Saturday, December 31, 2011

Know Your Bubbly Better Than Bubba

For us hard-core winos there are many occasions to enjoy a good bottle of bubbly. However, if you talk to any wine marketing expert, they’ll all tell you how bubbly wine is really only sold two times each year; New Years and Valentines. The crappy part about that bit of news is that people judge their whole “Champagne” drinking experience around two $6 bottles of Cooks Brut each year. I’m not saying that Cooks isn’t bad, but judging a whole type of wine by that kind of statistic is bad. So, knowing that I have a short time to tell you all I know about bubbles, I’m going to unload the best method of getting you what you want this year. That way, when you pop the cork at midnight and that cute chick you’ve been kissing under the misseltoe all night takes her first taste of 2012, she’ll know you know your bubbly better than any other bubba in the room. One thing you’ve got to know for sure is that most sparkling wines are NOT sweet. In fact most on the shelf are dry. (Sorry, us winos like it that way.) A little hint though. There are a few sweet sparkling wines. One that I love, and is relatively cheap, is Ballatore Rosso. It is pink colored, and goes great over a glass of fresh raspberries. If you really want to impress, I suggest looking for a nice Lambrusco, which comes in red or white. I remember the jingle from my childhood that “everything’s nice with Riunite on ice”. Riunite still exists on the shelf today, but this year I’m pouring a Dell’emilia Bianco LeGrotte white Lambrusco. It is lightly bubbly, with soft sweetness and a nice acidity to cleanse the palate. Great with the heavy, creamy and cheesy dishes of New Year’s Eve. Another slightly, off sweet option for bubbly is Prosecco. Originally this Italian wine was produced very sweet, but has grown drier over the years as it takes on the Champagne market of France. It is the main ingredient in a Bellini cocktail. This year I am enjoying a very nice bottle of Rustico from Nino Franco. This wine has wonderful bubbles as it enters the glass, which settle down quickly. It is done in the Frizzante style which is lightly sweet, but dries out quickly. Another great food wine. Now, as we’ve done in yeas past, let’s talk Champagne. Most people think they want this just for the name. but, when they actually taste it are unimpressed and switch quickly to mixed drinks or beer. This is my big warning. If you plan to drink “Champagne” that is sweet, good luck. Champagne, and the style Champenoise, are what is used in making most of the sparkling wines on store shelves. A local favorite is Domaine Ste. Michelle, where Rick Cascierro makes some fantastic wines of that style. The names Brut and Extra Dry are what you’ll usually find. These wines are dry. Usually made of either Chardonnay or Pinot Noir grapes, Champagne is delicious for serious wine drinkers, with bouquets of floral and fruit layered with minerality and acidity, and touched off by a slight hint of bread dough from the yeast in the bottle. My favorites are Veuve Cliquot, St. Michelle Blanc de Noir, and Moet Chandon White Star. Happy New Year, and HEY... Don’t drink and drive this holiday. It’s not worth it.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Zefina Wines A Great Example of Horse Heaven Fruit

Located out in the far reaches of the Horse Heaven Hills is a vineyard named Alder Ridge. It is a beautiful place, although remote, where wine grapes are able to become all that they need to be in order to make great wines. Next door to the most highly acclaimed Champoux vineyards, where some of the Northwest’s most prestigious grapes are grown, Alder Ridge may not have the same geneology, but it isn’t bad either.

Enter a young, highly trained winemaker, whom I’ve written about before concerning his own private label “Thirsty Pagans”. Rob Chowaneitz lives and breathes everything that is Alder Ridge. Under the financial and management support of a great company called Corus, Rob makes wine for the Zefina winery.

As part of the Corus family of wines, Zefina is not open to the public. The only way you can find the wines is by buying them through distributors or grocery retailers. I hadn’t seen the wines before, but found them on a local at my neighborhood Grocery Outlet shelf and decided to give them a try.

I took the time to taste some of the Zefina wines this week, and found them to be very satisfying, and also very affordable. Here are four of the wines I tasted:

The Serience White is chowaneitz’s white blend of 50% Rousanne and Viognier. I will admit that I was a little afraid of this one, because the vintage was a few years old. However, I found the wine to be quite free of oxidation. Bright and straw-like in the glass, the wine offers nice notes of orange blossoms, mineral, and lemon rind. On the palate, I tasted fresh gooseberry and lemon. The acids cleansed the palate nicely.

