Archive for October, 2011

Sparkling Possibilities

October 15, 2011

With the holidays lurking just around the bend, now would be a great time to think about giving the gift of wine. My first thought is sparkling wine, a winner in almost everyone’s eyes.

Don’t wait until the last minute.

You’ll get stuck with leftovers that nobody else wants. And, you may miss out on some bargains in the process, since prices tend to trend up the closer it gets to Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

Try Before You Buy

An event that should be fun, and informative, is the Oct. 23 Champagne tasting sponsored by K&L Wine Merchants in Redwood City, one of the Bay Area’s premier winesellers.

It’s not cheap ($85 for wine tasting and light appetizers) but attendees can sample Champagnes from top-rung producers like Krug, Bolinger and Salon as well as several grower/producers from France who will be on hand to answer questions and discuss their offerings.

For a focused look at one French champagne house’s lineup, check out the Oct. 21 tasting of Henriot wines at Artisan Wine Depot in Mountain View. Tickets are $19 in advance and $24 at the door.

In San Francisco, a champagne bar like the Bubble Lounge gives customers a chance to taste dozens of sparkling wines — imported and domestic — to figure out what pleases your own palate before investing in a bottle, or a case.

A great wine store for champagne shopping and tasting is the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant.

The store’s tasting bar looks out onto the Ferry Plaza concourse, which is a great people-watching spot, especially during the holidays. On Wednesdays, the wine bar features special tastings, including a Dec. 7 champagne and oyster fest.

Homegrown Sparklers

California makes some great sparkling wines in a pretty broad price range. We don’t call them Champagne, because that designation is only for wines from the Champagne region of France, which gets credit for starting the sparkling wine movement centuries ago.

Some brands dominate the California sparkler market.They include Domaine Chandon, Mumm, Roderer Estate, Gloria Ferrer, Domaine Carneros and Schramsberg. Prices run from the low teens to high double digits, mostly based on the quality of the fruit in the bottle and the treatment in the winery.

Try Before You Buy

A trip to wine country to taste the wines at the winery of origin is always fun.

One of the first California wineries I toured was Domaine Chandon in Yountville, and this Napa Valley winery remains a high-quality producer of sparkling wines. It’s also one of the first  French-owned companies (Moet & Chandon is the parent) to establish a California base for sparkling wine production.

Harvest Time

Although most of the 2011 vintage white wine grapes have already been picked, the harvest season for red grapes is in full swing in Napa — and all over wine country — with many wineries scrambling to pick the crop at the height of readiness over the next few weeks.

While the rush of crush is on, wineries still welcome guests so they can see the process take shape and also to offer older vintages for sale.

They’ve got to make room for all that new wine, right?

Here are two interesting wine-tasting events coming up in the next week:

Pinot On the River

The town square in Healdsburg will be hopping with more than 80 wineries pouring wines during the annual Russian River Pinot on the River event on Oct. 23. Advance tickets are available online for $75.

World Series & Wine

Girard Winery in Yountville will be showing the first game of the World Series on the big screen TV at the tasting room. They’ll be pouring reds and whites and serving barbecue to fans on Oct. 19, from 5-9 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance. Look for a taste of the 2007 cabernet sauvignon,which got a 90 rating from Wine Spectator.


Lodi By the Bay

October 9, 2011

Treasure Island doubled as a great vantage point for watching Fleet Week activities and sampling some cool wines this weekend .

USS Carl Vinson on SF Bay for Fleet Week 2011

The occasion was the Lodi Wine Fest on Saturday, Oct. 8, when the best wines from the area were poured on a sun-splashed afternoon.

Lodi has a well-earned reputation for zinfandel, but it’s not a one-act play when it comes to wine.

I found several  other really good wines that combined great quality with good value.

White Wines Shine

The 2009 Chardonnay/Marsanne ($12) from Scotto Family Cellars stood out with lovely green apple fruit, with lemony highlights and a touch of melon. Scotto also puts out a great 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel with beautiful black cherry and pepper flavors.

Gen5 makes a 2010 Lodi Chardonnay with a definite lemony edge that tasted great with a chunk of sourdough and a couple of green olives.

Harney Lane Winery’s 2010 Albarino is worth a try if you like lemon zest and citrus fruit.

This summertime sipper, made from a grape popularized in Spain and Portugal, features a lemon-lime flavor and crispness that cries out for a picnic, blanket and sunny afternoon.

