Posts Tagged ‘Viognier’
I recently took a trip to South Africa, and as wine lovers are apt to do, I filled my suitcase with wine sleeves so that I could bring a taste of Africa back with me. Of course, as wine lovers are also apt to do, there was more wine purchased than wine sleeves brought and I had to wrap a few bottles in towels…
It’s intriguing to me the high quality Rhone wines that can come out of the Russian River Valley, especially since this is known as a ‘cool’ climate, and the Southern Rhone is warm. While not widely planted, you can find Rhone whites Marsanne, Roussanne, & Viognier here. Grenache blanc doesn’t seem to exist yet in RRV, my likely hobby planting may be one of the first. Excellent Syrah (which does well in both cool and warm climates, with a big flavor profile difference) and small plantings of Grenache can also be found.
I am one of the odder ducks perhaps, as I also like Russian River Zinfandel. Dry Creek Valley is of course the respected King, but there are quite a decent amount of very old vine, head trained Zin here.
What’s my point? I guess that despite being cooler, we have a long enough growing season and hang time, plus cool foggy nights. This allows for longer, slower ripening, good acidity, and good flavor profile maturation, without excess ripeness and alcohol, and loss of acidity. (As sugars increase, acid levels eventually decrease.) Acidity is what makes wine food friendly. Alcohol is what makes you fall down.
Achieving a Balanced California Viognier
What does this have to do with Inspiration Vineyards Viognier? It’s from Russian River, and I am comparing it side by side with a Dry Creek (much warmer climate) Viognier. California Viognier has unfortunately (earned in some cases) gotten a bit of a bad rap, for being too big, flabby (lacking acidity) and overly floral.
This is a varietal that is characteristically quite floral AND lower on acidity levels, so over ripening it is a dangerous proposition. Additionally some producers are leaving some sweetness (Residual sugar, or RS) on it to appeal to mass palates. A tiny bit of RS can be a positive thing in achieving balance, but some I have tried exceed that.
About Inspiration Vineyards
Jon & Barbara Philips have been chasing their dream, started making wine in 1999, and in 2001 plunged right in buying a house and 4.5 acres in the Russian River Valley. I have had the pleasure to meet them both. Passionate about wine, the region, the community. Jon is a wine geek extraordinaire. You can read more on theirA story here. They make a variety of wines; my favorites being their Rhones (Syrah & this Viognier) and Burgundian wines (Pinot Noir & Chardonnay.)
Wine Review – Inspiration Vineyards Russian River Valley 2009 Viognier
To The Eye: medium yellow straw, vibrant, clear
On The Nose: Fragrant as a Viognier should be, but not overpowering. White Peach, lime zest, hint of guava.
In The Mouth: Great viscosity, weight, mouthfeel, but not cloying as some can be. Peach, Stone fruits, citrus.
Food Pairing: Crab, seafood, grilled chicken, amongst others
Rating: Outstanding. 91 points
Wine Geek Notes:
- Vineyard: Marsha’s Vineyard, Russian River Valley
- Harvest Date: September 30th 2009
- Brix at Harvest: 26.5°
- Total Acid: .70 g/L
- pH: 3.45
- Alcohol: 14.8%
- Bottled Date: September 17th 2010
- Release Date: March 1st
- Vinification: 100% stainless, sterile filtered, no malo-lactic secondary fermentation.
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My relationship with Rhones from Oz is still in the courtship stage, after too many poor Shiraz experiences. My palate is not fan of over ripe, flabby Shiraz and Viognier one can pick up if not careful.
A. Syrah: Name of the Wine is determined by: Cute animal name + geographical feature e.g. Wallaby Ridge, Wombat Gorge
Proper Syrah: Primary flavors: white pepper, anise, meat, bacon fat, and licorice
A. Syrah: Primary flavors: blackberry sundae and American Oak
It’s funnier when Randall writes it, and there are two pages worth. It’s meant in jest, obviously great Rhones come out of Australia, and I look forward to trying many again this year at the Rhone nirvana Hospice du Rhone.
I was wandering through K&L Wine, my ‘supplier’ in San Fran awaiting will call pick up and saw this. The 90 WS score didn’t really woo me, and the <$15 price more scared me. It’s not a value if I pour it down the drain. But I am always curious to try white Rhone blends, and Marsanne always adds interesting character a blend, especially Viognier based, so I tossed a bottle in the cart. Glad I did.
