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Tasting Library Wines at Joseph Swan Vineyards

Today, I headed up to Joseph Swan Vineyards in Russian River Valley. They were celebrating their 40th anniversary as a bonded winery by pouring library wines.

U.S. Wine Consumption Increases for 17th Consecutive Year

According to the 2011 Wine Handbook, U.S. wine consumption continues to increase. Total consumption in 2010 was 303.1 million 9-liter (112 bottle) cases, up 2.1% over 2009. Total wine spending was $26.9 billion dollars in 2010. Domestic wineries benefitted disproportionately with a 3% increase. While purchases of imported wine dropped 0.9%, purchases of Australian wines here dropped precipitously, 12.5%.

The publicly released analysis related to this particular publication, created by the Beverage Information Group, isn’t very insightful. They say that “As the US economy slowly recovers, the wine industry is regaining its momentum to mark the 17th consecutive year of case gains.  This positive direction is directly attributed to the improving economy and the resulting increase in consumer confidence.” But, if growth in wine sales has continued for 17 consecutive years, then that trend cannot be attributed to improvements in the economy relative to the crisis of 2008-2009. And if their reference was solely to the increase in momentum, rather than the overall increase, then there must have been more significant thoughts they could have shared. While a shift from near flat to 2% growth is massive on a year-on-year percentage increase basis, the actual dollar and unit growth was not hugely significant.

If you have interest in the full report, which does include detailed information about sales, consumer preferences, ad spending and regional breakdowns, the 2011 Wine Handbook is available for $815 from Beverage Information Group.

Disclaimer: Neither I nor NorCalWine are compensated in any way for sales of the 2011 Wine Handbook.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Drink with Legends, Eat Like a President

President's Day is an odd holiday. Many Americans get the day off work, but there aren't any traditional celebrations or fireworks displays. It falls too soon after Thanksgiving and "The Holidays" for another big family reunion. Mid-February is too cold for barbecues or a day at the beach. There's no scrum at the Hallmark store with people trying to find the perfect card for their favorite... president. President's Day is officially Washington's Birthday, but Abe Lincoln's birthday is just over a week earlier, so George got merged. If it weren't for those desperate car dealership owners dressing up like Washington "to attract people," our founding father wouldn't get any love at all.

All of that being the case, you probably don't have big plans for February 21, 2011, President's Day. But I do. And you can join me as I hobnob with a Who's Who of wine and food. We'll drink great wine, taste foods that have been served at State Dinners and  dishes prepared by celebrity chefs. And we will honor the careers of five people who've had a huge impact not only on California wine, but the global wine business. Doesn't that sound a lot better than a night at home with a glass of whatever's still open in the fridge from Saturday night? Yes, I know that House and The Chicago Code are on. DVR.

The gala event takes place in St. Helena at the Greystone Campus of the Culinary Institute of America (aka CIA). If you've not been there before, it's worth the trip just to check out their facilities.

The occasion is the induction of five new members to the Vintners Hall of Fame. The new inductees are: Joel Peterson (Ravenswood), Dick Graff (Chalone), August Sebastiani (Sebastiani), Bob Trinchero (Sutter Home and Trinchero wineries) and Vernon Singleton (U.C. Davis). For more information about the inductees, see this article.

The featured guest of honor is former White House Chef and CIA graduate Walter Scheib.

Luminaries who have promised to attend include winemakers, vineyard owners, winery proprietors, writers, political leaders and scholars. Here's a partial list: John Aguirre, Gerald Asher, Andy Beckstoffer, Boots Brounstein, Darrell Corti, Randall Grahm, Violet Grigich, Hal Hufsmith, Agustin Huneeus, David Kent, Darioush Khaledi, Robin Lail, Dick Maher, Mike Martini, Carole Meredith, Margrit Mondavi, Gavin Newsome, Joel Peterson, Don Sebastiani, Don Sebastiani Jr., Vernon Singleton, Garen Staglin, Bob Steinhauer, Jack Stuart, Dorothy Tchelistcheff, Mike Thompson, Bob Trinchero, Andrew Waterhouse, Warren Winiarski, and Phil Woodward. There are no velvet ropes at this event. Say "hello," shake their hand, "buy" them a drink.

Festivities start at 4:00 p.m. PST. They include a celebratory reception, featuring wines served at White House dinners, the Vintners Hall of Fame induction ceremony, and a celebrity chef walk-around dinner in the CIA at Greystone’s teaching kitchens.

