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New White Wines and Rosés from Rutherford's Day in the Dust

Last Wednesday afternoon, the Rutherford Dust Society held their annual tasting for trade and media at Inglenook. Roughly 40 wineries were represented. I tasted 54+ wines (in addition to those from the morning session which I describe here). That article also includes a summary of the 2011 vintage overall.

Most of the wines offered at the tasting were red. However, there were some very compelling white and rosés too. I’ve dedicated this article to those wines, so they don’t get lost in the Cabernet shuffle.

Rutherford White and Rosé New Releases

Alpha Omega Sauvignon Blanc “1155” Napa Valley 2013, ~$38
Sauvignon Blanc and 4% Semillon, all estate-grown in Rutherford, were fermented in French oak barrels. Fresh, summery flavors of tart peach and dry grass are coupled with enjoyably grippy texture and freshness. Recommended

El Molino Chardonnay Rutherford 2012, $60 - 856 cases
White peach and beautiful floral notes of honeysuckle and pikake with some oak in the background. Very pretty. Highly Recommended

Elizabeth Spencer Chardonnay Rutherford 2012, $45 - 300 cases
Aromas and flavors of green apple skin, fresh herb and under ripe peach with a fresh palate. Recommended

Fleury Estate Winery Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford 2012, $50
Fermentation and aging was 50% stainless steel, 50% new French oak. This is a boldly tropical wine with passionfruit, pineapple and white flower aromatics. Medium-plus body and the flavor of piña colada on the palate. Recommended

Honig Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford 2012, $28
Salty lemon-lime aromas with grapefruit, peppery spice and herb on the palate. Medium-plus body and very fresh. Aged in French oak, 40% new. 10% Semillon, 2% Muscat. Highly Recommended

Long Meadow Ranch Winery Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford 2013, $20
Salty lime pith, passionfruit, melon rind and herb aromas join with loads of grapefruit on the palate. Fresh, long and intense. Highly Recommended

Conspire Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford 2013, $28 - 267 cases
Welcome to Sancerre! Intensely aromatic with passionfruit, grapefruit, salty minerality and pipi du chat. Body is a light medium-plus and the finish very long. 50% Sauvignon Blanc, 50% Sauvignon Musque. Conspire is a sub-brand of Amy Aiken's Meander wines. Highly Recommended

Provenance Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford 2013, ~$23
Fresh, tasty and softened ever so slightly by 5% oak (new French). Peach blossom, guava and spice. Recommended

Provenance Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford Estate 2013, ~$29
30% usage of new French oak lends added richness to the palate of this estate wine. White peach, sweet citrus and spice. Best to let this wine breathe a good while or splash it into a decanter. Highly Recommended

Staglin Chardonnay Rutherford Estate 2012, $75
A gorgeous Chardonnay with green and yellow apples and pretty floral spice on the nose and creamy palate. Very Highly Recommended

Talahalusi Vineyards Roussanne Rutherford 2012
First things first: Talahalusi is the name the local Wappo tribe had for what we know as Napa Valley. There’s 5% Picpoul Blanc blended into this full-bodied Roussanne. It’s juicy and long with flavors of kiwi and dry grass. Recommended

Tres Sabores Rosé Rutherford “Ingrid and Julia” 2013, $24
Forget that this an unlikely dry rosé, made from Zinfandel (85%) and Petite Sirah (15%). Just enjoy the pale pink color, delicious flavors of nectarine and fresh berries in sweet cream and the refreshing, long-lasting palate. Highly Recommended

 

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

Delicious Bites and Sips from the ZAP Epicuria Food and Wine Pairing Evening

When sommeliers talk about wines that pair well with food, Zinfandel doesn’t usually make the top ten list. Nonetheless, there are many foods for which it’s a great match.

Each year at the ZAP! festival, there is an evening devoted to showcasing how Zinfandel goes with food. Scores of wineries pour one wine each. Each winery is teamed up with a restaurant whose chef prepares a dish to go with that wine. Attendees wander from table to table, trying the combinations.

This year’s pairing event, dubbed Epicuria, was the best I’ve attended. The quality of the wines was very high. The food was consistently good. There were also some truly excellent dishes — not an easy feat to pull off for hundreds of people in an exhibition hall. And there were a few revelatory pairings.

Fried foods are often served with sauce that adds a counterpoint of tangy sweetness: ketchup with french fries, remoulade with crab cakes or honey-mustard with chicken fingers. Paul’s Paella of Alameda served up deep fried balls of paella, sans sauce. Very similar to arancini, they were crisp on the outside but soft and almost creamy on the inside. With R & B Cellars 2009 Zydeco Napa Valley Zinfandel to sip on, the sauce wasn’t missed.

paella-balls

When matching wine with food, people usually dwell on the main protein. Often the sauce is more important though. Swan Oyster Depot [no relation] used that principle to make a dish which was simple, yet a brilliant pairing. It is also something you might easily make at home: shrimp cocktail. Small, pink bay shrimp were served in a cup with a generous dollop of cocktail sauce dosed with plenty of horseradish. The sauce was an excellent foil for the briny shrimp. The slightly jammy 2010 Peach Canyon Especial Estate Zinfandel from Paso Robles soothed my mouth after the horseradish and readied me for another bite. [For something in a similar vein, consider Zinfandel with cioppino.]

