Posts Tagged ‘syrah’

Tasting Notes: Von Holt 2008 Hoppe-Kelly Vineyard Syrah (and special reader offer)

Syrah: one of my favorite red varietals. Syrah has been through some rough times the last few years; overhyped, over production, and economic hard times collided for this poor varietal, before it ever took off in the US, other than the over ripe Kangaroo stuff.

For the consumer, that has meant some excellent value Syrah’s are available. This phenonomenon won’t last for buy discount viagra long. As syrah goes through

a supply and demand cycle, and as growers and vintners shrink or end syrah programs, in the next few years I predict you will see a shortage, and price increases. Enjoy lower prices and stock up while you can.

Syrah, as I have shared many times, is almost like two varietals, cool climate and warm. It does well in each, but produces two very different wines. My personal favorite is the more elegant, higher acidity, food driven cool climate.  Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley reign as the land of Pinot Noir, but some exceptional Syrah comes from these regions.

Special Reader Offer:

Last week when I reviewed the  Von Holt 2009 Pinot Noir – Russian River Valley Von Holt offered readers, no strings attached, or kickbacks extended, to offer readers to have shipping included with their order of any of their 4 wines.  Use code


at checkout.  They have now extended this to this Friday, Dec 9th.

This also includes their amazing 2009 Suacci Vineyard Pinot Noir which Chronicle wine writer Jon Bonne’ just picked as one of the top 100 wines of the year – and having tasted it, I agree.


Review: Von Holt 2008 Hoppe-Kelly Vineyard Syrah

A blend of two clones 877 and Alban. The vines are terraced into a very steep hillside, allowing for excellent drainage and struggle in the very shallow, rocky soils.

To The Eye: Inky dark purple. Almost impenetrable to light.

On The Nose: Nose of  violets, blueberry, and a hint of olive

In The Mouth: Black fruit, blueberry, and  spice, Not as austere as some cool climate Syrahs can be, apparently the elevation allows it to ripen a bit more. This is a Sunday night by the fire wine, or over a roast dinner.  It has some layers without being overly complex, and can be simply just enjoyed. Tannins are soft and well integrated. 2008 can be young for Syrah, this wine is ready to drink and enjoy now.

Recommendation: Approachable and affordable –  this may be my new house Syrah. For $20 you can enjoy it and not break the bank. It will please a variety of wine lovers old and new, and pair well with a broad spectrum of foods.  Buy and drink now. It will cellar for a few years as well.

Purchase: Online $20 (media sample)

Wine Geek Notes:

  • Harvest Date September 27, 2008
  • 50% whole cluster
  • TA 5.8
  • pH 3.9
  • Bottling Date August 24, 2010
  • Alcohol 14.2%
  • 75 cases made

Related Articles:

Wine Review – Von Holt 2009 Pinot Noir – Russian River Valley 

Jon Bonne’ San Francisco Chronicle Top 100 Wines of 2011 – Pinot Noir

Our Highlights of Passport to Dry Creek: Food & Music Pairings

Take a pristine, gorgeous day with spectacular vistas in the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County, California. Combine it with a wide range of wine varietals and styles. Add generous portions of thoughtfully paired foods. Mix it up with music and friends – blues, salsa and even zydeco – and you have the makings of a weekend that brings together all of my favorite things. And, all the wineries have specials, case discounts, and in some cases $1 case shipping – a big saving for travelers. One of the best things about this wine event is the active involvement of the vintners, winemakers, vineyard managers, owners, and family members in serving the foods, pouring the wines, and mingling freely with the guests to share their perspectives on the wines.

This was Passport to Dry Creek 2011. Here are some highlights:

Day One

Dutcher Crossing: Coconut Prawn Cones with Mango Chili Sauce paired with 2009 Dry Creek Sauvignon Blanc. The taste is unique on this SB made with 9% Viognier, 7% Semillion, and 1% Roussane. It was well chilled and paired nicely with the prawns.

I found a hidden surprise in the tasting room: 2006 Dutcher Dry Creek Port, fortified with brandy and made from 40% Cabernet and 60% Syrah, all grown on the estate.  The port was dark and chocolat-ey.  Extra points for pairing it overnight canadian viagra with Frozen Chocolate Whoppie Pies – two pieces of soft Oreo crust wrapped around a dollop of frozen chocolate ice cream. Yummy.

Sbragia Family: 2008 Gamble Family Ranch Chardonnay (grapes from Napa), paired with bean and pasta soup with Pancetta.  I prefer unoaked, and this Chardonnay is made with oak. But it’s subtle oak flavors — without the buttery mouth feel and syrupy texture of so many over-done Chardonnays — made it highly drinkable.

Besides the wine, food, and hospitality, location is the highlight of Sbragia. The winery is a stunning building perched on a ridge opening to views all the way to Marin. By the time I got there the temperatures were in the high 70s, and live music from the terrace was filtering out over the property. Sbragias’ good wine and kitchen make this a must-stop for future tasting days.  Now that summer weather is here, check the website for regularly scheduled music dates. An added bonus when you’re there: In the Italian tradition, Sbragia shares recipes from their kitchen. I took home a “Skewered Herb Crusted Pork Loin with Dried Fig Sauce,” recipe card from the tasting room – can’t wait to try this.

Unti Vineyards: Unti sells about 50% of their 60 acres worth of grapes to other wine-makers.  I’ve had wine made with Unti grapes, but this was my first visit and first taste of their wines.  The Grenache wines were the highlight for me. Two: a 2010 Rose of 75% Grenache and 25% Mourvedre that was a lovely peach color, ultra-dry, 13.5% alcohol wine. Chilled, it’s a perfect lunchtime wine.  And the 2007 Grenache itself was my favorite red wine of the day. Paired with a blues vocalist and tortilla nacho plate with melted cheese from Nicasio Valley Cheese Company. Thumbs-up.