Proceeds provide scholarships for the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies at the CIA at Greystone.

Tickets for the program are $175 ($100 tax-deductible) and may be purchased by visiting For more information on the 2011 Vintners Hall of Fame Induction celebration, please contact Cate Conniff-Dobrich, 707-967-2303 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

For more information on the Vintners Hall of Fame and to view the list of former inductees with their photos and biographies, please visit

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. Some text from Balzac Communications, used with permission. All rights reserved

The Best White Wines at Sonoma in the City 2013

I attended the 2013 Sonoma in the City (San Francisco) trade and media tasting on April 16. It was a three-hour long, walk around tasting. Every AVA in Sonoma County was represented and at least 130 wineries had wines on offer.

My plan was to start with the whites, move onto Pinot Noir and then to the bigger reds. That proved impossible. I was only able to get through the white wines and taste about ten rosé and red wines in the allotted time. However, I did taste, rate and write notes on 111 white wines. There were a few producers I missed, such as Quivira, Frostwatch and Duckhorn. Several prominent producers didn't attend (at least not with whites or a dedicated table), including Hirsch, Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyard, Dunstan, Three Sticks, Moshin, Woodenhead, Failla, Littorai, Peay, etc.

Overall, the wine quality was high. There were at most 20 wines that I scored below 87 points. Six earned 93 points or better.

The wines were not only well-made, but distinctive side-by-side. Sure, there was a lot of apple and pear in the Chardonnay, grapefruit and guava in the Sauvignon Blanc. And full-body was the norm. These weren’t cookie-cutter or manufactured wines though.

There were also some good values. Chief among the sweet deals is the 2012 Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc at just $16. But don’t overlook the beautiful 2011 Cartograph Floodgate Vineyard Gewurtztraminer at $22 or the two Chardonnay from MacRostie Winery.

The wines below are those I rated most highly amongst the whites. Each of them scored an equivalent of 90 points or higher. I have listed them in alphabetical order within each quality segment. I apologize for the lack of detailed notes on the Highly Recommended. I had them all entered and then lost it in a web-fail. I'm posting the article as is rather than holding it for another two hours while I redo those notes.

Very Highly Recommended

2010 Clouds Rest Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma Coast Sonoma County, $45
Beautiful and aromatic. Fruit blossoms, baking spice, stone fruit and citrus. Nearly full-bodied, but fresh with a long finish.

2010 Flowers Chardonnay Sonoma Coast Sonoma County, $40
Full-bodied, fresh and flavorful with pear, baking spice and stone fruit.

2010 Flowers Chardonnay Camp Meeting Ridge Estate Vineyard Sonoma Coast Sonoma County, $58
Aromas and flavors of green apple, baking spice, pear, savory herb and a waft a yeasty bread. Full body.

2009 Gary Farrell Vineyards Chardonnay Westside Farms Russian River Valley Sonoma County, $38
Gentle on the nose, but complex. Baking spice, warm nuts, apple, pear, ginger and cream.

2010 Hanzell Vineyards Chardonnay Sonoma Valley Sonoma County, $75
Juicy, delicious, long and, as usual for Hanzell Chardonnay, a wine that will be even more charming after 3 - 10 years in the cellar.

2011 Red Car Chardonnay Ritchie Vineyard Russian River Valley Sonoma County, $54
Gorgeous and my favorite white of the day. Medium+ body and long with baking spice, ginger, apple, oak and loads of ripe and juicy pear.

T040513 f

Highly Recommended+

2009 MacRostie Winery Chardonnay Wildcat Mountain Estate Vineyard Sonoma Coast Sonoma County, $35
Aromatically restrained but generous on the palate. Spice, apple, pear. Nearly full-bodied.

2011 Red Car Chardonnay Sonoma Coast Sonoma County, $35
Elegant nose, balanced palate. Baking spice, walnut skin, apple, pear, butter and cream.

