It’s fitting with today commencing the Weekend Celebration of American Rhones, in San Francisco, to celebrate this amazing, unique release of Cigare Blanc, the flagship Rhone white blend from Bonny Doon Vineyards.
It’s creator, Randall Grahm, tonight at a very special ceremony will be awarded the first ever Rhone Rangers lifetime achievement award. As I wrote in For The Love of Rhône: Randall Grahm Lifetime Achievement Award; A Rhône Weekend in SF the American Rhone winemakers and consumers owe Randall this, and much more.
The Re-Emergence of The Original Rhone Ranger, Pioneer’s Vision
In his spot-on keynote speech at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland, (video or transcript ) Randall gently chided the wine industry, for being a victim of its own success, almost ‘selling out’ and lamenting the world of unique wines, that had some risk to making them.
‘Modern winemakers live in an era of tragic self-consciousness about the economic consequences of their winemaking decisions, utterly aware of the peril of somehow falling outside of the stylistic parameters of accepted wine styles.’
On a macro level this is sadly true. Wines, especially whites, are made risk free, manipulated, and churned out by the container load for mass market. “Flash Detente’ – seriously? I’ll go return to my beer brewing roots before I ever cross this line. Every article I read on it gives me hives – where does this end?
But there is a burgeoning new movement, a tiny but growing population of bold winemakers who return to the risk taking Randall laments, making wines of unique varieties, vinification, climates and more. (Teaser, also watch for notice for a special tasting of a gang of 13 of these upstarts in Healdsburg in May.)
These vintners of passion often selling their crafts for a modest price, keeping the approachable. Sommeliers are loving this re-birth. Some old school journalists have no clue what to do with it – why not keep just writing about Cabernet & Zinfandel. Other visionaries like Jon Bonné of the Chronicle embrace and support the change, and even has a book coming out. (You can pre-order now, I did.)
Leading By Example and Creativity – Winemaking With Risk (Equals Reward.)
Randall leads the path again (one that I follow, inspired, with my own Rhone project.) His special 2010 Cigare Blanc Reserve and 2008 Cigare Volante are aged ‘en bonbonne’ - glass carboys, protected from light and air, and stirred….magnetically. As only Randall could do.
Why? Randall was inspired by wines of Dan Wheeler tasted from carboy, and astonished by how fresh the wines were, 20 years later, followed by a similar experience with Emidio Pepe.
At the Wine Bloggers Conference, Randall held a special semi private tasting of some of his wines, including the 2010 Cigare Blanc reserve & 2008 Cigare Volant Reserve ‘en bonbonne’. The gift was lost on some, but it was a special experience to taste these the normal and en bonbonne’ side by side. There was a clear, textural and flavor difference.
It inspired me to taste them both again later several times, where I could focus without Rex Pickett of Sideways making drinking from dump bucket jokes to impress a nearby female. Not a problem as I am a DOON Club member, and regularly order, and have, including a re-order of this wine.
Review: Bonny Doon Vineyard 2010 Cigare Blanc Reserve en bonbonne
A certified biodynamic blend of 56% Grenache Blanc and 44% Rousanne. (You had me at Grenache Blanc.) As Randall’s own tasting notes concur, it continues to improve in bottle, and was changed, even more favorably from last fall.
The 2010 vintage was allowed to go through secondary malo-lactic (a personal preference for me, as I think many white wines, with sufficient acidity, should do to enhance mouth feel and complexity.)
- To The Eye: Slightly cloudy, but clearer than previous tastings. Its turbidity makes me love it even more. It’s about time the consumer world understood a tad of turbidity in whites might make it better. I will follow with less trepidation.
- On The Nose: wondrous nose of yellow pear, stone fruits, hints of white grapefruit and hazelnut.
- On The Palate: Amazing. Lush, but in a restrained way. Textural and ‘grown up’ but with a vibrant acid backbone that lingers beneath in balance. The front palate starts off bright and fresh, the mid palate shows the wondrous texture, mouth feel ripe pear, yellow peach, citrus. The finish is of ripe Meyer lemon, lingering pleasant acidity.
I have yet to figure out how Bonny Doon makes these so wonderful in flavor and low in alcohol, as Roussanne and Grenache Blanc both require proper ripening, ever for my acid addicted palate. Bravo.
A wine that while wonderful solo, would be heavenly with rich seafood, creamy pasta, or roasted chicken.
- Recommendation: This is one to buy a case and drink 1-2 bottles a year. Buy online while you can.
94 points. Yes its pricier than every day wine. Life is short, live a little.
Winemakers Notes & Geeky Stuff
I have written in various places about the inspiration to age wine in demijohns/carboys/bonbonnes. Some of it has come from my fascination with oxidation/reduction chemistry, an aspect of wine art/science not well understood and its importance greatly unappreciated. Years ago, as a young pup I tasted wine from carboy with Dan Wheeler of Nicasio Cellars in his do-it-yourself-handdug cave in Soquel, and was astonished at how youthful were the wines, twenty plus years later, almost as if they had been placed in suspended animation. At about the same time, I also happened to taste the wines from Emidio Pepe in Abruzzo, who also aged his product in demijohns, likewise evincing extraordinary youthfulness and vitality.
