Posts Tagged ‘grenache blanc’

White is Right

March 31, 2011

I’ve decided to try more white wines this year, opening myself up recently to the pleasures of unfamiliar grapes transplanted from France’s esteemed Rhone Valley.

The annual Rhone Rangers tasting event, held this past weekend at Fort Mason in San Francisco, featured a wide range of these white wines. Unlike the more common chardonnay and sauvignon blanc or riesling, these wines are made from grapes like grenache blanc, roussanne, marsanne, and viognier.

Sometimes they are bottled separately but often the producers will make a blend of two, three or even all four grapes together.

Try This at Home!

If you like chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, then you should experiment with these wines. You might find something that tastes great, like I did.

Take viognier. I’d mostly encountered somewhat wimpy versions of this wine in the past, but maybe I was drinking the wrong labels.

I found a lot to like at the Rhone Rangers gathering. My two favorites were:

Curtis

Curtis Winery’s address is in Buellton. It’s viognier is grown in Santa Barbara County and in 2009 things came together very nicely.

Curtis Winemaker Chuck Carlson

My first sip of this viognier reveals a slight effervesence. Winemaker Chuck Carlson got that effect when he left a small amount of carbon dioxide with the wine after fermentation was completed. I liked “frizzante” style and the grapefruit flavor, which nicely balanced out the sweet fruit of the grape.

I’d serve this wine at any summer picnic with grilled chicken or fish.

Only 1,000 cases were made. Bottles go for $25 at the winery.

Pride Mountain

A step up in sophistication (and pricing) from the Curtis wine is the 2009 viognier from Pride Mountain Vineyards.

This Sonoma County offering ($42) is bound for glory.

It has a supple silky texture and walks the perfect line between sweet fruit and tart citrus, with sweet peaches in the nose and on the tongue alongside honeysuckle nectar and some honeydew melon.

I think this wine would complement a plate of German sausages, or lightly smoked meats. I also think it would match noodle dishes with cream-based sauces. It also tasted just fine with a dab of cheddar on sourdough bread.

Best Blend

I think the best blended white wine at the Rhone Rangers tasting was the 2010 Patelin de Tablas Blanc from Tablas Creek, a California Rhone-style producer with a direct link to Chateau Beaucastel, one of the real wine giants in France’s Rhone Valley.

Roughly translated, patelin means neighbor or neighborly, according to the folks at Tablas Creek. I think it’s the least expensive wine this award-winning winery makes. Call it the perfect bistro wine, an alternative to pedestrian chardonnay for the by-the-glass crowd at bars and restaurants.

At $20, I’d buy a bottle of this nice, light-bodied white wine.

It comes from Paso Robles and is made from grenache blanc (50%), viognier (33%), roussane (10%) and marsanne (7%). This wine feels good in the mouth. It’s not overbearing due to a nice balance of lighter lemon fruit and acids. The nose has a whisper of lemon zest.

East Bay Tasting This Weekend

If you have an itch to try wines made locally, then check out the East Bay Vintners Alliance annual passport event on Saturday (April 2).The wines are made at 21 member wineries, predominantly located in Oakland, Alameda and Emeryville.

Free shuttle buses will run from BART and the Oakland Ferry Terminal to five East Bay wineries, where 5-6 wineries will be pouring multiple selections ranging from chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon to zinfandel, petite sirah and syrah. Click here for more details concerning this event from my last blog.

 

 

 

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Zinfest Surprises

May 20, 2010

A funny thing happened to me at a Zinfandel festival. I found a couple of unusual white wines that were great and a good red that wasn’t even a zinfandel.

Of course, there were lots of decent zins on tap last weekend at the Zinfest in Lodi where 50 regional wineries poured for several thousand attendees. I’d sampled many of the wines before, so I was looking for anything out of the ordinary and/or extraordinary.

With temps in the 80s, and sundresses and shorts the uniforms of the day, I tramped through the crowd in search of refreshing white wines.

There was a very nice sauvignon blanc ($13/2008) from Langetwins Wienry and Vineyards, a good viognier ($11/2008) from Loredona, and a slightly sweet and delicious verdelho from St. Jorge Winery, but I fell hard for two Rhone style wines — roussane and grenache blanc — from Hux Vineyards.

