I haven’t been to Sonoma in over five years. It’s a large wine area to cover and this time I focused on Healdsburg wineries that had created a buzz: Ramey Wine Cellars, Mazzocco Sonoma Vineyards and Winery, Seghesio Family Vineyards, and Mauritson Family Winery. (2018 update: Part Two, on Seghesio Family Vineyards and Mauritson Family Winery, will run in my column on next Tuesday 2/27/18.)
Ramey Wine Cellars
David Ramey, winemaker and proprietor, shoveled his first grapes in 1978, after attending UC Santa Cruz and then later to Davis for a masters in enology. Ramey’s first harvests were in Sonoma in ‘78 and France in ‘79 at Jean-Pierre Moueix. (Petrus was one the wineries also managed by Moueix.) Ramey came back in ‘80 and then spent the next 22 years at Simi, Matanzas Creek, Château Petrus again, Chalk Hill, Dominus and Rudd.
In ‘96 Ramey had the opportunity to make his own wine, a Chardonnay from Hyde Vineyard. Once his wife agreed, he made 260 cases in his first vintage. Today Ramey has released the 2011 from the exact same vineyard. Ramey Wine Cellars makes 40,000 cases, in what Ramey calls a “large small winery.” Co-owned with his wife, Ramey has no partners or investors.
Ramey told us that he purchased a vineyard with an old “Hop Kiln” on the property. He plans on converting the hop kiln into a tasting room and building caves for a winery. The property sits along the Russian River and is called Westside Farms. It has 42 acres planted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. He is working on the permitting process now and would like to complete the project by 2017.
In 1987 at Matanzas Creek Winery, Ramey was one of the first winemakers in California to whole cluster press Chardonnay grapes, and he is considered a legend in the industry. His Chardonnays are made in a French Burgundian style and flavor, and he goes for more “lift” with California ripening grapes. None of the wines are filtered; they are fined using traditional French methods.
Communications Director Alexandra O’Gorman led us through a tasting of four whites and four reds.
(Aroma and flavor notes separated by 😉
2012 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay (2012 – 2014 all drought years*)
The only one that was cloudy, definitely due to being unfiltered; oak, butter, crisp apple; tart apples, white pepper, nice bite with a long acidic finish. Like a Sauvignon Blanc with some oak notes.
2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay
Lemon lime, grapefruit, vanilla; toasted oak, same fruit, not as acidic a finish, more balanced.
2011 Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay
Pear, cinnamon, creamy; tart, acidic, oak more prominent on palate, nice balanced finish.
2011 Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay
Rose gardens, butterscotch, medium toasted oak; more oak, moist yet dry, tart Granny Smith apples.
2012 Sonoma Coast Syrah (Make 2 different Syrahs per year)
Pungent plums, juicy blackberry and black cherry, spice rack, mulled wine notes; beautiful, stemmy, lots of black pepper and dried dark fruit. ‘
Bright red to blue fruits, black pepper, smoke; Exceptional blend of fruit from all over Napa Valley, dry, cigar, dark chocolate. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot. ‘
2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (Ramey makes four different Cabernet Sauvignon based wines per year.)
Balanced fruit and spice on the nose, including cherry, menthol; great dark drying fruit, not too peppery, ready to drink.
2011 Annum Cabernet Sauvignon (25% Cabernet Franc)
Velvety rose, plum, cigar box; deep and dark fruit, not too much pepper, lovely balance.
*As far as any issues caused by the drought, in 2014 Ramey received 20% more fruit than anticipated.
Touring the outdoor winery with our charming winemaker, Antoine Favero, proved to be a hoot! Favero’s wit and charm got me past any fear of climbing stair after to stair to get a view of sweet bubbling fermenting grape juice, the local Sonoma airport and piles of reusable grape compost. We also tasted sun-sweetened Cabernet grapes in their clusters fresh from harvest!
Most of the harvested grapes are only fermented via natural yeast according to Favero. The winery was built in the ‘80s and is one of the rare ones that is all outdoors. The barrel room didn’t have any electric cooling units; instead the unique ceiling was built to bring in the cool air, and, as an added gift, it was beautiful to look up at.
After my travel pal Claudia Sheridan practiced the art of “punch down” we returned to the tasting room to sample a few award winning wines (see tasting notes below) and later, enjoy a picnic lunch with Favero.
Best of Class and Double Gold medals
2012 Stuhlmuller Reserve Chardonnay
Oak, cream and butter aroma notes followed by tart lemon lime and creamy finish.
2012 Zinfandel, Briar
Red cherries, mint; spicy, light tannins, long finish.
2012 Zinfandel, Sullivan
More mature darker fruit, bursting cherries, dusty plums, charred oak; pungent dark fruit, greet-me-in-the-face spice and pepper.
2012 Zinfandel, Pony Reserve
Red, blue and black fruit, black pepper, dark dry chocolate; blue fruit, chocolate again.
2012 Zinfandel, Maple Reserve
Milk chocolate, cracked green pepper, spicy; Nice balance of fruit and spice, drink now with or without food, just go for it.
2012 Zinfandel, Smith Orchard Reserve
Perfumy nose, flower garden, dark fruit, cracked black pepper; intense, spicy, very good.
2012 Antoine Philippe Reserve (Zinfandel blend)
The most balanced nose with notes of dust, crushed spices, good and fruity; milk to dark chocolate, incredible balance, smooth – shoot me that is good. (Favero sent us home with a bottle and an ice chest; this bottle, opened and in the car most of the time, lasted three days and could’ve gone longer.)
