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Dry Creek Valley, A Gem of an AVA

Background

 

Dry Creek Valley map

Located at the northern edge of Sonoma wine country, Dry Creek was among the first AVAs, approved in 1983. The area consists of a narrow valley approximately 2 miles wide and 16 miles long, a geography that makes Dry Creek an easy loop for a day trip from the Bay Area. Drive north from Healdsburg and drive along the east side of the valley on Dry Creek Road, then return south on West Dry Creek Road. If you’re adventurous and fit, you can even bike Dry Creek Road.

Although cold Pacific waters lie just 20 miles west, mountainous terrain between the valley and coast results in a hot summer days, cooling considerably at night. It’s an ideal place to grow Zinfandel, the region’s trademark grape.

Originally planted in Dry Creek Valley by Italian immigrants in the mid­-19th century, many of the region’s Zinfandel vineyards are among the oldest vineyards in the country, their distinctively gnarled, head­pruned vines dotting hillsides and valleys throughout the appellation. Many of these vineyards pre-date Prohibition and have survived not only that challenge but also the rise and fall of the infamous “white zin”. “Zinfandel is integral to the past, present and future of Dry Creek Valley,” says Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley® president, Clay Fritz. “There are families in this valley who’ve been growing it for seven generations, who have Zinfandel flowing in their veins.”

Dry Creek Valley is a patchwork quilt of diverse, well­drained soils and terrain ideal for an array of grape varieties. The Valley has one of the largest concentrations of bench lands in Sonoma County.

  • Deep, fertile Yolo soils are on alluvial fans and flood plains. Any crop can be grown on these soils. Good for white grapes.
  • Cortina soils are very gravelly, sandy loams on channeled stream bottoms.
  • The Manzanita series of gravelly silt loams is found on alluvial fans and river terraces. Constrained rooting depth makes it suited to limited production of white or red grapes.
  • The mid­terrace and hillside soils on the benches and hills, often a distinctive red color, are composed primarily of gravelly clay loam. Zinfandel thrives in the mid­terrace soils. Small crops of fine red grape varieties are grown on the hillsides.
©Ilona Koren-Deutsch

©Ilona Koren-Deutsch

Stylistically, Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel hints at the characteristics of cool climate reds, with aromas of red fruits mixed with black pepper and earth. Depending on the winemaker, the wines can be lush and fruit driven, dark and intense, or anything in between. In general, Dry Creek Valley Zinfandels balance ripe, sensual fruit flavors with moderate sugar levels, resulting in elegant wines great for pairing with food or enjoying alone.

 

Rockpile

 

Photo courtesy Rockpile Growers Association

Photo courtesy Rockpile Growers Association

Rockpile, in the mountainous northwest corner and overlapping Dry Creek Valley, has unique terroir. This is one of the smallest and most recent AVAs in the country, approved in 2002. Planted acres comprise less than 160 acres, which make comparisons of several winemaking styles from the same vineyard especially revealing.

Rockpile is unique in that there are no wineries within the borders of the AVA. However, winemakers have long considered this region a hidden gem and compete to secure grapes from fewer than a dozen Rockpile growers each year. Because the temperature in Rockpile is moderate throughout the growing season, harvest of several grape varieties can be pushed until late fall, resulting in intense flavor profiles. Rockpile wines are well worth seeking out; a number of wineries produce them including:

  • Bella
  • Bruliam Wines
  • Carol Shelton
  • Mauritson Wines
  • Robert Biale Vineyards
  • Rock Wall Wines
  • Seghesio Family Vineyards

 

Where to go

 

signs

Visiting Dry Creek Valley wineries is a friendly experience. Here you’ll find winemakers that enjoy talking with you, cellars and vineyards to tour, and beautiful gardens in which to sip your wine. Because each of these wineries has outdoor space in which to play, children are welcome to visit.

The Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley have an interactive map to help you plan your visit. You can select an amenity or wine, and the map will tell you which wineries to visit.

Here’s a selection of wineries, that I enjoyed on my first trip there. When I go back, I’ll visit more!

 

 

Dutcher Crossing Winery

8533 Dry Creek Road
Geyserville, CA 95441
Phone: 866-431-2711
http://www.dutchercrossingwinery.com/

Proprietor Debra Mathy can often be found welcoming guests with Dutchess, her Golden Lab, sidekick, and the winery’s official greeter. Winemaker Kerry Damskey’s small-lot, select vineyard approach to winemaking can be enjoyed in the tasting room. You can enjoy the view from inside the tasting room, but you are welcome to bring a picnic to enjoy in the garden with your wine.