We did some small encouraging experiments years ago, then more or less forgot about them until relatively recently, at which point we began the carboy ageing project with red Cigare. It wasn’t until ’09 that it dooned on me that perhaps there were even more interesting things to discover with the white. The ’10 Cigare Blanc Réserve, our second vintage of this wine, is absolutely amazing, an advance over the ’09. To refresh everyone’s memory, this wine is more or less the same blend as our standard issue Cigare Blanc, apart from the fact that we’ve allowed it to undergo malolactic fermentation, and at that point, we gave it a light SO2 addition, racked it to glass demijohn (bonbonne), where it reposed for a year and a half, getting anaerobically stirred more or less fortnightly.
The wine derives entirely from the Beeswax Vineyard, located at the mouth of the Arroyo Seco, and is farmed biodynamically and produced according to biodynamic specifications (very easy on the extraneous additions).
I’ve had the pleasure of tasting this wine over the last year, and what is most remarkable about it is that every time I taste it, it gets younger and younger! The wine was not filtered, and therefore is partly cloudy, though lately, it is curiously, getting brighter and brighter. The wine has a rich, unctuous texture, despite its modest (12ish%) alcohol, as well as possesses the most satisfying savoriness. In the nose, there is a wonderful suggestion of hazelnuts (hmm, white Burgundy, anyone?), as well as a beautiful fragrance of wintergreen and a wine-like pear. A great gastronomy wine, one that will perfectly suit rich, cream-based dishes.
- Blend: 56% roussanne, 44% grenache blanc (Certified Biodynamic®)
- Vineyard: Beeswax (Certified Biodynamic®)
- Appellation: Arroyo Seco
- Serving Temp: 50-55ºF
- Alcohol by Volume: 12.4%
- TA: 6.2 g/L
- pH: 3.62
- Optimal drinkability: Drink now-2020
- Production: 497 cases
For The Love of Rhône: Randall Grahm Lifetime Achievement Award; A Rhône Weekend in SF. (And Reader Offers)
It’s no secret that if you tap one of my veins, it’s likely a blend of Mourvedre, Grenache and Syrah will spring forth. My love for this wine category has caused me to change my entire life, quickly transforming, with no master plan, from avid consumer, to (once) a widely read blogger, and from garagiste to commercial vintner.
Rhône wines can be a challenging category. It’s not mainstream – your classic new world oaky Cabernet consumer perhaps can’t even describe what Rhone wines are, let alone appreciate the breadth of complex whites the category offers. “Serious” wine snobs may turn their noses as they consider they are not ‘geeky’ enough - after all its not some obscure Italian varietal, or skin fermented white wine whose name you can’t spell, fermented in an exotic container and bottled in 500 ml granite bottles. Its just ‘grenache.’
Yet many American Rhone wines ARE rare. Grenache Blanc has existed in California for only ten years, with only 220 acres planted in the entire state. The source I work with for Roussanne & Marsanne are the only known in the entire AVA. The Mourvedre is only one of two plantings. The cool climate Grenache - perhaps 3-4 at most. Even in Rhone ‘heavy’ areas like Paso Robles, the total acreage of most Rhone whites is minuscule.
On the reverse side, not all off the old guard of some media get ‘it. Respected and esteemed Chronicle wine writer, and Rhone advocate, Jon Bonné, was recently criticized publicly by a veteran wine writer for his waxing poetic on Grenache,
Yet, we not only persevere as a domestic category, we prosper and slowly grow. We are after all ‘Rhone Rangers’ both as consumers and winemakers. When everyone said pull the plug on our NY event one week after Hurricane Sandy, we turned it into a fundraiser, showed up despite many challenges, and eager enthusiasts filled the tasting, amidst a Noreaster snow storm. THIS is how we Rhone.
Be assured of one thing, domestic vintners and winemakers dedicated to Rhones, do so for passion, not money.
An Eternal Debt Of Gratitude to The Original Rhone Ranger & Special Recognition Award
With that backdrop, it’s all the more clear to me the incredible debt that all Rhone enthusiasts (and wineries) owe Randall Grahm, lauded as the original Rhone Ranger. (In truth there are a few other early pioneers. Sadly, not all support the namesake organization.)
Randall has been committed to Rhones since he released the first Cigare Volante in 1984. In a world where we take Grenache Blanc for granted, only the earliest and smallest of Rhone plantings, sometimes mis-identified, could be found, and there was little experience to reference. There were certainly easier paths to follow.
Randall has been a personal inspiration for me. He helped my find the Grenache Blanc vineyard I started with in 2010, even offered encouragement, as he does for so many, despite the often one man show that he is, tirelessly & humbly promoting, pouring, his crafts.
This year, at the Rhone Rangers March 22nd Winemaker Dinner in San Francisco, the Rhone Rangers organization will award its first lifetime achievement award. As a board member who was in the meeting when the topic came up, the unanimous decision took only as long as it did for the suggestion to be comprehended.
We can only hope that Randall recognizes the deep respect, and love that so many have for he and his efforts. Simple Hedonisms has written about Bonny Doon wines many times, and I hope to review more wines all week, in tribute.
YOU have a chance to be at the award ceremony, and thank Randall, in person.
This dinner always sells out, but as of this writing, about 10% of tickets remain. The event itself is pretty phenomenal, with a special meal catered by the girl & the fig, 16 featured winemakers, a pre-dinner tasting, and lively auction at the end. Do not wait until Wednesday night to decide to buy one, you’ll likely regret it and be empty handed. (Note: dinner is on a Friday night this year, not Saturday.)
Tickets are here: http://rhonerangerssfwmd.eventbrite.com/
Proceeds from the auction will benefit the Rhone Rangers Scholarship Fund, which provides grants and scholarships to help educate the next generation of American Rhone winemakers.
