Archive for December, 2011

Cough, Sniffle, Sneeze: Thanks, Santa

December 28, 2011

We have a lot to be thankful for at this time of year, but I’m just glad to have my taste buds back.

I’ve had a case of the holiday flu, which for the last week or so has pretty much killed my sense of taste and smell.

With that experience behind me, I’m ready to start the new year with a new-found appreciation for the pleasures to be found in Wine Country 2012.

New Look at an Old Favorite

It’s been popular — and easy — to bash California Chardonnay over the years, but I’d like to reverse direction and focus on finding the best this varietal has to offer in the Golden State.

California Chardonnay

I’m not going to forget red wine, but I am going to make a special effort to seek out more Chardonnay wines to sample in the months ahead.

Chardonnay can be flinty and dry as a bone. It can be sweet and fleshy. It can be kissed lightly (or overwhelmed) by oak from barrel aging.  Tastes run from crispy apple to honeyed tropical fruits with a wide range of other nuances

All wine takes a taste cue from the soils and climates in which the grapes are grown. Chardonnay is no different. In fact, I believe it can show more about its background than many other grapes.

In France, you find world-class Chardonnay in the Burgundy and Champagne regions. The unique soils, variable weather and vineyard practices combine to produce  wines that reflect the essence of place.

California Style

In California, Chardonnay styles are all over the board.

It’s the most widely planted grape in the state with more than 95,000 acres in vines. Chardonnay sales accounted for 28 percent of all California tables wines sold in 2010.

Different soils, sub-climates and growing conditions can produce a wide range of flavors and taste characteristics in both still and sparkling wines.

I’ll be looking for both regional influences and wine making styles to compare and contrast the choices we have as wine consumers looking for the next glass of California Chardonnay.

Hurry Up and Wait, Part 2

December 8, 2011

In my last blog, I complained about having to wait to taste a new wine recently delivered from an online merchant.

The wine, Bookwalter  Subplot No. 25, had been recommended by Jon Rimmerman of Garagiste in early March. That’s when I placed the order for six bottles of Bookwalter’s blended red wine made from a melange of grapes grown in Washington’s Columbia Valley.

Subplot No. 25 back labelRimmerman’s business is securing access for his customers to great deals on artisanal wines from all over the world. Like many quality-conscious online retailers, the Garagiste only ships wine to its buyers twice a year — in the Spring and Fall — to avoid exposing the bottles to serious extremes in temperature during transit.

He also warns his flock not to drink the just-arrived wines for weeks, or even months, to allow the juice to recover its composure after the journey from warehouse to their house.

Premature Opening

I’m not very good at waiting, so I defied the recommendation and opened a bottle soon after arrival.

The wine was closed up. It felt disjointed.

The  first taste was nothing special and there wasn’t much of a bouquet, so I set the glass aside for an hour.

Maybe a little more time would help.

The time in the glass did some good, but it still tasted off.

There were good, deep black fruit flavors, but nothing held the taste together. It felt unfinished, so I put the bottle in the fridge, with its screw cap  twisted nice and tight.

Worth the Wait

Three days later, I poured another taste and discovered what this deeply colored red wine  — made from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petite Verdot and Barbera — was all about.

The fruit tasted of a melange of black fruits that coated the tongue with plum, black currant and black cherry flavors spiked with touch of Christmas spice. The wine started with deep, serious bouquet of red berries and lightly toasted oak.

The tastes lingered on the back of my tongue for about 20 seconds; serious hang time for a wine that sells for less than $14 in retail outlets, like K&L Wines in San Francisco, which has some of this delicious concoction in stock even though the winery is completely sold out.

I’ve got to believe that, given some time to sit in my cellar, this wine will show even better over the next few months.

If I can’t hold out that long, I’ll decant the next bottle and let this wine breath for several hours to give it time to wake up from its beauty sleep.

Hurry Up and Wait Some More

December 1, 2011

There is something to be said in favor of delayed gratification, especially with some wines that need a bit of time to reach perfection, but it’s a hard rule to follow when so many holiday temptations are near at hand.

Take the special holiday sale being thrown by Diageo, the big beverage company with a slew of California wine brands in its international portfolio.

I got an e-mail from a Diageo marketer with an offer I couldn’t resist sharing. The “Friends and Family” holiday sale offers wines by the case and some single-bottle offerings at a 60 percent discount, with free shipping.

Wines from  11 different brands, including BV (Beaulieu Vineyard), Sterling, Rosenblum Cellars, Acacia and Chalone Vineyard, are all included.

Here’s a link to shop online. The sale ends Saturday, Dec. 3. Tell me if you found something you liked.

Delayed  Gratification

I just received a shipment of wine that I purchased eight months ago.

Unless I’m buying futures, I don’t usually plan that far in advance, nor wait that long to receive a shipment, but I didn’t have a choice.

I bought the wine from Garagiste, an online retailer run by Jon Rimmerman.

Jon’s sole purpose in life is to scout out interesting wines at great prices from around the globe and sell them to his e-mail list of followers. Nearly every day there’s something new to share, including vivid commentary about each offering, its background and its producer.

I’ve enjoyed his reports and now I’m ready to see if his recommendations (in a limited sample) are worth following.

Less is More

Rimmerman’s taste lean toward restraint (less intervention from the winemaker) and terroir (wines that taste of the place they are from).

I took his advice and bought six bottles each of Bookwalter Subplot 25 (a Cabernet-based blend from Washington) and 2010 Saint Antonin from Lou Cazalet in southern France.

The Subplot (all of Bookwalter’s wines have a literary name) is a blend of several vintages (2010, 2009, 2008 , 2007 and 2005). Grapes in the blend include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and others from some of Washington’s top vineyards.

I got it for $12.96 per bottle. That compares to $45-$60 for the winery’s other wines.

Harmonic Convergence?

Below is vintage Rimmerman, riffing on the Saint Antonin, a $13.80 wine from the not-yet-famous Faugeres, a wine appellation in the Languedoc-Roussillon region:

“If you were to pick a poster-child for the stature, tannin and overall harmonic convergence that is 2010, it could be this wine  – a traditional Faugeres from the schist/mineral soil of the region without any wood or oak influence of any kind,” he wrote.

“Without belaboring the point (or going on one of my diatribes), I urge all of you to try this relatively unknown entrant that (like La Gramière a few weeks ago) is set to influence an entire region with their “less is more” attitude and attraction for capturing the essence of each vintage in a bottle.”

I’ll report back when I taste these wines in a few weeks.

I have to wait, according to Rimmerman, for the wines to settle. They need to regain their composure after shipping from his temperature controlled warehouse in Seattle. That’s where my wine has been sitting since last Spring.

It’s Garagiste policy to wait until the threat of warm weather is totally gone before sending any precious liquid cargo to the buying public. That’s why it took so long for my case of wine to arrive.

I’ll give Garagiste the benefit of the doubt, but I really hope it’s worth the wait!

Bottle Your Own in Half Moon Bay

La Nebbia Winery in Half Moon Bay is holding a bottle and cork day on Saturday, Dec. 10. They’ll be filling bottles with 2009 Syrah  for $4.95 a bottle. The wine is from Yuba County, which ain’t Napa but it produces some decent table wines.

If you don’t bring your own bottles, they’ll provide clean fifths for an extra $1.50 apiece. The event runs from 9 a.m. to  4 p.m. If you can’t make it, call the winery at  650-726-9463 to reserve some wine for the holidays.