2009 d’Arenberg the Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne
To The Eye: pale yellow straw; very clear
On The Nose: Abundant; white peach, green apple, guava, lime; oyster shell
In The Mouth: Lush; big stone fruit, citrus, melon. Some minerality. Juicy, Good acidity at finish, only 13% alcohol.
Recommendation:a Quaffer solo; have to ponder more what food I would pair with this besides shellfish. Would please a wide variety of palates.
Rating: Very Good, 89 Points
Where to Buy: d’Arenberg usually has good distribution, Google it or check with your local wine shop. (And always inquire if they can order it.)
K&L Wines has ~5o bottles left at $12.99.
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Learning about and tasting wine, has been an ongoing, progressive journey, these last 20 years. Along the way, ‘breakthrough’ events have occurred that have completely transformed what I drink and enjoy.
The first of those was expanding to white wines. I occasionally hear casual wine drinkers utter ‘real wine drinkers only drink reds.’ It’s not up to me to define what is or isn’t a real wine drinker, but any serious wine taster, writer, or industry person I have ever met, usually has an appreciation for both. Unfortunately for many people, white wine is associated with chardonnay, which invokes the ABC – ‘Anything But Chardonnay’ syndrome. For many, this was a backlash from the over popularity of oaky butter bombs California style of chardonnay.
Both philosophies are unfortunate, and cripple your wine education and experiences. The range of white wine varietals (grapes), and styles is staggering, and wonderful, if you’ll venture beyond the usual Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc. And thats not to malign those; Chardonnay is like an empty canvas, and the many styles, especially from France, are staggering. Look for the popular ‘naked’ or unoaked chardonnay, now more commonly found. Ask your wine store for neutral oaked French (or any country) to try something different.
But in addition, there is a wide range of incredibly interesting white wines, from light, crisp, low alcohol, to big white wines with presence and mouthfeel. Some of my faves include Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc (all Rhone whites) as well as Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and so many others. White wines also generally offer broader ranges for food pairings.
The other event that changed my wine tasting experience was my (never ending) discovery of Rhone wines, wines varietals that originated and/or associated with the Rhone Valley in France. I had enjoyed Viognier for years, it was actually a white wine I stumbled across, that was touted as a white wine for red wine drinkers. It generally has good density, weight, mouthfeel, and when its fermented dry (some CA vintners leave a tiny bit of sweetness) is a very appealing wine.
I was well on my way to a steady relationship with Rhones, and then I attended the 2010 Hospice du Rhone in Paso Robles, the mecca event for Rhone wines, which I HIGHLY recommend. I went from dating to marriage overnight, and now am often nicknamed ‘Rhonehound.’ At the recent Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla, I hunted down as many Rhone producers as I could, like I was on a quest for the Grail.
No, I am not promoting this event for money. I am passionate about these varietals, and consumers exposure to them. Heck I even paid for tickets, when I often get press passes. Besides how could a wine blog called ‘Simple Hedonisms’ NOT attend an event called ‘Kinky Whites’!
Join local wineries Davis Family Vineyards, Dutton-Goldfield, Joseph Swan, and Thomas George Estates, pouring their exotic, white wines; Gewurztraminer, Marsanne, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Roussanne & Viognier! Frolic in the vineyard and dine in the awesome Thomas George wine cave, pairing these unique white wines with exquisite dishes prepared by Chef Christopher Greenwald of Bay Laurel Culinary.
This is the first of what is hoped to be an annual event. You can purchase tickets online here or Call the winery at 707-431-8031 to reserve.Tickets are $100 per person, $69 for companion. Event starts at 5 p.m., hope to see you there!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
Tonight I am swirling in my glass a very interesting white wine blend, that is a project from Reynoso Vineyards, a small Cloverdale grower and vintner.
The red blend (Syrah, Zin, Petite Sirah) will be released shortly. The term ‘Long Gamma’ is a bit of a mystery, but I believe refers to a Stock Trading term, which given that there are ex-Chicago denizens in this project, may be indicative of careers prior to the Wine Industry.
I was immediately intrigued by Long Gamma white blend when I learned the blended varietals; 60% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Viognier, 15% Gewurtzraminer.
My taste buds immediately perked up at Viogner, a white Rhone varietal that adds great florals and excellent mouthfeel, whether blended or bottled as a varietal.