Wineries: Anaba Wines, Baiocchi Wines & Vineyards, Bonny Doon Vineyard, Davis Family Vineyards, Folin Cellars, JC Cellars, Kenneth Volk Vineyards, kukkula, Margerum Wine Company, Mounts Family Winery, Petrichor Vineyards, Ridge Vineyards, Tablas Creek Vineyard, Terre Rouge, Two Shepherds and Villa Creek Cellars.
A Weekend Celebration of American Rhone Wines
The dinner is the tip of the spear of the now largest Rhone wine event in the U.S.
Saturday morning two seminars will be moderated by Jon Bonné, Wine Editor, San Francisco Chronicle, followed by the Grand Tasting Saturday afternoon, where over 100 wineries will pour white, red, and rose’ Rhone wines. Sorry, no Cabernet.
This years seminars are quite exciting and unique.
- “Old World Inspiration, New World Innovation” with wine importer, Patrick Will, Vice President of VINTUS. This seminar will include benchmark wines from Guigal (Condrieu, Tavel, Chȃteauneuf du Pape and Côte Rôtie), as well as wines from Rhone Ranger winery members who were inspired to create their “Rhone style wines” while using innovative new world craftsmanship.
- “Mourvèdre: A Rising Star in the World of American Rhones” will feature six wines (red and rosé) that are based on the grape known as Mourvèdre, Mataro, Monastrell and at least fifty other names depending on where it is grown.
In the afternoon there is the Grand Tasting: Trade/Media & VIP Tasting 1-3 pm, and the Consumer Tasting is 3-6 pm. Note, by popular request is on Saturday this year. Enjoy Rhone wines followed by dinner in the city.
- A weekend pass that includes the seminar pass and Grand Tasting is available here for $150.
- Tickets to the Grand Tasting, only, are available here for $50. (Seriously, only $50?)
For those of you ‘afraid’ of Ft Mason events as a drunkfest, as someone who has been on both sides of the table, this tasting attracts a more engaged, enthused audience, and is not over crowded – so, come, learn, enjoy.
Reader Offer #1 – use code ‘”22RRgrapes” to save off of either purchase.
Insider Info: Download the 80 page event guide and start planning your tasting in advance! RRSF2013PrintedProgram-FinalProof
Share Your Rhone Love and Win A Pair of Tickets to The Seminars or Grand Tasting
Love Rhones? Or keen to learn more? (We all start somewhere.)
On Tuesday evening I will select a winner who can select to win a pair of tickets to the Grand Tasting or The Seminars.
To enter to win, simply share in comments below. Make sure I have your FULL name and email.
1. What is your favorite Rhone varietal, and if you have a special food pairing you enjoy with it.
2. Which Of the Pouring Wineries Are You most excited to try, and why? (list here. )
Rhone Twitter #WineChat This Wednesday Night
In celebration of the event (Twitter hashtag #RRSF) I will be leading this week’s weekly Twitter #winechat – the topic and wine of choice being domestic Rhone wines. Open a bottle and join me in a glass as I wax semi poetic on Rhones.
It’s likely Randall
will make a brief appearance at the beginning.
Cheers, and lets get ready to Rhone!
SF Chronicle: A bright moment for the Rhone-minded
As Syrah falters, make way for Grenache (SF Chronicle)
Simple Hedonisms receives a fair amount of invites to attend live Twitter tastings – a format where you receive the wines, and then join other bloggers on Twitter, tasting, chatting and discussing.
I turn more of these down then accept these days, often either because of ‘day job’ travel conflicts or
often the wines are more mass market and just less interesting.
However I was super excited to receive an invitation to taste the great wines of Steven Kent (Mirassou) and his other label La Rochelle. La Rochelle specializes in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.I discovered the La Rochelle Pinot Noir, some years ago at Pinot on The River and was a big fan.
Live, virtual tastings on Twitter can be quite fun to follow, and better yet, join in. Hand selected bloggers will be comparing notes, and engaging the winemaker in questions and dialog.
You can follow along on Twitter hashtag #StevenKentWines – simply search for it on your Twitter browser or application. (You can also go to search.twitter.com and enter #StevenKentWines .)
On Twitter, you may join in and ask questions, reply to the winemakers or bloggers etc. (Twitter account required.)
You can also purchase the wines and share your thoughts!
Wine shops like K&L Wines, JJ Buckley, and Beltramos carry them, amongst others.
- Winemaker Steven Kent Mirassou – @StevenMirassou
- Steven Kent Winery – @skwinery
- La Rochelle – @larochellewine
From 4-6 pm, Pacific time, the bloggers will taste through these wines with the winemaker:
- 2011 “Lola” (Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon Blend) $24
- 2010 La Rochelle Chardonnay, Dutton-Morelli Lane, Russian River Valley $65
- 2009 La Rochelle Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands $38
- 2009 La Rochelle Pinot Noir, Donum Estate, Carneros $75
- 2009 Steven Kent Petite Verdot, Ghielmetti Vineyard, Livermore Valley $50
- 2009 Steven Kent Cabernet, Home Ranch Vineyard, Livermore Valley $65
Find one and join us!
For those that miss it, I will add notes to my Cellartracker tasting notes – now over 1,000 notes recorded!
See you on Twitter, and cheers.
Don't Miss! Saturday Feb 2nd is the 2nd Annual Micro-Winery Collective Open House at Inspiration Custom Crush
This Saturday (tomorrow!) is the 2nd Annual Micro-Winery Collective Open House at Inspiration Custom Crush in Santa Rosa.
Inspiration Custom Crush is located at Inspiration Vineyards & Winery, and is a second business managed by Jon Philips, where very small and/or new wineries can share facilities and knowledge to make their wine.
The Superbowl is the next day, so this is also excellent opportunity to stock up on adult beverages for your Superbowl party.
Try & Buy Wines You Normally Can’t
With the exception of Inspiration Vineyards, these wineries don’t have public tasting rooms. This is a special opportunity for you to TRY & BUY wines from seven uniquely different wineries, each with their own winemaker present to tell you their story and introduce you to their wines. Experience the small lot, artisanal wines from:
- Colagrossi Wines
- Desmond Wines
- Inspiration Vineyards
- Little Red Vineyard
- Orpheus Wines
- Premonition Cellars
- Wesley Ashley Wines
Food Pairings & Offers
Just in time for Valentine’s day, Sonja Schluter, owner and chocolatier of Eye Candy, sampling and selling her artisanal chocolates. In addition, two local cheese makers will be offering samples of their delicious artisanal cheeses.
No wine event is complete at without a food truck! David from FishOn will be here featuring the regular menu that includes his famous fish & chips, plus he’ll also have some fan favorites like his pulled pork sandwiches.
Your Ticket Includes $10 Wine Credit!
Upon check-in at the door, you’ll receive $10 back in wine bucks, redeemable on the day of the event at ALL seven wineries. Tickets are $20 at the door, or buy today and save $5 – either thats a price of $5-10 to taste from SEVEN wineries
– beat that bargain for Saturday entertainment!
- When: Saturday, February 2nd from 11am till 5pm
- Where: 3360 Coffey Lane – Suite E, Santa Rosa, CA 95403
- Cost: $20 at the door – SAVE $5 by registering online, using promo code: promoiv
- Register: please visit http://www.localwineevents.com/events/detail/458091
Visit Other Wineries Without Leaving the Parking Lot!
Still ‘thirsty’ after tasting – the business park has other wineries including Vinoteca, a collective tasting room for multiple wineries; famed Zin maker Carol Shelton; the geeky NPA & Salinia, and high end, appointment only Donelan Wines.
Or visit other nearby wineries on the Santa Rosa Wine Trail!
Have a great wine weekend – cheers!
I am back! Finally catching up after Eighteen days in Europe – Denmark, Portugal, and the balance in France – with glorious tastings in Chablis and the Northern Rhone, where Syrah is the red grape of choice (and AOC law.)
For those of you still snickering over Syrah, cracking pneumonia jokes etc – move on. Syrah’s Darwinist down phase is over - Moscato or some other ‘varietal great white hope’ is next.
In truth, this ‘market correction’ was needed. Way too much bad syrah was being made, as well as planted in wrong places everywhere.
People and places that had no business being in Syrah are gone. Good riddance. The strong have survived. Incredible syrahs, especially from cool climate are in
high demand, and increasing in price, from small, talented, cult producers.
Pining For The Northern Rhone
I spent a week in the Northern Rhone, with 12 deep, technical tastings, my glass graced with some of the Rockstars of the Northern Rhone: Gangloff, Faury, Allemand, to name a few.
My first week back, as a sanity check, I popped open a bottle from Randall Grahm, the US veteran Rhone Ranger. How would his modest priced Rhone – Syrah offering fare?
(PS – Randall – they love you over there.)
At 13.5% alcohol, Mostly/all Neutral oak (thats my guess), solid acid/pH numbers, and most importantly, great flavor profile, Bonny Doon delivers the CA syrah goods at an every day price point.
- To The Eye: inky deep purple, reminiscent of Cornas, no light shall pass!
- On The Nose: Smoked meat, black olive tapenade, modest black fruits.
- In The Mouth: Well balanced. Dark black fruit, bacon notes, savory notes, good texture and soft tannins.
This is a rock solid syrah. BDV “Doon’ Members get this at a meager $21. Thats Syrah you can enjoy on a weeknight and feel great about.
This wine is officially sold out and the tasting room is selling the new 2010, but there is some online to buy
and its in some retail channels still. Grab some now! (I just re-ordered.)
Notes from Randall:
I don’t usually wholesale plagiarize a wine makers notes – but no one says it like Randall. How can you not love this man’s words?!
“La syrah,” the French say—syrah is deeply and elementally feminine—is perfumed elegance. Enchanting and capitvating rather than overpowering, it disarms by its strangeness. Like Borge’s Zahir, syrah makes an indelible impression. One will wander the world till the end of one’s days, its sublime, haunting fragrance gradually displacing all thoughts and memories, including the knowledge of one’s own name.
Oh those Europeans and European-styled wines! Initially very closed when you first meet them. Air (and time) lures them out of their protective cocoon.
Our ’09 Syrah “Le Pousseur” is named for an alchemist and trickster, but is withal an incredibly accessible wine, great by the glass but also a felicitous partner to all manner of roasted meats, poultry, game, wild mushrooms, and well aged cheeses.
Wine Geek Info:
- Varietal Blend: 100% syrah
- Appellation: Central Coast
- Vineyards: 56% Alamo Creek, 32% Bien Nacido, 12% Chequera
- Alcohol by Volume: 13.5%
- TA: 0.58 g/L
- pH: 3.73
- Serving Temp: 55-60ºF
- Cellaring: 5+ years from release (May 2012)
- Production: 1200 cases
February 2nd is the 22nd Annual Zinfandel Festival, also known as ZAP. This lively event is the world’s largest tasting of Zinfandel, and has blossomed from just a tasting to food pairings, education, and more.
Read for more details, a discount code, and a chance to win $130 in tickets!
(1) EPICURIA – Food & Zin Pairings. Thur., Jan 31, 6-9 pm
The Concourse, 635 8th Street, San Francisco, (8th at Brannan in South Market area)
At Epicuria you will embark on a gourmet adventure exploring the versatile flavors of Zinfandel at ZAP’s informal dine-around event. Sample culinary creations from master chefs, perfectly paired with 50 top Zinfandel wines. Taste delicacies from the ZinKitchen celebrity chefs while learning their professional techniques. Immerse yourself in the Zinfandel culture as you mingle with winemakers and culinary experts.
The Zin Kitchen will provide cooking demonstrations and talk about Zinfandel and food matchings.
(2) FLIGHTS – Forums of Flavor Friday,February 1, 10:30am – 1:00pm (SOLD OUT!)
The Fairmont Hotel, Nob Hill, San Francisco
Explore the passion
Designed for the enthusiast with a passion for the legendary, this exclusive seminar-style tasting ignites your imagination for the varietal as you delve into the history, culture and science behind the many flavors of Zinfandel. Flights offers unique insight into the Zinfandel varietal and allows you to experience the true character of the wines through the eyes of experts as you revel in a sensory experience like no other.
(3) WINEMAKERS DINNER – A Benefit with Taste: Friday, February 1 5 pm – 10
A benefit with taste
The fabulous forties reign as you venture to the exotic at our Casablanca-themed VIP benefit. Premier winemaker hosts as they share the intrigue and romance behind their craft at this elegant reception and dinner, while pouring their specially chosen private selections of Zinfandel. Journey back through time as you learn about the origins of America’s Heritage Wine and the modern-day practices that make Zinfandel so legendary.
A live and silent auction features rare and one-of-a-kind lifestyle lots, with proceeds benefiting ZAP programming, education and Heritage Vineyard Projects.
(4) The Best for Last – The GRAND TASTING Saturday, February 2
The Concourse, 635 8th Street, San Francisco, (8th at Brannan in South Market area)
- Trade & Media 10 am – 1 pm
- Members: 1 pm – 5 pm
- Public: 2 pm – 5 pm
Enjoy the thrill of creating your own Zinfari at ZAP’s Grand Tasting! Make the quest for your personal Zinfandel flavor destination as you journey through the varietal’s unique growing regions to experience the diversity of America’s Heritage Grape. This expedition takes you through the world’s largest Zinfandel tasting where you can enjoy hundreds of barrel samples, new releases and premier Zinfandel wines. The return of the ZinKitchen will be a highlight.
ZAP members also have access to special features like Winemaker Workshops, Located in the Members’ Lounge : Seminars conducted by two Vintners rotating every half-hour starting at 10:30 am and continuing until 4:00 pm. Workshop Schedule & Presenters.
As well as the Heritage Club Lounge, Located next to ZinKitchen. Members enjoy table side service of select library and reserve Zinfandels while you relax in the comfortable Heritage Club Lounge at the Grand Tasting. Heritage Club Lounge
To purchase tickets, go to: here
At checkout, enter code “simple” hit apply, and Voila – save 20%!
Bonus! Enter to Win A Pair of Tickets to The Grand Tasting, a $130 Value!
Next Thursday, Feb 24, we will draw a pair of winners at random, with the correct answer.
To Enter to Win simply tell us (in comments below)
a. Your favorite food to eat with Zinfandel
b. If the producers pouring (list here) which is your favorite, or the one you want most to taste?
Enter with EACH answer for two chances to win! Watch your email and here for winners!
And in conclusion….my favorite Video on Zinfandel:
Get your Zin On – Cheers!
By Katherine Parker
The weekend before New Years’ I found myself tasting Champagnes in a Paris apartment with a friendly group of wine aficionados. The tasting was put together by Camilla Macfarlane, a California expat living in Paris, with a background in the wine industry. Camilla put together a wonderful lineup of Champagnes in the holiday spirit, with generous hors d’oeuvres by Kent Keatinge to highlight the wines.
Six Champagnes – all Brut style from esteemed houses – were on the menu. Brut is a medium-dry Champagne and the most popular style sold today. You may find an Extra Dry (slightly more sugar) or an Extra Brut (slightly less) but most of what you see on the market is Brut. Four of the six were from the region of Reims in France.
The first two were contrasting varietals: A Laurent Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut NV made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes, and a Philipponnat Brut Grand Blanc made from 100% Chardonnay grapes. I found the Laurent Perrier the most aromatic of all wines poured, with a distinct nose of fresh wild strawberry-raspberry and an appetizing peach color. Little cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches went well with these small bubbles. The wine comes in a plump dark bottle – the green glass indicating the “black” pinot grapes. The curvy shape and pink collar clearly brand this as a feminine wine.
Also, the Laurent Perrier is a Cuvée – a blend of grapes from 10 different villages, all in the Reims region known for Champagne. The wine is
aged for at least 4 years and is 12% alcohol – another thing I enjoy about Champagne.
The Philipponnat comes in a white bottle to indicate the all-white Chardonnay grapes. A small pastry appetizer topped with tiny shrimps was perfect with this creamy, smooth Blanc de Blanc-style wine.
Next Camilla brought out 2 magnums, each a Brut NV blend of all 3 grapes used in classic Champagne: Veuve Clicquot with at least 50% Pinot Noir, 28% Chardonnay, and 15% Pinot Meunier grapes, and Taittinger with 40% Chardonnay and 60% Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The Taittinger captivated me with crispness and structure based on balanced acidity. That this
wine is a blend of grapes from 35 different “crus” or villages, attests to the winemaking skill of the family-owned Taittinger house.