I’ll be heading out to Healdsburg for the first time since 2008 soon, and in planning the trip I looked for wineries that friends had recommended and/or I liked their wines already – but have never visited before. I don’t post when I’m actually away, so this article is a precursor to the fun I will be having…later…and then I will do a post-trip story.
Day One would start with a sit-down tasting at Ramey Wine Cellars in Healdsburg. In perusing their Facebook page I learned that they harvested nearly 60 tons of Napa Cabernet in what might have been “possibly the most condensed harvest in many years…”
They also shared that their 2011 Pedregal Vineyard was given 92 points from Wine Spectator’s James Laube.
Not sure what we will be trying in the tasting room, but I see current wines include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Claret, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Syrah. Sounds good to me.
Eight minutes down the road we will then be at Mazzocco Sonoma Vineyards and Winery where we will meet and lunch with winemaker Antoine Favero, and then enjoy a private barrel tasting. Their website shows four Wine Spectator award winners for their 2010 Zinfandels: 91 points for Maple, 91 points for Pony Reserve, 91 points for Sullivan and 90 points for Warm Springs.
According to their Facebook page the 2013 Sauvignon Blanc was chosen for the United States Diplomacy Center’s groundbreaking event. Looking forward to trying whatever is offered here.
Next we will venture to visit Seghesio Family Vineyards where we will be checking in at the bar and then meeting with Tony Sciullo, the VIP liaison. Their last Facebook update showed that harvest for them started in late August, “Pinot Grigio was the first to come in, with some Zinfandel from Cloverdale not far behind.”
I became a fan of Seghesio when one of their Zins made Wine Spectator’s wine of the year. Their 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel received 92 points…looking forward to sampling.
The last winery to see on our first day will be Mauritson Family Winery, five minutes away from Seghesio. The winemaker Clay Mauritson, or his wife Carrie, will be hosting our tour and tasting. They show three small children, “future winemakers”, with Clay in several photos of the winery on their Facebook page, I’m hoping we will get a sighting of these cuties!
The website of Mauritson label wines include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rose, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Rockpile labels include lots of Zinfandels, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. Can’t wait to review!
That will pretty much end our first day. If you have a reasonably priced suggestion for dinner let me know: Eve@EveWine101.com
Leaving Healdsburg, Day Two will begin at Rocca Family Vineyards in Napa Valley. You read about Rocca recently on Eve’s Wine 101 as they had obtained the title of “Napa Valley Organic Winery of The Year.” We will be meeting with Sales Director John Taylor for our tasting. There seems to be plenty of Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and red blends for us to try! And according to their Facebook page they are currently crushing Merlot.
From Rocca we will probably venture over to Dean and Deluca for lunch supplies and then make a dash for Darioush Winery on Silverado Trail. We have been scheduled for a “Tableside Portfolio Tasting” via concierge Jenna Kennedy.
The Darioush Facebook page reported that they were “safe and sound” after the recent earthquake. Their damage was minimal but they were without power and were closed for one day. Their website promised current releases of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier. Shiraz blend and a late harvest Semillon Sauvignon Blanc.
ZD Wines may be our last trip of this day unless we hit someone up near 4pm…if we have the energy. There are beautiful photos of grape clusters on their Facebook page, as well as a bottle of their 45th anniversary Chardonnay. Besides maybe trying that one, we look forward to sipping their Reserve Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon…and more.
Bright and early on Day Three we have a special treat, a tour of the Seguin Moreau Napa Cooperage. There will be no swirling and tasting, but there will be aromas! Hoping to see some toasting, bending and whatever else they have in store for us. Earlier this month they showed a cool photo of a barrel being toasted on their Facebook page.
Accompanying the two wines recently sent to me for review was this message, “As you may know, Planet Bordeaux wines include 7 AOC’s – Bordeaux Blanc, Bordeaux Supérieur, Bordeaux Supérieur Blanc, Bordeaux Rosé, Bordeaux Clairet, Bordeaux Rouge and Crémant (sparkling) – and represent 52% of the Bordeaux wine region (270 million bottles in 2013). Overall, 13 bottles of Planet Bordeaux are consumed every second worldwide!” That last sentence stuck. Pretty amazing?
It’s important for wine 101ers to understand that Bordeaux, first, is a place in France. Wine made from that region is called Bordeaux. The predominant grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon (left bank of Bordeaux) and Merlot (right bank of Bordeaux). I love explaining to people that if they like Cab or Merlot to try Bordeaux, and vice versa. The other grapes grown in Bordeaux, or considered a Bordeaux variety grown stateside or in other new world regions are: Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Carmenere and Malbec. White wines from Bordeaux are mostly Sauvignon Blanc or Semillon.
What is Bordeaux Supérieur?
From Wine Searcher, “Bordeaux Superieur wines are, as their name implies, a slightly “superior” form of standard Bordeaux AOC wines. The supérieur appellation is open to both red and white wines from anywhere in the Bordeaux region, which stretches 80 miles…(more)
Aromas and flavors separate by ;
2013 Domaine de Chevalier
Rose De La Solitude
Beautiful blood orange color followed by aromas of lime, white peach, lemon, strawberry, and a hint of orange blossom; crisp green apples, a little cantaloupe, and with enough acidity to carry through into a very long finish. I felt the wine a little too tart for me, I let it sit in my glass for a bit to revisit, and closed up the remainder to try again in a day. An hour later, and the next day, I detected no changes.
