Monday, March 2, 2015

Temecula the Sequel

I had Presidents Day Monday off of my other job (the one that pays the bills) and since Valentine's day fell on the preceding Saturday my Valentine and I decide to make the 5 1/2 hour drive to spend the weekend in Temecula to do some wine tasting and enjoy the area.  We made our first visit to the area last year. This trip we wanted to visit some of the smaller places we did not get a chance to try last year.  


Our overall impression of the wine was similar to what is was it was last year.  The wines, with some exceptions highlighted below, are for the most part drinkable but are not special and distinctive and do not justify their high prices.  The tasting rooms for most part are comfortable, interesting, some offering great views, and the tasting room staff at all the wineries we visited were friendly and helpful. Most of the larger wineries spend as much time promoting their banquet and wedding facilities as they do promoting their wine. I'm thinking half of LA and San Diego has their wedding reception in Temecula. The area features some great restaurants and things to do. It was a fun weekend and we plan to go back.


Our first stop when we pulled into town was Wiens Family Cellars.  This was the only repeat visit from last year.  We purchased enough wine from them last year to qualify as “virtual” members so that meant free tastings and if it is free I am there.  Members get to taste 8 wines each and they are not very careful about keeping track of how many wines you have tasted.  The pours were generous.  When we were done with Wiens we were done for the day.  We focused on the red wines and most of what we tasted was good but we did not find it all that special.  That changed when we tasted the 2012 Dualis, a mix of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Zinfandel.  It seemed a strange combination to me but after tasting several OK almost bland wines we were impressed.  The Zin softened the tannin of a young Cabernet as wells adding some fruit and acidity making the wine more drinkable.  It is delicious and highly recommended.  

Our first stop the next day was Vendemia.  They are a small boutique winery with a nice comfortable outdoor tasting room with great views.  Among other blends and varietals they produce Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah.  The whites we tasted on that list were all good, and the reds drinkable but with one exception unremarkable.  The one remarkable wine we did taste was their 2010 “More Cowbell” Zinfandel.  It had just the right combination of fruit and earth and would pair very with Mexican food or grilled meat.  


Our next stop was Lumiere. Just down the street from Vendemia they also a boutique winery. It features an outdoor tasting room with a fantastic view of the area.  Martha, one of the founders of the winery, did the pouring and was an absolute delight. She and her husband had the dream of starting a winery and Lumiere is the fulfillment of that dream. Following the death of her husband they turned over the reigns of the business to her son. They produce a variety of Reds and Whites and like most of Temecula the reds were drinkable but not very distinctive.  What was distinctive was their late harvest Sauvignon Blanc.  It is a sweet wine but not overly sweet or syrupy. If you like Sauternes you will enjoy this wine.  



Our last stop on day two was Falkner Winery.  Falkner features a large tasting room with both indoor and outdoor tasting.  The place has a hip happening feel to it and it was no wonder there were so many younger folks tasting wine there that day. With one exception we found their reds (you have heard this before) drinkable but unremarkable.  The one exception was their 2011 Rock Creek Vineyard Syrah.  It was unique among many of the red wines in Temecula in that you could taste the fruit but it was not the least bit jammy.  It was really good.  Another highlight was their Viognier.  I’m not a big fan of Viognier but I have to admit most of them we tasted on this trip were quite good and the one produced by Falkner was among the best.


Colleen and Scott Kline owners of  SC Cellars 
Day three started with our favorite stop SC Cellars.  The tasting room is only open to wine club members and even then they are only open limited hours on the weekend.  After repeated phone calls they agreed to let us visit. We are glad they did. SC Cellars is small even for a boutique winery. The winery originally starting out as a hobby for its owners Scott and Colleen Kline but they got so tired of friends and family asking them for wine they decided to turn their hobby into a business. They only produce about 400 of cases of wine with all of it coming from their three acre vineyard.   The day we visited them Colleen had made homemade truffles and from the conversations Scott and Colleen had with the others in the tasting room you could tell it was a close knit group.  They care very much about the wine they produce and you could tell in joy they took in explaining each of the wines to you as they poured.  Our favorite wine we tasted was the 212 Malbec.  The 2012 Chardonnay was the best Chardonnay we tasted on the trip.  They also make a Cabernet Sauvignon while very good it was not as distinctive as the Chardonnay and Malbec.


