Tag Archive | Syrah

Famille Perrin 2011 Réserve Côtes du Rhône

Tonight I’m drinking Famille Perrin 2011 Réserve Côtes du Rhône.  Jon picked it up somewhere and brought it home, and I got the last glass to go with my dinner.  It is a French Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre blend made with grapes sourced both from the company’s own vineyards as well as purchased grapes.  Grenache is the primary grape in the blend, making up about 50% of the wine.

Famille Perrin 2011 Réserve Côtes du Rhône

Famille Perrin 2011 Réserve Côtes du Rhône

The wine has flavors of tart pie cherry, light tannins and smoke.  It is a fruit-forward, pleasant wine that tastes young, but is a great everyday weeknight wine.  The only thing I didn’t love was a weird flavor of pencil eraser on the finish – it was very brief though!  And no, I can’t explain how I know the taste is pencil eraser…

Overall, this wine is a good wine, and it was well worth the $7.99 price tag.

A Cop Makes Wine: 2007 Guardian Cellars Syrah

After a long day at work (lately they have all been long days), I came home and put together a dinner of baked Bratwurst and veggies.  Jon told me I could open whatever wine I wanted, so I went exploring in the wine fridge and came out with a 2007 Syrah by Guardian Cellars.

Guardian is a relative newcomer to the Woodinville, WA wine scene, opening the doors to its tasting room in 2007 with the 2003 and 2004 vintages.  They sold out on opening day.  They have increased production over the years, from 300 cases to 5,000 cases in 2012, but it continues to be a labor of love for Jerry, a local police officer who makes all of the wine himself.  His wife manages the tasting room, which closes down for periods of time when they sell out of the current releases.

Guardian wines consistently get high scores, which is no surprise considering I haven’t tried a Guardian wine that I didn’t love.  Jerry makes several big, bold reds, with complex flavors that are nicely balanced and tannins that aren’t overwhelming.  Each of the wines, while robust, is also smooth and approachable.

Although they have found success in their second careers, they are still as friendly as ever, giving each customer special attention in the tasting room and making you feel like a friend.  They have decorated the space with concert posters, detailing musical tastes that are in line with Jon’s, and the modern style is trendy and minimalist without feeling cold.  It is a great place to hang out over a glass of wine.  And if it isn’t super-busy, Jerry will happily show you around the production area, where all the wine-making action takes place.

guardian-logo

The 2007 Syrah comes from Stillwater Creek Vineyard grapes, and was aged in 75% new French oak for 18 months.  It has blackberries and smoke on the nose, and follows with flavors of berry, wood and spice on the palate, with just a hint of that same smoke.  If you can find a bottle, you won’t be disappointed.  Wow.

Boise Road Trip: Snake River Winery

During our Boise road trip, we had an opportunity to taste at a couple of wineries.  We were already going to be in the downtown area, and since I knew nothing about any of Idaho’s wineries, location seemed as good a criteria as anywhere to select a few to visit (you have to start somewhere right?).  We visited Snake River Winery’s downtown tasting room on a super-hot Saturday in the later afternoon.

Snake River is an estate winery, meaning that they grow all their own grapes in their own vineyards – they have 75 acres planted.  They strive for sustainable and organic winery practices, including making their own compost from pomace (which is the solid remains of the grapes after the juice has been pressed off),  eliminating pesticides and using organic fungicides.  At this point, they don’t have a biodynamic certification, but are working towards it.

When we walked into the downtown tasting room, it surprised me a bit that we were the only ones there.  It was a great little shop with a tasting bar, and lots of cool gift items as well.  Wine glasses and associated wine goodies, Snake River t-shirts, and greeting cards.  Jon appreciated having some gift items to look at, as he always wanders away from the bar during a tasting.

I don’t remember all of the wines we tasted that day, but I was pleased with several.  The 2010 Rosé is a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Touriga Nacional.  It had a light sweetness and strawberry flavor, wonderfully refreshing for a hot, summer day.  Snake River Winery also makes a single varietal wine from its Touriga Nacional grapes, a bold red with strong tannins and black fruit.  The grape varietal is originally from Portugal, and not often seen in the United States, at least on the West Coast.  I really enjoyed this wine, and we brought home a bottle.