Mazzocco. I couldn’t pass up the Cuban music and food theme at this wonderful winery location. Orchestra Borenquen and Zinfandel? Yes! The pairing was Flank Steak with Chimichuri and Saffron Prawns. It was the best food of the day.  In addition to other varietals, Mazzocco makes vineyard-designate Zinfandels from 9 ranches in the region. They were barrel-tasting 4 of their 2010 Zinfandels for Passport. I favored the Stone Ranch Vineyard – their only Alexander Valley Zinfandel. Tasting right from the barrel, the wine was soft, fruity and naturally balanced. The Stone Ranch 2009 was sold out; but there were good discounts available on futures.

The Mazzocco property was beautifully laid-out for the event. The orchestra was shielded by a gigantic sunshade. Flank steak was cooked to order, perfuming the air. A Cigar Loft stood slightly away from the center, completing the Cuba theme.

Seghesio Family. Seghesio went to town with a “Big Easy” theme. I loved the Cajun Barbequed ribs as served up by Pete Seghesio. They were meaty and succulent and went well with some of the featured Italian varietals such as a tobacco-ey 2008 Alexander Valley Sangiovese and a Zinfandel – Petite Sirah blend called “San Lorenzo.”

The Big Easy backdrop was the sounds of Andre Thierry and Zydeco Magic.  A local bay area group, Andre Thierry’s accordion brings his music heritage from southwest Louisiana together with an R&B sensibility to create upbeat and highly danceable music.  If there had been a dance floor at Seghesio you would have seen some zydeco dancing too. As it was, the shaded venue on a warm afternoon was perfect … Mardi Gras beads handed out at the door and a glitter tattoo station completed the theme. That and the fresh beignets at the end of the tasting line.

Day Two

A. Rafanelli. It’s always special to taste the limited production, handcrafted wines of the Rafanelli family. Even more special to visit this historic homestead winery, which is open by appointment only. And on Passport weekend the Rafanelli’s went “all-out.” I spoke to a number of people who return here each year for Passport. The 2008 Rafanelli Zinfandel and 2008 Rafanelli Cabernet – both of Dry Creek Estate-grown grapes – were pouring.

With this there were 5 food stations with 3 dishes each. Five stations! Fried artichoke hearts with Parmesan sauce, steak marinated and cooked in heaps of fresh rosemary, roasted red potatoes to name a few of the small bites offered each guest. The final station is two tables of chocolates.  Two tables! The interplay of chocolate, Zin and Cab was sublime.  Back outside the sounds of a traditional Italian trio with accordion and vocals set a festive mood.

Mounts Family. The short drive up to Mounts was worthwhile. The new 2010 Estate “Pink” Syrah (a light rose’) and delicate yet well-structured 2008 Estate Malbec were standouts, as was the shaded belly-dancing pavilion in the middle of a benchland vineyard just above the Dry Creek Valley floor.  Middle-Eastern foods and a mini-cupcake of ginger capped with incredible syrah frosting completed the experience.

Quivira. A biodynamic winery and farm, Quivira served the only Sauvignon Blancs of the day. Both from the same vineyard and vintage but made in two different styles. One produced in pure stainless and the other in neutral oak with new acacia barrels and a hint of Viognier. I surprised myself by liking the acacia-fermented taste. Both wines were crisp and refreshing on the warm afternoon, and paired with small savory bites to enhance. My friend Sheri found her favorite wine of the day – a GSM+ red blend at Quivera.  Called Elusive, the wine is 34% Syrah, 32% Grenache, 28% Mourvedre, 6% Petite Sirah. Quivera was also pouring a Mourvedre made from locally grown grapes; unusual because it is made without blending – it’s 100% Mourvedre.  Mushrooms and blueberries delighted us in this wine.

Passalacqua. This is a charming winery hidden in plain sight across the road from Dry Creek Vineyards.  I loved the gardens and vistas from their back deck, and their 2007 Sangiovese. This is a well-balanced Dry Creek Sangio with a highly satisfying tannic finish on it. Paired with flatbread pizza and Chocolate mousse gelato.

Mike Farrow, Amista



Amista Vineyards. I wasn’t hungry but I couldn’t pass up the Truffle Mac-n-Cheese with Arugula at Amista. It set off the Amista Syrah wines so nicely that I joined the wine club and brought some home. As a wine-club member I had access to the 2007 Syrah and a Sparkling Syrah that is not sold to the public. And soon a new Rockpile Cabernet will be available to members only. I’d been eyeing the Amista wines, their club and cooking events for some time.  With the club benefits and entry-level membership, the time was right. We ended our tasting on a jolly note with proprietor and vintner Mike. A must-visit anytime you roll down Dry Creek Road.


(Note from William – special thanks to Katherine for covering this event, and doing a great write up so quickly. I had previously accepted a Media invite to Hospice du Rhone in Paso Robles, so she attended and covered.)



 celebrex australia

Wine of the Week – Rock Wren 2007 Solano County, Green Valley Syrah

It’s countdown time to this weekends amazing San Francisco Rhone Rangers weekend, where I will spend  Saturday and Sunday immersed in Rhone seminars, tastings, and elbow to elbow with over 100 Rhone wine producers. In honor of that,  I chose my wine of the week to be a classic Rhone style wine.  generic cialis from india Rock Wren is a new producer just launching, whom you can taste at the Saturday night winemakers dinner and walk around tasting, and the Sunday Grand Tasting.

From Chocolate to Wine

Rock Wren is the dream come to fruition of Dennis and Sandi Demonico. Their family business was among other things chocolate. Dennis was the General Manager (and chocolate maker) of Ghiradelli, prior to it being acquired by Quaker, and eventually Lindt. Sandi describes him as the true Willy Wonka, giving tours in a cape and handing out samples.