I’d actually tasted a lovely petite verdot from another producer, Periscope Cellars in Emeryville, made from Hux Vineyards grapes. I just didn’t know at the time the connection with Hux — a small Lodi winery making its first commercial releases after a long history of home winemaking and grape-growing.

The two whites were delicious and unique.

The Rhone Edge

The grenache blanc had a sharper feel in the mouth, like a crisp sauvignon blanc with rounded corners. The roussane showed more fruit — tinged with honey.  Often they’re used together in blends, but these two varietals (both vintage 2008 and $20/bottle) were great on their own in winemaker David Huckstead’s hands.

Huecksteadt’s magic in the bottle won gold medals in the home winemaking competition at the San Joaquin County Fair for several years. No Hux reds were available for tasting at Zinfest, but I’ll track them down and report back on availability.

D’art is D’elicious

My favorite red wine of the tasting was the 2007 petite sirah ($24) from one of my favorite Lodi-area producers, D’Art Wines. This a big  wine, aged in Hungarian oak. It’s ready for consumption now, but I’d decant it and maybe let it open up for 30-60 minutes before pouring it alongside any hearty plate of grilled pork or beef.

Owner/winemaker Dave Dart focuses on reds at a small winery next to his home on North Curry Avenue in Lodi. Dart’s 2008 zinfandel ($24) is a delightful mix of blackberry fruit with a vein of barely perceptible mint on the palate. D’Art is releasing a new blend ($12.50/bottle) later this month and visitors can actually bottle their own wine at the winery on May 29-31.

Zins to Remember

Some of the top zins on my Zinfest scoresheet included:

Mettler Family Vineyards 2007 Epicenter “old vine” ($18), m2′s 2008 old vine zinfandel from Soucie Vineyards ($28) and two zins from Oak Ridge Winery — the 2007 OZV (a big, bold “old vine” style wine/$15) and the 2005 Moss Roxx (a more refined $20 wine showing smooth brambly red fruit).

Oak Ridge is the oldest commercial winery in Lodi, where it began operations as a cooperative in 1934.

Upcoming Wine County Events

Mark your calendars for two big tasting events next month at Fort Mason in San Francisco.

TAPAS

The third annual TAPAS Grand Wine Tasting is on tap for June 5. The group, Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society, promotes mostly Spanish- and Portuguese-styled wines produced in the United States. About 40 wineries from California, Oregon and Arizona are scheduled to pour a wide range of wines, including Tempranillo, Albariño, Garnacha, Graciano, Mourvedre, Touriga, Verdelho, Bastardo. Advance tickets are available online.

Pinot Days

The annual Pinot Days event is set to unroll at Fort Mason on the last weekend in June. There will be 220 wineries from top pinot-producing regions in California and Oregon pouring more than 500 wines at the grand tasting from 1-5 p.m. on Sunday, June 2 7. Smaller, focused tastings, dinners and seminars will also be on tap. Here’s a link for ticket and schedule information.

South Bay Shortcut to Paso Robles Wine Country

April 15, 2010

There’s a shortcut to the Central Coast wine country that runs right through the South Bay, but it’s only passable next week.

The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance brings its Grand Tasting Tour to Menlo Park next Thursday (April 22) when you can sample hundreds of wines from 30 different wineries and also meet the winemakers from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Quadrus Conference Center. Tickets are $45 in advance and $55 at the door.

For a special treat, some of the South Bay’s top restaurants will be hosting Paso Robles winemaker dinners on Wednesday (April 21). Attendees will have a chance to dine and chat with some of the region’s top winemakers at MacArthur Park and Pampas — both in Palo Alto.

Those attending the main event can choose from dozens of varietals like zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay, syrah, petite sirah and pinot noir along with grenache, mourvedre, and viognier plus a batch of blended wines, too.

“What we are trying to hone in on is the fact that Paso Robles is really an undiscovered region for folks in the Bay Area,” said Stacie Jacob, executive director of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance.