Our last stop was Europa Village.  Europa Village features a larger active tasting room with an outgoing and knowledgeable staff.  There is also a bed and breakfast on the property.  We enjoyed several of their wines the highlights being the 2014 Viognier, the 2012 Syrah, and our favorite 2012 Poco Roco. The Poco Rocco is a Spanish style blend consisting of 70% Garnacha, 25% Mourvedre, and 5% Tempranillo.  It is a light bodied wine that would pair perfectly with lean pork dishes as well as vegetarian pizza.

In summary the wine is not world class but the tasting rooms and the overall experience is worth a drive. You will have your best luck with Syrah and Viognier.  On this trip we focused on some of the smaller producers and thought they made more interesting wines then some of the larger produces that focus on the banquet hall business as much as they do on the wines they produce.  

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Quick Wine Tasting Trip to Santa Barbara County

Mrs.Wine Guy  and I had a few free days between the holidays so we took a couple of those days to do some wine tasting in Santa Barbara county.  It is one of our favorite places to go because first and foremost the wine is always good, the scenery is beautiful,  it is not crowed, and the tasting fees and wine prices are generally reasonable.

Day one we focused on some old favorites and made a new discovery along the Foxen Canyon Road, and day two we visited the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.  We also made a stop at the Hitching Post Restaurant/Winery in Buellton.  

The Hitching Post you may recall is the restaurant where the Virginia Madsen (Maya) character works in the movie Sideways.  The movie is credited with putting Santa Barbara wines on the map, increasing the popularity of Pinot Noir, and killing the demand for Merlot (If you have seen the movie you understand).  The restaurant features steaks grilled over an open oak fueled fire and a variety of other dishes.  Their roasted garlic is not to be missed.  They also produce their own wines, mostly Pinot Noir. If selecting one of their Pinot’s I would stick with one of their blends like Hometown ($20) , Cork Dancer ($29).  Their prices are more reasonable than the single vineyard selections (@$42) and the you will enjoy them every bit as much.  If you go in the summer and want to bring back a souvenir then pick up a bottle of “Pinks” rose ($15).  I love rose and this one is quite enjoyable.  
 

On our trip along Foxen Canyon Road we visited two old friends and made a new one. Our old friends are Koehler and Rancho Sisquoc.  Their tasting rooms are inviting and the friendly staff always makes it a great experience. Koehler hired a new winemaker a couple of years ago and they are producing more and more red blends.  The star of this visit for us was a red blend called. “Rebel” ($48) comprised of 60% Cabernet and 40% Syrah.  We also enjoyed their “Accomplice” (62% Syarh 38% Grenache, $42).  They also produce a nice Chardonnay that has just a touch of oak that is quite nice ($24).  
 Rancho Sisquoc features great wines at great prices.  In addition to all the better known varietals try their Sisquoc River Red ($20) or their Tre Vin ($18, 54% Sangiovese, 31% Petit Verdot, 15% Petit Sirah).  If you want to try a unique white try their Sylvaner ($14).  Sylvaner is a grape not generally planted in the US that is widely planted in Germany.  Unlike other german wines in is generally dry.  It’s kinda sorta like chardonnay but is crisper and a little tart.  If you visit make sure you give it a try.

Our new friend on Foxen Canyon Road is Demetria. Unlike Rancho Sisquoc their prices fall outside of reasonable.  Their tasting fee is $20 per person (as opposed to $10 at most other places) and they make a point to tell you that it does NOT include a souvenir logo glass. They feature Burgundy and Rhone style wines with a wide variety of interesting whites, and an amazing view from the courtyard where they do their wine tastings.  Unlike other tasting rooms instead of having to take your place at the bar they bring the wine to you at your table. Nothing is under $40 with many wines $50+.  All the wines were unique with the stars of the show being the two Pinot Noirs we tasted, the 2012 “Le Belier” and the 2012 “Haleyon Days”.  They were  like no other Pinots we had ever experienced.  Initially they started out softly but the taste grew more intense and flavorful at the finish.  At $55 a bottle they are not for everyday consumption but they are definitely worth a splurge.