Looking beyond that venture, Dennis pondered what was next. He and Sandi had always been a big fan of wine, with a vision of living in Napa with a vineyard and making wine, but unable to afford the prices of Napa, and looked elsewhere in the Bay area for many years. Out driving one day, Dennis accidentally took a wrong turn and ended up in Green Valley (Solano County, not the Russian River Valley AVA.) A local told him about a 38 acre parcel, formerly a cherry orchard farm wiped out from blight and laying fallow. So excited, he called Sandi, a school teacher in the middle of class, and insisted she drive right then and there from the East Bay. The rest is history. (You can read more about the property and plantings here. )

Fate Intervenes Again to Create a Label Name

Dennis had extensively toured and tasted the Northern Rhone Valley, using that knowledge to guide him on the clone selection and rootstock for the Syrah Over 3 years he took every class in enology and viticulture the Napa Valey college offered. He plamted 3 blocks of Syrah and in 2005 was winning medals in competitions. It was time to create an official label.

Sitting under an oak tree on the property, a Rock Wren landed on his wrist. If that wasn’t odd enough, it hopped up onto his shoulder, looked him in the eye, and then flew away. Dennis had his label.

Wine Review – 2007 Rock Wren Solano County, Green Valley Syrah

Dennis learned much about the nuance of the palate making chocolate for many years, and of syrah as a fan of many great US Syrah pioneers, and Rhone producers. The Syrah is designed to be elegant, approachable, and balanced.  You can read about his wine making techniques here.

Color: Inky Dark Purple. No light passes through. Unfined and Unfiltered

On the Nose: Modest blackberry, hints of spice, cocoa, smoked meat.

In the Mouth: Layered for the enthusiast, but very approachable for the non geek consumer. Opens on the front palate with dark fruit, washes over the mid palate with elegant balanced fruit and medium density weight and mouthfeel. Finishes with excellent acidity and soft tannins. A pleasure to drink alone, not always common for Syrah, and designed to pair wonderfully with a broader array of foods than you may expect from California Syrah.

Where to Buy:  You can buy it around the Bay area in these well known markets and stores or online for $24, a steal at this price.

Rating: Outstanding. 91 points.

Recommendation: Buy. Drinks very well now. Will improve with age.

Wine Geek Info:

  • Harvest Date – Sept 4-27
  • Brix at Harvest – 23-25.4
  • Production – 309 cases
  • Oak – 100% French, 25% new, 32 months in barrel
  • Bottled – August 2010


Related Recent Articles:

Why Rhone Wines & Wine Review: Wesley Ashley Wines – Intelligent Design Cuvee

Rhone Rangers San Francisco Grand Tasting – A Complete Rhone Weekend, not just a Tasting

‘Sonoma William’ Joins Forces With the Rhone Rangers; Some History & New Directionsbest price for generic cialis

Wine of the Week: Hahn Winery 2009 GSM Central Coast Red Wine Blend

As I look at the wine label to scribe this review, the irony strikes me, and is a good segue for my excuse for the recent decreased Simple Hedonisms posts. The Hahn label is a rooster.  The reason I have been too busy to write, is that in a whirlwind transaction over the holidays, I purchased a house with 1.5 acre farm, soon to be partial vineyard, in Russian River Valley. It’s a 3 year project, and labor of love (and $$.)  (For those not friends, the full story is forthcoming, I promise.)

Anyway, the house, a foreclosure, came with a rooster, left behind, who is now affectionately named Krav. As one who lived for a stint in a fishing village in Mexico and cursed roosters every weekend morning,  I am pleasantly surprised how much personality a rooster can have, and others have commented similarly.

Anyway, my big move , and start of farm life,is this Saturday, after some rapid renovations, to include, of course, a wine cellar! (Details on that to follow as well.)

Wine of the Week

As promised, wine of the week returns, after inaugural Wine of the Week: Cartograph 2009 Floodgate Vineyard Gewürztraminer then, Wine of the Week – Bonny Doon Vineyard 2009 “Clos de Gilroy” Grenache . Wine of the Week reflects personal favorite picks, that I believe are worth sharing. I will strive to also pick wines affordable, available, interesting.

What Is A GSM?

SO glad you asked! For those who aren’t Rhone lovers (yet) a GSM simply stands for a Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre. A blend of the three most common of the Rhone red varietals, and the dominant grapes of the southern Rhone valley of France and  the most common in  Chateauneuf du Pape,  GSM is also  apparently a Australian acronym in origin from late 90’s.

Hahn Winery GSM Red Wine Blend Central Coast 2009

This blend is 60% Grenache, 37% Syrah, 3% Mourvedre

To the Eye: Medium purple, the Syrah coming through

On the Nose: Gorgeous – The grenache delivers with its spice, black fruit. The tiniest hint of bacon fat (Syrah or Mourvedre) and sniff of the Grenache hard candy scent.

In The Mouth: Lush, full.  Layers of fruit across the tongue. Black fruit, fig, white pepper. Delivers with good texture, mid palate, and then lingers a bit at finish with acidity and soft tannins. Modest 14% alcohol. An easy to enjoy wine that doesn’t require a thesis.

Where to Buy: Online from Hahn. Various distributors: San Diego Wine CompanyMainstreet Wine in Chicago, or use the Hahn Wine Searcher. $12 (media sample.)

Food Pairing: Grilled meats come to mind. A steak, grilled lamb, or a burger even. 

Recommendation: This wine is $10-12 a bottle on average. It can be a quest  to find good domestic Red Rhone blends at under the$20 price point, that I’d drink regularly, but this is one I could. It reminds me of the Ortman Red Rhone blend I reviewed last month; it’s enjoyable and easy to drink, at a great price. Some nights I love complex, deeper brooding wines, some nights I want an comfy sweater.