The wine list at Snake River is extensive, with offerings that include Chardonnay, Riesling, Barbera, Grenache, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Cab Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Syrah, as well as some blends.  And I was surprised to learn that they had another varietal that I had never tasted before, but unfortunately it wasn’t open that day.  Blauer Zweigelt, a varietal developed in 1922 in Austria, is more widely planted in Europe, but is beginning to be planted in British Columbia as well.  I’ll have to wait until another day to taste it!

Perhaps the best thing about Snake River though, is the wine pairing chocolates that they offer with the heavier reds, and sell packages of!  They are made from 85% Cocoa, and have a bitter dark chocolate taste that goes so well with the red wine.  These chocolates, made by a company called Dream Chocolate, are fantastic, and they are even better with wine!  I couldn’t resist bringing home a package of these as well!

I thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Snake River, and I hope to find their wines closer to home.  If you have a chance, stop in.

May Day at Walnut City WineWorks

While we were down visiting family in Portland in May, my cousin and I decided to do an afternoon of wine tasting in the Willamette Valley.  After Megan and I visited Chehalem Winery, we headed to another winery in McMinnville: Walnut City WineWorks.  Jon and I had visited a few years before, at the recommendation of Jon’s grandfather, and they had some really good wines, so I was excited to try them again.

Walnut City WineWorks is a custom crush facility that provides a production facility for several wine labels: Walnut City WineWorks, Bernard Machado, Carlton Hill, Z’IVO, Lundeen, Genius Loci, and Robinson Reserve.  What makes Walnut City WineWorks different is the fact that they are actively involved in vineyard management for the various labels, and all the labels are sold in the tasting room.  The Walnut City label produces about 6,000 cases per year, and when you combine all the labels the production is about 12,000 cases per year.  They are located in a historic brick building right near downtown McMinnville; I’m sure that it used to be an industrial facility of some sort.  It has been nicely renovated with a modern and tasteful decor, although it is a bit dark inside.

Our server for the day guided us through a selection of their wines from a few of their different labels.  We began with the Walnut City Hodge Podge, a white blend of Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, Riesling and Auxerrois.  Wow, that’s quite a blend!  I certainly picked up a lot of the Gewurztraminer in the wine, but overall I thought it was a bit too sweet for my taste.  Megan really liked it though.  After that, we tried the 2011 Z’IVO Pinot Blanc.  Unfortunately, I didn’t write any tasting notes on this wine, and I couldn’t find any online, but I liked it enough to buy two bottles (I’ll have to crack open a bottle soon to give you some better tasting notes on this one!)

We also tried the Z’IVO Charly, which is a blend of 75% Gewurztraminer, 20% Pinot Gris and 5% Viognier.  Again, I thought the wine was a bit too sweet, but Megan loved it (she declared it to be her favorite) and went home with two bottles.  Next we tried the 2012 Walnut City Rose, a Pinot Noir Rose made in the Old World style.  It was dry and crisp and absolutely delicious.  The 2011 Walnut City WineWorks Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is the largest production at the winery, with 4,000 cases produced.  It was bright and tart, with a light mouthfeel and a soft, elegant structure.  I really enjoyed it, but it is certainly a very delicate Pinot.

We also sampled the Bernard-Machado 2007 Pinot Noir.  Our server explained that this wine is only produced in years of great grapes, which was confusing to me because I have heard that 2007 wasn’t such a fantastic year in Oregon Pinot – the cool, wet season led to wines that are much softer and more delicate than other years – characteristics in Pinot that I personally love, but not everybody does.  This wine exhibited more of the earthy, forest floor flavors, and it was good, but not outstanding, and it didn’t warrant the $36 price tag for me.

The Walnut City WineWorks 2008 Pinot Noir Reserve was more up my alley.  Spice, black cherries and cola dominate this wine that was barrel aged for 18 months and bottle aged for another 24 months.  It won a Gold Medal at the Great Northwest Wine Competition, a new competition where the judges aren’t professional tasters, but rather people working in the wine industry in Washington and Oregon.