Well-Made Reds

Langetwins Winery (which also makes the Gen5 wines) showed a great Bordeaux-style blend featuring petit verdot, merlot, cabernet and malbec. The 2008 Midnight Reserve ($30) is big, bold and expressive with purple fruits and finely integrated tannins.

I really liked several Petite Sirahs coming from the Lodi Appellation, which sits about 90 miles east of San Francisco.

Macchia’s 2009 Rebellious Petite Sirah ($24) tasted of sweet jam and fine tannins.

Maley Brothers 2006 Petite Sirah had a tart edge and some of the same jammy fruit for a nice coupling.

Another tasty 2007 Hybrid Petite Sirah ($10) from Peltier Station showed a bit more complex profile with high-toned red fruit, a touch of black pepper  and a rich, round overall feel in the mouth.

You don’t  often see Cabernet Franc, which is generally a blending grape, bottled all by itself, but don’t tell that to Mike McCay at McCay Cellars.

McCay made a great 2008 Cabernet Franc ($28) that marries spicy raspberry flavors with dusty tannins for a winning combination. It will need a bit of age, or aeration, to fully develop, but this wine is definitely a winner.

There are only a few cabernet sauvignons from Lodi that rise above average.

A new favorite is The Nymph 2009 from Stama Winery. This $28 wine, which was aged in French oak, features a nice firm structure anchored by dark cherry fruit with dusty tannins.


I’ve been in love with Lodi zinfandels for more than 20 years, having tasted a wide range of these wines from most of the major producers.

I found another example of good red zin  at the Lodi tasting from Berghold Vineyards and Winery. The 2007 Berghold Zinfandel ($23) is a smooth-drinking wine with a taste of plum jam.

The 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel ($28) from Jeremy Wine Co. was another gorgeous Lodi zin. The rich grape jam fruit provided a smooth mouthful of flavors that were hard to resist.

J Gris Hits High Mark

October 3, 2011

I recently renewed my “Anything But Chardonnay Club: membership and discovered an old friend in new circumstances.

One of my favorite California sparkling wine makers is J Vineyards and Winery, the Sonoma Valley producer with a well-earned reputation for top-quality.

The vintage brut and rose from J are beautiful wines that have never disappointed me and the hospitable winery is definitely worth a visit whenever you’re close to Healdsburg.

 “J” Has a Way with Pinot Gris

I’d never given J’s varietal wines much attention. I know they make a decent Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but I was unaware of the Pinot Gris.

It’s wonderful. Just the right mix of lovely fruit with a light vein of minerality. I liked the crispness on a warm night alongside an order of crab cakes over mixed greens.

I ordered the 2010 PG ($9/glass) on the recommendation of our waitress at Casa Vino, the Berkeley wine bar and bistro with a comfortable patio and a dog-friendly atmosphere.

The dog-friendly part is important since we have a four-footed companion in the family.

After a 45-minute stroll around sun-drenched Point Isabel with Ruby, a chihuahua/dachshund mix, it was time to relax with a glass of vino.

A quick smartphone search showed Casa Vino was dog-friendly and  just a few minutes away.

ABC Selections

When a cold bottle of the J Pinot Gris couldn’t be located, we ordered a flight of  three ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) wines to pass the time until a new bottle of J could be chilled.

Two were European and good and one was domestic and great.

The 2009 Castelfeder Pinot Grigio ($9/bottle)  is from Italy’s Alto Adige region, not far from the Austrian/Swiss border. This wine showed a bigger shot of minerality than the J. And, it had a crisp edge of sour lemon, which followed through with a softer lemon flower scent on the nose.

The 2009 Reserve Pinot Blanc from Gustave Lorentz in Alsace ($10/glass)  is another sharp-edged white wine. I liked the acid-fruit balance (sour apple?) a lot and found a bit more depth with some interesting slate highlights.

Vina Robles Delivers

The third member of the trio — a four-grape blend from Vina Robles in Paso Robles — was my favorite of the flight.

The 2010 White4  ($8/glass) is made from Vermentino, Verdelho, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc.

I loved the hint of lemon honey on the tongue and the aromatics of tropical fruit. The wine felt full and round in my mouth with just the right edge of acid to keep it balanced.

I also enjoyed the Vina Robles 2009 Red4 ($8/glass). This four-grape blend is made from Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache and Mourvedre.

It’s a supple mouthful of red plummy fruit with some cooking spice highlights. It paired well with a flatbread pizza margherita.

Vina Casa

By-the-glass wines at Vina Casa can be ordered in full (six-ounce) and half (three-ounce) portions. Retail bottle sales are normally twice the by-the-glass price.