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The Rhone Ranger & His Wine!

The Rhone Ranger & His Wine!

Why do I love wine? There are actually a lot of reasons. I love the taste, for one thing. Well, of a lot of wines anyway! The whole process of winemaking fascinates me, and I find the history and geography involved absolutely intriguing. I also don’t hate the fact that it’s an intoxicant! And the people???? Oh how I love learning about and meeting some of the fabulous characters that have made wine their artistic and scientific goals of life.

I recently had the chance to taste with one of the true characters of California wine, Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard. A self-professed wine geek, he is a lover of wines with a sense of place. Grahm started out as a huge fan of Burgundy, hoping to create the Great American Pinot Noir. After realizing that Rhone varietals were better suited to the terroir of his Central Coast area, he became a pioneer of making California wine from Rhone grapes, even earning the honor of being considered the original “Rhone Ranger”!

Grahm is also credited with being the first California winemaker to use screw caps on premium wines! His belief is that wines with screw caps live longer than wines with cork, which can result in more complex wines down the road. This makes a lot of sense to me. He does admit, however, that premium wine under screw caps will not be ready to consume as early as those with corks, so for the majority of Americans who consume the bottle they purchase that very night, cork may still be the answer.

Our tasting included eleven wines from his Bonny Doon label, ranging from the 2017 Picpoul with a nose reminding me of a bouquet of flowers to his 2011 Cigare Volant Reserve which is aged in glass! I enjoyed pretty much all of them, but some of my favorites included:

2016 Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare Rosé – A pretty pink in color (perfect for Valentine’s Day!), this wine tastes of strawberry, cranberry and a touch of grapefruit. This is a beautifully balanced wine, with a bit of creaminess on the finish without losing the acidity. Comprised of 49% Grenache, 19% Grenache Blanc, 13% Mourvèdre, 12% Carignane, 4% Cinsaut and 3% Roussanne, it’s darned difficult to stop drinking this. I’m planning on stocking up for the summer months ahead.

2014 Bonny Doon Proper Claret – This is an easy drinking wine at a great price point of about $16. With lots of bright cherry, some plum, and mellow tannins, this is a great wine to crack open on a Tuesday night. 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Petit Verdot, 22% Tannat, 9% Syrah, 7% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petite Sirah

2013 Bonny Doon Syrah Pousseur – This is the wine I’m sipping on as I write this. Made of 100% Syrah from 4 different vineyards, I love the trueness to the varietal this wine is. Olive and bacon fat on the nose takes me back to the Rhone Valley. There is a touch of violet too. On the palate is the bacon, along with spicy pepper, dark fruit, and a fabulous earthy garrigue element. This is a really nice wine, perhaps my favorite of the night!

And what a fun night it was! The wines were great and Randall Grahm’s presentation was fabulous! His intelligence shined through while discussing his past, present, and future in the wine biz. One of my favorite stories was his explanation of how he named the “Le Cigar Valant”, which goes back to a wacky 1954 law in Châteauneuf du Pape banning flying saucers and flying cigars! Yup … true story. Google it!

Another thing I took away from the evening was his sincere belief that his wine career has only just begun. At 64 years of age, he’s just getting started. I love that! His latest endeavor? Popelouchum, which he literally saw in a dream. Popelouchum is a 400-acre property in San Juan Bautista where he plans to breed 10,0000 new grape varieties in which he hopes to create a New World “vin de terroir”. My money is on him succeeding and I can’t wait to taste it!

As you’ve probably noticed, his wine labels sure aren’t boring either! Randall Grahm is definitely a fun figure in the sometimes-stuffy world of wine

To learn more about Randall Grahm and his wines, here’s a link: https://www.bonnydoonvineyard.com

 

Why Not Switchback To Merlot???

Why Not Switchback to Merlot???

I’m a merlot lover. I always have been. But man oh man can a movie turn things around. This classic varietal sure took a nose-dive in sales after the release of the movie “Sideways”, a 2004 hit set in Santa Barbara wine country. One little line uttered by Paul Giamatti, who played Miles (a wine lover celebrating his best friend’s bachelor party by touring the Santa Ynez area of California) changed everything! “If anybody orders merlot, I’m leaving,” he ranted. “I am not drinking any f***ing merlot.” Sales of merlot plummeted, but sales of pinot noir (Miles’ favorite varietal) skyrocketed!

Thankfully, things are changing. Merlot sales are steadily making a comeback, but to this day I meet people who won’t try a merlot I’m pouring. WHAT???? Yet many of these same people come back for a second pour of the Right Bank Bordeaux. Hmmmm …  I guess they don’t understand what “Right Bank” means!!!! Right Bank Bordeaux wines are dominated by Merlot (and Cabernet Franc), while Cabernet Sauvignon dominates their Left Bank counterparts. This tells me that people DO love merlot, they just don’t realize it!

So … I’m on a search for some fabulous Merlots to pour for my clients. I’ve found some gems, most recently the Switchback Ridge 2012!

This is a great Napa merlot! Dark purple in color, the nose has dark cherry and blueberry. The lush palate has the cherry, some plum and smooth, silky tannins. There is a lovely touch of mocha on the finish. This wine is simply irresistible and I can’t get enough of it! Bob Foley (of Robert Foley Vineyards) is the winemaker. HELLO!!!! Great winemaking. Great fruit. Great wine!!!

Okay, so I love the novel Sideways AND the movie!!! Please do me (and yourself) a favor, though. Don’t believe the crap about merlot! Don’t be afraid. Drink merlot! And why not start with Switchback Ridge?

You can check them out here: https://switchbackridge.com/

 

Christmas Magic In Alsace!

Christmas Magic in Alsace!

My husband and I just returned home from a magical vacation in Alsace. Our goal was to drink some good wine (of course!) and to visit the world famous Marchés de Noël (Christmas Markets) in the region. This charming region in France certainly did not disappoint!

Located in the eastern part of the country, Alsace is very close to both Germany and Switzerland. In fact, the Rhine River runs along the region to the east, and the Vosges Mountains to the west, making it an ideal spot for growing wine grapes.

Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris rule here, but they also have a bit of Pinot Noir.

The wine I’m focusing on today, though, is the Vin Chaud! The many Christmas markets in the region all sell this hot mulled wine full of spice and much-needed warmth. You can get a cup of red or white. The wine is steeped in the spices to infuse the flavors without using heat because the heat used in that process can evaporate the alcohol (and what fun would THAT be?) and bring out unwanted flavors from the wine. One vendor even had some Vin Chaud spiked with Grand Marnier! That was my husband’s favorite!

The markets also have fun rides for children and loads of traditional French food like crepes, pastries, marzipan and tons and tons of chocolate! And of course, there are lots of trinkets, ornaments, and gifts to take home.

We stayed in the small storybook village of Riquewihr, where we strolled the market and shops every day and evening. This quaint village took us back in time, and we fell in love with the town and its people. The locals go all out during the holidays. Every timbered building is adorned with Christmas decorations galore, and we felt as if we were in the most Christmassy (is that a word? If not, it SHOULD be!) place in the world!

We also ventured out to the village of Colmar. Much larger than Riquewihr, Colmar has FIVE fabulous Christmas markets, as well as an indoor farmer’s market (Le Marche Couvert de Colmar) with a delightful coffee shop called Un Monde de Cafés, lots of fresh produce, pastries, and other delicacies.

Colmar is nestled among vineyards, with colorful buildings alongside the canals, Christmas decorations and fabulous cafés making this a magical place indeed.

Colmar is considered the “Capital of Alsatian Wine”, so you can count on plenty of cozy spots to duck in for a glass of Cremant d’Alsace or other types of Holiday cheer!

The region of Alsace certainly does the Yuletide right! If you’re a lover of all things Christmas and looking for a magical spot to relish in the season’s spirit, you can’t go wrong in Alsace.

You’re sure to find Christmas magic in this real-life fairy tale land!

 

 

http://www.noel-colmar.com/en/

https://noel.tourisme-alsace.com/en

 

Romancing With Romorantin!

Romancing with Romorantin!

Have you heard of the Romorantin grape? It’s a white grape that has been grown in the Loire Valley since the 16th century. It makes a crisp wine that has great minerality and acidity. DNA profiling has determined it to be the offspring of Pinot Meunier (of Champagne fame) and Gouais Blanc (an ancient white grape rarely grown today).

The Cour-Cheverny appellation is situated within the larger Cheverny appellation, which is the most important zone in the middle Loire.  It was promoted to full Appellation Controlee status in 1993.  The wines made from Romorantin make up its own appellation (Cour-Cheverny) which is only about 48 hectare.

I’ve had wine from the Romorantin grape a few times now. Back in June of 2012, I wrote a blog about the 2007 Domaine des Huards Cour-Cheverny. At the end of that blog entry, I told you that if you had any in your cellar you should drink it up. I was wrong!!!!

A gal that works for Domaine des Huards sent me an email back in June of ’12, telling me that in fact Romorantin can be aged for 10, 15 and even 20 years without a problem and that it, in fact, gets better with age. I had one more bottle, so I held on to it. Boy, I’m glad I did. I opened it a few nights ago with my husband, and it is drinking beautifully!

In my initial blog, my tasting notes were pear, mango citrus, and almond on the nose, with some green apple and a bit of mushroom on the palate.

Fast-forward five and a half years, I now get melon rind, fresh spring pea, almond, and saline, which tells me that this wine would be a killer pairing with seafood as well as many types of cheese, salads, pasta with cream sauce, vegetarian dishes, and much more. The color is a gorgeous deep golden!

I like this wine more now than I did five years ago, and I liked it then too! So what do I wish? I wish I had a few more bottles of this wine in my cellar so that I could try it again in another five years!

If you’d like to learn more about Domaine des Huards you can check them out here: http://www.domainedeshuards.com/en

Looking For A Great Napa Cab? Check Out Piña!

Looking for a Great Napa Cab? Check out Piña!

I have a new favorite winery in Napa. It’s not a fancy place, but that’s okay with me! The wine’s not cheap, but it’s definitely worth the price! They don’t make a gazillion different wines with a bunch of different varietals, but in my mind that makes sense!

Piña is located right on Silverado Trail, but if you’re not looking for it you’ll drive right by. The tasting room is the barrel room, which I love! To me there’s nothing more special than tasting wines amongst the barrels holding future vintages of the wine I’m drinking. Sure, the lavish tasting rooms are lovely too! There’s just something I adore, though, about the rustic authenticity of hanging out in the gut of the winery!

I’ve visited Piña a couple of times now and have had great tastings each time. Claire has helped us out both times, and although his initial impression is somewhat reserved, he opens up quickly and loves to tell us all about their wines. He even seems to enjoy our company and laughs at our jokes!

Tonight I’m drinking their 2012 Wolff Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. On the nose I smell roses: a dozen roses!!! This medium-bodied 100% Cabernet Sauvignon has smooth, silky tannins, with black cherry, black currant, some lovely earthiness and is not over the top with new world hugeness. The alcohol is 14.7% but you’d never know it. It’s not hot at all and is very well balanced. I look forward to trying more of this vintage after a few more years in the bottle!

This isn’t their only Cab Sauv! They have five different vineyard bottlings (all fabulous!), as well as a Reserve (which unfortunately I have yet to try) and a Second Wine called CAHOOTS. They also have a Chardonnay that my husband loves!

So the next time you’re in Napa and looking for a new (for you) winery to visit, be sure to stop at Piña. The experience is a fun one, and if you’re into Cabernet Sauvignon, their wines won’t disappoint!

To find them, check out their website here:

http://www.pinanapavalley.com

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