Fritz Underground Winery

24691 Dutcher Creek Road
Cloverdale, California 95425
Phone: 800-418-9463
Email: info@fritzwinery.com
http://www.fritzwinery.com/

Fritz is architecturally unique. Built into the side of a hill atop the northernmost region of the famed Dry Creek Valley, the Fritz Winery operates with a green sensibility. Naturally cool temperatures, ideal for wine making and cellaring, are maintained without any use of expensive or carbon-heavy devices common to most modern wine production. In addition, they use a three-tiered structure to further cut down on energy usage. By harnessing gravity to move juice from the crush pad down to the tanks and barrels, they not only save energy by forgoing pumps, they also save juice from the detrimental effects of excessive pulsation and buffeting.

Mauritson

2859 Dry Creek Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Phone: (707) 431-0804
Fax: (707) 433-5001
E-mail: info@mauritsonwines.com
http://www.mauritsonwines.com/

The Mauritson family has been making wine in Dry Creek Valley for six generations over 140 years. The family was growing 4,000 acres in the early 1960s when all but 640 acres were taken by the Army Corps of Engineers to develop Lake Sonoma.

On any given day and with no advance reservation, you can take self-guided vineyard tours. Along the way, learn what goes on in a vineyard during the year, sustainable farming practices and other interesting tidbits of information. Of course, after the tour you can taste their wines in their comfortable tasting room, filled with photographs and history.

Quivira Vineyards and Winery

4900 West Dry Creek Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Local: 707.431.8333
Toll Free: 800.292.8339
Fax: 707.431.1664
http://www.quivirawine.com/

When you visit Quivira’s estate, you will enjoy an insider’s look at their wines, their vineyards, and their commitment to Biodynamic farming. Their organic and Biodynamic winery includes colorful gardens, entertaining animals, soothing waterways and, of course, abundant vineyards, offering breathtaking views of the thriving wine region.

In Spring and Summer, they offer a 90-minute tour of the Estate, discussing topics varying from their compost program to the Grenache varietal and the importance of vine trellis systems. Their Biodynamic agricultural practices are evident throughout their property but no more so than in their one-acre garden, which is home to more than 50 chickens, 120 raised vegetable beds, and one of their Biodynamic beehives. In Autumn and Winter, they invite guests into their cellar for an in-depth discussion on winemaking practices. After each tour, guests are invited to a private, sit-down tasting featuring their small-lot wines.

thumbprint cellars

102 Matheson St.
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Phone: 707.433.2393
Fax: 707.433.2325
Email: lounge@thumbprintcellars.com
http://www.thumbprintcellars.com/

In 2004, thumbprint opened their tasting room and wine bar which they deemed a tasting “lounge”, the first of its kind in Healdsburg. They designed the space to be comfortable and elegant, yet approachable and friendly. thumbprint cellars’ unique tasting room pours their artisan wines, which are recognized across the country. thumbprint supports numerous non-profit organizations and local events, through financial contributions, services and in-kind donations.

 

Winemakers Dinner at the home of Dutcher Crossing's proprietor, Debra Mathy photo ©Ilona Koren-Deutsch

Winemakers Dinner at the home of Dutcher Crossing’s proprietor, Debra Mathy
photo ©Ilona Koren-Deutsch

 

This excursion to Dry Creek Valley was organized by McCue Marketing Communications, LLC for the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley®

 

Typing "help" provided by Alix.

Typing “help” provided by Alix.

Musings about the Wine Bloggers Conference

WBC 11

Two years ago, I attended WBC 11 in Charlottesville, VA. It was an eye-opening experience, in more ways than one. A number of bloggers had very critical things to say about the conference, at least an equal number had nothing but praise. I chose not to enter into that fray, just writing, on the way home, the following post (for a different blog) about the conference:

Notes from 1D

A short post from the plane, finally on my way home after adventures in Charlottesville and Richmond and Minneapolis airports.

I went to the Wine Bloggers Conference figuring I’d drink a lot of wine, meet interesting people, and have fun. I did all that, but I also ended up learning more than I expected to. Some bullet points:

  • There is excellent wine being made in Virginia. I’m especially fond of the Cabernet Franc, with the Viognier running a close second.
  • Humans can only perceive four aromas at any one time. I’m now going to read with some skepticism any winery information sheet or review that claims a long list of aromas. I’m also going to do some research on the science of taste.
  • I need more sleep than I did when I was younger!
  • If you see Jancis Robinson get onto a bus, join her. You’ll be taken to terrific wineries.
  • Speed tasting is kind of like work! Especially speed tasting of red wine when the heat index is over 100 degrees Farenheit and towards the end of the day.