The 2007 Viognier also offers bright straw colors in the glass. Bright fresh tropical fruit on the nose, with hints of baking spices. The flavors are more of the same. The tropical notes take off and add in a nice cinnamon on the center of the tongue, with added bonus of a little bananas foster on the finish. I would serve this with a nice creamy fish dish. If I had some camerones la crema while tasting this wine I would have loved the pairing!

Next, I tried the Serience Red Blend. Once again this was a 2007 vintage. I think that this was possibly my favorite wine of the night. This blend of 44% Syrah, 40% Grenache, 11% Cinsault, 3% Mourvedre, and 2% Counoise is very rich and smooth indeed. Dark red, leading to purple in the glass it definitely looks like a wine with full-bodied potential. The nose is rich with blackberry, dark cherry, and even a little blueberry with vanilla mixed in for measure. The flavors are rich and very smooth. I loved the careful balance of fruit, alcohol, and tannin. This is definitely a wine to be enjoyed by itself as well as food.

Last, I tasted the 2007 Zinfandel. One of the things I love about Horse Heaven region Zinfandel is that it tends to be rich in flavor, without being too cloying on the finish. This one definitely shows some natural sweetness at the end, but really that is just an afterthought. The wine is deep red in the glass, with the spicy richness of bing cherries and light oak. I enjoyed this wine very much with a Putenesca sauce and pasta.

At $5.99 per bottle each, all of these wines were well worth their price and a whole lot more.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Twas The Night Before Christmas In Wine Country

Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the American Viticultural Region not a creature was stirring. Not even a well trained cellar rat. The bottles were all hung in the cellars with care with hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there to taste some of the wares.

The adult children were all nestled in their beds, having consumed their fair share of Champoux vineyards Cabernet and dreaming of bottles of sugary ice wines that dance in their heads. And momma in her “wine slut” sleep shirt and I in my “old wino” baseball cap had snuggled down for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the vineyard there arose such a clatter. I arose from my bed to see what was the matter. Away to the tasting room I flew like a flash. Drank up all the sample bottles and...well...let’s not talk about throwing anything up.

The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow gave the luster of midday to the entire barrel room. When what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a tiny forklift being pulled by eight tiny little raindeer.

With a little old warehouseman so lively and quick, I knew that this guy must be St. Nick. More rapid than eagles his coursers they came. And he laughed and he shouted and called them by name.

Now Dunham, now Dumas Station, now Portteus and Vinehart. On Claar Cellars, on Columbia Crest, on Daven Lore on Barnard Griffin! To the top of the porch, to the top of the wall! Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!

As dry as leaves was the wine that we tasted that night. Like a hurricane wine weekend draws the crowds high. Up to the rooftop the coursers they flew, with a sleigh full of bottles, and St. Nicholas too!

Then I heard in a twinkling up on the barrel room roof, the prancing and pawing of each little hoof. As I drew in my head and was turning around, down the tasting room chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound!

He was dressed all in rubber from his head to his foot. In order to wash barrels all filled with sediment and wine gook. A big bag of corks he had thrown over his back, and looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes were all red, his dimples how merry! His cheeks were all rosy, his nose like a cherry. His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow as he swished and he swirled and sniffed his wine’s glow. The end of a cracker he held tight in his teeth as he crunched and munched to end the tannin grief. He had a long nose, and a round little belly, and it shook as he laughed like a bunch of fig jelly.

He was chubby and plump, like a jolly wine elf. And, I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself. A wink of his eye and a quick turn of his head let me know that I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word but went straight to his tastings, and bought lots of Meritage in wooden 6 pack casings. And laying a finger aside of his nose, and giving a 90 plus rating, up the chimney he rose.

He sprang to his forklift, and to his team he gave a whistle, and away they all flew like the down of a thistle. And I heard him exclaim ere he drove out of sight, Get a Designated Driver and have a good night!

Merry Christmas from the Onerichwineguy!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Justin Winery and Matchbook Wines Delightful

Recently I had the opportunity to taste wine from a couple of great California wineries that I have been fairly familiar with over the past few years.

Justin Winery from Paso Robles, and Matchbook wines from Zamora have both been on my radar screen for some time. I wrote up Matchbook in a past article a little over a year ago, and I have had Justin Wines a time or two when traveling in California on business. I was excited to get the opportunity to try these vintages and let you know a little more about them.

Located in the Central Coast area of California, Justin Vineyards and Winery was founded in 1981 by Justin Baldwin, with 160 acres of Bordeaux grape vineyards. The area that Justin chose for his winery holds huge winemaking tradition. Grapes were first grown there in 1779 by Fransican Friars. Paso Robles is now the largest group of vineyards, measuring 600,000 acres of planted land, in the largest AVA in California. Their specialty in that region is world-class Cabernet Sauvignon.