2010 Domaine de Courteillac
70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc
Aromas of plums, juicy figs, black cherry, cloves, black olive, walnut and dark chocolate; black fruit, medium toasted oak, dust, dark tannins, earth, mint, with a medium length on the finish. Enjoy the full body of this wine with roasted meats, Bolognese sauce, hard cheeses and dark chocolate.
Planet Bordeaux (From Facebook)
Bonjour, Friends! Welcome to Planet Bordeaux – and to a voyage of discovery! http://www.planet-bordeaux.com
The aim of Planet Bordeaux is to share the wines and art de vivre of Bordeaux, but also to connect and keep in stride with today’s American lifestyle, and budget.
On this page and the new English-language website, www.planet-bordeaux.com, you’ll find information on where to enjoy, learn, and buy Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur wines, and suggestions on how to add a dash of Bordeaux to your life, including food and wine pairing ideas and recipes.
Bordeaux Wines 101 on the website is a primer on Bordeaux varietals, blends and appellations, how to read a label, how to choose a wine, how to pair wine with food, and how to serve Bordeaux wines. The site also contains links to the blog written by Jana Kravitz, a native New Yorker, entitled Jana’s Bordeaux – Wine Country Living Moments.
We look forward to your comments, questions and suggestions – on the vineyards & châteaux, food & wine pairing ideas, as well as your stories of good people, good food & good wine from Planet Bordeaux.
We invite you to become a fan, check out the website, and follow us at @PlanetBordeaux on Twitter.
And please invite others to join!
Planet Bordeaux winemakers and other wine, food & tourism professionals are encouraged to link their fan pages with ours, share their news, châteaux visiting hours & events, and where the wines can be enjoyed.
Every 13 seconds, a bottle from these two appellations of a world-renowned wine region is consumed. And the answer is…What are Bordeaux & Bordeaux Supérieur!
Known collectively as “Planet Bordeaux,” a shorter, more convivial name that represents both the winemakers’ association and all wines produced in Bordeaux’s regional appellations, we’re working to give people fresh new ways of exploring these high-quality, value-for-money — and very often, overlooked wines.
Get to know them, the people who make them and their stories, and experience the insider’s view of Bordeaux Wine Country Living.
Eve Bushman has been reading, writing, taking coursework and tasting wine for over 20 years. She has obtained a Level Two Intermediate Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, has been the subject of a 60-minute Wine Immersion video, authored “Wine Etiquette for Everyone” and recently served as a guest judge for the L.A. International Wine Competition. You can email Eve@EveWine101.com to ask a question about wine or spirits that may be answered in a future column. You can also seek her marketing advice via Eve@EveBushmanConsulting.com
An interesting thing that happens at large wine events: camaraderie grows as wines are consumed, people tend to become chattier and want to share their discoveries of the day. So instead of just keeping track of what I was digging at the Family Winemakers Pasadena tasting, I listened to the buzz coming from Santa Clarita friends, fellow writers and winery representatives. Some of the wines they raved about I did get to try, before palate fatigue set in somewhere about 2 ½ hours into it.
Some of the Buzz
I was told to check out: Blue Rock Vineyard, Collier Falls, Fenestra Winery, Frostwatch Vineyard & Winery, Hawk and Horse Vineyards, Herb Lamb Vineyards, Idle Hour Winery, Monticello Vineyards, Oakville Ranch Vineyards, ONX Wines, Pence Vineyards & Winery, Pride Mountain, Ramey Wine Cellars, Rock Wall Wine Company and Tablas Creek Vineyard.
What I Dug
That the event was after lunch so we wouldn’t be drinking on an empty stomach.
There was no line outside or at the check in.
Bread, crackers, cheese and the La Belge Chocolatier company giving away awesome free samples.
Now, in the wine* department:
Visiting with Mike Brown, owner of Camarillo’s Cantara Cellars, and enjoying tastes of his Franknvine (Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Zinfandel, Old Vine Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Malbec); Petite Sirah, Tempranillo and Zinfandel.
My favorite winery of the day was Derby Wine Estates. We met owners Ray and Pam Derby over some very awesome Pinot Gris, 2010 ‘FIFTEEN 10’ White Rhône blend and their “IMPLICO” Bordeaux Blend. Derby only uses about 5% of the grapes they grow, the rest is sold to other winemakers.
I stopped briefly at Fenestra Winery and then my husband took me back as I had missed two interesting wines: True Red, a blend of Rhone, Bordeaux, as well as Iberian varietals from multiple years; and a Touriga National/Touriga Franca red wine grapes found in Portugal. Keep your eye on this winery.
The Frank Family Vineyards table was very popular; I enjoyed their new Zinfandel.
Fritz Underground Winery, also just known as Fritz, poured a good Zinfandel.
Loved the Chardonnay from this Bennett Valley, Santa Rosa vineyard: Frostwatch Vineyard & Winery.
I had already tasted Guarachi Family Wines Pinot Noirs early this year so I skipped them at the tasting. As I asked to sample the Cabernet only I noticed the couple next to me also skipped the Pinots. I turned to them and explained why I had only the Cab and told them that they needed to try the Pinots as well, that they were more than good! And the Cab? OMG, I want more.
Fresh from a Halter Ranch component tasting in my home the night before (tasted the four singe varietal Rhônes that go into their red blend, Côtes de Paso) I only tasted the latest Ancestor blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Very well done and ready to drink.
Another new winery for me that I wanted to check out was the Hearst Ranch Winery – and yes, it’s attached to Hearst family. They served up a Malbec that had such amazing floral notes that I was drawn in for a taste. A lighter body than I expected, but yet really interesting. Like to have more time to dissect that one. They also had a Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre Rhone blend (commonly referred to as a GSM blend) that was nice as well.
