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Can You Say … Sciacchetrá???

In a land of pretty little villages nestled among the mountains of the Italian Rivera is a lovely wine bearing a very fun name … Sciacchetrá!

The Cinque Terre (which translates in English to “Five Lands”) is a delightful grouping of five seaside-fishing villages with cliffs, hills and vineyards! The people of Cinque Terre (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) have been making wine here for about 1000 years.

The picturesque vineyards are planted on steep slopes overlooking the sea. Working these terraced vineyards is no easy task, as machines can’t be used. Modern technology, however, has made work for the modern man a little easier than for their ancestors in the years past. Cinque Terre now has a monorail system. These small trains can transport tools, grapes and people up and down the steep hills, which undoubtedly ease some of the strain of vineyard work and harvest.

This DOC in the Liguria region of Italy produces white wines, using the Bosco, Albarola and Vermentino varieties. Most of these wines are light and easy drinking, and pair well with local dishes of fresh fish, salads, pasta with pesto and many types of cheeses. The Sciacchetrá (pronounced SHA-KEH-TRAH), however, is the true star of the region.

While visiting the Cinque Terre a couple of weeks ago my husband and I discovered Vineria Santa Marta, a cute spot in the village of Vernazza, and plunked down for a tasting.

The 2015 La Polenza Cinque Terre is a blend of Vermentino, Albarola and Bosco. It is fresh and lively on the palate and a great everyday drinker.

The 2014 Luciano Capellini Cinque Terre is made up of 75% Bosco, 5% Albarola and 20% Vermentino. This wine is a bit more complex and lush on the palate. It was a great companion to the breads and pesto we tasted.

We then tasted the Polenza Sciacchetrá. Oh my! I’m so thankful that we had the opportunity to taste this special wine. Very difficult to find in the states, this wine is made from sun-dried grapes that become raisin-like. Normally drunk with cheeses and desserts, this “sweet” wine isn’t too sweet to my palate. The delicate kiss of sweetness quickly turns to a soft coating of loveliness and finishes dry. The acidity balances this wine out perfectly and I absolute adore it. I was excited to buy a bottle and wish that I could have brought home a case … or more!

The Cinque Terre is a delightful place to visit, but for me the highlight was its wines. What a pleasure to try wines so unique that, unfortunately, are hard to find here at home.

What’s my new favorite Italian word? Why Sciacchetrá, of course! Not only is it fun to say, it’s fun to drink!

 

Where Were YOU in 1980?

Drinking a great old vintage of wine can be a lot of fun, and can also take us back in time. I love thinking of the grapes growing and the people who picked them. I also think of the winemaker and his or her challenges during that vintage. It’s also enjoyable to think about what I was doing that year. How old was I? Where was I living? What was I doing?

Last night my husband and I invited some friends over to share a bottle of 1980 Opus One. Founded as a joint venture between Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Château Mouton Rothschild and renowned Napa vintner Robert Mondavi, Opus One’s goal was to create a Bordeaux style blend based on Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The other four Bordeaux varietals (Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec) are also used. They use grapes from some of the most well respected vineyards in Napa. The winemaking, however, is modeled after the techniques of Bordeaux. This happy marriage produces some of Napa’s finest wines, and is known as being America’s first ultra-premium wine.

Interestingly, the 1979 and 1980 vintages were unveiled together in 1984 as Opus One’s first release. The co-winemakers were Lucien Sionneau from Château Mouton Rothschild and Robert Mondavi’s son Tim, who founded Continuum Estate (also an ultra-premium wine) with his sister Marcia Mondavi Borger in 2005.

I was very excited to experience one of the first vintages of such an iconic winery!

I feared that the 1980 might have TOO much age on it, but my fears were unfounded. There is still some of the fruit, but it has developed into a lovely and well evolved complex pleasure! On the nose are leather, cocoa and some green pepper. On the palate are dried plum, cherry and earth, and the finish is long.

What was I thinking about while drinking this wine? I was thinking about the fact that I was just beginning my senior year of high school when the grapes were being harvested and that I was almost done with college when it was released. While sipping we searched some facts about 1980 and found that it was a leap year, the number one song was “Call Me” by Blondie, “Dallas” was the top show on TV and “Kramer vs. Kramer” won the Oscar for best picture.

We also learned last night that the 1980 Opus One is drinking beautifully and we are all going to search for more!

Homework for Rioja!

While planning an upcoming trip to Spain, I decided to crack open a bottle from one of the regions I’ll be visiting … Rioja!

The bottle I selected is the 2009 C.V.N.E. (Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España) Rioja Imperial Reserva. Founded in the year 1879 in the town of Haro, Rioja by two brothers, CVNE is still controlled today by the direct descendants of the founding family.  The “Imperial” product operates as a winery within a winery, and was given its name because it was originally exported to the United Kingdom in imperial pint sized bottles. This is a very well respected wine from Rioja; the 2004 vintage was named the #1 wine of the year in 2013’s Wine Spectator Top 100.

This 2009 is a blend of 85% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano and 5% Manzuelo. Decanted for about an hour before pouring, on the nose is dark cherry, chocolate, tobacco, some licorice and a lavender note. On the medium bodied palate are stewed fruits, especially currant and plum, some spice and well-balanced tannins.

One of the many things I love about the wines of Rioja is that they aren’t released too early. The Reserva level wines require at least one year of aging in oak (both American and French) and two years in the bottle before being released. This ’09 was actually aged for 2 years in oak and 2 years in the bottle. Therefore, although this is still a young wine and will get even better with a few more years in the bottle, it is drinking very well right now.

Am I excited about visiting Rioja? I sure am! I’m also excited to do some more homework on this region and the others I’ll be visiting. See … homework CAN be fun!

Looking for a “Green” Winery With Wonderful Wines??? Check Out Frog’s Leap!

My husband and I recently returned from another adventure in Napa and Sonoma. Our goal was to visit wineries we’d never hit before, and for the most part that’s what we did. There’s one winery, however, that we couldn’t drive by without stopping, and that’s Frog’s Leap.

“Why?” you ask! Well, there are a few reasons.

Firstly, it’s just so darned beautiful there.

Secondly, the tasting is very special. When the weather is nice, tastings are held outside when possible. The tasting includes yummy local cheeses, crackers, and some jams made from fruit grown on the property.

Thirdly, and most importantly, the wines are WONDERFUL!!!

As we arrived for our tasting, we drove alongside beautiful vineyards of dormant vines surrounded by the beautiful mustard know in the region at this time of the year. The historic Red Barn, which was originally built as the Adamson Winery back in 1884, welcomes the winery visitors on the drive in. Today, this “ghost winery” not only inspires their wine tasting guests, but also Frog’s Leap’s winemakers John Williams and Paula Moschetti.

John Williams (a former diary farmer from upstate New York, NOT the music composer famous for film scores with the same name!) moved to Northern California in 1975 to study Enology and Viticulture at UC Davis. After working at Glenora Wine Cellars in the Finger Lakes region of New York, and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Spring Mountain Vineyard in Napa, he started Frog’s Leap Winery in 1981. It is located along Mill Creek in a spot known as the Frog Farm. Frogs were raised here around the turn of the century, providing the very appropriate name!

Here are some of the wines we tasted on the lovely wrap-around porch of The Vineyard House overlooking the vineyards:

2014 Napa Valley Chardonnay – A lovely Chardonnay with great acidity, the green apple and Meyer lemon flavors are balanced beautifully with the floral aromas and the toasty element from eight months of sur lie aging.

2013 Napa Valley Zinfandel – One of my favorite wines of the tasting, this Zinfandel is what a Zinfandel is SUPPOSED TO BE! It has a beautiful transparent color, not one of those deep purple colors that shouldn’t represent Zin at all! A field blend of 77% Zinfandel, 22% Petite Sirah and 1% Carignan, the aromas and flavors include brambly fruit, licorice, some Southern Rhone type garrigue and has a nice long finish.

2013 Rutherford Merlot – One of my favorite Merlots of the New World, Frog’s Leap always knows how to do this varietal right. With ripe plum and cherry flavors, this wine has soft tannins and isn’t too big! It’s what a Merlot should be; elegant and nicely balanced. (82% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Cabernet Franc)

2013 Rutherford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – This lovely Cab has black cherry, blackberry and cassis, along with the dusty earth of the Rutherford soil. This needs some time, but it’s going to be wonderful! (89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 3% Merlot)

The thing that probably impresses me the most about Frog’s Leap Winery is that they truly care about our planet. Frog’s Leap produces some wonderful wines, while keeping the planet healthy through the production of solar and geothermal power. In 2005 they built their Vineyard House according to the goals of the U.S. Green Building Council. They even insulated it using old blue jeans. Talk about recycling!!!

Health of the vineyard is achieved though organic farming and the use of biodynamic methods. Along the rows of vines are borders of specially selected plants, which attract butterflies and beneficial insects.

So if you want tasty wine, made true to the varietals and green conscious to boot, pick up some wines from Frog’s Leap Winery. Or if you’re heading to Napa, pay them a visit.

Here’s a link to their very fun site:  http://www.frogsleap.com/

What Vintage Are YOU Celebrating?

A fun way for a wine lover to celebrate an anniversary of any kind is to crack open a bottle from that specific year. My husband and I did just that to celebrate our wedding anniversary a few nights ago. We were married in 2001, so we selected a 2001 Napa Valley Silver Oak to toast 15 years of marriage!

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I feared an over-aged thin wine with no fruit. Thankfully my fears were not founded AT ALL. The 2001 Napa Silver Oak is singing right now.  On the nose are cassis, cherry and some tobacco. The palate reflects the fruit and has beautifully integrated tannins. We were thrilled! We may need to hunt down another bottle for our 16th anniversary!

Interestingly, Silver Oak uses American oak for both their Napa Valley and Alexander Valley bottlings. The reason? They feel that American oak imparts less wood tannin than French oak! In fact, as of last year they have acquired full ownership of A&K Cooperage in Missouri. They purchased 50% in 2000, but feel that a full ownership will help them to maintain the barrel making standards they desire.

I love that Silver Oak waits to release their wines. While a lot of Napa 2013 wines have already been on the shelves for months, Silver Oak is just now releasing their 2011s.

I also love that Silver Oak has been using sustainable methods for 40 years! From the usage of solar, Integrated Pest Management and water conservation to obtaining multiple “Green” certifications and more, Silver Oak is one of the “good guy” wineries in Northern California.

To find out more about their Sustainability practices, along with their wines and winery, click here:  http://www.silveroak.com

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