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K Syrah

I’m a huge lover of Syrah!  While the Rhone Valley of France is where this varietal first emerged, it is now well known in New World wine regions as well.  It was one of the first varieties imported for planting in Australia, where it is called Shiraz.  Yep, it’s the same grape.  Many wine lovers don’t realize that Shiraz is indeed Syrah!

There are many different styles of Syrah.  In the northern Rhone Valley it is often blended with a bit of Viognier.  In the southern Rhone it is an ingredient in the fabulous and famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines.  In Australia, Cabernet Sauvignon is often used as a blending partner.  California and Washington are also making some wonderful examples of this fabulous varietal, often using 100% Syrah (as they do in the Cornas region of France), making the wines dark, inky and pretty darned tannic.

A winery doing wonderful things with Syrah is K Vintners out of Walla Walla, Washington.  Charles Smith is the owner and winemaker, and is also owner and winemaker of Charles Smith Wines.

A couple of nights ago I cracked open a bottle of his 2009 K Syrah from the Pheasant Vineyard in the Wahluke Slope AVA.   This aromatic wine has lots of red fruit, especially raspberry and currant, on the nose.  Some lavender and violet are also present.  The smooth, velvety palate is rich with cherry and the raspberry and currant, along with some wonderful porky nuances.  The finish is nice and long.  Decant this for an hour or two to let the tannins settle down, or cellar it for up to at least a decade.  This is a very yummy wine.

Charles Smith is one interesting wine guy!  He definitely takes the stuffiness out of wine.  Originally from the Sacramento, California area, he spent nine years managing rock bands and concert tours throughout Europe.  His passion for wine was developed while on the road with such groups as the famous Danish duo The Ravonettes.  He returned to the states and landed in the Seattle area, where he opened a wine store.  He discovered Walla Walla on a road trip in 1999 and moved there to start making wine.  He looks a little like Sammy Hagar, and his wines rock!

While visiting the Walla Walla wine region a couple of years ago, I paid a visit to the tasting room at Charles Smith Wines.  It is located right in the heart of the city and is a really fun spot to taste.  The place is huge, with exposed pipes, wooden rafters and great brick walls.  This tasting room truly seems to be a reflection of the winemaker’s persona.  It was a blast listening to music while tasting some of their awesome wines.

So grab a K Syrah, turn up the volume and pop the cork!  It’s time to party!!!

Heuriger Stockingerhof in Dürnstein, Austria

In the heart of Austria’s Wachau wine region sits a delightful little town named Dürnstein, which is definitely worth an overnight stop.  While visiting last month we enjoyed a boat ride up and down the Danube River, relished in the view of the distinctly blue Abbey Church, and explored the small town and it’s lovely shops that sit below the medieval castle from which the city gained its name.

Here the grapes grow, the wine flows and heurigen await their visitors.  A heurige is a wine tavern usually attached to the winemakers’ home.  This is where the family’s wine of the most recent vintage, sometimes along with some rustic food, is served.  Only the owner’s wine is served here, and traditionally the winemaker and his family make all of the food from scratch.  The word “heurige” is used for both the wine of the latest vintage as well as the tavern where it is consumed.

While visiting Dürnstein we were fortunate enough to happen upon the Winery (and Heuriger) Stockingerhof.  The winemaker and owner Peter, along with his lovely wife, were gracious hosts.  We stopped for a glass of wine in the afternoon, where we enjoyed a Grüner Veltliner Steinfeder 2010 as well as a Riesling Smaragd 2010.  When Peter discovered we were fellow lovers of golf, he presented a bottle of his “Birdie One”, a Grüner Veltliner Federspiel 2011.  This wine was ranked among the top 3 wines in both the Wine & Spirit Asia Challenge in Singapore and the Decanter World Wine Award in London.  Over 30,000 of the best wines of the world entered these contests, so you can imagine what a nice wine this is.

We returned that night for dinner and ordered a Caprese Salad and the Mushroom Goulash.  Oh my, what a wonderful meal.  The Goulash was to die for, served with large warm rolls that we used to soak up the juice from the Goulash.  It was by far my favorite dish of the trip.  To enhance our meal we ordered a bottle of his “Birdie Red”, a Zweigelt blend made of 50% Zweigelt from the 2008 vintage and 50% Zweigelt from the 2009 vintage.

To end our meal Peter brought us out a glass of his homemade apricot brandy.  The apricots used were from a tree in front of us, growing right by his vineyard.  It was delicious and a great ending to a perfect meal.