Herb Lamb Vineyards wowed me, and several others, with their 2011 HL Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon.
Having just visited J Dusi Wines in their new tasting room on West 46 a couple of weeks ago, I just waved to winemaker Janell Dusi to only say hello. She waved me over to try one more they just put in bottle: the 2011 Syrah blend. Another new wine I liked.
I had a teeny tiny sample of the latest Justification blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot from JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery. It’s a winner as expected!
A wine called Jefferson Cuvee got my attention from the Corley family-run Monticello Vineyards in Napa Valley. The Jefferson Cuvee is a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Monticello Vineyards (their second label is their namesake label, Corley).
I loved three reds from Oakville Ranch Vineyards: Cabernet Sauvignon, a Cabernet Franc and the field blend made up of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah.
An Estate Pinot Noir served up by Pence Ranch & Winery was top notch.
I was tickled to bump into my old friend Michael Fraschilla representing Pride Mountain Vineyards! I had always appreciated their Merlots and today I did as well, as well as their Chardonnay. Michael told me that our local Larsen’s Steakhouse would be adding the Chard to their menu soon!
Next up was a Syrah and Claret at Ramey Wine Cellars – both were new to me and I’ll be looking for Ramey from now on at events.
Another new-to-me winery was Rock Wall Wine Company. They had a remarkable Tannat, a Petite Sirah and a red called Obsideana that was a blend of 50% Petite Sirah and 50% Zinfandel.
I had a lovely dinner with Swanson Vineyards winemaker Chris Phelps a few years back so I looked forward to tasting his wines again. His latest Chardonnay and Alexis Cabernet Sauvignon did not disappoint.
I’d always wanted to try the Rhônes made by Paso Robles’ Tablas Creek Vineyard and for some reason hadn’t. My favorites were the Grenache-based Côtes de Tablas, Vermentino and the Grenache-based Patelin de Tablas rosé.
Had two very nice blends, Grenache-Syrah in “Touchy-Feely”, and Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Syrah in “The Big Game.” As well as an excellent Cabernet Sauvignon “Cardinal” at The Farm Winery.
At Zenaida Cellars I loved their Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and 2C Red, which is a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah.
*Most of the wines I tried were 2010s.
I slammed shut my volume of Encyclopedia Americana and muttered to myself, “This makes absolutely no sense!”
I had just returned home from seeing the latest Bond thriller. 007 was drinking a dark red wine which he referred to as a “Claret.” However, according to my research, a Clairette is a white Rhone varietal. Being a good Catholic boy, I also knew that the word, claret, was derived from the Latin word for “clear.” Could agent 007 be in error? If so, this would be a threat to my world!
I decided that in the morning I would jump into my car and venture out to the Rancho Cucamonga Valley. I knew full well that I would find my answer with a visit to the J. Filippi Winery.
Upon entry to the J. Filippi tasting room, I was greeted by Pete. Instantly we hit it off, and he was quick to share his knowledge of wines. I learned that in the 14th and 15th centuries, Bordeaux wines were much lighter in color, very similar in look to a Rose. Even more interesting, I learned that in the Middle Ages, “claret” was heated, then filtered through a bag of spices. Lastly, Pete shared with me that it wasn’t until the 1700s that Bordeaux wines began taking on their now recognizeable color.
Pete also allowed me to sneak the occasional sip so I could better understand the differences in grape varietals. Not only did I become Pete’s protege, I began working in the tasting room as his assistant. By law, I was not old enough to serve wine, but this certainly did not preclude me from washing glasses. After working with Pete a couple of weeks, it turned out that he had gone to school with my Uncle Joe, and after meeting me, Pete was assured by my uncle, that he gave his blessing with regard to furthering my knowledge of wines.
What I particularly enjoyed about working with Pete, was watching how he taught. During tastings, he was not arrogant or condescending. His method was to ask questions and opinions. He never told people what they should taste, Pete left that to self discovery. In turn, he would share his knowledge. What I most admired about my mentor was that he was quick to let people know how much he cared, not brag about how much he knew.
Let me begin with a question. “You know how to drink wine, but do you really know how to taste it?” To experience the true flavor of a wine, one must take advantage of the senses we were all given by the wine gods. These are sight, smell, touch, as well as taste.
The all important glass is imperative to our tasting. It should of course be clean, and pay particular attention to the rim. It should bend slightly inwards. Why? Such a design will help to channel the aromas to the nose. It will also allow you to easily swirl your wine without spilling. There is a proper way to hold a wine glass, and that is by the stem. To grasp the glass by the bowl will only serve to heat the wine. Your hand does give off enough heat to make a noticeable difference.
Next we want to look at the wine, especially around the edges. Do not be afraid to hold it up to the light and admire the hues, and striations in the wine’s color. It is vital that we learn to appreciate the subtle beauty of wine. We also want to look for color and clarity, however, take it a step further. White wines become darker with age, while time causes red wines to lose their color, turning more brownish. An Important point to remember with red wines is not to be intimidated by a small amount of harmless sediment in the bottom of the glass or bottle. I will alert you to off odors and colors as this might be an indication the wine is spoiled. “Corked” as we say in wine speak.
Now for the all important swirl. On many occasion I have been asked, why is it important to swirl the wine? This is an important step in that it aerates the wine. As oxygen enters the glass, the wine is allowed to open up and display its bouquet. Take particular notice of the streaks of wine as they slowly recede down the side of the glass. This is known as the wine’s “legs.” The legs are important because they can give a good indication of a wine’s viscosity.