I’ve also come away with inspiration for my writing. Stay tuned for that….

I didn’t attend WBC 12 in Oregon last year because I had just started a new day job.

WBC 13

BC Wine Map

This summer I’m planning to return to the conference. My goals towards wine and writing are different than they were two years ago. I’ve started my own blog (this one, obviously), and I’m studying for formal qualifications: the WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust) Intermediate Exam and the Italian Wine Specialist Exam through the North American Sommelier Association.

Also, unrelated to wine, I have a soft spot for British Columbia, although I’ve spent little time there outside Vancouver.

As the conference approaches, I’ll have more to write about the topic.

For now, I’d like to give a nod to MyWineConcierge.com and TheWinedUp.Net who are doing something remarkable. MyWineConcierge.com is sponsoring a contest to cover the cost of the conference hotel, and TheWinedUp.Net is donating $5 to the WBC Scholarship for each entry. So do these folks a favor and go check out their websites!

 

WBC-Participant-Badge-2011

WBC-Attendee-Badge-2013

On Open That Bottle Night what will you drink?

We all own that one bottle, waiting for the special occasion that never seems to happen. Well, tomorrow night create the occasion for yourself.

OTBN The last Saturday in February is Open That Bottle Night (OTBN). The event was created in 2000 by Wall Street Journal wine columnists Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher. They wrote, “Whether it’s the only bottle in the house or one bottle among thousands, just about all wine lovers have that very special wine that they always mean to open, but never do.” Clearly it was past time to change that. Since its inception, OTBN has become a world-wide celebration of friends, family, and memories.

The wine you open doesn’t have to be expensive and doesn’t have to be on anybody’s Top 10 or even Top 100 list. Maybe it reminds you of an event, a really great day, a job promotion, or some private special moment in your life. Or perhaps it will be the wine with which you want to begin a new tradition of celebrating.

I’m not sure yet what I’ll open tomorrow, but I’ll be sure and post once I do! Meanwhile, do share in the comments what wine you’re drinking for Open That Bottle Night….”

PS – It’s also Purim. There’s even a religious reason to get drunk!

In Pursuit of Balance

IPOBIn honor of IPOB today, a post of mine from the Wayback Machine:

Monday I was back at RN74 for another fabulous tasting. From the booklet, “The purpose of this event is to promote dialogue around the meaning and relevance of balance in California Pinot Noir. In Pursuit of Balance was created by Rajat Parr of Michael Mina and RN74 and Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards to promote wineries who are striving to produce balanced pinot noir in California.”

I’d say it worked – the public tasting was packed full of people happily enjoying our local wine delights. Many CA winemakers were there, each pouring several examples. Some comments on my tasting:

(N.B. – If I make no comments it’s because I didn’t taste, not because I didn’t enjoy.)