Paso Robles Vineyard

Paso Robles Vineyard

“We we want to give people a taste of what the region is all about. And, at this event, they’ll get an opportunity to meet with the winemakers and with the principals/owners themselves,” she said. “As you learn more about Paso Robles wines, you will see we are not a one-trick pony by any measure. We grow more than 40 different varietals in this AVA (American Viticultural Area).”

Closer Than You Think

Paso Robles sits about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, bisected by Highway 101. With traffic, it’s about the same distance (time-wise) as driving to Napa from Silicon Valley.

Most Paso Robles wineries are identified as West Side (which has a cooler, maritime influence) or East Side (inland, warmer weather), depending on where they’re located from the 101 freeway. In summer, temperature swings can go from 100+ degrees to 50-60 degrees at night.

The Paso Robles appellation (generally it’s the northern half of San Luis Obispo County) is part of the Central Coast wine region, which is the fourth biggest wine producer in the state — behind Napa and Sonoma and Monterey.  Paso Robles has 26,000 acres of vines and more than 180 wineries large and small — all within about a three-hour drive from the Bay Area.

The vibe is definitely friendly here and more laid back than Napa. Prices across the board — for wine, food and lodging — are reasonable and quality is high. I’ve made dozens of trips to this area over the past 30 years, tasting hundreds of wines and visiting scores of wineries.

Here are some of the top producers included in the tour:

Tablas Creek is run by the Perrin family that operates world-renowned Chateau de Beaucastel in France. The Central California operation produces a list of award-winning reds and whites, mostly from Rhone-style varietals.

Their 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel, a blend of mourvedre, grenache, syrah and counoise, got a 95-97 rating from Robert Parker and the 2006 vintage was No. 50 on the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list last year. Tablas Creek’s top-rated white wine, called Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, is a terrific blend of rousanne, grenache blanc and picpoul. The 2008 vintage got a 92 rating from respected critic Stephen Tanzer.

Christian Tietje, Four Vines Winemaker

For a zinfandel lover, this region is loaded with great wines coming from myriad producers, including Opolo Vineyards (check out my blog from the annual ZAP Grand Tasting for more about Opolo), Peachy Canyon (great value and quality), and Four Vines (old vine zinfandel, Rhone and some interesting Spanish-style wines).

I especially liked the Rhone-style wines from a small Paso producer, Caliza Winery, which poured samples at the Rhone Rangers Tasting in San Francisco last month and will be on the tour in Menlo Park along with Alta Colina, another small property that makes some pretty cool syrah and petite sirah wines that have scored high with Robert Parker.

Ancient Peaks, named for the nearby mountains, sits at the southern end of the AVA. The family-owned winery specializes in merlot, cabernet and zinfandel grown in five different soil types — ancient sea bed, sedimentary, shale, volcanic and granitic — that give the wines a backbone of terroir, depth and complexity.

Young vines at kukkula Winery

Young vines at kukkula Winery

Another interesting winery on the tour, kukkula (the name means hill of high place in Finnish), specializes in blended wines, including some “Paso-only” mixes of grenache, mourvedre, zinfandel, as well as cabernet sauvignon.

Second Chances

If you can’t make the Paso Robles Grand Tour Tasting, you can get a mini-tasting experience on Friday (April 23) at one of the region’s top retail wine shops. K & L Wine Merchants in Redwood City will pour five selections from Paso Robles wineries for free between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

And, if you live in the North Bay, the Paso Robles traveling wine tour also makes a stop in Sacramento next Tuesday (April 20).

Here’s a list of wineries participating in the tour:

Alta Colina Vineyard & Winery, Ancient Peaks Winery, Anglim Winery, Caliza Winery, Clavo Cellars, Clayhouse Wines, Derby Wine Estates, Four Vines Winery, Halter Ranch Vineyard, Hope Family Wines / Treana, J. Lohr Vineyard and Wines, Kenneth Volk Vineyards, kukkula, L’Aventure Winery, Maloy O’Neill Vineyards, Opolo Vineyards, Peachy Canyon Winery, Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery, RN Estate Vineyard & Winery, Robert Hall Winery, Rotta Winery, Silver Horse Winery, STANGER Vineyards, Tablas Creek Vineyard,Terry Hoage Vineyards, Vina Robles and Wild Horse Winery & Vineyards.