Wine Geek Info:

  • Vintage: 2009
  • GSM Varietal Composition: 60% Grenache, 37% Syrah, 3% Mourvedre
  • Appellation: Central Coast
  • Acid: .62 g/100ml P
  • pH: 3.67
  • Alcohol %: 14%

Vintage: 2009
Wine Style: Red Wine
Varietal: GSM
Varietal Composition:
60% Grenache
37% Syrah
3% Mourvedre
Appellation: Central Coast
Acid: .62 g/100ml
PH: 3.67
Alcohol %: 14%

Wine Review: 2006 Tin Barn Vineyards Sonoma Coast Syrah (Coryelle Fields Vineyard)

I have had the pleasure to visit Tin Barn several times. ‘Tin Barn’ is an apt name; its a full production ‘Urban Winery’ that is part of the collective known as Eighth Street Wineries. (Look for the twice a year Eighth Street Wineries Open House, don’t miss!)

This cool climate Syrah comes from the coastal hills east of Jenner, at an elevation of 1000 feet. Twelve years ago, industry veteran Carolyn Coryelle planted both a meadow and a hillside block; the 2006 vintage is sourced from the rocky hillside.

Wine Review: 2006 Tin Barn Vineyards Sonoma Coast Syrah (Coryelle Fields Vineyard)

To the Eye: Inky deep purple, classic Syrah color, impenetrable to light

On the Nose: Smoked meat, bacon fat. Layered beneath is blackberry, black fruit.

In The Mouth: The extra aging time helps this Syrah show well –  good balance of fruit, tannins, and mouthfeel. The black fruit carries over from nose to palate, and is immediately present, but without being oppressive or jammy. A hint of sweetness from 50% new French oak, complementary to the wine. (Syrah is a varietal that generally benefits from some new oak., even with my bias to neutral/used oak.) The finish is pleasant, lingering. Modest 14.8 % alcohol.

Where to Buy: Check/call for distribution outlets (if any, only 115 cases made.) Available online. (I noted a 15% discount through December on the website when writing this.) Retail:  $25 (media sample)

Food Pairing: Most red meats and stews. Smoked meats, turkey.  BBQ. Lamb.

Recommendation: I have poured this wine for friends recently (blind), and it was well received. I enjoyed it enough to purchase a bottle, in addition to the Media Sample; would recommend you do as well. This drinks well now, I’d be inclined to lay a few bottles down as well – a syrah with some time in the cellar is a wonderful thing.

Wine Geek Info:

Harvested: October 8th, 2006
Barrels: 50% New French Oak
Aging: 20 months
Bottled: July 2nd, 2008
Alcohol: 14.8%
pH: 3.75
TA: 6.4g/L
Production: 115 cases
Release: Summer 2010

Simple Hedonisms gets ‘Rhoned’ in Paso Robles at HdR 2010

For weeks I was writing, Tweeting, and adding Facebook Posts about last weekend’s event; Hospice du Rhone. I had to admit, after all the build up, I wondered if I was going to be disappointed – kinda like that movie that gets so many rave reviews that you feel let down after so much hype. (Spoiler – the event met and exceeded expectations.)

We left Thursday morning so that we could get to Paso in time to hit a few tasting rooms, as the agenda was jammed pack Friday and Saturday, and Sunday we had to head back early. (I will write a seperate article on the tasting experience, but the sample of four visited had great hospitality and wines.)

It had been a decade since I had been to Paso Robles, and much had evolved; the region had expanded significantly, but so had I as a passionate wine writer and consumer. Wine is such an amazing thing, after 20 years of consuming it, reading, traveling , tasting – the more I learn, the more I expose my palette to new things, the more doors it opens up to enter; seeming now at an accelerated pace. Part of this expansion has been discovering the full breadth of Rhone wines. I discovered Viognier and Syrah years ago, followed by Grenache, but getting to experience and appreciate many more of the 22 Rhone wines, both as individual varietals, and often blended together, has been one of the most enjoyable, never ending discoveries I have embarked on. I could gush more, but will save that for future articles and thoughts I’d love to share.

One of the interesting phenomenon about Paso Robles, besides doubling in wineries in a decade to over 180, it has become a concentration of planting for an array of Rhone varietals, something Sonoma County is lacking outside of a few. The town has also expanded with restaurants and cultural aspects, yet retains much of the small town feel, and ‘wild west.’  Its off the beaten path (good thing or moving would be tempting) but I can’t think of a better place for a (US based) host of a global celebration of Rhone varietals. (I mean hey, the Rhone Valley in France wouldn’t bite.)

Day 1 – The Rhone’s Begin

Seminar : We Have Come a Long Way Baby ! The Past, Present and Future of South African Syrah

Producers: Marc Kent, Boekenhoutskloof; David Trafford, De Trafford; Eben Sadie, Fairview Winery; Andrea Mullineux, Mullineaux Family Wines; Eben Sadie, Sadie Family Wines; Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards; Chris Mullineux, Stellenzicht
Moderated by: James Molesworth, Wine Spectator

You have to be serious about wine, and a have a spit cup, to start tasting Syrah at 9 a.m.  An incredible array of syrah’s were discussed, and poured, covering the history and diversity of South African syrah. South Africa has a amazing breadth of varietals and soil diversity; 250,000 acres planted by 4000 growers, with wine produced by over 500 wineries. You can learn more about their wines at The Wines of South Africa website.

Syrah releases were poured from as far back as a Mullineux Fairview 1986 Reserve ‘Shiraz’ to 2008 current release. I find the ongoing marketing distinction of Syrah and Shiraz interesting. Genetically the same, some Vintners don’t really mean to imply anything calling it Shiraz vs Syrah; where as others jumped on the popular Shiraz bandwagon during its boom. I think that can backfire as stylistically Shiraz came to be known as a young, highly oaked, fruit bomb, which some experienced wine drinkers, self included, will shun. Commentary seemed to indicate a  trend for South Africa seems to be to move back to Syrah naming from Shiraz.