My favorite plate of the evening was from Rose Pistola. It won a James Beard award for best new restaurant upon opening in 1996. The cuisine is inspired by the food of Liguria, a region on the northwestern coast of Italy. [Trivia: Rose Pistola is located on Columbus Avenue. The street is named for Christopher Columbus who was born in Genoa, which is within Liguria.]

Rose Pistola’s dish was black truffle and ricotta ravioli with golden raisins, orange zest and delicately-browned butter. Never before have I been tempted to lick a paper plate. It was paired with the 2009 Storybook Mountain Eastern Exposure Estate Zinfandel from Napa Valley.

truffled-ravioli

This Storybook Mountain wine tells an interesting tale, but doesn’t shout. Complex and textured, it offers delectable berry fruit adorned by a range of spice, mineral and oak derived notes. A splash of Viognier, unusual for Zinfandel blends, contributes white floral notes and expands the spice box. In the pairing, black truffle and warm butter played off the earth in the wine, the orange zest danced on the berries and picked up the Viognier spice and flowers. Meanwhile, the fruit were a natural pairing for the ricotta cheese and provided a clean finish.

One of the best pairings for Zinfandel is braised meat. Tender, slow cooked beef or pork have a softness of texture that matches up well with the softness of some Zins. So do the deep flavors instilled by braising liquid which often includes a red wine reduction.

One of my favorite bites was from Componere Fine Catering. They braised and finely shredded pork cheek, made it into small patties and then pan-fried them until crispy. Resting on a pillow of smoked mashed potatoes, they were garnished with spicy pickled fennel. Mauritson’s 2009 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel added a punch of ripe dark fruit, making a complete dish: savory, sour, salty and fruity.

pork-cheek

Pican, an Oakland restaurant offering cuisine with a Southern accent, took braised pork in a different direction. They smoked a Berkshire pig before braising it in an intricately-flavored molé sauce of peanuts, chiles, Coca-Cola and chocolate. It was served hot in cup on creamy grits elevated with black pepper. The dish echoed the attributes of Carol Shelton’s Old Vine Zinfandels, rich in texture and flavor with both sweetness and a spicy kick.

pork-mole

Blue cheese is a tough food to pair. It’s intense, tangy flavors and saltiness overwhelm most wines, be they red or white. A boldly fruity wine with noticeable sweetness and only moderate oak is called for. Many people surrender and grab a bottle of Port. Zinfandel can work though and allows you to move from a meat course into cheeses without changing wines and swapping glasses.

Cuvee Napa prepared tasty truffles with a core of Shaft Creamery’s Elies Vintage Blue Cheese rolled in crushed black walnuts from Mendocino. It was a powerful bite: mouth-coating and strongly flavorful. The 2008 Saddelback Cellars Old Vine Zinfandel harmonized and cleansed the palate.

cheese-balls

Good Zinfandel is an excellent match for food. It can provide a fruity contrast or spicy accent. It will cut through oily and creamy dishes or act in place of a zesty sauce. The right Zinfandel can take you all the way through a meal, from fried hors d’oeuvres on to a seafood course, a meaty main and then the cheese. Just save some for dessert.

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 NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. Photos by Fred Swan. All rights reserved.

How You Can Contribute to Earthquake Relief in Napa

It’s been easy for some people from outside the immediate area to make jokes about “free run juice” and “air-lifts of water crackers,” but last week’s earthquake in southern Napa devastated many homes and businesses. There are still people in great need of assistance.

Tinacci 060926 0643-540x
Give Napa Valley residents and business a hand this week.
(Photo: Jason Tinacci / Napa Valley Vintners)

Many in Napa and Sonoma will say that one of the best things you can do for them is indulge yourself and buy their wines or spend time (and money) in the area as a tourist. But there are also a number of charitable funds to which you can contribute. Some come with benefits for you beyond the warm-hearted feeling that comes from helping others. I’ve collected information on many of those here for your convenience.

How You Can Contribute to Earthquake Relief in Napa

Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund of the Napa Valley Community Fund (NVCF)

This fund will allocate money to projects it feels will best help in Napa’s recovery. You can donate directly. See their dedicated web page for details.