Highly Recommended

2010 32 Winds Wine Chardonnay Hudson Vineyard Carneros Sonoma County, $49
2010 Argot Chardonnay “Hidden Truths” Bennett Valley Sonoma County, $42
2010 Balletto Pinot Gris Russian River Valley Sonoma County, $18
2012 Grey Stack Sauvignon Blanc Rosemary’s Block Bennett Valley Sonoma County, $30
2011 Benovia Winery Chardonnay Russian River Valley Sonoma County, $36
2010 Capture Wines Sauvignon Blanc Les Pionniers Sonoma County, $45
2010 Capture Wines Chardonnay Ma Vie Carol Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak Sonoma County, $48
2011 Cartograph Gewurtztraminer Floodgate Vineyard Russiant River Valley Sonoma County, $22
2011 Clouds Rest Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc “Musque” Green Valley of Russian River Valley Sonoma County, $38
2011 Del Dotto Chardonnay Cinghale Vineyard Fort Ross-Seaview Sonoma County, $85
2012 Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Dry Creek Valley Sonoma County, $16
2011 Dutton-Goldfield Chardonnay Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Sonoma County, $35
2011 Dutton-Goldfield Chardonnay Rued Vineyard Russian River Valley Sonoma County, $50
2011 Fort Ross Chardonnay Estate Fort Ross-Seaview Sonoma County, $40
2011 Freeman Chardonnay RYO-FU Sonoma Coast Sonoma County, $40
2010 Gary Farrell Vineyards Chardonnay Russian River Selection Russian River Valley Sonoma County, $32
2011 Gary Farrell Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley Sonoma County, $25
2004 Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvée Sparkling Wine Carneros Sonoma County, $32
2011 Hanzell Vineyards Chardonnay “Sebella” Sonoma Valley Sonoma County, $36
2011 Hartford Court Chardonnay Russian River Valley Sonoma County, $30
2010 Hartford Court Chardonnay Stone Cote Russian River Valley Sonoma County, $60
2010 Hartford Court Chardonna Fog Dance Russian River Valley Sonoma County, $65
2011 Jordan Chardonnay Russian River Valley Sonoma County, $30
2011 Keller Estate Pinot Gris La Cruz Vineyard Sonoma Coast Sonoma County, $30
2012 Kokomo Winery Sauvignon Blanc Timber Crest Vineyards Dry Creek Valley Sonoma County, $20
2010 La Follette Chardonnay Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast Sonoma County, $38
2010 MacPhail Family Chardonnay Gap’s Crown Sonoma Coast Sonoma County, $45
2011 MacRostie Winery Chardonnay Sonoma Coast Sonoma County, $25
2008 Martinelli Winery Chardonnay Three Sisters Sonoma Coast Sonoma County, $60
2011 Mauritson Family Sauvignon Blanc Dry Creek Valley Sonoma County, $21
2010 Pahlmeyer Chardonnay Sonoma Coast Sonoma County, $75 (sold out)
2010 Ramey Chardonnay Sonoma Coast Sonoma County, $38
2010 Ramey Chardonnay Platt Vineyards Sonoma County, $60
2009 Ramey Chardonnay Ritchie Vineyard, $60
2012 Twomey Estate Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley Sonoma County, $25
2011 Sojourn Cellars Chardonnay Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast Sonoma County, $45
2010 Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards Chardonnay “The Cutrer” Russian River Valley Sonoma County, $32
2010 The Donum Estate Chardonnay Estate Carneros Sonoma County, $50
2011 White Oak Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley Sonoma County $16

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on Facebook. Also check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2013 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Avoiding Hometown Palate aka Throwing a Dinner Party

When Grand Prix motorcycle racers crash and go sliding down the track on their back, they have to be very careful when standing up. Their brain has become accustomed to the high speeds of racing and can trick them into believing that they have stopped moving while they are still sliding at 25 mph. If they tried to stand up at that speed, their boots could catch on the ground flipping them upright and then down, face first, into the pavement very hard. That would be a very painful lesson in the importance of a sound frame of reference.

Tasting wine is a low-speed activity and, as long as one doesn’t overindulge, risk of injury is extremely low. However, having a good and extensive frame of reference is still vital. There is great diversity in California’s grape varieties, terroir and winemaking styles. On the other hand, any Sauvignon Blanc wine from Napa Valley you might try is probably more similar to one from another quality growing area in California than it is to one from Marlborough or Sancerre. I make a concerted effort to taste a wide variety of wines from other parts of the world because those wines provide important points of reference for evaluating the qualities and value propositions for the wines of California. It is also rewarding from a personal standpoint because there are so many great and interesting wines made in other parts of the world.

Fitting “perspective” wines into my schedule can be difficult though. I don’t like to waste wine or money by opening something interesting for a quick sip and then dumping the rest, so there’s only so much I can taste by myself on a routine basis. The most enjoyable way to solve this problem is to throw big dinner parties for friends.