We finished off our tasting with a Lundeen wine, the 2008 Rogue Valley Syrah.  The grapes are sourced from the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon, which has hotter, drier summers and and is known for growing the hot weather grapes.  That said, this Syrah is nicely balanced, and was described as a Syrah for Pinot lovers.  The flavors of blueberry and blackberry are accented by just a hint of dark chocolate.

Megan and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit, but of course I didn’t think to take any photos.  We did take some wine home with us – we got a case between us and the server was kind enough to allow us to ring the orders separately and still apply the discount.  If you have a chance to visit, you won’t be disappointed.  And be sure to let me know what you think!

California Road Trip: Anderson Valley Sparkling Wines

The next stop on our wine tour was at Roederer Estate – a winery that specializes in sparkling wines.  Argyle in Oregon is the only other sparkling wine house I have visited on a wine tour, so I was particularly looking forward to this one.  Roederer Estate is not family owned – it is owned by Champagne Louis Roederer, the French Champagne house that was founded in 1776.  If you don’t recognize the name, you may recognize one of their most famous products – Cristal champagne.

Roederer Estate Tasting Room

Roederer Estate Tasting Room

Our server was great; she was kind and friendly and explained how sparkling wines are made.  She also explained some of the terminology that describes sparking wine.  Brut is the driest sparkling wine, with Extra Dry being a little bit sweeter, and then Demi-Sec being sweeter still.

To begin, we tasted the Brut MV (multi-vintage) which is their most mass produced wine with about 75,000 cases produced.  It contains 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir.  The base vintage on this wine is 2008, and Roederer adds in 10-15% cask aged Reserve wine to give this sparkler most substance.  I had never had Roederer before, and I was very impressed – it was a great wine!

Next we tried the Brut Rosé MV, which was a very dry, delicate, fruity wine.  I really loved this wine.  After the Rosé, we tried the 2003 L’Ermitage Brut.  This wine is produced with a first fermentation “enterage,” which means “on the yeast,” for six years.  This wine undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle.  It is very smooth and creamy, with that nice yeasty finish that good sparkling wines have.

The MV Extra Dry is made with the same blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir – the difference is that after disgorging, a little more sugar is added.  I was pleased with all of the sparkling wines – there wasn’t one that I didn’t want to bring home with me!

Jon and Me in the Roederer Estate Tasting Room

Jon and Me in the Roederer Estate Tasting Room

Next we moved on to the still wines that Roederer produces.  We started with their Rose of Pinot.  Unlike most roses, this one had almost no color.  It is fermented in stainless steel, with two months in oak casks – it had great acidity and a light fruit flavor.  The 2009 Pinot Noir had a delicate flavor, and the fruit integrated well with minimal oak.  It contrasted nicely with the 2008 Pinot Noir, which picked up a smoky flavors from the three wildfires that burned through the area in 2008.  It was aged in 85% stainless steel and 15% oak.  The Roederer Chardonnay has some nice tropical fruit flavors.  I picked up some lychee flavors.  Roederer was my absolute favorite winery of the day – I like all of their wines, and it was difficult to choose just three to bring home.

By this time, we were ready for some lunch, so we got a recommendation from the server at Roederer.  We headed down to Philo and got sandwiches at Lemons’ Market there.  It is a small country grocery store with a deli sandwich counter in the back.  I had a smoked turkey on wheat with avocado, pickles, olives and gouda cheese.  Jon also had smoked turkey and gouda (we didn’t know what the other was ordering – I hope we don’t start to look alike as we to be an old married couple!), but he had a spicy philo mustard on his.   Jon also got a jar of pickled garlic to take home with us – he eats it straight from the jar!  We took our sandwiches to go and had a picnic at Scharffenberger outside in their front courtyard, where we could soak up some rays.  And thankfully, my stomach didn’t rebel!

After chowing down our yummy sandwiches, I went into Scharffenberger Cellars to try their sparkling wines.  Jon decided to stay outside with his book for this one – he wanted to enjoy the sunshine and was wined out.  Scharffenberger is owned by the same company as Roederer (but was already established when it was purchased).