If you prefer, or in addition, you can donate through a purchase of Matthiasson Quake Cuvée. 100% of the after-tax profits will go to NVCF. This limited release wine, made by SF Chronicle Winemaker of the Year Steve Matthiasson, will ship in Spring, 2015. This opportunity is limited in duration since there’s only so much wine available.

You may also donate through the Bank of Napa Earthquake Relief Fund. Donations via the bank can be made in person at the bank or by mail to Bank of Napa, 2007 Redwood Road, Suite 101, Napa, Calif., 94558. Make checks payable to Bank of Napa. The monies will be forwarded to NVCF.

NapaStrong

Napa winemaker Jason Moore founded NapaStrong at gofundme. The fund stands at about $13,000 right now with a target of $30,000. The money will support people working on the dangerous winery cleanup projects by providing lunches, childcare, etc. Any remaining funds will go to other residents and businesses in need. You can contribute directly at this page.

Alternatively, you can contribute through Rocca Wines. Buy some Rocca wine here, and they will give you a 10% discount and they will contribute 10–20% (depending on how many bottles you buy) of the net proceeds to NapaStrong.

Community Action Napa Valley

CANV is a non-profit that has been providing relief to needy Napa Valley residents since 1965. Their support includes emergency shelter, housing, food, coaching and financial assistance. To donate money, a vehicle or learn how to volunteer visit this page.

If you donate $50 or more to CANV in September, provide proof to Doug Wilder of purely domestic wine report. If you’ve not a subscriber, you’ll get 12 months of free online access to the reports. (If you are a subscriber, I suspect Doug would entertain allow you to gift the 12 month access to a friend.)

Foundation SAVE Cards
Napa City firefighters and the California Fire Foundation are collaborating to provide $100 SAVE cards to people needing emergency assistance. Every dollar counts for someone who has just lost their home in an earthquake or fire. You can donate to the California Fire Foundation here. They’ll allocate to your money to SAVE, or one of their other aid programs for Californian’s effected by fires or natural disasters.

Other Options

My friend Elaine Brown of Wakawkawinereviews.com, who spent a lot of time helping in the community during the aftermath, also suggests these agencies for your donations:
Aldea Children & Family Services
Red Cross Napa Valley Chapter

If you, or someone you know, is in need of assistance, please visit the Napa Valley Vintners excellent listing of community resources here.

If you know of other means of contributing, please provide details in the comments section below.

Disclaimer: Neither I nor NorCalWine.com are affiliated in any way with the people or entities listed above. I don’t endorse any one of these over the others, nor do I have any control over how or when your donations might be allocated by these parties. I, like you, am trusting that it will be done appropriately.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

Favorite Wines from the Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting

The 12th Annual Rhone Rangers San Francisco event ended yesterday with a Grand Tasting held at the Fort Mason Center in the San Francisco Marina. It was an excellent tasting with more than 120 wineries from up and down the west coast pouring their creations based upon Rhone-varietal grapes

“Strong Victory for Organic Winemakers” is a Loss for Consumers and Common Sense

Let me be clear. I have no general issues with organic foods or wines made from organically- grown grapes. In fact, I believe many of the best wines made today are derived from either organic or biodynamic grapes. But "organic wine" has been, and will unfortunately continue to be, a very different product.

The "strong victory" quote in the title of this article is the headline of a press release from Frey Vineyards of Redwood Valley in Mendocino County. Sent on behalf of “a coalition of organic winemakers and distributors,” it announced that the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) had elected to maintain the current regulations for wines labeled as “organic wine.” This NOSB vote reversed a decision made by the USDA.

Roussanne-at-Tablas-Creek-VineyardsThe core issue is sulfites, specifically sulfur dioxide or SO2. The original, and now continuing, rule is that “organic wines” may not include any added sulfites. None. This is similar to regulations for other organic products which also ban the addition of sulfite. I, the USDA and many others — including committed organic and biodynamic growers — have two problems with this. First, sulfur dioxide is important in the process of making quality wine and in having that wine remain sound in bottle. Second, unlike virtually all other produce — organic or otherwise — grapes have naturally-generated sulfites on their skin. Thus, it is almost impossible for any wine to be sulfite free, even if sulfites are not added.

The organic winemakers claim maintaining current labeling laws will prevent consumer confusion. I believe it simply confuses them in a different way. It is true that other organic products are not allowed to add sulfites. But, based on that, the few — very few — people who are sensitive to sulfites buy organic products knowing them to be free of sulfites. Consumers cannot do that with wine. Even with this NOSB ruling, “organic wines” may contain sulfites.

Winery quotes within the press release show how easily consumers can be confused by this rule. “Organic wine has always been defined as preservative-free with no added sulfites,” says Phil La Rocca, founder of La Rocca Vineyards in Forest Ranch, CA. That is true and a clear statement. However, Paul Frey, President of Frey Vineyards in Redwood Valley, CA states, “The preservative sulfite has never been allowed in any organic food that carries the USDA organic seal.” That is a confusing statement. It implies to consumers not well-versed in the law that “organic wine” does not include sulfites. The catch is the law states added sulfites are termed “a preservative.” Naturally occurring sulfites are not. Frey isn’t really saying there are no sulfites, just that there are no sulfites added.