My wife and I did this just the other night. A great time was had by all and we tasted a lot of excellent wines. In preparing the menu, we didn’t obsess over wine pairings either. We just put out a lot of tasty, hearty food and opened wines that would stand up for themselves. It worked out just fine.

Nothing says “welcome” like sparkling wine, so we greeted our guests with Champagne:
NV Gosset Brut Excellence
(12% alc.)
Inexpensive for good Champagne at just $30, the Gosset is refreshingly crisp because it doesn’t go through malolactic fermentation. The freshness makes it an excellent palate cleanser and appropriate for a warm summer evening. It has enough depth of flavor to go well with lightly savory foods.

NV Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé (12% alc.)
Rosé Champagnes are more expensive than their pale counterparts and the Billecart-Salmon, which is among my favorites, sells for around $70. The color is a very pretty salmon pink and the body and flavors are on the light side for rosés, gently crisp rather than creamy. It’s nice to sip its own but still has the heft to go with hors d’oeuvres. It’s excellent with mousse made from salmon or foie gras.

With hors d'oeuvres:
2000 Voyager Estate Semillon, Margaret River Australia
(14% alc.)
This is a wine I got at the winery and hand-carried back from Australia. It was less than $20 Australian at release, probably about $12 U.S. From one of the cooler regions in Australia, there’s always a fair amount of green on the nose and palate of this wine. But it’s an interesting and attractive green. When young, it’s grassy and tropically green. After ten years in my cool cellar it is still drinking very well. Some of the freshest fruit had subsided and an aroma of pine resin had emerged. This isn’t a shy wine and worked very well with the hummus, babaganoush, toasted pita and olives we had laid out for pre-dinner snacks, which is exactly why I’d opened it.

2005 Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc, Graves (13.5% alc.)
A Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc blend with evident yet not excessive oak treatment, this wine is drinking great right now and evolves quickly in the glass. To start, oak-derived flavors and matchstick were prevalent, but lovely white peach soon emerged. It was an interesting contrast to the Voyager Semillon which preceded it. People, such as myself, who complain about the price of California Sauvignon Blanc blends when they get over $30 or so should take note that this wine, a respected Bordeaux Blanc, goes for around $80.

This is a photo of the vineyard at Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte I took from my balcony when I stayed there a couple of years ago.

2000 Remoissenet Pére & Fils Puligny-Montrachet Les Combettes (14% alc.)
This was brought by a friend to whom we were all grateful; it’s an excellent wine. A white Burgundy with generous oak treatment, it had a lot of the flavors you’d expect from a California Chardonnay. It stopped well short of too thick, too oaky, too sweet or too anything though and wore the flavors like a silk gown. It was fleshy, but the richness was kept in shape by mouthwatering fruit. There was no sign of oxidation (which is sometimes an issue with white Burgundy of that period) and it seems like it still has some good years ahead of it.

For the main courses:
2003 Staglin Family Vineyard Sangiovese “Stagliano” Estate Vineyard Rutherford, Napa Valley
(14.8% alc.)
Well, I couldn’t avoid California entirely! I pulled this one out of the cellar because I thought it might go well with our dinner. One of the side dishes was a smoky tasting combination of cooked tomato and grilled eggplant. Sangiovese usually pairs well with rich tomato dishes and I didn’t have any Italian Sangiovese of a proper age. Perhaps that was fortunate, because everybody loved this wine. Some folks might have been concerned that, at seven years old, this wine would be past its prime. On the contrary, it was still extremely fresh with gorgeous plum, red fruit and a rich, silky mouthfeel. It went very well with both the tomato dish and the garlic- and dill-marinated, grilled leg of lamb. And it didn’t overwhelm the grilled chicken breast either.

1999 Veritas Winery Shiraz Mourvedre “Pressings, Binder’s Bull’s Blood” Barossa Valley, Australia (14% alc.)
This wine was a nice counterpoint to the Staglin. Whereas the Sangiovese was all about silky fruit, the Veritas was earth, leather and spiced meat. As the wine sat in our glasses fruit, including dried plum, emerged. It was also yet another good example of Shiraz from Australia that isn’t jammy and over-oaked. There have been loads of really good wines made there, and have been for decades, but they’ve been overshadowed in the public’s perception by the huge volume of cheap, sweet wines and a few low-volume but high-profile expensive wines that focus on maximum ripeness and extraction at the price of super high alcohol. Don’t throw out the baby with the Kool-Aid!