If you care more about the wine then the experience, the Lompoc Wine Ghetto should be on your list of places to visit.  The Wine Ghetto is a nondescript industrial park that several small winemakers have moved into because of its low overhead. What you lose in beautiful surroundings and views of vineyards you gain several tasting rooms in close proximity to one another. In the Ghetto (can’t get the Elvis song out of my head) we visited three tasting rooms Fiddlehead Cellars, Flying Goat, and Moretti.  

Fiddlehead is the best known of the three.  The owners of Fiddlehead own Fiddlestix vineyards one of the most well regarded vineyards in the area.  Many of the local wine producers source their grapes for them, Hitching Post being one of them, often naming the wines produced from those grapes “Fiddlestix”.  Fiddlehead focuses on sparkling wines and Pinot Noir.  We found their sparkling wines disappointing, they were more fizzy then flavorful but we were really impressed with their Pinots. The star of the show is their 728 Pinot (728 being the mile marker on the the road outside of their vineyard).  It was fruity without being jammy and was extremely pleasant to drink but at $42 it was a bit pricey. If we had not already blown our splurge budget at Demetria we may have brought home a bottle.  Almost as good and $14 cheaper was their “Missing 7 Pinot” (Got its name from it’s $28 price which does not have a “7” like the 728 Pinot, I know too much information).  It has both structure and fruitiness and it is quite drinkable and a better value than the 728.  .

Flying Goat was a disappointment.  They focus on Sparkling wines and Pinot. We did not try the sparkling and we found their Pinot to be listless and unremarkable.  If we go back we will try the Sparkling.

Moretti was our favorite tasting room in the ghetto.  Moretti focuses on producing small lot food friendly wines.  To back that up they serve cheese, meats, and breads along with their wines.  We thought their 2010 Vineyard Pinot Noir ($32) was outstanding as was their 2010 Rosso Mio (60% Dolcetto, 30% Barbara, 10% Nebbiolo, $25). They have a truffle cheese that is amazing and available for sale in the tasting room.  

We then decided to leave the Ghetto behind and go back out to the countryside for one last tasting.  We had been to Rideau Vineyard & Winery several years ago before I had started to study wine and that was the only winery in the area that I had negative feelings about.  They specialize in Rhone varietals including several whites and rose wines.  I wanted to see if the new me felt any different.  Once we got there old memories about the wine came back to haunt me.  First of all the place is beautiful, they had a jazz band band playing in the courtyard, and they have a kitchen that makes what looks like wonderful flat breads. A perfect place to have a picnic lunch.  We found the wines unremarkable and you can find wine that are as good or better at many other places, like Rancho Sisquoc,at more reasonable prices.  

Let me know if you have any questions.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Bubbles on a Budget

For many people there is no better way to ring in the new year then to pop open a bottle of sparkling wine.  For most of us when we think or sparkling wine we think “Champagne” just like we think “xeroxing” when mean we want to make a copy and we reach for a “Band-Aid” when we mean we want a bandage.


The only place that they make “Champagne” is in the Champagne region of France.  There are sparkling wines that are called “champagne” (please note the C is not capitalized) from other parts of the world like California, but they are not the real thing. 


If you want an excellent chance of getting an excellent sparkling wine by all means buy a bottle of real Champagne.  You will also most likely pay a premium for that excellence as  it will cost you upwards of $40.00 a bottle.  That is appropriate if you are celebrating your anniversary, a promotion, or are an enthusiast.  But on New Years Eve most people are just looking to suck something down so they can get to the hugging, kissing, and blowing into their noisemakers.  They really don’t take the time to savor what is in their glass.  For those occasions, and quite frankly for most other occasions,  your wine guy has some suggestions that are nearly as good and sometimes better than real Champagne at a fraction of the price.  

One thing you could do would be to look for a bottle with the words “Methode Chapenoise”  on the label.   That means the wine is made using the exact same method that the do do make Champagne from Champagne but it is made somewhere else.  Ideally you will find one made in another part of France but no matter where it is produced you will more than likely enjoy it.  You can find good ones starting at around $12.00.   


From Italy you can find great sparkling wines called Prosecco or Asti Spumante.  They are made from different grapes and as a general rule Asti Spumante will be sweeter than Prosecco.  You can find good versions of each of these starting at around $12.00 as well.  


Lastly is one of my personal favorites, Cava from Spain.  It may not say it on the label but most of them are produced using the “Methode Chapenoise”.  They are quite tasty and because Cava  is not as well known as other sparklers you can still find good ones starting at around $9.  


You noticed I did not include any California wines.  The reason for that is that most of them at these price points are not very good.  Most of the comparable ones cost as much as real “Champagne” so why not go with the real thing? 


If you have any questions please ask it in the comment section and I will get back with you as soon as possible.   

Friday, November 28, 2014

Somtimes it is About More Than What is in the Glass


It was December 1998. My father had recently passed away and my mother was having a hard time dealing with his loss.    She was one of the most charismatic happy people on earth who always had a glow about her, and it was difficult seeing her in such a funk.  She was in her early 80’s  was feeling her age and let me know that in addition to the loss of her husband she was having a hard time dealing with the fact that she would never see her brothers/sister nieces/nephews again.  We could not bring my dad back but we could do something about having her see her family.  Along with my wife and two sons, who had never met their Sicilian family, my mother and I traveled to Sicily the for Easter 1999.  

When they heard about our visit our 60 or so aunts/uncles/cousins could not agree on who would host us for Easter dinner (they all WANTED to host us not the other way around).  Their solution was that they would rent out a banquet room at a local restaurant and they would all host us!

When we arrived at the banquet hall, we, along with my mothers brothers and sisters, were seated at the head table.  We were served a number of seafood dishes, couscous in a seafood broth, and other local favorites.  I remember looking at my momma, surrounded by her brothers,  sisters, nieces and nephew, with a huge smile on her face.  The glow that had been missing for several months had finally returned and stayed with her for the rest of her life.  There are very few moments in my life that can compete with that one.   


Along with the meal they served a local Sicilian white wine with a very unique taste.  I don’t know for certain what it was but the wines I have found that come closest to what I remember are wines consisting of primarily a grape called Grillo or include it as part of the blend.  

Every time I open a bottle and take a sip that unique taste transports me back to that day and I get to relive one of the happiest moments of my life.  I also know in my heart that mamma is looking down from heaven enjoying a glass with me.  

Do you have a wine that brings back special memories?  Please share that moment in the comments section.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Restaurant Wine Ritual and Getting What You Want

You have been obsessing all week on how you were going to get her to say yes.    

You decided you were going to go into classic mode and impress her with a great dinner a fine bottle of wine and then pop the question.  

You take her to her favorite french restaurant.  The waiter comes over and asks if you would like some wine.  You ask to see the wine list and let him know that you would like a bottle of wine but are going to wait until you know what you are going to eat before ordering.  She glances at you with that “ooh this guy knows what he’s doing” look in her eye.  A great start.  You think a 2009 Chateau La Ponte Pomerol is the perfect choice for the braised beef she is ordering so you order a bottle.

The waiter arrives with the bottle and shows you the label before opening the wine  It is a Chateau La Ponte alright, but a 2011.  This has happened to you before where a restaurant will by mistake or by design will switch a vintage on you hoping you won’t notice.  2011 was a great year but still a little young and not nearly as drinkable so you send it back reminding the waiter you ordered the 2009. You glance over at her and she has an expression that tells you she likes a man who knows what he wants.  Your plan is working to perfection.  

The waiter comes back with a 2009, apologizes for his mistake, and after you inspect the label to make sure it has the right vintage you give the OK to open the bottle.  After pulling out the cork the waiter hands it to you for your inspection.  You confidently take the cork in your hand and you only need to check for a couple of things but to make the process more impressive so you do the full monty and check for three things.  The first thing you do is make sure the producer name on the cork matches the name on the label.  In the past unscrupulous restaurants would put inferior wine in used bottles, re-cork them, and resell them. By making sure the name on the cork matches the name on the label customers were assured they were getting what they paid for.  In this day and age the practice of switching wine is all but nonexistent and this is not necessary but you sure do look good going through the process so go ahead and do it. The next thing to do is to look at the bottom of the cork to see if there are any wine solids stuck to the bottom of the cork.  If you see some it does not mean there is anything wrong with the wine it just means there is some naturally occurring sediment in the wine and you want to make sure that you decant the wine so that any sediment falls to the bottom of the decanter and not in your, or more importantly, her, wine glass.  The third thing you want to do is make sure there are no red streak of color going all the way up the side of the cork.  It is OK to have a streak go up part way but if it goes from top to bottom it means that the seal on the cork was not tight enough to keep air out and that the wine is probably spoiled and you should reject the bottle.  Fortunately you saw no issues with the cork and you give the waiter the O.K. to pour a little of the wine in your glass to taste.  You take a quick peek at her and are almost blinded by the gleam coming back at you.  Oh what a night this is going to be.  

Just because the bottle passed the cork eye test does not mean your work is done.  You may have a bottle of “Corked” wine on your hands.  Some cork contains a small amount of a substance called TCA.  Prolonged contact of a cork containing TCA with wine will make that wine taste like wet, smelly cardboard.  You certainly don’t want the taste of  wet smelly cardboard to pass over her angelic lips, and splash onto that perfect tongue. You take a sip and after tasting the wine and making sure it has met your expectations and is worthy of her you instruct the waiter to pour some in her glass.  The almost imperceptible “oh” you hear her sigh as she takes her first sip lets you know that victory is close at hand.  

The food arrives you tell the waiter to pour more wine. The moment feels right so you pop the question;  “Say honey, you know the weekend that you wanted to go see you mom for her birthday, Mike has organized a golf trip to Tahoe you won’t mind if I do that instead do you?”.  

There is a proper way to signal a waiter to get red wine stain out of your shirt but that is a topic for another day.     

Thursday, October 23, 2014

So you don’t like red wine huh?



You are one of those “I hate red wine, I only drink white” kind of people?
It’s fine.  This is America you are free to be who you want to be.  But that doesn’t mean you are right.   
I would bet that the reason you don’t like red wine is because you probably have gone about it all wrong.  
You are probably used to drinking fruit wine, sweet wines (click here to find out if it is wrong to drink sweet wine), or even chardonnay.  Someone once probably served you a two year old red Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and your face puckered up like an old guy who forgot to put in his dentures, and you probably e spit it out thinking to yourself “who the heck can drink this crap”.  Starting out with a young Cabernet Sauvignon is like learning to ski on an Olympic downhill course instead of the bunny hill.  You simply started with the wrong red wine.  You went too fast too soon.  
The reason your mouth puckered up and you did not enjoy the experience is because Cabernet Sauvignon has lots of  tannins.  If you want to know what tannins are find a black tea bag and suck on it.  That sounds like it would be terrible and it is. Tannins are introduced to wine through extended contact with stems, seeds, new oak barrels, but mostly grape skins (especially grapes with thick skins) during the fermentation process.  The reason you want tannins in the wine is because the tannins allow the wine to age longer and the fact that those tannins soften over time and if you wait long enough you will have a unique, complex, and  interesting wine.  
Most white wine is processed in such a way to minimize tannins.  Many red wines are as well.  But because when you think of red wine you immediately flash back to that traumatic Cabernet Sauvignon encounter you refuse to try any red wine.      
Another reason you don’t like red wine is because you try to drink it alone, without food.  Wine, especially red wine, transforms the taste of food, and food transforms the taste of the wine.  Some red wine is just not meant to be alone.
So, with that as background, I would view it as a personal favor it you would try the following step program that will help you lose your fear of and learn to love all red wine.  
Step 1 – Try a Dry Rose
I consider Rose to be a gateway red. Wine gets its color not from its juice but from contact with grape skins during the fermentation process. Rose wine is made from red skin grapes but only has a short period of content with the skin so its color is lighter and because wine gets much of its tannins from skin contact it is not very tannic.  
When many people when they think of Rose think of White Zinfandel which is a sweet wine. That is not what I am talking about.  Most Rose is not sweet.  I would suggest you start out with a light red or salmon color Rose from the Provence region of France.  The lighter the color the closer it is to white wine.  If you like that I would then try a rose from the Tavel (my personal favorite) or Bordeaux regions of France. The color in Rose from those regions is a little darker and the flavor is a little more intense then Rose from Provence but it is still very close to a white wine.  Rose should be enjoyed young and does not require any aging.  Another reason that white wine drinkers should try a dry rose is because they are served cold, like most white wines are.  California and other parts of the world make great Rose as well but the styles vary greatly and are not as consistent as wines from these French regions are.  I like to drink dry Rose alone but I also enjoy it with salmon and other heavier seafood.  
Step 2 – Try Gamay/Beaujolais
Now that you have started to enjoy dry Rose it is time to take the next step, a real red wine!  Fear not you do not have to drink a dreaded tannic Cabernet.  There are several wines to try before you have to make that leap.  There are many wines that are made from grapes with thinner less tannic skins and are not aged in new oak barrels and in some cases are not fermented with their skins and seeds.  In many cases these wines are made from grapes that have a fruitier flavor.   
The first real red wine I would try is Gamay which is used to make Beaujolais.  It is light, not tannic at all, and unlike other red wine can be served cold, a comfort to most white wine zealots.  Gamay would be a great wine to enjoy alone or with salad or with some lighter pork dishes.  It also should be enjoyed young as it does not improve much with age.  
Step 3 – Try a light bodied red.  
After you have tried Gamey and found that not only did you not break out into hives but actually enjoyed the experience it is time to take the next step trying some fuller bodied but still lighter red. A wine like Pinot Noir, Grenache, Barbara, or Sangiovese.  These wines should not be fully chilled but, like most red wines, should be served below room temperature at around 60 degrees. Red wines that are too warm mask a lot of their character and exaggerate the impact of any tannins in the wine .  Of these the only one I would drink alone would be the Pinot Noir as the others are better with food like pasta, pizza, and pork roasts, and heavier fowl dishes like Turkey. I would make sure that these wines have aged at least two years (from the year on the bottle) before drinking.
Step 3 – Try a medium body red.    
If this is as far as your red wine journey takes you then so be it.  Many people consider those light bodied red wines, especially the Pinot Noir, to be among the finest in the world.  But if you have enjoyed the ride so far and are ready to go a bit farther then it is time to try some medium bodied reds like Sarah, Malbec, Red Zinfandel and Merlot.  These wines are more tannic than the others we have discussed and should be at least 4 years old before drinking.  Red Zinfandel would be my favorite to drink alone and they all would taste great with roasts, beef stews, and Mexican food (I think Red Zin and Mexican food is a match made in heaven.)      
Step 4 – Try a Heavyweight red.
Admit it, my advice has opened up a whole new world for you.  Hey you made it this far and have not turned back so let’s go all the way!  It’s time to learn how to enjoy the heaviest and most tannic red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Barolo, and Bordeaux.  First and foremost, and this will upset many red wine zealots, I would not drink any of them without food.  They are infinitely better when paired with grilled fatty red meat like steak or ribs.  They also taste incredible when paired with chocolate. Key to your enjoyment will be choose wine that is at least a minimum of 6 years old in order to give the tannins a chance to mellow out.   If stored properly these heavyweight reds can last 20 years or more.  Trying one of these wines, properly aged, and matched  with the right foods could very well make you regret all the time you spent refusing to try red wines.  But don’t feel bad you have the rest of your life ahead of you to make up for lost time.
Agree? Disagree? Have a question? Let me know by leaving a comment.  

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Further Proof of the Heath Benefits of Red Wine


Amare Stoudemire takes baths in red wine to help him with his rehab and rejuvenate his body.  Click here to read the ESPN article and to see the video.  


I wonder if a fine Bordeaux has more healing power then two buck chuck?