  • Alta Maria
  • Au Bon Climat
  • Calera - They started in the 1970s, and planted their grapes up the mountain east of Salinas, looking for limestone. All their wines show great minerality, and were nice and complex. I plan to make a trip there so I can taste the wines they didn’t bring to this tasting….
  • Ceritas - They say the make their wines to age, and the three I tasted support that. The 2007 (their 1st vintage) has lots of ripe fruit. The 2008 has a beautiful nose and also plenty of fruit. The 2009, bottled only 3 weeks ago, smelled a bit “ethanol” and has high acid. I trust it will age well, based on the two older vintages they were pouring.
  • Chanin - Their 2008 “Bien Nacido Vineyard” is the first from that vineyard. It has a smooth, silky finish. I’m looking forward to more!
  • Cobb - I fully enjoyed all three of their wines – they were smooth and complex. Sadly, they’re also out of my budget. *sigh*
  • Copain - I just received my spring allocation from them, and this tasting was a great preview of the next one. I’ve been a fan of theirs for a while. In fact, I’m bringing their wines as gifts to European friends.
  • Evening Land
  • Faila
  • Flowers
  • Freestone - Winner for Worst Note. “Late. Drunk. Yum.”
  • Greg Linn Wines
  • Hirsch - Interestingly, theirs was the only 2009 I preferred to their 2007 (which I also liked). Because of that, I’m interested to see where the wine goes over the next couple of years.
  • Kutch
  • LIOCO
  • Littorai - Oops. Poor notes. “Lovely, sophisticated. 2007 favorite.”
  • Miura
  • Mount Eden
  • Native9 - Un-fined, un-filtered. The 2009 has especially great potential. It’ll be released in the autumn, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out.
  • Peay - Let’s just say that I’m impatiently awaiting my allocation. And that if you don’t have any coming, I feel bad for you.
  • Sandhi - What can’t Raj do? I’ve been a fan of his Syrah since I first drank it last year. This week I fell for his Pinot. Which reminds me, Raj – how about a Syrah tasting next?
  • Soliste - Points for being the only winery pouring a rosé. 2010 Rosé de Pinot Noir – it was fruity and dry, just the way I like it. Not to slight their reds, but pink wine makes me smile. There reds are slightly out of my budget, but if I had the money I’d want them. Towards the end of the evening, they also poured their Syrah “under the table”. Wow.
  • Tyler
  • Wind Gap - These folks are old-school. Not only are all their vines organic, they’re dry farmed and crushed *by foot*. Even if I didn’t enjoy the wines (100% whole cluster gave them sort of a smoky taste), I’d kinda want to get on their mailing list just so I can play with actual stomping!

What impressed me overall is that whilst not every wine I drank was to my taste, all of them were well made. What frustrated me is the number of wineries that told me they don’t sell retail. C’mon! This was a public tasting! Don’t be such teases!

Also, I had the fun of meeting in person people I’d seen at tastings, follow on Twitter, or read their blogs. 

This Weekend: “Eat, Sip, & Be Merry” On The Santa Rosa Wine Trail

The Members of The Santa Rosa Wine Trail are hosting a special holiday tasting weekend on Saturday, December 8 and Sunday, December 9 from 11 am to 4 pm each day. The wine trail is a collection of urban wineries and tasting rooms, restaurants, and a hotel, all located within a few minutes of downtown Santa Rosa.

You will enjoy food trucks, live music, and exclusive tours and activities at ten wineries. Each guest will receive a special “passport” for the weekend. Passports with stamps from each location will be entered for a drawing to win prizes including a case of wine for only one cent!

Eat Sip and Be Merry The ticket price of $25.00 presale or $35.00 at the door includes tastings at ten wineries and tasting rooms, a commemorative wine glass, and $10.00 in “wine bucks” which may be used towards the purchase of wine at any of the participating wineries. For designated drivers, a $5.00 ticket includes special activities and non-alcoholic beverages.

Tickets are available at srwt.eventbrite.com, at participating wineries, and at the door at any of the participating wineries during the event.

Participating wineries are: Carol Shelton, D’Argenzio, Inspiration, Krutz Family Cellars, Old World, Paradise Ridge, Sheldon, Siduri/Novy, Two Shepherds, and the collective at Vinoteca.

The Fountaingrove Inn is offering a limited number of Deluxe King Rooms for just $89/night to Eat, Sip and Be Merry visitors who would like stay in town Friday, Saturday and/or Sunday nights. A link to the special purchase rate is available at srwt.eventbrite.com. Other lodging options may be found at visitsantarosa.com.

About the Santa Rosa Wine Trail

Santa Rosa Wine TrailThe Santa Rosa Wine Trail is a collection of eleven wineries, three restaurants, and one hotel in northern Santa Rosa in Sonoma County, California. The Santa Rosa Wine Trail card (print yours here or pick one up at one of our member wineries) is your passport to great days and nights of some of the best wine and food Sonoma County has to offer, all in close proximity.

Santa Rose Wine Trail Members are: Carol Shelton Wines, D’Argenzio Winery, Inspiration Vineyards, Krutz Family Cellars, Old World Winery, Paradise Ridge, Robert Rue Vineyard, Sheldon Wines, Siduri/Novy, Two Shepherds, Vinoteca, John Ash, Stark’s Steak & Seafood, Willi’s Wine Bar and Vintners Inn.

Orange wines – history and soul in a bottle

Recently I attended a seminar on Ribolla Gialla from Oslavia. Oslavia is in the Collio DOC, in Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The area borders Slovenia, and the people and winemaking traditions are the same on both sides of the border.

