Posts Tagged ‘rhone rangers’

It’s Pinot Time Again

June 9, 2012

If you scratched Lisa Rigisich, she’d probably bleed Pinot Noir.

With her husband, Steven, Rigisich is the co-founder of Pinot Days, the annual celebration of the pinot noir grape that culminates with a grand tasting from 2-5 p.m. next Saturday (June 16, ) at Fort Mason.

Rigisich is not a professional event producer. She’s a college professor. Her husband is a software professional.

The pair developed a personal interest in wine and began hosting tastings for friends at their home on the East Coast.

Then, they moved to California and took the pinot plunge in a big way. They loved the grape and wanted to get more people involved.

Pinot-Centric Purpose

The couple found that there were already big Zinfandel-specific events (ZAP) and tastings for Rhone-style wines (Rhone Rangers), but nothing in the area specifically aimed at pinot noir patrons.

Thanks to their efforts, winemakers from more than 170 wineries from California and Oregon will be pouring 500 different wines for Pinot Days attendees.

Tickets are $50. VIP tickets, which include an extra hour of tasting, are $100.

Pinot Expansion

Pinot Days kicked off eight years ago in San Francisco. Since then, additional tastings have been added in Chicago and Southern California.

There are several lead-in events in the coming week, including a dinner on Thursday (June 14) featuring 14 winemakers pouring their best bottles.

The wines will be paired with food at the new Dixie restaurant in the Presidio where chef Joseph Humphrey — an alumnus of the Restaurant at Meadowood and Murray Circle at Cavallo Point — will be behind the stove.

For a full list of Pinot Days events, click here.

Viva La Difference

West Coast pinots come in a variety of styles, depending on the geography and climate of the vineyard and the inclination of the winemaker.

“Domestic Pinot Noir seems to improve with every vintage,” Rigisich said. “It’s so good now.”

Lisa Rigisich, Pinot Days Co-Founder

“You don’t go from one table to another (at the tasting) and find clunkers,” she said. “In California and Oregon, we are getting our arms around this and doing it right.”

Rigisich disagrees with some enthusiasts who cling to the Burgundy model and consider some bolder examples of Pinot Nor to be out of character.

“There is a diversity of style that Pinot Noir can assume and that is one of its greatest assets,” she said.

“More and more, we are getting away from the thought that there is only one legitimate way to make Pinot Noir and that it has to be Burgundian.”

Rigisich points to Adam Lee (Siduri Wines) and Brian Loring (Loring Wine Company) as two well-regarded winemakers who have garnered critical praise with their New World bottlings.

“The notion that it has to be Burgundian, that it has to below a certain level of alcohol, that’s baloney,” she said.

“I will reach for one wine with certain foods and reach for another, more delicate, leaner wine with other foods. It’s a great wine that can be made in different ways, depending on where it is made and grown.”

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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.

 

 

 

Festival Season is Upon Us

March 25, 2011

We’re right in the midst of my favorite time in wine country. Festival season.

I’ve got info to share on two wine-tasting events in San Francisco and Oakland/Alameda, but first a quick report on a really nice sauvignon blanc.

A bottle of 2009 sauvignon blanc from Franciscan Estate in Napa found its way into my kitchen (the winery sent me a sample) and I’d actually forgotten about it until a desperate need arose for a white wine to pair with a salmon dinner.

Too lazy to tramp down to the cellar, I frantically searched the kitchen wine cabinet and then sorted through the 12 or so bottles stashed on various tables, counters and shelves.

The Franciscan was the only white in sight, so I slid it into the fridge for a 20-minute cool-down while I pan roasted a delicious filet of coho salmon marinated in olive oil and fresh Meyer lemon juice.

SV Hits the Spot

I like a crisp glass of sauvignon blanc in the summertime, on a hot night or at the beach, and also sometimes with steamed crab. I don’t believe I’d had any memorable SV with salmon before, since chardonnay is generally my “go-to” wine with salmon.

A glass of the tasty Franciscan changed my mind. It paired beautifully with the juicy pink fish, served over a bed of white and red quinoa with a side of sautéed red and dinosaur kale.

This agile wine showed a lime-centric core wrapped in layers of melon and a touch of something pleasingly tropical.

It’s a definite keeper at $17 a bottle.

Damn the Torpedoes, Festival Season Ahead

I’ve already reported on the 2011 versions of ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) and the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, and there’s a lot more wine event action ahead.

Rhone Rangers Report

This weekend, the Rhone Rangers hold their yearly grand tasting at Fort Mason in San Francisco.

There are events on both Saturday (March 26) and Sunday (March 27). Here’s a link to details, with the featured tasting scheduled from 2-5 p.m. Sunday. Prices are $45 at the door.