The next time I head to the Wachau region, not only will I drink and dine at Stockingerhof again, but I’ll also be sure to call and make a reservation for the Pension, as they also have rooms in which to stay.

Check them out at:

My September Wine of the Month

PlumpJack Winery
Napa Valley

The current Lieutenant Governor of California Gavin Newsom and philanthropist and classical music composer Gordon Getty founded PlumpJack Winery in 1995.  Inspired by William Shakespeare’s fun-loving character Sir John “PlumpJack” Falstaff, who appears in three of his plays, the winery has the premise that wine is one of life’s great pleasures in life and should be enjoyed as often as possible.

PlumpJack Winery was the first Napa winery to use screw caps as a wine closure on premium wines!  This is one example of their flair for adventure and open mindedness.   Half of their production is screw cap, also known as the Stelvin closure, and the other half traditional cork.  I like to buy both!  The Stelvin closure is great for picnics.  I also like to save one of each and then compare after some cellar time.  So far, the bottles with screw caps have always held up to the bottles with a cork closure.

The Wine – The 2009 Syrah has a dark ruby color.  The nose has vanilla, plum and smoky meat.  The palate screams of black olives, and also has dark plum, licorice and some nice earthiness.  The tannins are soft and almost sweet.   This is a very nice Syrah.

My Experience Visiting the Winery – PlumpJack is perhaps the hippest tasting room I’ve visited.  I’ve tasted here many times, and have always had a lot of fun in the process.  It is very laid back, usually has fun people both pouring and tasting, and has this earthy vibe going on.  I’ve met so many fun people here, people with whom we’ve continued the day and joined for dinner.  It’s a really friendly place to taste, and the wines are superb!

The Journey – PlumpJack’s tasting room is located on Oakville Cross Road, not far from the Silverado Trail.  It is, however, tucked away from this main road and is nestled among 42 acres of vineyards.  Whenever friends or clients ask me to recommend Napa Valley wineries to visit, I ALWAYS encourage them to seek out PlumpJack!

2009 Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon

With dinner last night I had the 2009 Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon.  It’s still a baby, but with some decanting it is very approachable now.  And what a nice wine it is!

This Bordeaux blend is 76% Cabernet Sauvignon (just past the required amount of 75% to be called a Cabernet Sauvignon in California!), 11% Malbec, 9% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot.  The grapes are grown in the dry, rocky soils of Pritchard Hill in Napa Valley.

The nose produced a wonderful floral aroma, specifically violet, along with some currant, black cherry and plum.  On the palate were the currant and plum, along with blackberry, cassis and some cinnamon and ginger.

This is a complex wine that is nicely balanced with just a touch of oak.

What a great bottle with which to start the long weekend!



South Styria

I returned this week from a wonderful wine adventure in Austria.  There are so many memories to share, but I’ll start with a simple overview of the first area I visited.

We spent the majority of our time in the southern part of Styria, a land of beautiful rolling hills graced with a plethora of vineyards, about 2,300 hectares worth!  This area is often referred to as the “Tuscany of Austria”, and I can understand why.   The people here are friendly, the views are magnificent and the wines are lovely.

The main varieties in this region are:

Welshriesling – not a true Riesling, the name translates as “foreign Riesling”.  This varietal makes fragrant, high acid, straightforward wines.

Sauvignon Blanc – also known here as Muskat-Sylvaner and also often called simply Sauvignon.  This varietal makes some very lovely wines in South Styria, often with nice smoky and grassy nuances. 

Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc) – makes some good quality wines that are often big-bodied.

Chardonnay (known here as Morillon) – This varietal does very well in this region, often making elegant wines.  They are often aged in oak.

Traminer (also know as Gewürztraminer) – South Styria has some exceptional examples of this wine, often full-bodied and very expressive.

Muskateller – the same as the French Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains, and is locally know as Gelber Muskateller.   This fun and fragrant varietal is a specialty of the region, and can be found on virtually every wine list.  Its wines are especially pleasant as an aperitif!

Some of my favorite wineries visited in this region include Zweytick and Gross.  We also had a fun tasting at Schilhan.  I’ll elaborate more on these wineries in a future blog, as they deserve much more attention than they’re receiving here. 

South Styria definitely deserves to be considered as a serious wine destination.  The drive from Graz (Austria’s 2nd largest city) is only about 30 minutes, with Vienna only 2 hours from there.  Styria has wonderful restaurants and lodging, and isn’t overcrowded with tourists.  For this wine lover, it is a little piece of paradise!

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