Friuli-Venezia Giulia

Terroir

As far east as it’s possible to go in Italy, Collio is a short distance from the Julian Alps and the Adriatic Sea. The mountains help protect the area from the cold of central Europe. The sea moderates temperatures, keeping it warmer in winter and cooler in summer. There is a constant wind, known as the Bora, that gives the vineyards a unique air flow. Collio features sloped, terraced vineyards and soil – called “ponca” in dialect – that gives lots of minerality to the wines. Ponca, or flysch, has layers and blends of minerals from the prehistoric sea bed, clay and sandstone.

History and philosophy

The history of the region is important background to the making of today’s orange wine. Oslavia (Brda in Slovenian) was badly affected the two world wars. No other part of Italy was so destroyed or was divided in the postwar power struggle between Russia and the US. An artificial border was drawn between Italy and Slovenia (then Yugoslavia), sometimes dividing families, even splitting vineyards. All current vineyards have been rebuilt since the war.

Collio DOC – Oslavia is in the east

Before the war, the land was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Austro-Hungarian Empire had a taste for white wines. When Collio became part of Italy, the people were suddenly joined to a predominantly red wine-drinking culture. As a result, part of their winemaking style and philosophy is to treat the white grape as if it were a red grape. The grape in question: Ribolla Gialla.

Documents dating back to the 1300s show that Ribolla Gialla was planted in the region. When winemakers rebuilt after the war, they chose this grape because of its romantic and historical connection to the land. However, in the 1960s, with the internationalization of the wine industry, many of the vines were ripped out and replaced with international grapes. As as result, Ribolla Gialla almost became extinct. A group of producers were committed to indigenous grapes and at the beginning of the 1990s began the School of Oslavia. They rediscovered Ribolla Gialla – as well as traditional winemaking techniques – and brought back these orange wines.

Their philosophy is simple:

  • Respect for the territory and the creation of a new awareness and esteem for its native grape varities.
  • Healthy grapes means no pesticides, herbicides or chemicals in the vineyard.
  • Only use indigenous yeast.
  • No sulfites
  • Skin contact during maceration for color, tannins, and minerals.

These producers are: Dario Princic (Princic), Nicolo Bensa (La Castellada), Silvan Primosic (Primosic), Rinaldo Fiegel (Fiegel), Stanko Radikon (Radikon) and Franco Sosol (Il Carpino). They describe their mission this way: “It was a rediscovering, because this is not a new way of making wine, rather an old one, utilizing the viticultural and oenological techniques of a century ago.” Everything is natural in the vineyard and the cellar. They don’t talk about “biodynamic” and “organic” – they just do what their grandfathers did.

These wines need time; when you go to serve them open the bottle six to eight hours in advance. You can taste them over as long a period as seven days – they will keep changing, but the natural oxidation of the wine will keep them alive and interesting. In addition, these wines age very well. I recommend buying more than one bottle and tasting them over several years.

Tasting notes

We tasted six wines, with different amounts of skin contact. None of the wines see any refrigeration during the winemaking process. Drink the wines slightly chilled, at red-wine temperature. The darker orange the wine, the warmer the temperature at which you want to drink it. Orange wines pair well with meat such as lamb, pork, and sausage. By Italian standards, the wines have high alcohol, all between 12.5% and 13.5%.

wines on the tasting mat

Wines with little skin contact

These two wines have only 8-12 hours of skin contact. They are aged in Slovenian oak barrels.

2007 Fiegl Collio Ribolla Gialla
Almost golden in color, brilliant.
Nose: Dry apricot, dry flowers, honey, minerality
Palate: Dense, honey, minerality, sapid. Balanced, with a long finish.

2008 Primosic Collio Ribolla Gialla
Golden color, brilliant.
Nose: Chamomile, more floral than the Fiegl, sweet spices
Palate: Floral, minerality, ginger and other spices. Dense, with a long finish.

Wines with longer skin contact

These two wines have 15-20 days skin contact. They are aged in oak barrels for up to three years before bottling.

2008 Il Carpino Ribolla Gialla IGT
Darker golden color, consistent.
Nose: Some oxydation, dry stone fruit, wet soil, wet chalk, wet leaves (earthy)
Palate: Bolder, spicy, lots of ginger.

2007 La Castellada Collio Ribolla Gialla
Light amber in color, consistent.
Nose: Dry flowers, sweet spices (cinnamon), oxydation
Palate: Rich. Bold. Tannins well integrated, minerality, high acid. Honey, spices.
(This was my favorite of the six wines.)