Did you know that 80% of our sense of taste is actually from our nose? There are proper ways to best appreciate a wine’s aromas. Some connoisseurs prefer to sniff with one nostril at a time, while others take two or three quick sniffs. Then there are those who believe it is much better to keep your nose out of the glass, and catch the aromas as they permeate the air. I prefer diving right in, so to speak. I find that I can better appreciate the complexity of aromas the deeper I am into the glass. In this way, I feel the aromas are more floral, fruitier, and richer. Regardless of your preferred method, what is a must is that you learn to totally appreciate a wine’s bouquet.
Finally it is time to sip and taste. However, before we enjoy our first sip, it is also important to understand the role of the tongue when assessing a wine. The tip of the tongue detects sweetness, the inner sides of the tongue detect acidity, while the outer tongue detects saltiness.
The remaining question is to sip or swallow? Most professional wine tasters prefer to spit, especially if they are planning to taste several wines. Once you have taken a sip, it is important to roll the wine around in your mouth to expose it to all your taste buds.
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Pay particular attention to the texture, weight, and body of the wine. Professionals will also aspirate through the wine. As you exhale, this will better liberate the aromas of the wine which enables you to better experience all that the wine has to offer. Another technique is to slurp as you sip. This will introduce air and help you appreciate the subtle differences in flavor and texture. Take particular notice of the aftertaste. How long does the finish last? Do you like the taste?
It is also important to take good notes when tasting wine. This will force you to pay attention to the subtleties of the wine while your impressions are still fresh in your mind. I for one, hate when professionals break my concentration by trying to impress me with the their knowledge or attempt to tell me what I am supposed to smell or taste.
Remember, there are no hard fast rules when it comes to tasting. The purpose to discover your palate by introducing you to the aromas, characteristics, and subtle nuances of this living breathing entity we call wine.
Next up, we will cover my ritual Friday night tasting with six lovely ladies, who have only recently been introduced to the wonderful world of wines … “But that my friends, is another story … “
In November of 2012, George Washington’s fabled Mt. Vernon Distillery was reopened. Today a meticulous recipe of the popular 1799 blend by our first president, is taking the rye whiskey market by storm. I have it on good authority that the president’s whiskey was not only the rage of the day, it made Mr. Washington a very wealthy man. The Mt. Vernon Distillery was renown as the largest distillery in the fledgling republic. I can personally attest to the fact that it is an exceptional whiskey. Comprised of 60% rye, 35% corn, and 5% malted barley. It is aged 2 years, and with an alcohol content of 43%, and well-worth the $95 price tag. A special batch will soon be released, and will retail for $185 a bottle. I have already placed my order. (For more on rye whiskey, see our archives. I have an article, “Rye Renaissance” which was published on 3-21-13).
What other spirits did our country’s father imbibe? Madeira was the typical way he ended his day. Madeira is a fortified wine with an added distilled beverage, usually brandy. The final product has typically an alcohol content of 20%. The most desirable styles of fortified wines hail from the Madeira Islands, Portugal, and Spain.
It seems our country’s father also had a sweet tooth. In May of 1787, while Thomas Jefferson was in France, he purchased 30 case of Chateau d’Yquem Sauterne for the general, and 10 cases for himself. (For more on Sauternes, do a search in our archives. I have an article entitled, “Semillon: France’s Unsung Hero,” which was published 9-12-13).
There is also documented evidence that along with Madeira being the wine of choice for Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and John Marshall, our founding fathers christened the USS Constitution with a bottle of Madeira. John Adams was also quite the beer drinker. He is purported to have started his day with a tankard. Both James Madison and James Monroe preferred ale.
Thomas Jefferson definitely knew his way around a vineyard. He owned a winery and hoped that his Sangiovese grapes would flourish in Monticello. Unfortunately, both of his Virginia vineyards failed. He also had a taste for French wines and believed Chateau d’Yquem’s Sauterne, to be the best representative of the sweet dessert wine. Mr. Jefferson’s expertise also extended to wines from Italy, Spain, and Portugal. America’s aficionado was also responsible for stocking the wine cellrs of the first 5 presidents.
Here are some other fun facts about spirits in the early beginnings of our country. Before Paul Revere departed on his now famous, “Midnight Ride,” he warmed up with 2 tankards of rum. Incidentally, rum was New Englad’s longest thriving business. At the signing of the of the Declaration of Independence, the founders had on hand quite a selection of wines. It has been reported there were 50 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of Claret, and 22 bottles of Port. The Star Spangled Banner was originally played to the tune of a drinking song. My favorite, Bourbon whiskey, is an American creation. By an Act of Congress, it is the official spirit of the United States of America.
Let’s make a quick rundown on other presidents and their alcohol of choice. Andrew Jackson was known to drink his whiskey straight. At state functions, the Jackson’s served “Daniel Webster’s Punch,” the jungle juice of the day. Martin Van Buren drank so much whiskey, his friends nicknamed him “Blue Whiskey Van.” James Buchanan had an educated palate. He preferred Bordeaux, Champagne and Cognac. When neither was available, he settled for whiskey. Abraham Lincoln did not drink, but he was invested in the spirits industry. My small batch bourbon of choice Knob Creek, other than sharing the name of our 16th president’s birthplace, the two have no other connection. Contrary to popular belief, Andrew Johnson was not an alcoholic. In fact he almost never had a drink. Unfortunately, on the day of his inauguration, he shared a few drinks with close friends. Since he did not know how to hold his liquor, he got drunk. Pity his father did not teach him a general lesson of the day. “Teach a boy how to sit a saddle, and teach him how to hold a drink.” Ulysses S. Grant, on the other hand, was known for his penchant for Old Crow Whiskey and cigars. Known to have smoked up to 20 cigars a day, he died of throat cancer.