Seminar – Côte Rôtie – The Next Generation

Producer: Stéphane Ogier of Domaine Michel and Stéphane Ogier, Ampuis, France
Moderated by: John Alban, Founding Director of Hospice du Rhône

In retrospect, this was my favorite seminar, both for wines tasted and the experience. Unfortunately two of the wines did not make it to be able to taste, but the other 7 were incredible. Stéphane gave a great presentation in his viticulture and wine making philosphies, excuding his passion for both as he spoke.

  • The 2008 Viognier Condrieu really impressed me and was one of my favorites; harvested  late, full bodied, but only 12.5 % alcohol. The importer told me at the tasting that afternoon Stéphane’s wines were available at my favorite importer, K&L Wines, but they are sold out of all, much to my chagrin.
  • The 2007 Syrah L’Ame Soeur, Vin de Pays was beautiful, Smoke and earth on the nose. I was impressed with the use of natural yeast.
  • The 2007 Ogier Syrah, Belle Helene, Cote-Rotie, was planted 70 years ago by his grandfather. Smoky , floral nose; blackberry, black fruit. Nice finish.
  • The finish was a 2005 Ogier Roussanne. Amazing golden color, honey, melon on nose.  Stéphane is holding til 2014 for release; impressive restraint!

Rosé Lunch

The tradition for the Friday lunch has always been Rosé wines.  Food was prepared by Chef John Toulze of the girl & the fig hailing from my own Sonoma County. A nice choice of Rhone rosé was available, many from South Africa.

Friday Rhône Rendezvous Tasting

I was thankful for the extra hour for prior to the public tasting, to make the rounds on a white tour, before diving into reds. The roster of  Rhône producers pouring was almost intimidating. There was a wide array of artisan food offerings throughout the tasting – but I have to confess I was so distracted by the selection of Rhone varietals and producers I hardly ate any, nor gave a second glance to the Chef demonstrations.

The iRhône HdR iPhone app that I had written an early review of was very useful for the event, although not all Producers stuck to their list. (I was also a bit surprised by a few who had nothing but barrel samples, always a treat, but expected finished wines as well.) Since my review the App had been updated to allow Tweeting of Tasting Notes right to the #HdR2010 Twitter Hashtag, which was great.

My white run unearthed some great white Rhone finds, both single varietal and blends, including the blend from Alta Colina, the white blend and the Viognier from Denner Vineyards, the Fausse Piste 2009 Decouvertes Yakima Viognier,and the Kukkula 2008 Vaalea Derby Paso Robles Viogner rousanne blend. (If you can’t tell, I was focused on Paso producers.)

The public had come in by the time I started my red run, so slowed down, and palette fatigue began to creep in a bit. My iPhone was also about out of battery, so unfortunately tasting notes and Tweeting stopped. Many great finds again, including a number from Hug Cellars, including their  2008 el Pape Central Coast GSM.

Evening event – Sommelier Soirée

Headed back to the hotel for a quick break, and got tied up attending to some personal things, so was late to this event. HdR is blessed to be attended by Top Sommeliers, hailing from throughout the United States. For this event,  they pilfer their personal cellars  to bring an exceptional array large format bottles. Entertainment was  by the  Grammy Award winner Louie Ortega and his band. I did get to taste some great wines, and meet some interesting people, including the US based Ambassador of New Zealand wines. (How do I get one of those jobs?!)

After an amazing, long day.  it was time to retire to the hotel and dream of Day Two’s lineups at Hospice du Rhone. Come back for Part 2 – cheers!

Winner’s of Question of the Week – Hospice du Rhone Tasting Tickets

Last week Simple Hedonisms and Hospice du Rhone launched the latest “Question of the Week Contest”

We had lots of GREAT questions posted on the Simple Hedonism Facebook Fan Page. Two winners were picked; here are their questions, and of course, the answers! Winner receive $100 ticket to the Friday or Saturday tastings at Hospice du Rhone the end of this month.

Our first winner is Tetja Barbee with her question:

While Syrah is the principal red varietal for the Northern Rhone region, what is the principal red in Southern Rhone?
This is an excellent question.  The most widely produced wine from the Southern Rhone isn’t a single varietal, but Châteauneuf-du-Pape.   Châteauneuf-du-Pape is actually a blend, of no fewer than 13 grape varieties are permitted in.  Generally, most ofChâteauneuf-du-Pape is made up of the 3 highest quality grapes: Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah, and a focus on Grenache, now the top planted varietal. Mourvèdre was the most widely planted grape in the Southern Rhone before phylloxera decimated vineyards in the late 1800s.

Our 2nd winning question came from Amy Cleary:

Which Rhone grape is the most widely planted red grape in the world?

The answer may surprise those who might have guessed Syrah. Syrah has a huge planting, with half of the world’s production in France. However, globally, the top red varietal planted is Grenache.  Grenache actually came from Spain, where it is known as ‘garnacha’ but most of its fame and following came from France.

Next Monday we start Round Two of the Contest. This time the questions are requested to be about WHITE Rhone wines. Winners will be selected on Wednesday.

Also don’t forget, this Friday is the first of the drawings for tickets, for email subsribers of Simple Hedonisms. To be eligible to win, simply sign up for (brief, secure) email updates, in the top right. You must have verified your subscription to be eligible to win.

And don’t forget this Wednesday HdR Virtual tasting:  5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. PST – Featured Variety: Grenache


Bay Area Wine Lovers – Lets Road Trip to Paso Robles for Hospice du Rhone

What IS Hospice du Rhone?

Do you love Rhone wines like syrah, mourvedre, grenache, viognier? Interested in branching out from just those made in one country? Does the idea of comparing 393 Rhone reds and whites from 130 wine producers, from 6 countries make your skin tingle? Does going through 10,000 Riedel stems a day, make you quiver with anticipation?