This group is focused on promoting American wines with strong ties to the Rhone Valley of France. Rhone-style wines can be made from 22 different varieties of grapes, including syrah, grenache, mourvedre (all red) and viognier, roussane and marsanne (all white).

If I were picking California’s leading Rhone-style wine producers I’d be sure to include these two Central Coast stars:

Tablas Creek, which is owned by the same family that owns one of the Rhone’s greatest estates — Chateau de Beaucastel.

And, Zaca Mesa, a delightful winery in Los Olivos that started planting vines in 1973.

Both wineries will be pouring at the Rhone Rangers event in San Francisco.

East Bay Action

The East Bay Vintner’s Alliance puts on its annual Passport event next Saturday (April 2). Tastings are grouped at six urban wineries in (naturally) the East Bay.

Tickets are $40 and that includes a free shuttle bus between the wineries, BART and the Oakland Ferry Terminal.

There are 21 wineries pouring samples. Public transit is definitely the way to go, unless you’ve got a designated driver!

Tasting stops include: JC Cellars and Dashe Cellars — which share a building near Jack London Square in Oakland; the brand new Cerruti Cellars tasting room in Jack London Square; Periscope Cellars, an Emeryville producer that has moved its tasting room to a new location at Linden Street Brewery in Oakland which I wrote about in one of my earlier blogs; Rock Wall Wine Company, located in an old airplane hangar in Alameda; Rosenblum Cellars, which still has a tasting room next to the Alameda Ferry Terminal; and Urban Legend, a small winery located in an old commercial building on Oakland’s 4th Street.

For a full list of participating wineries, click here.

What’s Next?

I’ll be reporting on lots of wine tasting events over the coming months, from Monterey to Mendocino. Here are a few of the major attractions on my radar:

April — East Bay Vintners Association Passport

May — Santa Lucia Highlands Gala

June — Auction Napa Valley 2011, TAPAS Festival (Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society),  Taste of Mendocino

If you have a favorite wine festival, tasting or other wine-related event coming up over the next few months, please let me know about it.

Thanks!

Sipping Syrah, Saving Lives

November 12, 2010

Charity fund-raising and wine-selling often go hand-in-hand. Nothing like a few glasses of donated wine to loosen up the credit card donation crowd.

I’ve attended an untold number of charity events involving wine, for personal and professional reasons, but I have no affiliation with the groups mentioned below. I was taken in by the effort and the wines so I wanted to share more about both.

Case of Pneumonia

Pneumonia is a disease we’ve beaten back, but it still kills, mostly children. Too many youngsters succumb to this too often tragic lung infection.

Despite availability of  an effective vaccine, the disease claims more than 1.5 million kids worldwide each year.  That’s an incalculable loss, but it’s not the only casualty. There’s also the cost of treating the estimated 150 million cases of childhood pneumonia that aren’t fatal.

When a wine industry joke deriding syrah wine (Question: What’s the difference between a case of syrah and a case of pneumonia? Answer: You can get rid of the pneumonia.) made the rounds on the Internet, it sparked an online rebuttal from Dr. Orin Levine, Executive Director of the International Vaccine Access Center at Johns Hopkins University.

Levine’s post quickly caught the attention of the Rhone Rangers, an organization of wineries that make wines from 22 special varieties of grapes, all from France’s Rhone Valley region.

Syrah is a big player in those Rhone blends, so the organization found itself an ally, of sorts, in pneumonia and reached out to help Levine and the Gavi Campaign raise some money.

Early in the Game

California is relatively new to the syrah game. While there are now more than 19,226 acres of syrah in the state, hardly any of it was grown here until the early 1980s. That’s when the first pioneering efforts of figuring out how to work with the grape really began and it was in the same period that the Rhone Rangers group started to gel.

Taste and Tithe

The Rhone Rangers sponsored a syrah-only tasting with 20 wineries in San Francisco earlier this week to help raise money for pneumonia vaccinations and to showcase member wines.

Three wines stood out.

Novy

Novy Family Wines from Santa Rosa poured three different syrahs, all from the 2007 vintage. Their Santa Lucia Highlands and Russian River Valley bottlings were good, but the best of the lot, to my taste, was the wine made from the Page Nord Vineyard in Napa’s Oak Knoll district. The wine opened up nicely in the glass, revealing lovely ripe fruit and a nose that suggested hints of pepper and bacon. This $30 wine would make any pork chop dish better.

Tablas Creek

The most classic syrah of the tasting came from a Cal-Rhone icon, Tablas Creek Vineyard on the Central Coast. The 2007 syrah ($25-$30) needs time to develop, but it’s got good structure, elegant fruit and a lovely deep color. I strong suspect it will only get better with a year or two in the bottle. Only 500 cases were produced. It’s the first single varietal bottling of syrah from Tablas Creek, whose family also owns the legendary Chateau de Beaucastel in France.