Drinking from a magnum offers a higher quality wine, because there is less oxygen in the bottle relative to the surface area of the wine. This is also said to favor the creation of small bubbles, which enhance the tactile experience of drinking Champagne.
About this time, we moved on to an appetizer of fish breaded into lollipops, with an apricot-mustard sauce. Whether it was the magnums or the fabulous food and conversation that made the evening so agreeable is hard to say. I think by this time we were all having a great time.
The near-final Champagne was a Ruinart Brut from the same blend of grapes as the Taittinger but made to be even more crisp, acidic and refreshing. The Ruinart undergoes full malolactic fermentation, which is not noted for the Taittinger. Our group thought this might account for the difference between the two wines.
The Grand Finalé was a vintage Dom Perignon 2003 Champagne. I enjoyed the minerality and structure of this taste. The bubbles were the most perfect of the evening – a fountain of tiny bubbles pulsing up from the center of the flute. Paired with beef chili on mini wheat tortilla squares – Mexican with Champagne goes great!
This event was a great opportunity to compare and contrast. I favored the tastes and textures of Ruinart and Taittinger. At the end of the day between the two, it would probably be decided on price. If price were no object, I would go with the Ruinart.
If you are living in Paris, or even if you are visiting like I was, check Camilla’s Paris Wine Meetup Group for tasting dates.
The past two years I have published the “12 Days of Wine Christmas” (still worth a look for suggestions.) With my many roles now, and a trip to Europe (I write this jet la
gged awake as I type) this years series bit the dust.
However I decided to share a compilation of some of my top choices you can still get in time for Dec 25th.
Please forgive lack of graphics, hyperlinks. Finishing this up on a iPad mini in Denmark via expensive remote broadband.
(1) A Wine Club Membership
This was a separate article previously, (http://simplehedonisms.com/archives/3244) that is worth looking at again. Consider gifting a partial or full year to a winery you love. You can print out the order and put it in a stocking, oversized box, or card.
Your local wine shop often has a wine club you can join. Or you can look at specialty importers like Kermit Lynch. (To whom I belong.)
Need a winery suggestion? Look to some of last years suggestions or email me or post in comments to contact you – always happy to share a top favorite!
(2) A Wine Book
I receive a number of books each year to review, as well as purchase many. Here are a few top picks, and one of my personal favorites
The Wines of The Northern Rhone
An amazing resource, and easy to read. Don’t let the size dissuade you. If you love Rhone wines, especially the Northern Rhone – this is your book, period.
Only SIX left on Amazon.
Kermit Lynch: Adventures on the Wine Route: A Wine Buyer’s Tour of France
One of my most inspirational books both as a consumer and a vintner. An easy read, that will make you also love the old world of wine, and be glad Robert Parker is moving on. The paperback is $13. Buy it for yourself even.
The New York Times Book of Wine: More Than 30 Years of Vintage Writing
Eric Asimov’s new book is getting all the press (and well deserved) but this is a great, easy read, (with a lot by Eric) with lots of short soundbytes you can read for minutes, or hours. A steal for a hardback under $20 on Amazon.
I also blame this book, and Eric, for making me covet the T38 $400 corkscrew.
Wines of the Southern Hemisphere: The Complete Guide
A great anthology and resource on wines from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa, and Uruguay. A great hardback gift at under $20 on Amazon.com.
(3) Tickets to A Wine Event
Some of my favorite wine memories are spent attending wine events, where you can immerse yourself and be surrounded by fellow aficionados. Make your wine lover jump up and down with a print out of this in their stocking.
Ultimate Wine Weekend – International Pinot Noir Festival (IPNC)
Both are quite different: IPNC is focused solely on Pinot Noir where as HdR covers the gamut of Rhone wines. HdR was a bit more geeky and industry attended, IPNC was a better fit for consumers.
Now that HdR is basically no longer (until they come out of hiding and announce otherwise) that leaves IPNC as the king. I must confess, with 2+ decades of doing this IPNC has this experience down to a science.
This was the first year I attended the entire weekend, and I must say, while its not inexpensive, its worth every penny. The pace and setting is relaxing, the wines and topics well done, and the food is to die for.
There is also special early bird pricing that expires Dec #31st. Make someone delighted by buying them one of the most hedonistic wine weekends there is.
(b) Wine Road Season Pass
For the first time ever, the Wine Road of Northern Sonoma has created a season pass. It includes:
- 1 ticket to Winter Wineland
– January 19-20, 2013
- 2 tickets to Barrel Tasting – March 1-3 & 8-10, 2013
- 1 ticket to A Wine & Food Affair – November 2-3, 2013
- 1 1-day Ticket to the Wine Road – you pick the date that works for you (some blackout dates apply)
- A canvas Wine Road tote bag AND a Wine Road license plate frame.
- Early Bird check in at our annual event – one hour before other attendees.
- AND your name will go in the hat for a Wine Road Get-Away raffle package. Winner will receive two nights of lodging, wine tour, lunch and winery goodies.
(c) Rhone Rangers San Francisco Weekend Pass
With the demise of the April Hospice du Rhone in Paso Robles, the San Francisco March Rhone Rangers event is now your main Rhone immersion experience. The 2011 event was the most widely attended, and the Rhone Rangers have stepped up to make the 2013 the best ever, with some changes to make attendance easier than ever. This year the Winemakers dinner is Fridayb night, and the seminars and Grand Tasting are on Saturday day and early evening. Grab a hotel in San Francisco for 1-2 nights and have a Rhone filled weekend!