Wine Tasting Notes
Color: Bright pale yellow, with a slight green hue. Clear.
On The Nose: I had expected the Viognier to dominate the nose with its typical fragrant, floral aromas, but was clearly able to detect the Sauvignon Blanc. The hints of grassiness, grapefruit indicative of an SB are there, just a bit subdued. Interwoven are the viognier aromas; subtle citrus, peach, honey. Gewurztraminer is also a varietal know for its floral elements; I have to confess I don’t drink Gewurtz as much as I’d like, as I only care for dry Gewurtz, and little is made here in North Sonoma.
In The Mouth: Wow – the 3 varietals meld together splendidly. Layers of peach, subtle lime, green apple. Touch of minerality and wet stone mid palette. Great mouthfeel and excellent balance, that ends in a lingering, slightly mouth watering finish, pleasing acidity. This is a quaffable wine suitable both for standalone consumption or paired with food. For the love of Dionysus do NOT overchill this wine and serve it right from the fridge – you mute all these great flavor profiles. Mid 50s please.
One of the best parts of this great blend – is the suggested retail is $10-12. I just ordered a half case to start, this is one of my new summer house whites.
In a few weeks you can purchase this on a new Long Gamma website, until then you can do so via contacting Reynoso, or as of now at Andy’s Market in Sebastopol, BoardWalk Market in Tiburon, Wilibees Wines in Petaluma, and Farmstead Cheese and Wine in Alameda and Montclair.
The Viogner Varietal
Yes, I am drinking a Rhone white varietal – if you read regularly this shouldn’t be a surprise, I regularly refer to the Rhone white wines as ‘the white wine varietal for red drinkers.’ Viognier holds a special place in my heart, as it was one of the first white wines, that weaned me off of exclusively drinking reds, some years ago.
Viognier came into vogue as a single white varietal in the last decade in the U.S. Its been planted as a blending grape, both for white and red wines, for generations. It is now widely planted all over the world, extending from Australia (where it’s commonly blended with syrah/shiraz), Chile and Argentina. It’s widely planted around the U.S. in CA, OR, and WA.
Viognier is especially known for its aromatics; it is a very floral varietal. Typical drunk young, winemakers can use a variety of techniques in production, ranging from stainless to neutral oak (new oak isn’t recommended,)) longer lees (grape residue) contact, and with or without Malolactic (ML) fermentation. Each of these can impart a difference in mouthfeel, body, structure.
Novy Family Winery
Their 2008 Viognier is a small production, only 63 cases made.
Color: light-medium straw color, clear
Aroma: fragrant as befits the varietal. Pear, Notes of citrus, pineapple.
In the Mouth: Aged in Stainless only, with excellent balance, and a mouth watering acidity at finish.
Pear, pineapple, green apple, with a lingering taste of peach at finish.
I tasted this wine both chilled, and then at room temperature, and it shows its flavor and aroma characteristics much better a bit warmer….As I have written repeatedly, this is a critical factor in enjoying a well made, full bodied white wine.
This is a solid expression of Viognier, and one I recommend, at a reasonable $20 retail. Its sold at at the winery, but still available at several distributors; locals can also try Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa, where I have seen Siduri and Novy before.
One of these days I will get around to writing the article thats been in my head for ages “White wines for Red wine drinkers” – but not today.
I discovered Viognier some years ago, reading an article about it as a suggested white wine varietal (grape type) that red wine drinkers might enjoy. Rarely bottled in the US back then as a varietal, it was produced mostly for blending. As this white Rhone (region of France) varietal has gained in popularity, it has gone through the price increase, quality decrease cycle I have witnessed other wine varietals experience. Wineries try and chase ‘trends’ – a risky venture in an industry where its 3-4 years before new vines are viable and another 12+ months before you can sell your first bottling. I don’t encourage it.
The mini Viognier craze seems to have ebbed a bit, leaving better quality on the market, and on the plus side, a broader consumer appreciation for this varietal. Viognier is a wine I love to share with the uninitiated, especially when I find one that hasn’t been over tampered with, as we like to do in CA sometimes.
Since I am in my part time home in my flat outside Portland, tonight’s Viognier is from Penner-Ash, a 10,000/case year winery in Newberg, OR, part of the Willamette Valley. The fruit was sourced from the Rogue Valley, A Southern Oregon AVA.