My love of the many great Rhone varietals (22 total) has grown exponentially the last few years, and as a result, lasered my attention to the annual event, Hospice du Rhone (HdR), held April 29th – May 1st. This event is reputed by many to be one of the finest in the industry, and people and wineries travel from all over the world to attend.

The agenda is a stunning array of seminars, tastings and pairings over 3 days, set in Paso Robles, itself a mecca for wine (over 180 wineries)  many specializing in Rhone varietals.  I had already planned to attend this event, and marked off vacation time to fully enjoy Paso Robles as well, when I was pleased to learn that Simple Hedonisms was selected as one of the official Wine Blogs to write about the HdR2010.

Road Trip to Paso?

The funny thing about us Californians – we are blessed with so many great wine regions, but rarely check them out, when they are often only 1-4 hours away; yet people journey regularly from all over the country to visit our backyards. With a head of steam, and ahead of traffic, Paso Robles is only ~3 hours for most of us Bay Area residents, yet we rarely, if ever go.

Let’s show Paso Robles, California, and the 1200 attendees from all over the world, that Bay area people are amongst the most sophisticated, adventurous, and appreciative of the gems in our backyard. The HdR website has a great list of travel resources, and I will be writing more later.  The main Paso Robles website is also very well done.

Some people may not be interested in back to back seminars and tasting, or wish to spend $800 for the entire event; the nice thing about the design is you can pick a la carte what you wish to attend. For many wine enthusiasts, the public tastings will be plenty, leaving you time to mix those in with visits to the 180 local wineries, or take a drive to the coast, or other great things to do in the region. Those a bit more wine geeky, can pick up 1-2 seminars. And for those who dream of Rhone grapes dancing in their head at night, you can do the Full Monty. (Bring a spit cup, or a cot. You’ll be tasting through a crazy amount of world class wines.)

Are You Doing that Ticket Giveaway Contest Thingy Again?

Who leaked that? Yes, to assist in building our Road Trip entourage, I have managed to convince the generous HdR2010 team to give away tickets to each of the Fri and Sat tastings ($100 value!).  We will combine this with our usual “Question of the Week” with a Rhone theme. As with similar contests you will post the question on the HdR Facebook Fan site , and a question will be selected for a free ticket, and answered in a blog article.

Additionally, there will be one drawing for all registered email subscribers of Simple Hedonisms.

The schedule will be:

Question of the Day

  • Monday: April 5, 12th, 19th – Question of the Day Post Opens Up
  • Wed: April  7, 14, 21st – Winner Selected, followed by follow-up blog answer

Email Subscriber Drawing

  • Tickets will be given to a randomly drawn subscriber Fri April 16th and 23rd.
  • Tickets will also be a door prize at this month’s Sonoma Facebook Wine Meetup.

Stay tuned for LOTS more great info on Rhone varietals.


Fun times, great food and wine at Kendall-Jackson “Mardi Gras Gumbo Smackdown”

I was one of the fortunate 120 or so who had tickets to the sold out ‘Mardi Gras Gumbo Smackdown” this Saturday at Kendall-Jackson’s Wine Center. I love this facility, which also hosts other events including the Annual Heirloom Tomato Festival. (Stay tuned for the pre-event tomato sale coming soon!)

I was lucky enough to catch wind of this event when I visited the Center during the Winter Wineland event a few weeks ago, where I had a tasting of K-J’s small production Highland Estate wines.  As luck would have it, these  very best of Kendall-Jackson wines were to be paired with four of North Sonoma’s top chefs. Now THIS is a true Simple Hedonisms event! I had tasted Jeff and Susan Mall make amazing New Orleans dishes before, and could not wait!

For wine club members, this event was a mere $10, and still a value for outsiders at $25.

The ‘smack down’ competition was a face off between K-J’s  own Executive Chef Justin Wangler, head to head against Chefs Jeff and Susan Mall of Zin, Josh Silvers from Syrah, and Jeff Reilley of Equus.

The concept was simple: each prepared their own unique gumbo recipe, and paired it with a limited release K-J wine. Attendees had a string of purple Mardi Gras beads, and awarded their favorite to the table/chef they liked the best.

There were also cooking seminars each hour, with topics including sausage making,  the importance of a good roux, and pairing wine with spicy food.

We started with Jeff Reilley’s creation: an especially dark roux, with smoked chicken, andouille sausage, and an unusual but tasty topping of cajun breaded popcorn shrimp sprinkled on top. This savory mix was paired with 2006 Kendall-Jackson Highland Estates Seco Highlands Pinot Noir. This wonderful pinot was a perfect match for the extra heat in Jeff’s bliss in a bowl.

Next up was Justin Wangler’s table. His gumbo was a blend of dungeness crab, duck confit, shrimp, andouille sausage. This heavenly concoction was paired with newly released 2006 Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Malbec. A big wine that meshed with, instead of competing against, Justin’s creation.

After a a break and some crowd mingling, we dove into Jeff and Susan Mall’s creation. I have been blessed to have this before at a fundraiser at their very special farm, and it was just as amazing. Dark and a bit more brothy than the others, Jeff ‘brew’s this in a big simmering cauldron, melding together Liberty Duck, gulf shrimp, and a beautiful dark roux. This mouth watering bowl of heaven was paired with Mendocino Zinfandel (only 9 cases left!) I liked the zin so much, especially paired with the gumbo, I begged a second pour, and I am generally known as a Burgundian or Rhone wine guy.

Last, but by no means least, was Josh Silvers and his ‘All Saints’ creation. Josh’s was hand prepped in front of you, sprinkling spices and an yummy jalapeno vert sauce on top.  Josh’s gumbo was the only one with crawfish, in addition to the ‘usual’ gumbo components. This yummy melding of food was paired with 2005 Kendall-Jackson Highland Estates Alisos Hills Syrah. I LOVE this syrah. Lots of structure, this release will lay down nicely for years, is enjoyable today, without the over extracted body and tannins we sometimes find in California syrah.