United States’ law requires all wines with sulfites in excess of 10mg/liter (10 parts per million) to display the text “Contains Sulfites” on the label. Wines with less than that amount, as determined by analysis, may omit the warning. Wines which, by analysis, show less than 1ppm may be labeled as “No Sulfites.” These are the phrases that people with sulfite sensitivity need to look for, “Contains Sulfites” or “No Sulfites.” An “Organic Wine” may well have more than 10ppm and therefore be required to bear the “Contains Sulfites” warning.

All the NOSB ruling really did was continue a labeling policy that consumers don’t understand in order to preserve the market share of a small number of companies which elect to not add sulfites. A change in the rule would not have forced them to add sulfites, nor would it have prevented them from omitting “Contains Sulfites” warnings on eligible products, or even using “No Sulfites” labeling. What it does do is prevent hundreds of other wineries from labeling their products “organic wine,” even though they are made solely from organically-grown grapes in certified-organic vineyards.

If the USDA-recommended change had been adopted, a wine could have contained up to 100ppm of sulfites and be labeled “organic wine,” assuming all other criteria for that designation were met. In reality, the average sulfite level in wines is less than 80ppm. Many individual wines are far lower. U.S. law prohibits any wine from having more than 350ppm or 350mg of sulfites. Note that the human body produces about 1000mg of sulfites per day on its own.

Some people do have a sensitivity to sulfites. Studies suggest such sensitivity is very rare and is essentially limited to 5% to 10% of those individuals who have asthma. In those people, exposure to large doses of sulfites can bring on asthmatic reactions, nasal irritation, hives, etc. But some medical studies have shown no reaction whatsoever from sulfite-sensitive individuals when drinking a glass of wine with sulfite concentrations of 150ppm — 50% higher than the proposed rule change would have allowed. There is no confirmed medical evidence that sulfites cause headaches either, though many people have that misperception.

SO2 is SO2. The press release, and the appeals of organic winemakers and their supporters to the NOSB, repeatedly refer to added sulfites as “a synthetic preservative.” SO2 isn’t a very complicated compound. Use of the word “synthetic” makes added SO2 sound sinister. But manufactured SO2 isn’t any different from that which occurs naturally.

According to Pat Henderson, senior winemaker at Kenwood Vineyards, sulfur dioxide is “without a doubt the most important additive that is used in winemaking.” Vineyard managers use sulfur dioxide as an antioxidase, sprinkling it on the picked grapes before they are taken to the winery. This preserves the freshness and bright flavors while preventing browning of the fruit and juice by acting on the enzymes which encourage oxidation. Winemakers also use it to prevent oxidation to prevent browning, formation of acetaldehyde and limit the actions of tyrosinase.

Sulfur dioxide is also an antimicrobial agent. By using just the right amount, winemakers can kill bad microbes without affecting good ones. For some winemakers, this includes ambient yeasts that can take fermentations in the wrong direction or result in off flavors. Winemakers also use SO2 to control malolactic fermentation and sanitize barrels, corks and equipment.

There are a number of bacteria and yeasts that cause wine to spoil. They include Acetobacter (vinegar bacteria), Brettanomyces (smells of barnyard), Lactobacillus (can smell like dirty socks), and Pediococcus. Sulfur dioxide is an important part of controlling them. I suspect you and I agree that wine which smells of vinegar or dirty socks is not appealing.

Failure to add SO2 in the vineyard or winery can allow oxidation and bacteria to run amok. White wines may brown early in their lives. The off aromas and flavors noted above may occur. In extreme cases, wine can even begin to ferment again in the bottle. These are the risks taken by winemakers wishing to qualify for an “organic wine” label. But, really, the risk is taken by those consumers who buy the wine.

Excessive use of sulfur dioxide isn’t good. It can result in excessive sulfite levels in the wine. It may also cause off aromas, including smells of burnt match or even rotten eggs. Winemakers use sulfur dioxide very carefully and, usually, in as small an amount as possible to achieve the desired results. They stop using sulfur several weeks before bottling to ensure that “free SO2” dissipates and doesn’t wind up in the bottle.

I believe most people who seek “organic wines” are really looking for good wine made from organic fruit. Those people need to look for these phrases on the label: “Made from organically-grown grapes” or “biodynamic wine.” People legitimately sensitive to sulfites should seek wines that say “No Sulfites” or at least do not bear the “Contains Sulfites” warning. People who are curious or feeling lucky may want to try an “organic wine.”

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 NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

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