The server at Roederer had explained that Scharffenberger produces sparkling wine in the California style, which she explained are more fruity than the French style sparkling wines that Roederer makes.  I was intrigued by this, because I’ve never really done a side by side tasting (or one after another tasting as the case may have been), and I hadn’t really realized that there was a different “California” style.

Scharffenberger Cellars Tasting Room

Scharffenberger Cellars Tasting Room

My server guided me through a tasting of five sparkling wines and three still wines, beginning with the 2006 Blanc de Blancs – a 100% Chardonnay sparkling wine.  This wine was very dry, with yeasty bread flavors.  Next up was the Brut NV (meaning no vintage), which is their biggest production wine at 25,000 cases.  It is a blend of 53% Pinot Noir and 47% Chardonnay.  It was quite dry with a slight citrus flavor.  The Rose NV is 54% Pinot (including 4.5% with skins) and 46% Chardonnay.  This sparkler was quite nice, with a pale pink color and a long fruit finish.

The Extra Dry is the same blend as the Brut, but has a heavier mouthfeel and more sweetness.  I finished off with the Crémant, which literally means sparkling wine that is not from Champagne.  This wine is equal parts Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and it is bottled with less pressure for a lighter effervescence.  It is extra dry, but with a creamier mouthfeel and taste than the other Scharffenberger sparklers.

I finished off my tasting with the three still wines, which were a 2008 Chardonnay, a 2007 Pinot Noir and the 2007 Syrah.  At less than 300 cases each (and only 130 for the Syrah), they aren’t the primary product for the winery, but rather a side project of the winemaker.  I tried them all, but I just wasn’t satisfied with any of them.  Of the three, I liked the Pinot best; it was a nice, soft light example of the varietal.

We decided that four wineries was enough for the day – I still wasn’t feeling 100% from my stomach flu the day before, and I didn’t want to push too far.  I enjoyed my day, but to be honest, I wasn’t blown away with the Pinots like I wanted to be.  I guess that’s a good thing, since the Willamette Valley is so much closer to home.  I did absolutely love the sparkling wines at Roederer though!

We headed out to our destination for the evening – Petaluma.  We stopped in Healdsburg along the way to check it out, and wandered around and stretched our legs.  Healdsburg is ritzy!  There are lots of upscale shops – places that would certainly be luxury purchases for Jon and me.  One clothing store had a clearance rack outside on the sidewalk – it was the $50 clearance rack!  Healdsburg did have a beautiful square in the middle of the downtown that was very nice, and a nice local bookstore with a cooperative art gallery on the second floor.

Healdsburg Downtown Square

Healdsburg Downtown Square

After leaving Healdsburg, we completed the drive to Petaluma, where we found our hotel.  Jon went for a quick run, and then we went to go find some dinner.  Jon had done a search on TripAdvisor and we found Café Zazzle, an Asian fusion style restaurant.  I had the Too Much Funn – A Zazzle specialty with house made shrimp & turkey wontons & chow funn noodles – together in a chicken broth with bok choy, snow peas & sweet red peppers!  I also had a delicious Pomegranate Italian Soda.  Jon had the Spicy Lettuce Wrap with curry.  It was so spicy that Jon even had to slow down to eat it!  I didn’t try it – anything that is so spicy it makes Jon sweat would probably burn my lips off!

After dinner, we stopped by a great bookstore across the street and we each found a great clearance book.  Jon found an ultra-marathon book, and I found a good nerdy tourist book on San Francisco.  What a great day!

California Road Trip: The Anderson Valley Pinot Tour

We woke up the next morning ready for our foray into Anderson Valley Wine Country.  At that point, it had been a whole 18 hours since I had last thrown up!  Not the ideal timing for a wine tour, but today was the day, as the rest of the trip was mapped out in other places.  I am a big (no – HUGE!) fan of Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs, and I have been interested in trying some of Pinots from other areas.  In researching our trip, I learned that the Anderson Valley has a double draw – they are known for their Pinot Noir wines and there are also several sparkling wine producers!  Win, win!  The Anderson Valley is characterized by a coastal fog that settles in the valley, creating the cool nights that Pinot Noir is known to thrive on.