- FULL WEEKEND PASS: Friday, March 22, 2013 & Saturday, March 23, 2013. BUY TICKETS. $275/person. Includes all events: the winemaker dinner (on Friday) plus two seminars, and VIP admission to the Grand Tasting (on Saturday). The seminar topics are: “Old World Inspiration, New World Innovation” and “Mourvedre, A Rising Star in the World of American Rhones.”
- SATURDAY ONLY PASS: Saturday, March 23, 2013. BUY TICKETS. $150/person. Includes two seminars & VIP admission to the Grand Tasting. The seminar topics are: “Old World Inspiration, New World Innovation” and “Mourvedre, A Rising Star in the World of American Rhones.”
Literally hand machined, its a stunning gift a true wine aficionado will go nuts over.
No they won’t get it in time for Christmas. Print out a pic, show them the video, watch the drool. I ensure you I would.
A special warm thank you to the readers and loyal followers of Simple Hedonisms. Your support and feedback has made this a great labor of love and enjoyment.
Life is short, drink great wine this holiday season, try new things, explore and live a little, and if you can, share it with someone.
It’s a bit ironic as a blogger and now small vintner, well known for love of Rhône wines, that I regularly come to the defense of Chardonnay.
Several years ago for #ChardonnayDay, when others scoffed at such a concept, I held a tasting for 10 producers of varied styles that people raved about later. The tasting accomplished my goal of demonstrating that Chardonnay is perhaps the most widely varied varietal in profile of any I know, based on where its from, and wine making techniques.
Stop Thinking of California Chardonnay As THE Representative Of The Varietal
The biggest mistake consumers make is when they write off Chardonnay because of the classic California oaky butter ball/bomb (think Rombauer.)
The style has the illusion of defining Chardonnay because many of the large brands produce these styles by the millions of cases.
Let’s be clear, these wines are often vinified (aka manipulated) to achieve this flavor and texture, including extra Malic acid added to convert to Lactic acid, for the big butter texture. Lower end wines have oak chips added, higher priced ones get over oaked in new French barrels.
However, there are a number of small vintners who make excellent chardonnay not in a classic non California style. This, however, is not my focus today. I encourage you to taste from producers like, Inman Family Wines, Ryme, Donelan, to name only a few.
I generally encourage domestic wines, and supporting local vintners, where possible, as many high quality small Vintners are often missed.
However to win over the jaded Chardonnay pundit, I often find it necessary to make a radical palate shift, and taste a consumer through the Chardonnay’s from Burgundy – and when I want to make the most impact, if I think their palate will appreciate, I go right to the north of Burgundy – for Chablis.
Jug Wine Names From Decades Past – No Connection
Unfortunately wine consumers sometimes hear ‘Chablis’ and “White Burgundy’ and unfortunately may conjure up the images of old Ernest & Julio Gallo or Carlo Rossi white jug wines. It’s a tragedy the names of generations of stunning French white wines were connected with these jug wines, as they bear no resemblance.
The fact that Carlo Rossi STILL sells a 4.0 Liter jug wine called ‘Chablis’ is support for why we globally trademark and protect wine regions. This is not ‘Chablis’ just as Barefoot Bubbly is not ‘champagne’ – Grandfathering be damned in the latter case.
What Defines & Distinguishes Chablis
Chablis is sometimes referred to as the ‘purest’ form of Chardonnay, because the vinification techniques are the least impacting on flavor profile.
Most of Chablis is fermented in stainless steel or neutral oak barrel, with aging in stainless, or a mix of used oak barrels, with minimal new. Chablis is the Northern most region in Burgundy, thus cooler, so the wines are generally quite high in acid and bright. Most Chablis, that I have tasted anyway, generally go through Malolactic fementation, which helps give another layer of complexity to these bright wines.
However, wine making alone can not account for Chablis being so different than other Chardonnay from Burgundy.
The soils of Chablis are known as Kimmeridge clay which is a composition of limestone, clay and tiny fossilized oyster shells. All of Chablis’ Grand Cru vineyards and Premier Cru vineyards are planted on primarily Kimmeridgean soil which imparts a distinctively mineral, flinty note to the wines.
You may scoff at concept of ‘terroir’, but the essence of seashells, salinity, and minerality are captured perfectly in the aroma and flavor profile of these delightful wines.
How Could You NOT Love These Wines
For the wine aficionado, the world of Chablis offers much. If your palate favors acid driven wines, mineral laden whites, there is much to love in Chablis, especially in the offers from the Premier and Grand Crus. White wines that have steely, mineral, saline notes, that scream for food, but are impeccably enjoyable solo. Great Chablis exists at all price points, with good quality as low as $20, but there is a difference when you pay for Premier & Grand Cru that can not be denied.
Don’t be a afraid to splurge for an older bottle on a fine wine list. Acid, more than tannin, is what preserves a wine and allows it to age, and indeed many Chablis benefit from a few years in bottle before releasing.
Chablis Media Tour
Last month I was invited to a small media tasting and lunch, hosted by the Chablis Wine Board and Pure Chablis. Winemaker & President Jean Francois Bordet, led the tasting personally. I have always been a fan of Chablis, but this tasting was the ‘ah ha!’ epiphany moment that made me wake up. Why am I not drinking more of these wines?!
I am now so smitten with Chablis that in ten days I am spending two days there touring, prior heading to my beloved Northern Rhone, and in fact at the expense of some Rhone tasting appointments. Those who follow my passion, know what a statement that is.