Even more skin contact

These two wines have 30-45 days skin contact. They show stronger oxydation, and plenty of skin tannin. These are orange wines to pair with red meat.

2005 Princic Collio Ribolla Gialla
Dark amber, brilliant, some sediment
Nose: Dates, fig, Asian spices, tea leaves, honey, dry flowers. Oxydation offering musk and earthiness.
Palate: Tannins present. Full body. High acid, lots of minerality. Very long honey finish.
This wine could age more – it lacked some integration.

2006 Radikon Ribolla Gialla IGT
Radikon was the first of these winemakers to experiment with the traditional grape. He really pushes the group forward.
Dark amber, some sediment
Nose: Stronger oxydation, honey, spices, earthiness.
Palate: Integrated tannins. Thick on the palate, but soft. Very long honey finish.

Images from Hospice du Rhône

The 20th and last Hospice du Rhône celebration took place in Paso Robles on April 28 & 29 this year. I’m both glad I got to attend and sorry that I won’t get to go back.

Many bloggers wrote wonderfully about the event. Here are three of my favorite posts:

  • From RJ on Wine – Extremely thorough tasting notes
  • From Drink Your Carbs – Charming personal summary of the event
  • From Just Grapes – I don’t agree with all of his conclusions, but he wrote a series of articles containing good information about the seminars.

And now, my 16,000 words:

¡Torrontés!

Torrontés is a white Argentine wine grape varietal, producing fresh, highly aromatic wines (notably peach and apricot) with moderate acidity, and smooth texture and mouthfeel. There are three Torrontés varieties in Argentina: Torrontés Riojano, grown in La Rioja, is the most common. The other two are Torrontés Sanjuanino, from San Juan, and Torrontés Mendocino, from Rio Negro (Mendocino refers to Mendoza). It is mainly Torrontés Riojano that is used for most Argentine Torrontés.

Map highlighting regions where Torrontés is grown

All three Argentine Torrontés varieties belong to the Criollas group of grape varieties, which is a term used for presumably American-born cultivars the European grapevine Vitis vinifera. The three grapes are relatively similar but do have some noticeable differences. DNA profiling shows that Torrontés Riojano and Torrontés Sanjuanino are separate crossings of Mission and Muscat of Alexandria. Torrontés Mendocino is probably a crossing of Muscat of Alexandria and another, so far unidentified, grape variety.

Torrontés Riojano is the most aromatic and most planted of the three, with aromas reminiscent of Muscat and Gewurtztraminer wines. Torrontés Riojano and Torrontés Sanjuanino both tend to have large loose bunches of pale grapes while Torrontés Mendocino, however, has smaller, tighter bunches of darker yellow grapes. The least aromatic, and least widely planted, is Torrontés Mendocino with the aromatics and plantings of Torrontés Sanjuanino in between.

Around 8,700 hectares (21,000 acres) in Argentina have been planted with Torrontés Riojano, and 4,850 hectares (12,000 acres) with Torrontés Sanjuanino. Plantings in the very high altitudes (1700m+) of the Calchaquíes Valleys in the far north of Argentina have recently met with success. The vine is highly productive and is just under ten percent of all white grape plantings, however as a varietal, it made up almost 20 percent of all white wine sold in Argentina in 2008. The Salta region in northwest Argentina, with the highest elevation vineyards in the world at 4200-9842 feet, is particularly noted for its Torrontés, because the grape thrives in cold, dry, windswept conditions.

A vineyard in Salta

Finally, Torrontés is responsible for more than one really fun evening I’ve had in Buenos Aires!

A milonga at El Beso, Buenos Aires

Wine Notes

I attended a tasting of Torrontés in San Francisco sponsored by Vine Connections. It featured six different Torrontés, paired with fabulous empanaditas from El Porteño in the Ferry Building. I liked five of the wines, each for different reasons.

Torrontés does not age well, and should be drunk within a year (or at most, two) of bottling.

Finca Las Nubes Torrontés 2011
Vineyard location: Valle de Cafayate (Salta)
The winery gets its name because it is at high enough elevation that on some days it is literally in the clouds.
Winemaker: José Luis Mounier
No oak, light fining, light filtration.
Alcohol: 13.5%
Intense nose, light on the palate. Fragrant and balanced. White flowers on the nose and dry melon on the palate.
Surprisingly long finish.