Moving right along, I found that James Garfield was a whikey drinker and his successor, Chester A. Arthur, habitually enjoyed a bottle of Claret with his dinner. Grover Cleveland was big on beer. He is reputed to have enjoyed several frothy ones throughout the day. Perhaps there’s more behind the story of how he once got stuck in the bath tub. Both Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft were fond of cocktails. It was once reported that TR said he was “bully for a Marconi Cocktail, gin of course.” President Taft liked orange juice. He regularly started his day with Bronx Cocktail.
Herbert Hoover loved his martinis, stirred, not shaken. Shaking would obviously bruise the gin, and on occasion garnish his drink with an olive. The “Stanford Man” viewed a martini as the only suitable cocktail for America’s elite. Not only did Franklin Delano Roosevelt repeal Prohibition, FDR was quite the drinking man. He particularly enjoyed scotch and brandy. As was the custom of his day, he was also fond of cocktails. His favorite, a Haitian Libation. Supposedly when FDR, Churchill, and Stalin met in Yalta, Ukraine, Stalin brought gifts of Georgian Brandy. Being no less the gentleman, FDR mixed up a pitcher of martinis.
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When Stalin was asked if he enjoyed the drink, the Soviet leader replied, “It was OK, but a bit cold on my stomach.”
Dwight Eisenhower preferred to drink scotch. Johnny Walker Black was his preference. His supporters wore, “I like Ike,” buttons. I wonder if in the privacy of the White House, he wore a button touting his favorite brand of Scotch whiskey. John F. Kennedy typically enjoyed a martini and a Cuban cigar at the end of the day. He smoked a brand known as Demi Tasse. In Cuba and the rest of the world, these cigars were marketed under the name, Petit Upmann. Mrs. Kennedy, on the other hand, adored a good daiquiri. During official state functions, the favored wine of Camelot, was of course, French Champagne. In an ironic twist, Nikita Khrushchev claimed that the martini was America’s most lethal weapon. Lyndon Johnson enjoyed his scotch, and Cutty Sark was his brand of choice. LBJ claimed that a dash of soda water was an excellent addition to open up the whiskey’s flavor. Richard Nixon often relaxed by playing poker and enjoying a rum and Coke. “Tricky Dick,” actually earned his way through college with his winnings from the card table. At state functions, the Nixon White House is purported to have served California wines to his guests, while he secretly enjoyed a Bordeaux wine. However, on his historic trip to the People’s Republic of China, Mr. Nixon toasted his hosts with a Schramsburg Blanc de Blanc.
Let’s press on. Gerald Ford was a gin and tonic man, and also had a penchant for the martini. He once stated that the “Three martini lunch was the epitome of American efficiency.” Ronald Reagan prefered cocktails, he was known to have satisfied his sweet tooth with more than just jelly beans. His drink of choice, an “Orange Blossom.” Being a proud Californian, during White House official functions the sparkling wine of choice was from Napa Valley. George H. W. Bush continued the Reagan tradition of serving California wines in the White House. His palate seemed to favor our dry reds.
President Clinton seems to be a risk taker in more ways than one. His favorite cocktail is a “Snake Bite” made with Yukon Jack whiskey. Being quite the contemporary, Bill also enjoys tequila. Since the former president likes to play his sax, I wonder if he ever invited rockers, Van Halen, over for a jam session and to imbibe on Sammy Hagar’s renown tequila. We are all aware George Bush’s struggles with substance abuse. By his own account, his days at Yale University were either in a drunken stupor or a smoke filled haze. I wonder what was his marijuana of choice? Considering he speaks Spanish fluently, I’d hazard to guess his preference was “Acapulco Gold.” As for Barack Obama, not only does our presient try to find common ground with everyone, his drinking habits seem to portray the same characteristics. The president especially likes tequila, preferably when mixed as a Margarita. He also enjoys martinis, sparkling wine, and beer.
If you know the drink preference of any of the presidents that I did not include, please feel free to fill in the gaps. It is fascinating to learn how drinking habits and customs have changed over the decades.
With that in mind, I wonder what history’s conquerors preferred in the way of libation? “But that my friends, is a different story … “
On November 13, courtesy www.LearnAboutWine.com, we sat in on a one-hour seminar delivered by Jean Hoefliger, winemaker Alpha Omega; Aaron Pott, winemaker; and Lars Ryssdal, General Manager, Ackerman Family Vineyards. And after a tasting of their wines we then enjoyed a tasting from top California (mostly Napa) Cabernet Sauvignon winemakers. So, without further adieu, lets get our glasses out!
Hoefliger and Pott
According to Learn About Wine: Jean Hoefliger was born and raised in Switzerland. His initial experience took him from Switzerland to Bordeaux, and South Africa, making wine at the esteemed estates of Chateau Lynch-Bages, Chateau Carbonnieux, and Meerlust. He is now the winemaker for Alpha Omega Winery.
Aaron Pott studied oenology at University of California, Davis. While studying at UCD, Pott explored all aspects of the theory of winemaking while working part-time in the research laboratory at Robert Mondavi Winery. Named one of Food and Wine Magazine’s Winemakers of the Year 2012, Aaron’s personal bio on the Pott Wine website here.