Look for an article series in the New Year as I tour vineyards, cellars, talk with Vintners, as well as updates on our Facebook page.
Tasting Notes: Chablis You Can Purchase In the US
- An incredible value for Chablis, at $20. A gorgeous yellow with a slight greenish hue. Nose of saline, green apple, pear. In the mouth its bright, fresh with classic flinty minerality, citrus, and a lingering finish. 92 Points.
2009 La Chablisienne Chablis 1er Cru Côte de Léchet
- Light yellow in color. Rich nose of saline, chalk, green melon. In the mouth its bright, well balanced, that lingers pleasantly on the finish. A good value for a Premier Cru, from 25 year old vines, aged in both stainless tanks and barrel. ~$30. 92 Points.
2009 Domaine William Fèvre Chablis 1er Cru Vaulorent
- An outstanding Chablis from hand picked fruit, gravity fed flow, natural yeast & ML fermentation. Light yellow color with a green tinge. Nose of wet stone, lemon. Very bright in the mouth with great flinty minerality, tart green apple, lemon. A young wine that will improve in bottle. ~$45. 93 Points.
2008 Domaine Christian Moreau Père et Fils Chablis Grand Cru Valmur
- Richer in style than other Chablis. Harvested from 50 year old vines, 50% stainless, 50% barrel: 10% New, 90% 1-3 year barrels, eight months. Light to medium yellow color. Nose of wet stone, lemon zest , kiwi. Rich in the mouth, tropical fruit, long finish. Use of oak detectable but not overwhelming. ~$50. 90 Points.
2008 Joseph Drouhin Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos Domaine de Vaudon
- A stunning Grand Cru Chablis from 37 year old vines, farmed Biodynamically since 2000. Medium yellow color. Expressive nose of lemon zest, wet stone, citrus. Complex & elegant on the palate; expressive pure fruit, saline, with a long finish. Still a baby, with many years ahead to develop. ~$55. 93 Points
From K&L Wine in San Francisco
2011 Domaine William Fèvre Chablis Champs Royaux
- This is a great value at $20, The 2011 Champs Royaux is equal parts estate and purchased fruit, mostly from left bank sites. The nose is of crushed seashells, lime, grapefruit. The palate is clean, bright citrus on front, the mid palate has excellent wet stone minerality, the finish is long, with saline and wet rock notes. 90 Points.
2010 Domaine William Fèvre Chablis 1er Cru Fourchaume
- Nose is an opulent mix of white grapefruit, lime pith,, with an undertone of saline. In the mouth, its bright, tart, white peach, lime. The mid palate is pleasant, astringent with minerality, a long drying finish, with a hint of bitterness. Perhaps a bit young, and would benefit from another year in cellar to show at its best. $40. 91 Points.
2010 Domaine de L’Églantière (Jean Durup) Chablis
- A good value Chablis at $16. Fermented and aged in a mix of concrete and stainless. Pale light yellow color. A nose that gives it away as Chablis immediately with notes of seashells, wet rock, and grapefruit. In the mouth its an easy drinking wine – bright citrus, refreshing acid, nice mineral notes, with a clean, lingering finish. An excellent everyday drinking wine that is true to Chablis. 89 Points.
From Kermit Lynch Berkeley Store
2010 Domaine Costal Chablis Les Truffières
- A Kermit Lynch collaboration wine with Domaine Costal. Fermented
and aged 10 months in stainless steel, followed by 3 months in demi-muid barrels (600-Liter.)
A solid Chablis for $25. Yellow straw color. The nose is a classic Chablis – white grapefruit peel, tangerine, wet stone, lime zest. In the mouth it’s slightly lusher, more viscous, than expected, but pleasing, hardly over ripe. The front palate is orange & citrus, the mid palate has nice weight, with minerality and saline, the finish is tart citrus, medium length. 91 Points
2011 Francine et Olivier Savary Chablis 1er Cru Fourchaume
- A mid priced Chablis from Domaine Savary, from a small .75 hectare vineyard, 30 year old vines. Fermented and aged in stainless, aged on the lees. Yellow straw color. A little less detectably ‘Chablis’ on the nose, notes of green apple and white pear. In the mouth its a bit more steely on the mid palate and finish. Slightly rounder front and mid palate with red apple and lime, a modest finish of tangerine. $25. 88 Points.
The Northern Rhone is my favorite wine region in France, I have been enjoying tasting through its regions prior to my upcoming trip there.
This is the land of cool climate Syrah, of which Côte-Rôtie is the most well known.
The first night quic
kly sampling this was pleasant, but didn’t have that ‘ooh’ factor I want in a $60 Côte-Rôtie. Fortunately the second night, it improved.
I can’t agree with the comments on CellarTracker from a year ago of too much oak or new world style. But its a year later it could have integrated some. If anything the wine was a bit simple
prior to some air. And at 12.5% alc not over done or over ripe.
Its still young (obviously) and improves with aeration, and will do so bottle aging.
It was also more aromatic night two. Also
interesting as I changed to a larger Riedel stem, more oak was prevalent on the nose.
- To The Eye: Dark purple color, unfiltered.
- On The Nose: (Varied greatly by stemware bowl size – tried 3 different size Riedels.) Violets, White pepper, smoked meat.
- On The Palate: Black fruits, olive notes, meaty notes; a finish of mocha, with some structure, and a good finish.
Imported by Kermit Lynch. Not a value buy at $60, but a fair price for Cote Rotie. I’d cellar if purchased.