WHO to pick to win….I wish we had beads for everyone. After much deliberation, we gave one to Jeff Mall of Zin, and one to Justin Wangler of Kendall-Jackson, but kudos and compliments to all! Hopefully this week we will see the final winner, as well as the recipes! Edit 2/8/2010 – Jeff Reilley was the winner, by a single bead!  (You can find pics on the Facebook Fan site here.)

I will be watching for next years advance ticket sales and be sure to pounce early.

cheers! (and congrats to the Saints!)

Recommendations for Winter Wineland, 2010 – Part 2 of 4

Last week, I published my first of four recommendations for the Winter Wineland event, the multi-winery event this weekend that anticipation on social media venues Twitter and Facebook is building to a not so dull roar. For Simple Hedonisms, Winter Wineland like an extended Christmas.

I am frequently asked to make winery recommendations, especially in the 4 appellations of the Wine Road. In my previous article I made mention of some of the newest member wineries.  Also see my last article on the Wine and Food event.

With now 160+ wineries in a 30 mile radius, spanning 4 different wine regions, there are many ways to skin a cat in where to go. In my next article I will discuss using the Wine Road’s great tools and make suggestions to plan out your day. Some make it a marathon and see how many they can motor through in one day, other enjoy themselves at a leisurely pace.

People get very passionate about their favorite wineries, which is great! I have visited many, but there are still some on my list to visit. Each event I mix in new ones with faves. A big event isn’t always demonstrative of a winery’s best food forward, especially if crowded, but its certainly a good test of their hospitality mettle, and some shine despite the added stress.

The following and  buzz of Simple Hedonisms is really picking up, however I often visit without mentioning the blog, or downplaying it, trying to experience what any person off the street would.  An experienced, attentive pourer, should be able discern someone who appreciates wine, if they pay attention to the comments, questions. Despite occasional gifts and samples, I buy a LOT of wine. Treat me decently and it’s rare I leave empty handed, indeed usually with multiple bottles.

Ok enough blab, on to my recommendations. These are wineries I have visited, some repeatedly. Some hold an extra special place in my heart, but all are sincere recommendations I’d stand behind, and would like to hear if your experience is bad. Just because one isn’t mentioned doesn’t mean it isn’t great. And if you like it, that’s all that matters. I am always approachable for a visit most weekends.  Keep in mind not all wineries participate in Winter Wineland, so check the list.

If you go to one of the places because you read about it here, please help Simple Hedonisms continue to increase its visibility; Tell ’em you read it here.

This is a long list,so I am not going to embed URLs for this many, if you use the Wine Road’s list, you can find them all.

Russian River Valley (RRV)

Acorn – Generally open by appointment only outside of events.  Bill & Betsy are great hosts, and are a template for how to use space to keep things not overly crowded instead of jamming into one small tasting bar. As an extra bonus, Zin restaurant is catering their event. Great wines; zinfandel, sangiovese, and my favorite, the Acorn Medley. Say hi to Betsy and Bill from William.

Battaglini – a charming stop, run by a charming Italian gentleman. Look out for his fiery habanero grappa, if he takes a liking to you.

Carol Shelton – Carol is renowed as one of the pioneers of female winemakers, and her lineup of zins, including Wild Thing (native yeast) capture the hearts (and palettes) of many.

CopainCopain has been opening its doors more to events. This is a beautiful, simply appointed winery staffed by people passionate about their wine. The views are gorgeous, and their Tous Ensemble label continue to win awards for high quality, moderate pricing. Their viognier is one of my local faves. Great pinot, syrah, and others. Their higher end Copain label is usually on allocation, so buy while there if you like it.

Freestone – A bit off the beaten path, a great stop for you Pinot hounds, in a cozy, home like setting.

Harvest Moon I finally just visited Harvest Moon this year, and what a great find, doubly so if you are a Zin fan. (Other varietals too.) Owner, winemaker Randy is as nice as they come, and can often be found behind the tasting bar, working it, and mingling with the crowd, sharing his passion for producing great wines. Say hi to he, or bubbly Hospitality manager, Erin, for me.

Kendall Jackon Wine Center -Yes, you can buy many KJ wines almost anywhere. It’s the ones you can’t that are especially worth checking out. Their Fulton center (not downtown Healdsburg) is offering seminars and tastings (additional fee) of their Highland Estate, 92+ point vineyard designate wines at Noon, 1 and 2 pm. The KJ crowd is always welcoming, and the Wine Center is a good place for learning about wine.

Korbel – Another veteran of the region, come discover some of their bubbly offers you won’t see at Safeway, paired with great food combinations. A great stop to start or end the day on – bubbles! (No Iron Horse this event, so this is your place for bubbles, and worth the stop.)

La Crema, (Windsor Location) This isn’t the downtown Healdsburg tasting room, it’s the production winery, not usually open for pouring to the public. Besides the massive case lots of pinot and chardonnay you see everywhere, ask about their smaller lot production Pinot and Chardonnay, many under 20k cases. I tasted a number of these smaller lots this summer at this location, and won me over.

Lynmar One of my favorite wineries in the RRV, as much for their exemplary service and focus on their customers as their great pinot, and beautiful gardens. Some of that can be hard to capture at a big event like this, but owner Lynn Fritz works hard to make sure everyone who graces his doorstep has a quality experience.

Thomas George It has been awhile since I visited Thomas George when I discovered it a year ago. (Are the caves done yet?) Great pinot! And a very friendly staff.

Windsor Oaks Generally open for select events, this is one of your chances to visit, taste their wines.

Woodenhead Newer winery, I discovered a year ago. Great small producers of pinot, syrah, zin.

