seasonal wine reviews please send a comment.