Ian Blackburn, the founder of LearnAboutWine, welcomed attendees to the 5th annual Stars of Cabernet and then introduced “two of his favorite…passionate people” of the Napa Valley, Hoefliger and Pott, and later Ryssdal, who each in turn introduced their wines:
Flight One 2011 Vintage
Nose: Blackberry, plum, blueberry, dark seeded fruit jam, fig.
Taste: Deep, dark fruits, green peppercorn, cigar, very dark chocolate, extremely nice. Just fewer than 800 cases produced.
2011 was a cold vintage year, according to Hoefliger. The cold front ended up being amazing conditions that accounted for wines’ ripeness, lower alcohol and acidity, and balance. The blocks were picked at the balance wanted. The colder years’ wine, according to Hoefliger, can tone down with age. He compared Napa to Bordeaux; as Napa has an extraordinary climate – as 99.9% of the years are almost perfect to make wine.
Aaron also talked about 2011 weather conditions; the amount of rain protected against mold and that Cabernet “is duly suited to difficult climates.”
Pott Wine La carte et Le Territoire, Napa Valley 2011, Cabernet Franc and Merlot
Nose: Drier fruit, dusty, stems, mint on the nose.
Taste: Nice ripe and bright cherry, plum, a layer of dusty tannins.
Very few wines are grown in St. Helena, according to Pott, there are many gravel benches but land is either built with residential property or too expensive for grape growers.
Potts discovered wine when he tried to order a glass of milk in a French restaurant and was told, “Milk is for babies”, and handed a glass of wine instead. He learned about winemaking from 1993 to 1998 in France. Then he made wines for Beringer’s properties in other countries. In 2001 he started making wine in Napa, 2004 he came to Quintessa, and by 2008 he started his own brand and began doing consulting work for other wineries.
Hoefliger was born and raised in Switzerland. He planned on going into the family business: so he went to law school and delved into banking. At the same time he was spending his money on wine so he switched – to learning about and making wine. He tasted 63 lots of wine one day and decided then and there that he “never wanted to leave that field again.”
In his career Hoefliger has made wine in South Africa and Bordeaux, went back to Switzerland to finish his degrees, but then ultimately returned to Bordeaux to finish winemaking instead. This time Lynch Bages got his resume and called him, and he worked with them for 2000 and 2001. But Hoefliger soon tired of France. He wanted the creative side back, and making wine in America fit that bill.
Ackerman, Napa /Valley 2011 – Barrel Sample
Nose: Red cherry, antiseptic, menthol.
Taste: Acidic, red fruit, cigarette
Ryssdal talked about Ackerman wines, and their organic and sustainable winery facility on Howell Mountain. The barrel sample is from all new barrels.
Ackerman Family Vineyards, Napa Valley 2003 $125 a bottle.
Nose: Raisin, menthol, black licorice, anise, spearmint, stewed plums.
Taste: Cigar, dried fruit, tree bark.
Monteverro, Toscana by Jean Hoefliger, about $160 a bottle.
Nose: Anise, tobacco, black fruit, milk chocolate covered almonds.
Taste: Nice, balanced, palate-drying yet good fruit, spice, cracked black pepper, another good one.
Pott Cabernet Sauvignon from Stagecoach Vineyard. Lower yields, classic Cabernet Sauvignon. About $110 a bottle.
Nose: Pungent stewed veggies, tomato, aromatic, velvety, silky dark red fruit.
Taste: Very nice. A good balance of fruit, spice rack, not overdone, nice firm tannins and titillating finish. Want more.
At the close of our seminar Blackburn asked, “What favorite moment are you picking that wine for?” as tasters usually note their favorite and these 2011s all deserve note. These are pulling back to a more elegant state, according to Blackburn, with less alcohol than in the past for Cabernet Sauvignon.
I did not taste everything, so forgive me if I missed your favorites, but I noted *Favorite wineries and **Favorite wines of mine below:
2012 Priest Ranch Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley
2011 Priest Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2010 Stornoway, Estate Grown, Napa Valley
2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate Grown, Napa Valley
2012 Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc
2011 Rutherford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
2010 Napa Valley Cabernet
2010 Reserve Cabernet
Louis M. Martini
2010 Monte Rosso Cabernet
2010 Napa Valley Cabernet
2011 Sonoma County Cabernet
2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Lot 1
2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
**Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon
2009 Diamond Cabernet
**2010 Cabernet Sauvignon
2011 Hope’s Cuvee Chardonnay
2010 Estate Cab
2012 Blueprint Sauvignon Blanc
2011 Blueprint Cabernet Sauvignon
2010 J. Daniel Cuvee
2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
2012 Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon
2012 Rosé of Pinot Noir
2008 Proprietor’s Blend
2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
**2010 Rutherford Merlot
**2010 Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
**2010 Dollarhide Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
2011 Decoy Napa Valley Red Wine
**2011 Decoy Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon
**2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
**2010 Paraduxx Z Blend Napa Valley Red Wine
**2011 Pont de Chevalier Sauvignon Blanc
**Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
**Dr. Crane Cabernet Sauvignon
2009 Pont de Chevalier To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon
**NV9 Cain Cuvee
**2009 Cain Concept – The Benchland
**2008 Cain Five
**2012 Napa Chardonnay
2012 Napa Carneros Pinot Noir
**2010 Napa Cabernet
2009 Rutherford Reserve Cabernet
2011 Napa Zinfandel
2012 “Block 21” Sauvignon Blanc-Napa Valley