1996 Chateau Montrose, St. Estephe, Bordeaux (12.5% alc.)
I had a quartet of this wine and wanted to open one as they are just now supposed to be entering their prime drinking window. According to Robert Parker, that window should extend for at least 15 years, so I’ll leave the rest in the cellar and not even think of opening one until the next World Cup, or perhaps the one after that. [It’s totally drinkable now, I’d just like to see how it changes.] It is a very good wine that probably would have shown even more complexity given more than the quick splash in a decanter that I gave it. Aromas and flavors of earthy, smoky black plum and currant fruit were matched with powdery tannins that are fairly well integrated at this point. In one of his notes on this wine, Parker says that it’s 72% Cabernet Sauvignon but, due to the ripeness of that fruit, tastes as if the wine includes a lot more Merlot than it does. We hadn’t seen that note prior to the tasting and we all did, in fact, peg it as mostly Merlot.

1993 Joseph Swan Vineyards Pinot Noir Steiner Vineyard, Sonoma Mountain, Sonoma County (12.1% alc)
Note the low alcohol! This wine was a stunner. The color was ruby with pink overtones and it was a bit cloudy. I suspect that it is unfiltered. There were loads of juicy strawberry on the nose and palate and enough other things going on to make it pretty interesting. You’d need a lot of willpower to swirl and sniff it over an extended period of time though. It just tastes too darned good and disappeared in a hurry. I’m really glad I’ve got another bottle or two in the cellar.

For dessert:
1969 Baixas D’Agly Rivesaltes Vin Doux Naturel
(17% alc.)
Another wine brought by a friend, this was dangerously good. A dessert wine that could have been made from any of about half-a-dozen different grapes but probably includes quite a bit of Grenache Noir, it tastes great and is far too easy to quaff for a wine with this much alcohol. It had a red-orange color and smells and tastes similar to Australian Rutherglen Tokay, though the Rivesaltes is much more restrained. I got stewed cherry, raisin, wood, cold tea and very complex spice. Though the wine is of the 1969 vintage, it will have been recently bottled, the wine quite possibly having been stored in big (20 gallon or more) glass jugs for decades. High sugar, alcohol and acidity mean that it will last for decades even now that it’s in bottle. But why wait? [I can't find a good link for this winery, but here's the wine at J.J. Buckley.]

NV R.L. Buller Rutherglen Tokay (18% alc.)
Since someone had mentioned that the Rivesaltes reminded them of Rutherglen Tokay, I just had to pull out one of those. The similarity is definitely there — especially the cold tea — though, as I mentioned above, the Rutherglen Tokay is much more concentrated. I also get a lot of sweet, stewed rhubarb and caramel that I didn’t get at all in the Rivesaltes. Rutherglen Tokay has nothing to do with the Tokay, more properly “Tokaji,” of Hungary. The Aussie wine is made with late-harvest Muscadelle grapes that are further dried, fortified early during fermentation to retain sugar levels, and then left to further concentrate in wood barrels for an extended period of time. The final product is a blend of wines from multiple vintages. It has a dark amber appearance with a slightly greenish rim and is almost like syrup. The sweetness of these wines is very, very high though it is prevented from being cloying by high acididty. That said, it’s still not a wine that you drink a lot of at one time or that would disappear as quickly as the Rivesaltes.

NV Yalumba Museum Reserve Muscat (18% alc.)
Of course once we started discussing Rutherglen Tokay, the topic of Rutherglen Muscat came up so I had to open one of those for comparison too. This particular example is from an older selection of vintages than the Buller Tokay and was therefore darker in color — nearly mahogany. While the two wines have similar levels of sugar and alcohol, the flavors and aromas are very different. Rutherglen Muscat is made from Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains, often called Muscat Canelli or Muscat Frontignan in California. This grape is distinctive for the floral and sweet white grape aromas and flavors it gives to wine. These characters give the Rutherglen Muscat what some might consider a feminine bearing while the Rutherglen Tokay is masculine. Of the two specific wines we tried, the Yalumba is definitely the highest quality, though both are quite good (in small doses — they come in 375ml bottles and we have more than half of each left).

It was a fun and tasty dinner with excellent, wide-ranging conversation. Sometimes we even talked about the wine! My favorites from the evening were the non-sparkling French whites, the California reds and the Rivesaltes. I’m looking forward to the next time I need to recalibrate my frame of reference.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved