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10 Tips for Selecting Wines for a Wedding

 

Keep things in perspective.
The wines served will be well down on the list of important wedding memories, even for hardcore wine enthusiasts. Don’t try to elevate the wine above its place by selecting something with a big personality or “fascinating” characteristics that typical consumers might not enjoy.

At the Food & Wine Magazine American Wine Awards

Last night some of America’s best winemakers met at the Meadowood Resort in Napa Valley for a very exclusive event. They were there to receive awards for making what Food and Wine Magazine considered to be the best American wines of 2009. I was there to cover the event so that you can have a feel for what went on.

My Top Picks from the 2011 Pinot Noir Shootout

Saturday, I served as one of the judges for the 10th annual Pinot Noir Shootout finals put on by Affairs of the Vine. There were three panels of judges, each evaluating 32 wines over four flights. There were 96 wines in all. Most of the wines were from California, but not all. Theoretically, they could be from anywhere.

The Shootout is a well-organized, multi-stage evaluation of wines. A very large number of wines are submitted but, unlike most wine fair situations, the wines go through several judging stages over two or more months. This means judges don’t have to wade through hundreds of wines in just one or two days. Every wine that makes the finals has successfully passed at least two prior evaluations.

My personal experience in the finals suggests that this vetting was successful. From a qualitative standpoint, the wines fell into a narrow band in my view; roughlty 87 to 93 points. There was only one wine in the 32 that I rated significantly lower. That could well have been an issue with the particular bottle. (It definitely wasn’t corked though.)

One of the nice things about the Pinot Noir Shootout is that many of the wines involved are not regularly reviewed by mainstream wine magazines. Some are only available winery-direct, in person of through the online stores.

Below are the 12 wines I rated most highly from my group of 32, in alphabetical order by winery. The overall winners from the 96 wines will be published at Affairs of the Vines when all results have been tabulated. But, if you’re looking for a new Pinot Noir to try for a holiday meal, consider those I’ve listed here.

2007 Anderson Oaks Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, $30
Speaking of small wineries, Lee Anderson's primary business is real estate as you'll see from the website. But he also has a listing for this pretty wine with delicate flavors and a lightly creamy texture. Notes of rose, dark flowers, cocoa, cedar and red cherry. Charming, ready for immediate move in.

2009 Bargetto Reserve Pinot Noir Regan Estate Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains, $40
A very good wine with exotic aromas and flavors pine forest, mandarin orange and tea mixed with attractive red cherry, vanilla and marshmallow. Well-balanced, good concentration.

2007 Barney & Kel (KB Cellars) Pinot Noir Russian River, $28
Cherry, dill frond, citrus zest, berries and spice on aromas are followed by a richly-bodied and supple palate. Black cherry, dark spice and oak flavors. A pleasure to drink, seemingly impossible to find. If you're in Santa Rosa, ask around.

2009 Cubanismo Vineyards “Rumba” Pinot Noir Amity-Eola Hills, Willamette Valley, $21
Rose petal, tea and strawberry aromas. Medium body and well-balanced acidity, alcohol and intensity. Flavors of tea, orange and cranberry. Medium-plus length.

2009 Davis Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Soul Patch Vineyard, Russian River, $42
Ripe cherry, berries, vanilla and oak aromatics and long, very attractive flavors of dark flowers, raspberry cream soda and sweet spice. Medium tannins contribute a gentle but interesting texture.

2008 Elkhorn Peak Pinot Noir Elkhorn Peak Estate Vineyard, Napa Valley, $34
The vineyard is in Jamieson Canyon, due north (across the highway and well up the hill from) the Chardonnay Golf Club. Spicy berries and slightly jammy red cherry with vanilla, oak and chocolate accents. A good drink with prominent tannins that will match up well with a juicy duck breast or beef filet.

2008 Estancia Estates Reserve Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands, $31
Pretty aromas of strawberry, vanilla, cherry and pot pourri spice. Satisfying palate weight and flavors of cherry and cedar.