Downtown Healdsburg

Downtown Wines: Hobo and Branham: Head to Downtown Wines, right off the Healdsburg Square to taste the great wines of Kenny and Lynn of Hobo, Folk Machine, and Gary Branham. (Wonder if Kenny and Lynn will bring  their newest future wine maker – Lynn gave birth to her 2nd daughter, Christmas week.) If it’s not too busy, take time to talk to Kenny, he is great guy, easy going, and very knowledgeable. Tell him hi from William. You won’t be thrown out. (I think.)

Holdredge: I wrote last week about the Hudson Wineries joining the wine road. You can park it here and make a full day. Make sure you go around the back and visit Holdredge, an excellent small Pinot producer.

Longboard: Surfs up! Check out this fun winery, with a love for surfing and wine, off the edge of Healdsburg..

Topel: Donnis Topel is a great lady, passionate about wine, food, and dogs, and produces a dog calendar each year for Healdsburg Shelter fundraiser. My (rescued) Aussie, Flash,  is Mr. September this year. Her Birdsong, white Rhone blend, is one of my faves. If you see Donnis, wish her well from me.

Dry Creek Valley (DCV)

AmistaFriendly service, great wines, nice tasting room. I am overdue for a re-visit.

Bella – Bella has quite the growing following. They hold great events during the summer, and their wine caves are always a hit. Expect crowds, go early.

Dutcher Crossing Boisterous owner Deb doesn’t send me as much Facebook love since I went back to work; she works tirelessly often seven days a week connecting with her customers, whom love her. Deb, and her staff here greets their regulars by name, and wine club events feel more like a big family gathering. Stop by for a variety of great wines, and usually a fun, outgoing group of people.

Frick – I met Bill Frick this summer at Zintopia. A one man small winery, I immediately liked Bill, and his wines. In a world of extracted new world wines, he produces interesting varietals, old world style, including cinsaut, grenache, counoise, grenache blanc. Sunday will be my first visit to the Winery, only open weekends.

Fritz – I made my first stop there last month, dropping in on the Crab feed, club event. Small cozy winery, with warm people, good service. A little off the beaten path, at the end of Dry Creek, worth a stop.

Kokomo This small, newer winery was another great discovery of 2009. Great wines, good people, and dog lovers to boot!

Michel-Schlumberger I re-aquainted myself with M-S this year after years of absence. Always a class act, and a beautiful property. As a extra treat this year in addition to food pairings with their great wines, be entertained by Olympic Stars. (I want to see ‘Tonya Harding’ and the ‘Jamaican Bobsled team’ myself.) My part time blog editor, Deb is pouring on Sunday. (I have been too busy to use her recently, if you can’t tell from my writing lately, usually hammered out in wee hours.)) Say hi to her and tell her you are a blog fan.

Mounts: One of my favorite wine families in Dry Creek, 4 generations of down to earth Wine Growers in DCV, who expanded into making small lots of wine 5 years ago. Its a passion for David, and he makes great zin, petite syrah, syrah, cab, and his special, small production grenache. Give Lana a hug from me. Stick to a handshake with David.

PrestonEvery visit I make to Preston, the more I love it. Small, quirky, charming, quasi French. Interesting Rhone varietals, which don’t seem to last long once released, so buy one if you like it I learned.  No buses!

QuiviraA leader in DCV in biodynamics, Quivira’s grounds are beautiful, their staff warm, and they make some great, interesting wines, especially their Rhone varietals.

UntiLove their wines, this will be my first time visiting. Lots of buzz about Unti, don’t know why its taken me so long to get here. (I mean there only 160 member wineries, what a slacker.)

Santa Rosa

D’Argenzio – I visited this gem for the first time last weekend. They have been at their present location for over 16 years, yet below radar of many, yet has a great local following. (Haven’t done a blog article yet, but my Yelp review is here.)

Siduri – normally open for tasting by appointment, and a few select events, if you call yourself a Pinot lover, and you haven’t been here, you may have your Pinot-phile card revoked.

Alexander Valley & Geyserville

Hanna (2 locales) – Hanna has two tasting rooms, one off Hwy 128, and one off Occidental Road.  Both are featuring food and wine pairings, library releases, and a Flashback to the 50’s with poodle skirts and Elvis impersonator. I hope to stop by this locale for the first time.

Stryker Sonoma: Great views, awesome wines, enthusiastic people, this is on my Sunday list. Brian (hospitality, marketing) is a great guy, tell him I said hey.

Terroirs: this warm, elegant tasting room is a great stop in downtown Geyserville, and pours wines from a select number of very small wineries who don’t have their own tasting room.

Trione: Rich in history, passionate about wine, this is a must stop in Geyserville. Food and wine pairings (love their Syrah!), and Hog Island Oysters to boot. Say hi to Jess for me, the Queen of Geyserville and active Social Networker. Actually I will see her Sunday, but tell her Sonoma William sent ya.

Still here? Thanks for reading all the way through. My final two pieces will be my personal itinerary for the weekend, and an article on more tips on planning, tasting. Your comments are always welcome.

Simple Hedonisms is a labor of love, that makes no money. (Nor is intended to.) If  you enjoy the articles, I’d ask you sign up in  the top right for email updates. No spam, never shared, you simply get an email when a new article is published, with the title.


Get Simple Hedonisms via Email

Your email is always secure and never distributed. (You will need to click an activation link via email to complete your subscription.)

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Wine on Instagram
Reaching over 8,000 Readers A Month!
Unique Monthly Readers (not hits), as reported by Bluehost Awstats
North Coast Tasting Rooms
Like Rhone Wines? Check out these North Coast Rhone Rangers locations. Click here to download the printable four page map.
Subscribe Via Google Reader/RSS
Follow Me on Pinterest
August 2017
« Dec    
Past Articles and Reviews
Cellar Tracker Tasting Notes - Last 50