2008 “Brix Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon-Oakville
2009 “Brix Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon-Oakville
2012 Sauvignon Blanc
2008 Napa Valley Cabernet
**2007 Trailside Cabernet
**2006 Martha’s Vineyard
2012 Sauvignon Blanc
2010 Cabernet Sauvignon
2005 Cabernet Sauvignon
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon
2008 Cabernet Sauvignon
2011 Her Majesty’s Secret Service
2011 The Arsenal
2009 Estate Cabernet
2010 Vineyard Estate Cabernet
2011 Counterpoint Cabernet
2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
2011 Russian River Pinot Noir
Pritchard Hill Cabernet
2009 Cabernet Sauvignon
2009 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Grigsby Vineyard, Yountville]
2009 Merlot, Grigsby Vineyard, Yountville
2009 Syrah, Grigsby Vineyard, Yountville
2009 Vespera, Proprietary Red Blend, Napa
2008 Block M
2007 Cabernet Sauvignon
2008 Surfrider Cabernet Sauvignon
2008 Surfrider Meritage
2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
2010 Cabernet Sauvignon
The Debate Missouri Hopper
The Debate To Kalon
The Debate Dr. Crane
**2009 Cabernet Sauvignon
Signature Select Margaret River Cabernet
Finisterre Margaret River Cabernet
*Hawk and Horse
2009 Cabernet Sauvignon
2009 HHV/ Block Three
2011 Southern Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, Livermore Valley, San Francisco Bay
2011 Charles Wetmore Cabernet Sauvignon, Livermore Valley, San Francisco Bay
2010 The Nth Degree Cabernet Sauvignon, Livermore Valley, San Francisco Bay
2012 Lucie Chardonnay
2011 Lucie Pinot Noir
**2009 Reserve Cabernet
2010 Vagabond Syrah
2009 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon
2011 Cuvée Blanc
2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Alexander Valley Vineyards
2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
2010 Alexander School Reserve Cabernet
Heritage Link Brands
Seven Sisters “Odelia” Sweet White
House of Mandela Royal Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
House of Mandela Thembu Collection Cabernet Sauvignon
Seven Sisters “Dawn” Pinotage/Shiraz
**2010 Hillside Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
2010 Hillside Estate Zinfandel
2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain District Napa Valley
For this Grape of the Night gathering the selected varietal was Meritage or Claret. Since we sampled French Bordeaux wines at our October GOTN, I thought that it would be interesting to venture to the New World as a comparison. It was interesting there were no labels that had the name Claret all were Meritage.
Claret is an unofficial designation, or name, that Britain uses for red wines originating from Bordeaux, France. So with that said, it has not stopped many American wineries, such as Bell, from using the name Claret on their wine labels. Meritage, actually pronounced MEH-rih-tij (rhyming with heritage), is often mispronounced as if it were French (meh-rih-TAAAGGHHHE), myself included.
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We all know that I love French wines.
Meritage is a trademark used by US vintners that produce French Bordeaux style wines.
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Some interesting facts about the qualifications to be termed Meritage is that the wine cannot be mass produced and the winery must produce under 25,000 cases. Meritage wine must be a blend of two or more of the red Bordeaux varieties with no single variety can compose more than 75% of the blend. The grapes that can be used in a Meritage are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Carmenere. It also must be high-end. This fact sends a lot of questions as to what is meant by high end since the term “high-end” is not defined it leaves a lot of latitude for interpretation. The patent may rest on whether the wine states that it is a Meritage on the bottle or that the blend on the label is recognized as a Meritage but is not stated as such. Meritage wines will taste much like the Bordeaux wines of France except for the nuances added by the terroir and processes of each country.
One should expect blackberry, cherry, spices, chocolate, and vanilla depending on the varietals chosen for the blend. The key Bordeaux flavors of cigar box, rich fruits, with a hefty feel should also be found. Meritages taste best when served at 64 degrees Fahrenheit which is also true of Bordeaux wines.
Here are the wines provided by the members for tasting at GOTN Meritage/Claret:
· 2005 Bell Sonnett (Napa)
Aroma: Light earth, spice and light fruit
Taste: Smooth, red fruits, and soft tannins
· 2008 Chappellet Cuvee (Napa)
Aroma: Spiced fruit
Taste: Creamy cherry
· 2007 Robert Sinskey POV Pinot of View (Napa)
Aroma: Lightly spiced and red fruits
Taste: Red fruits and slightly creamy
· 2009 DAOU Micro (Paso Robles)
Aroma: Chocolate, cherry and spice
Taste: Red fruits, jammy and slight tobacco
· 2007 Estancia (Paso Robles)
Aroma: Alcohol, licorice and medicinal
Taste: Cherry, short finish and licorice
· 2008 Avenel Cellars Meritage (Napa)
Aroma: Red fruit
Taste: Red fruit (slightly sweet), Smokey, very light tobacco on finish
I found this GOTN quite interesting. Remembering the old world earthiness of the Bordeaux wines from France and now opening up everyone’s palate to a New World Wine where the fruits are much more dominant and upfront. I really enjoyed this meeting and I want to thank everyone for coming and bringing such unique wines. This is what wines are all about. Next, we are going to challenge the Malbec varietal. This wine varietal is grown in many countries and will provide us with differences due to the various terroirs. As always, I want to thank the Valencia Wine Company for their service. I would like to especially thank Vic for pouring and tending to our needs while also taking care of customers that were not a part of our group. I can’t wait until our next GOTN and as always, look for those unique Malbecs for us to sample, analyze and enjoy.