2009 Ferrari-Carano Pinot Noir Sky High Ranch, Mendocino Ridge
Very long and juicy, with chewy tannins and a plethora of red fruit flavors. Pine, herb and dust add interest.

2008 Heart O’ The Mountain Pinot Noir 667 Clone, Single Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains, $52
A friendly, lightly sweet wine with maraschino cherry, vanilla, fennel and fig on the nose and raspberry jam with cocoa on the palate. A crowd-pleaser from this small, Santa Cruz Mountains winery.

2009 Hearthstone Vineyard and Winery Pinot Noir Hearthstone Estate Vineyard, Paso Robles, $38
Yes, Pinot Noir from Paso Robles. It's been grown in the Adelaida District since 1964. This one has a very dark Pinot nose: black cherry, cola and dusty earth. Grippy tannins lead to restrained flavors, mostly cherry, vanilla, cocoa and toasty oak. A good wine for seared pork belly.

2009 Sharp Cellars Pinot Noir Keenan’s Cove, Sonoma Coast, $48
Toasted oak, toasted marshmallow, black cherry and dried orange peel on the nose. Rich, almost creamy body, with concentrated flavors of cherry, raspberry, oak and caramel. Very long finish. A decadent Pinot.

2009 Ventana Pinot Noir Ventana Vineyard, Arroyo Seco, $29
Garnet tones made this wine look older than it is. The delicate aromatics also showed development: dried fruit, cola, driftwood and sarsparilla. Medium body with good acidity and balance. Light, jammy red fruit, vanilla, cocoa and dusty wood on the palate.

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.

Here a Blend, There a Blend

I’ve read that there are at least 3,000 different decisions made about a wine from the time a winery starts to consider where to plant vines to the time a bottle is actually released. Blending decisions are made very late in that timeline. However, blending has a huge impact, arguably more than any other decisions, on the final taste of a wine.

It is impossible for a wine consumer to really understand how much difference minute variations in blend can make without actually having a blending experience first hand. Fortunately, a number of wineries now offer you just that opportunity.

The Fastest-Growing Wine Grape Varieties in California

As I reported yesterday, California  vineyard acres increased by nearly 77,000 during the past five years, 2007 - 2011. Which grape varieties got the most new acreage during that period and why? 56% of the new acreage was dedicated to dark-skinned grapes. Let's look at some of the details.

Note: The numbers above only consider planted acres. They do not distinguish between bearing and non-bearing vines. Nor do they consider vine spacing, per-vine yields, etc.

Wine Grape Varieties with the Largest Increase in California Acreage, 2007 - 2011

Variety

New Acreage

2007 - 2011

Total Acreage

2011

Counties of Greatest Increase

Pinot Noir

8,529

39,273

Monterey, Santa Barbara, Sonoma

Chardonnay

6,686

95,511

Monterey, Sonoma, San Joaquin, Mendocino, Napa

Cabernet Sauvignon

5,555

79,290

Napa, San Luis Obispo, San Joaquin, Sonoma

Pinot Gris

4,383

13,292

San Joaquin, Madera, Sacramento

Zinfandel

1,478

48,354

San Joaquin, Amador

Rubired

1,329

11,832

Fresno, Madera

Sauvignon Blanc

1,234

15,636

Monterey, Sonoma, Lake

French Colombard

1,218

24,143

Fresno

Petite Sirah

1,128

8,335

San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, Napa, Yolo

White Riesling

1,067

4,147

Merced, Monterey


The increase in the top three grapes above is no surprise. The “Sideways Effect” drove sales of Pinot Noir way up for several years and the momentum continues. Chardonnay has long been America’s favorite varietal (by volume). The ABC (anything but Chardonnay) movement has been countered by Chardonnay with less oak and butter. It remains the most planted grape in California. Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of robust red varieties. But, Pinot Gris?

As consumers, critics and sommeliers sought Chardonnay alternatives in recent years, delicious Pinot Gris from cool zones in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties have garnered attention. But that’s not where the boost in Pinot Gris acreage came. Those two counties combined accounted for just 64 new acres of Pinot Gris in five years. The new Pinot Gris plantings did contribute to Chardonnay alternatives, but not at premium price points. Coming from Sacramento, San Joaquin and Madera counties, most of it will have filled bottles sold for less than $8.