Justin’s winemaker is Fred Holloway. His resume reads somewhat as a who’s who in California Wines, with time spend at many influential wineries over the last 28 years. His experience has brought him many 90 plus scores from Robert Parker and Wine Spectator over the years.

The wine that I got to try was the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Artist Label. As with most artist series wines, the label each year celebrates each new vintage with a new artist’s work. The art on the label for this 2009 vintage features rolling farm land and houses by artist Michele Bleech.

This Cabernet Sauvignon is rich with dark fruit and vanilla on the nose. It features a deep, ruby-red color that shows the time that the wine was left on the skins. The flavors are rich with blackberry, vanilla, and cassis. A great wine to be enjoyed with a nice fillet, or like I enjoyed it, all by itself while sitting next to the fire in my studio.

The second bottle that I enjoyed was from the Matchbook winery label. The Giguiere family from Zamora, California has been producing wines since 1983 under a label that they took to the moon. The R.H. Phillips brand was their baby, producing great wines such as Toasted Head and EXP. They sold to Vincor in 2000, and John Giguiere worked as CEO of Vincor until 2005. The family started Matchbook, Mossback, Chasing Venus, and Sawbuck, which I’ve written about in other articles.

I was excited to try Matchbook’s “King”, in their 2007 Tinto Rey. This red table wine is the Giguiere’s favorite wine and I’ve been looking forward to trying it for some time.

A mix of 44% Temperanillo, 36% Syrah, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Graciano and 2% Petite Syrah make this wine a huge combination of Spanish and Bordeaux varietals. The Spanish varietals give off huge flavors of spicy red berries, with black cherry and blueberry coming from the Syrah, Cedar and rummy tobacco runs from the flavors of the Cabernet Sauvignon, with tannic structure and pepper coming from the Petite Syrah.

This wine is beautifully complicated, with aromas and flavors from beginning to the very end of the finish. Enjoy with any kind of red meat. I followed the suggestion from the winery and made lamb pops with rosemary and garlic. It was ooooh so good!


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Wine Lover’s Annual Holiday Gift Giving Guide

Each year I look around area wine shops, gift shops, and tasting rooms to find gifts for the wine lover on your list. As I shop, it is always evident that there are a bunch of stocking stuffer type gifts, and then a huge leap to gifts for those you REALLY love. I’m going to try and give you a little of each.

I called Donna Bellinger at Bellinger Farms in South Hermiston. Donna is offering some great wine gift baskets again this year. Staff will build the basket for you, or you can do like I’ve done many times over the past few years and pick out your wines, foods, and other little gifts you want in the basket and have them wrap and decorate it for you. They do a fantastic job and the prices can run from very mild to wild depending on what you want.

Carol and Ken are once again ready this year to help you do Christmas right. Their selection of wines always grows to its fullest this time of year. And, for your non wine drinking friends this year the beer selection is just as big. Gift packs are a great thing at Great Pacific. I recommend having them pull some fun wines from around the world for you and pack them up.

Great Pacific and Bellingers both offer several openers, tools, and aerators that all make great low-priced gifts and stocking stuffers. My feeling is that you can never have too many openers. I personally like waiter type corkscrews, but there is every type under the sun, from electric to gas propelled.

For a little more money here’s an idea. Something that I just found out about this week is from my friend Frank at First Priority in Kennewick. He has full service limousine wine tours available for $350 each. My wife and I have gone on these with friends many times and had an absolute blast. At this price it is definitely a steal of a deal. This price includes a 5 hour service from Tri-Cities to anywhere in Eastern Washington. Call Frank at 509-531-3589.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, something that can not be overrated is good education. Education comes in many forms here are some things that I’ve enjoyed and I know others will as well. First, the Wine 101 course at Graybeal Distributing this year was a blast! You might reach out to them and see what is on for this winter/spring season.

The next educational gift that I suggest is reading material. There are many good magazines out there. Wine Press Northwest covers the region very well and is printed locally. Sip Magazine Northwest out of Seattle is a glossy, beautiful magazine that also covers wine here in the region.

For a more global perspective you might give your wine lover a subscription to Wine Spectator, Wine and Food, or Wine Enthusiast. One thing I will warn you about though is the International and national magazines cost a lot more than the regionally focused ones, and you won’t find much information on wines you can actually buy here in our part of the world.

What ever you buy your friend, lover, or coworker this year all I know is that you can’t go wrong with wine.