Crios Torrontés 2011
Vineyard locations: La Rioja, Tucumán, Mendoza
Winemaker: José Lovaglio (son of Susana Balbo)
No oak, no fining, light filtration
Alcohol: 13.8%
Nose: peach, honeydew, white flowers, sweet citrus
Palate: fruity yet dry, good acidity

Hermanos Torrontés 2011
Vineyard location: Cafayate (Salta)
Winemakers: Osvaldo, Gabriel & Rafael Domingo (brothers – thus the name of the wine)
No oak, light fining, light filtration
Alcohol: 14%
Nose: lemon zest, light fruit and freshly-mown grass
Palate: very light and crisp, refreshing

Coquena Torrontés 2010
Coquena is a mythical figure, an elf who is keeper of the vicuñes. He travels at night fiercely protecting his animals against anyone who tries to do them harm.
Vineyard location: Tolombón (Salta)
Winemaker: Marcos Etchart
No oak, light fining, light filtration
Alcohol: 13.8%
Nose: lemon peel, sweet citrus
Palate: minerality and great acidity, rich, long finish

Recuerdo Torrontés 2011
Vineyard location: Valle de Famatina (La Rioja)
Winemaker: Pablo Martorell
Consulting Winemaker: Santiago Achával
No oak
Alcohol: 13%
Nose: citrus and white flowers
Palate: tropical fruit, minerality, good acidity

Modern Blends from Italy

International Grapes

Italy has more than 600 indigenous grapes – more than any other country in the world. So why would Italian wine producers turn to international grapes? I’ve just attended a tasting that attempted to answer that question with nine wines.

The international grapes are those that are planted in many wine-growing regions around the world. Most experts agree on the following list: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Gewurtztraminer, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillion, and Syrah.

International Varietals

There are three main reasons Italians might make wine from non-native grapes. First of all, international grapes are relatively easy to grow. Second, they also have wide consumer recognition. Finally, you can blend them with indigenous grapes to get the flavor you want – in Italy these wines are not governed by either law or tradition.

The issue with wines made from international grapes is this: can and do they reflect terroir, or are they only made to please the (export) public?

The most famous of the Italian wines made from international grapes are the Super Tuscans. They were created in the 1970s to gain US market share from the French. Also, producers wanted to ignore the DOC/DOCG regulations make make what they wanted to make. Ironically, many of the original Super Tuscans now qualify as DOC or DOCG wines, although some producers still prefer to use the IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) classification of Toscana.

 

Wine Notes

All of these are good wines. Whether or not they reflect terroir depends on the native grapes blended with the international grapes. Whether or not reflecting terroir is important is a matter of individual choice.

Whites

Producer: Castello di Ama
Name: Al Poggio 2009

Region: Tuscany
Grapes: 75% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Grigio
This producer is best known for Chianti Classico. They consider this an entry-level white wine.
Very pale yellow, fresh, elegant. Made in a light style. Aged a few months in used barrique.
Nose: grass, white flower, white peach, a little bit of spicines
Palate: soft, low acid, good minerality

Producer: Bastianich (Yes, it’s Chef Lidia Bastianich’s family.)
Name: Vespa Bianco 2008

Region: Fruili Venezia Giulia
Grapes: 45% Chardonnay, 45% Sauvignon Blanc, 10% Picolit (an especially difficult grape to grow)
Vespa means wasp; Picolit is known to attract a lot if insects. Aged in barrels.
Pale yellow, clear. Very elegant, although high in alcohol at around 14%.
Nose: almond, green, citrus, apple
Palate: vanilla, fresh, high acid, long finish

Producer: Castello della Sala (Antinori)
Name: Cervaro della Sala 2008

Region: Umbria
Grapes: 85% Chardonnay, 15% Grechetto
The Antinori family has been making near Florence for 700 years. They bought the property in Umbria around 50 years ago.
Darker yellow, almost gold. Transparent rim shows aging in barrel (8 months in French oak)
Nose: intense – oak, yellow fruit, sweet spices
Palate: rich, full for an Italian white, dense buttery feeling

Super Tuscans

Wine regions in Tuscany

Producer: Villa di Capezzana
Name: Carmignano 2006

Grapes: 80% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon
This wine is made west of Florence, in an area cooler than most of Tuscany. Cabernet Sauvignon was planted in this region around 200 years ago. Garnet red.
Nose: red berry, anise, earthy, dry herbs
Palate: fruit tannins that are a bit harsh, high acid, minerality, savory/umami mushroom