Rubired, French Colombard and White Riesling boosts came in similar areas. The first two varieties will have been used almost exclusively in inexpensive blends. White Riesling is also blended from time to time, but a lot of it is made into inexpensive varietally-labeled wine too. [Rubired is a disease-resistant cross of Tinta Cao and Alicante Ganzin that thrives in the hot Central Valley and makes a richly-colored juice for blending.]

Wine Grape Varieties Plantings that Grew by More than 20% in California, 2007 - 2011

Variety

Growth Percentage

Total Acreage 2011

Counties of Greatest Increase

Albarino

238

176

San Luis Obispo, Yolo, Monterey

Pinotage

124

56

San Joaquin

Symphony

111

1611

Merced, Fresno

Dornfelder

87

41

Merced

Aglianico

83

55

San Luis Obispo

Tannat

71

287

Monterey, San Joaquin, Sacramento

Primitivo

67

254

Amador, San Joaquin

Muscat Hamburg

63

355

Kern

Grenache Blanc

46

278

San Luis Obispo, Madera

Malbec

43

1,611

San Joaquin, Merced, Monterey

Verdelho

43

90

Sacramento

Muscat Blanc

40

2190

Madera, Fresno

Triplett Blanc

38

856

Fresno, Merced, Tulare

White Riesling

35

4147

Merced, Monterey, San Joaquin

Roussanne

24

367

San Luis Obispo, Mendocino

Muscat of Alexandria

24

3842

Merced, Fresno, Madera

Orange Muscat

24

290

Madera, San Joaquin

We see a different picture here. The high-percentage growers are almost all varieties which had very small existing plantings. The dramatic exception is those grapes suited to sweet, aromatic white wines: White Riesling, Muscat of Alexandria and Muscat Blanc. Can you say “Moscato?”

There are some things worthy of quick note among the other varieties, but nothing indicative of a major trend as of yet:

  • The Pinotage growth, virtually all in San Joaquin County was likely the work of  Vino Con Brio, a Lodi vineyard and winery. They were a pioneer of Pinotage in the United States. They made Pinotage from it themselves and also sold to a few wineries out of the area. Vino Con Brio left the business in June, 2011. Their winery and vineyards were sold to Mettler, one of Lodi’s largest growers. Mettler recently started their own label and has been renovating the winery and tasting room. Their current wines don't include Pinotage.
  • Like Rubired, Symphony is a cross created at U.C. Davis by Dr. Harold Olmo. Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris are its parent varieties. It is primarily used for blending and provides slightly spice apple, pear and stone fruit flavors. 
  • Dornfelder in Merced County isn’t something I would have expected. Dornfelder is yet another cross (Helfensteiner and Heroldrebe), but one created in Germany where the grape is now the second-most grown red. It is capable of very high yields, but its most unique advantage is that it grows well in extremely cool areas that would otherwise be suitable only for white wine grapes. Merced County isn't especially cool, so I'm interested to discover exactly where and why it was planted there.
  • The Lodi AVA straddles two counties, San Joaquin and Sacramento. The Alta Mesa AVA, nested within the Lodi AVA, is entirely within Sacramento County and is climatically similar to Alentejo in Portugal. The Silvaspoons Vineyard in the Alta Mesa AVA produces darned good Verdelho.
  • There was no Triplett Blanc in California until 2004. From then through 2007, 856 acres were planted. It is a neutral, high-yielding white wine grape that was created by crossing French Colombard and Vernaccia Sarda. It’s chief attraction is astoundingly high yields — 20,000 tons per acre or above. A number of Central Valley growers have been experimenting with it to see if they can thereby increase production without expanding their overall acreage. One of the challenges in the experiments so far has been insufficient water availability to support the potential yield. For more about Triplett Blanc see Central Valley Fights Low Prices with Tripplet Plantings by Melinda Warner for Wine Business Monthly.

 

Data: U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service

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. All rights reserved.

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