The Viognier retails for ~$28 – I purchased my bottle at local grocery store. It comes in a screw top, which doesn’t surprise me – Oregon is very focused on green measures, and this winery touts it’s energy saving focus.
Viognier is a fragrant varietal, one of the reasons why it is desirable as a blending grape.
Color: A very pale yellow, with excellent clarity
Aroma: Fragrant, as a Viognier should be. Peach and citrus on the nose. A hint of green apple, spice.
In the Mouth: Viognier characteristically has good body and mouth feel. This doesn’t disappoint. Melon, tropical fruit, good mid palette, a touch of sweetness, pear. A barely detectable bit of heat (alcohol) on finish.
An excellent expression of Viognier. This is very drinkable by itself, would pair well with many cheeses and a variety of foods.
PLEASE remember to not drink good white wines over chilled – all nuances of aroma and flavor profiles are masked. In the event you don’t have a cellar, and its been in the fridge, take out at least 15+ mins before drinking,. 58-64 degrees is optimal, and most fridges are generally in the 40s.
The weekend of Nov. 21-22 was the Holiday in Carneros event, with over 20 wineries participating. The event is sponsored by Hospitality de Los Carneros (“HDLC”), which is a collective of Napa and Sonoma wineries located within the Carneros Appellation.
I don’t make it down to ‘the Valley’ – a/k/a Sonoma Valley, as much as I’d like to, so I was glad that this weekend didn’t have a lot of events to compete with Holiday in Carneros. I had previously stumbled upon the similar “April in Carneros” event last year, and had a good time, so I was really looking forward to going back.
Taking my own advice from my post on the Wine Road Wine and Food Affair, I took the time to do some planning. The HDLC website helped by providing a well marked map, and a handy list of who was offering what. I was a bit surprised to see some number of Carneros wineries did not participate, especially the many of the ‘tin warehouse’ wineries on 8th Street. (Lets see some Appellation Solidarity.) But, there were more than enough wineries to visit for the day. Printing out the Map and the Event details, I laid out a plan that took me to mostly wineries I had not visited before, and had varietals, and descriptions that interested me.
Having just returned back home after being in Portland all week (again), I decided to rest up on Saturday, and make a full day of it on Sunday. This turned out to be prudent, as several wineries reported that the crowds were lighter on Sunday, which allowed more quality time to interact with winemakers. I also followed my own advise about carrying a spit cup, and brought my own. For the most part, toting around a spit cup not only helped my tasting, but it also occasionally impacted what I was served. At one winery, a less experienced pourer gave me a funny look, in others I was offered tastes of wines not on the “menu.”
After a good start of a mimosa and pumpkin Belgian waffles, I made the trek down to the Valley. My check-in point was at Roshambo, which I chose simply because it was close to Gloria Ferrer. (Gloria Ferrer did not participate in Holiday in Carneros, but I had a wine club pickup there.) I hadn’t had Roshambo wines in a few years (in fact, they were still in Dry Creek Valley last visit), so I figured it was about time. Plus, I had driven by Cornerstone Place many times, and never stopped in. Glad I did, as I had a nice visit with Steve Morvai, the G.M. who has been with them quite awhile. Steve was pouring a Sauvignon Blanc, their ‘Justice’ Syrah, the ‘Rock’ blend of Syrah, Zinfandel and Petite Syrah, and a Grenache. I liked them all, but the Grenache really caught my attention, as less common varietals often do. There was a huge case sale on it, so guess what I walked out with.
Cornerstone looked like a cool place, but my mission to hit 8 wineries in 4.5 hours didn’t leave me a ton of time. I did stop to scarf down 2 pieces of pizza from Kashaya’s Pizza – straight from their cool brick oven on wheels. Pizza was being served complimentary as part of the event for the 3 wineries pouring there. Santa Rosa based, I’d recommend Kashaya to any winery wanting food for an event.
For those of you that think Social Media doesn’t draw traffic, think again. I didn’t really know Anaba, and it wasn’t on my initial list. However that morning, I Tweeted about the wineries where I WAS planning to stop, and got a note back from Anaba with a sad face and ”No Anaba?” As a result of Anaba noticing, and replying to my tweet, I began to read up on it. Learning that Anaba was a “new winery” with”Rhone and Burgundian style wines,” I appended my itinerary. I was glad I did. The facility is comfortable and non-pretentious. Everyone was friendly. And GREAT Rhone whites.