Ridge

The syrah I enjoyed the most came from Ridge Vineyards, whose cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay were covered in an earlier blog. The 2006 Lytton Estate is co-fermented with about 8 percent viognier  — a white wine grape that punches up the floral aromatics and also augments the pigmentation. This was the most complete offering I encountered. It’s $32-$35 retail. About 900 cases produced.

Deal of the Day

The best deal at the event happened to be one of the youngest wines of the day — the 2008 6th Sense syrah from Michael-David Winery in Lodi. For $16, you get an easy-to-drink wine with a core of rich, red fruit plus just enough kick from 8% petite sirah to provide an edge to the taste.

Drink Your Donation

Friday, Nov. 12, is Pneumonia Day with a parade in Washington and other events planned around the world to draw attention to the cause. The Rhone Rangers wineries that poured at this week’s San Francisco tasting event are donating $10 per case of syrah sold to the fight against childhood pneumonia. That ten bucks pays for one kid’s vaccine. The deal is good through the end of November. To find a participating winery, click this link

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.

Rhone Rangers on a Roll

March 31, 2010

The annual Rhone Rangers tasting in San Francisco showcased some great syrah and petite sirah wines, but it was the grenache that really caught my eye and tickled my tastebuds the most.

The 13th annual grand tasting at Fort Mason last weekend featured Rhone-style wines from 102 producers from California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

When handled properly, good grenache fills the glass with a nose of spiciness  and a taste of berries and other red fruits. Many producers will combine grenache with syrah (more acid and tannin) and mourvedre (darker colors) to produce a blend that showcases the best characteristics of each varietal.

Carina Cellars Vineyards

I happen to like all three, on their own or in blends, but a few of the grenache wines really stood out, including a bottle from Carina Cellars in Paso Robles.

Carina’s grenache, from the 2007 Tierra Alta Vineyard in Santa Barbara, showed intense red fruit in the glass with a pleasurable edge of plums on the tongue. It’s available ($28) only from the winery.

Frick Winery of Geyserville poured tasty cinsault and carignane — two grapes that you don’t normally see bottled outside a blend — but it was the 2006 grenache that really captured by interest. Made from Dry Creek Valley grapes, the fresh fruit in this wine seemed to leap from the glass to my lips.

Another nice grenache (The Crossroad, $25) was poured by Curtis Winery from Los Olivos. Made in a lighter style from Santa Ynez Valley fruit, this 2006 wine includes 20 percent syrah.

Leslie Preston

I also liked the fresh, uncomplicated 2008 syrah ($29) from Coiled Wines, which are made from fruit grown in Idaho. Winemaker Leslie Preston splits her time between her Napa home and an Idaho co-op where she makes wine from Snake River Valley fruit.

“I think there is a lot of potential in Idaho,” said Preston, who has worked at Clos du Bois, Saintsbury and Stags’ Leap in California. “There’s a fresh intensity of fruit that I really like.”

I was able to re-taste the exciting 2006 Estate petite sirah ($28) from D. H. Gustafson Family Vineyards. This is the first wine made from Gustafson’s stunning hilltop winery near Lake Sonoma (see my earlier blog on Gustafson) and the 2007 version is nearly as good, too.

For a celebrity experience, try the 2007 syrah made by Fleming Jenkins Vineyards & Winery from a Livermore Valley vineyard owned by former Raiders coach and football analyst John Madden. The flavor profile is a delicious mix of cherry, black pepper and a hint of chocolate .

The top syrah on my scorecard were the 2006 Zio Tony Ranch ($75) from Martinelli Winery in Windsor. This one hit all the pleasure points that a syrah lover wants to find — finely integrated tannins, a pleasant spiciness balanced by broad, expanded red fruit.

My second favorite wine overall was the glorious 2007 Espirit de Beaucastel ($50) from Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles. This red blend had all the elements of a genuine Rhone champion. It should. The winery is run by the same family that owns the esteemed Chateau de Beaucastel in France.

The biggest bargain wine of the tasting was the Cotes du Crows blend of grenache and syrah produced by Morgan Winery in Carmel. I’d order a second (or third) glass of this $16 quaffer anytime.

One of the most interesting 2007 grenache-syrah blends I tasted came from a little winery in Oakland called Prospect 772 Wine Company. The $36 wine is called The Brat, a name chosen due to the difficult-to-cultivate grenache grape’s character.

You can taste Prospect 772 wines  — and other wines from more than a dozen urban Bay Area wineries — at the annual East Bay Vintners Alliance passport event on April 10.