Producer: Argiano
Name: NC Non Confunditur 2008 Rosso Toscana 2008

Grapes: 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 20% Syrah, 20% Sangiovese
The name “Non Confunditur” means “Don’t get confused.” The producer wants to ensure you that it’s not their usual wine. Dark garnet color.
Nose: blackberry, black cherry, pepper, bell pepper. intense, ripe fruit.
Palate: juicy, round, soft tannins, medium body

Producer: Antinori
Name: Tignanello 2007

Grapes: 80% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon 5% Cabernet Franc
This producer made pretty much the first Super Tuscan. They used to make Chianti Classico, until they decided to do something different. Aged in French barrique for almost two years.
Very age-worthy wine. (In general, age-worthy Super Tuscans can age 15-20 years, but after that they go downhill.) Garnet red.
Nose: dry fruit, tobacco, dry herbs, anise – very complex.
Palate: fruit, acid, dense and soft. full bodied with well-integrated tannins.

Other Reds

Producer: Conterno Fantino
Name: MonPrà 2009

Region: Piemonte (Langhe)
Grapes: 45% Nebbiolo, 45% Barbera, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon
High alcohol wine, aged in French oak. Medium red color.
Nose: berries (both dark and red), sweet spices, roses from the Nebbiolo
Palate: orange peel, juicy, some weight, high acid, persistent finish

Producer: Gaja
Name: Langhe Sito Moresco 2008

Region: Piemonte
Grapes: 35% Nebbiolo, 35% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon
They were one of the first in the region to introduce international grapes. This wine is made in a more modern style, and meant to be affordable wine. Aged in French barrels for less than a year. Ruby red color.
Nose: floral (rose) and bell pepper
Palate: creaminess, round, soft. non-aggressive tannins. ripe fruit. nice finish.

Producer: Donnafugata
Name: Contessa Entellina Tancredi 2007

Region: Sicily
Grapes: 70% Nero d’Avola, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon
Very dark red, showing a little bit of age.
Nose: very intense – spice, pepper, dark fruit, leather, some cinnamon from the oak.
Palate: long finish, some tannins, vanilla from the oak

Rhône Rangers Rosé!

I was going to post this right after Rhône Rangers in San Francisco, but decided it’s really just as much a preparation for Hospice du Rhône – especially for the Rosé lunch on Friday:

Rosé Lunch

Date: Friday, April 27, 2012
Time: 12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Cost: $100 (advance purchase is required)
Friday’s lunch has always celebrated pink wines and for the 20th year we will continue to toast these beauties. Don your best pink attire as we raise our glasses to the vast variety of Rosé wines that have traveled far and wide to be with us for the 2012 revelry. To highlight these lovely pink quaffers, Chef John Toulze of the girl & the fig from Sonoma, California will return to delight guests with Rhône inspired cuisine. The Rosé wines will be provided by the attending producers at the 2012 event.

(Question for someone who’s gone to this event before – do people really “don pink attire”? Because I’m going to have to buy something if that’s the case.)

Anyway, here’s a summary of my pink favorites from Rhône Rangers – I’m looking forward to drinking and discovering lots more next weekend!

Tablas Creek Rosé 2011 (Paso Robles, CA)


Always a favorite of mine, the 2011 is delicious. A traditional Southern Rhône blend of 58% Mourvèdre, 30% Grenache and 12% Counoise – these grapes come from an organically-farmed vineyard, and are fermented using native yeast. Surprisingly high alcohol at 14.5%. Watermelon, plum, red berries on the nose. All that and a bit of spice on the palate. Nice and dry, it’s a very food-friendly wine.

Quivira 2001 Rosé Wine (North Coast, CA)


51% Mourvedre, 18% Carignane, 18% Counoise, 7% Grenache, 6% Syrah. 13% alcohol. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel, then the wine spends a short period in neutral French oak before bottling. Berries and orange zest on the nose, cherry-berry and spice on the palate.

 

Quady North 2011 Rosé (Rogue Valley, OR)


60% Syrah, 40% Grenache. Bright with lots of fruit. Dry and crisp, with citrus, stone fruit and watermelon on the palate. This is the kind of wine I like to sip on a hot day.

 

Proulx Willow Creek Farm Rosé (Paso Robles, CA)


Dry, with strawberries on the nose.
(It’s not listed on their website, and I failed to take detailed notes. To be updated later….)

        

        

Finally, this post is a celebration of today’s scorching hot San Francisco Saturday. Three guesses what’s in my glass….

    

Surprise!

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