Side note for you red wine only drinkers –I was one of you once — branch out! Especially try some of the more full-bodied Rhone whites like Viognier, Roussanne, and Marsanne. I observed a lot of people skipping the whites, and remembered doing the same thing myself once, but I was glad I didn’t skip these. ‘Coriol’ is a blend of the above 3, plus Grenache Blanc, with a wonderful, floral nose, and a good mouthfeel. Their Viognier was even better, and I bought a bottle. I also enjoyed their Sonoma Coast Pinot, and Coriol red, a Rhone blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, Counoise, and Petire Sirah. (The latter being an ‘adopted’ Rhone varietal.) If you like desert wines, Anaba also makes a late harvest Viognier, and red and white ports.
The tasting room staff was young, but very attentive and knowledgeable. I’d have liked to learn a bit more about the genesis of the winery, and the owners/family were supposedly lurking in the back. They should take a lesson from the Ceja’s and work the visitors; stories sell wine!
Ty Caton, Parmalee Hill – Eighth Street Wineries
Next, I h eaded over to Eighth Street, where 3 more wineries were pouring. I have had Ty’s wine’s before from my club at Cellars of Sonoma, and I am a fan of their Malbec. Nice people and good wines, but between the country music and the slightly hard sell on sale priced wines, I didn’t linger.
Had visited Tin Barn before, so I skipped it and dropped in on Parmalee-Hill. After wine geeking over all the cool production equipment, I also enjoyed their wines, especially their Grenache Blanc and Marsanne/Roussanne blend I found white Rhone varietals at several Carneros spots and I wondered: why don’t we have more of these in northern Sonoma County?
Would have liked to stop at Three Sticks and MacRostie, but they were not officially participating, so I kept rolling.
Robert Stemmler Winery
Next stop was down Ramal Road at Robert Stemmler Winery. The drive down a remote winding road, made me feel like I was driving around my beloved Russian River. From best I can tell, the winery isn’t normally open for tasting, but has a good following based on the crowd. This is a Burgundian style producer, that day pouring a Carneros chardonnay, and Carneros and Russian River Pinot Noir. There was only one small table for pouring, so space was a bit tight. I really liked their wines, and thought their Carneros Pinot was the best of the appellation I tasted that day.
Unfortunately between the crowds, and a rather obnoxious ‘taster’ who fired off 100 questions, trying to present she knew a lot about wine, stymied me from detailed chat. (The barrage annoyed me enough to wander off and pet the local horses – the lady gave away what I suspected – she knew nothing about wines except buzz words, when she starting asking, going over the entire wine list “is this wine racked? and this one? and this one?” ‘Racking” is the process of transferring wine from one container to another to get it off sediment, and improve clarity. ALL wines are RACKED; granted Pinot is sometimes less so, but it is. Next time ask if grapes need sun, too. Snarky mode off.) I came back to buy a few bottles after she left, but large crowd came in, so I decided to move on. Will come back in April.
I have had Etude Pinot a few times, and they have a big following, so decided to make my first visit. Service was friendly, though 3/4 of the pouring staff knew very little about wine. It was also odd to me that a winery known for Pinot was pouring only one, but that is perhaps related to their high price and very low yield vines. One thing that did catch my attention – they have migrated their Chardonnay to the new glass stopper tops I have been hearing about. FAR more elegant than a screw cap, and seals nicely. Consider me a big fan, I’d love to see more wineries use this style closure.
I thought it best to end the day on a safe note, removing the element of surprise with a winery I know delivers – Ceja. I could write (and should) an article just on Ceja, although they hardly need my help. This family of Latino growers, turned Winemaker, ‘gets it.’ They provide an amazing customer experience, work to make wine simple and enjoyable, paired with food, reasonable price points, invest in marketing, and have embraced multiple avenues of customer touch points and Social Media, from blogging to Twitter, Facebook and more. Multiple generations of the family take on roles, and at their beautiful facility (not the downtown tasting room) you can’t go 10 feet without a Ceja warmly engaging you. As always, the experience included good food, live music, and great wine, comfortably staged around the property. I like all of their wines, but I am fond of their Vino de Casa, Red Blend, an unsual blend of Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Cabernet, priced at a very affordable $20.
A great ending to a great day in Carneros.
I look forward to the April event, cheers!
(ps, this Friday and Saturday is ANOTHER passport event in Sonoma Valley – come back for my Thursday post for more details!)