Jon and I got on the road, and while I was feeling a lot better (my breakfast remaining in my stomach being a vast improvement over the day before), I would be lying if I said I was feeling 100%.  So we headed out, across Highway 253, a scenic country road that heads up and over some hills before descending into the valley at Boonville.  The view was nice, and we enjoyed the drive.

A Historic Wine Delivery Truck in Boonville, California

A Historic Wine Delivery Truck in Boonville, California

Our plan was to drive northwest from Boonville to Navarro on Highway 128, and then turn around and work our way back, stopping at our destination wineries along the way.  There are many wineries located right on 128, so there really isn’t much chance of getting lost on country roads along the way.  We checked out where we wanted to go on the way back (really, I decided where I wanted to go, because Jon hadn’t provided any input) and then we drove up to our first stop of the day.

Handley Cellars is a family owned winery that began operations in 1982.  When you step into the tasting room, you are met with all sorts of interesting items from around the world.  The server explained that the elephant chairs in the sitting area are over 100 years old, and is among the folk art items that have been collected by winemaker Milla Handley in her travels around the world.

Handley Cellars Tasting Room

Handley Cellars Tasting Room

While we were there, we tasted the 2011 Mendocino County Chardonnay, the 2011 Anderson Valley Gewürztraminer, and the 2007 Late Harvest Riesling.  For the reds, we tasted the 2009 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, the 2010 Mendocino County Pinot Noir, and the 2009 Anderson Valley Reserve Pinot Noir.  We also tried the 2009 Redwood Valley Syrah and the 2010 Redwood Valley Zinfandel.  It was our first winery of the day, and as I was still a bit tired from being sick, and I completely forgot to take any notes.  Sadly, I didn’t love the style of Pinot Noir.  It was a much more earthy and spicy than the light, acidic, cherry Pinots from the Willamette Valley.  The highlights of our tasting were the Late Harvest Riesling and the Zinfandel, which we took home with us.

View of the Vineyards at Handley Cellars

View of the Vineyards at Handley Cellars

Husch Vineyards was our next stop, right down the road – their tasting room is very scenic – located in a historic pony barn built in the late 1800s.  Husch planted their first vineyards in 1968 and the winery was founded in 1971, making it the oldest winery in the Anderson Valley.  The current owners purchased the winery from the Husch family in 1979.  All of their grapes are estate grown, but some of the vineyards are in the Mendocino area.

Husch has a wide selection of wines (22 in all – although only 17 were available the day we were there), and you can choose to sample any six on their list.  I sampled their 2011 Mendocino Sauvignon Blanc, 2011 Vine One Anderson Valley Chardonnay, 2012 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley (a Rosé), 2010 Anderson Valley Reserve Pinot Noir, 2010 Mendocino Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 Mendocino Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012 Chenin Blanc, and 2012 Muscat Canelli.  If you count up those wines, you’ll notice that they let me sample eight, which just goes to show a little friendliness goes a long way.

Husch Vineyards

Husch Vineyards

I was pleased with many of their wines, with their Chardonnay being a nice balance between the crisp style that I like and the oak that Jon prefers.  Their Vin Gris Rosé was a nice, light summer wine, perfect for a hot day.  The Reserve Pinot Noir was very nice, with more of the cherry flavors I have come to love in a Pinot Noir.  Jon and I both enjoyed the Husch Cabernet Sauvignon, although I didn’t taste enough of a difference to justify the big price difference between the regular and the reserve Cab.

And I enjoyed the Chenin Blanc, which had a slight sweetness with acidity and just a hint of butter.  The Muscat Canelli had flavors of peach with honeysuckle on the finish.  We left with a couple of bottles – the Reserve Pinot Noir and the Chenin Blanc.  Then we continued on our tour!

Va Piano… Go Softly…

After leaving Northstar Winery, we followed the recommendation of our server and headed back down the road we came in on for a stop at Va Piano Vineyards.  The name, for those of you who think it sounds unusual for a winery, comes from the Italian saying, “Chi va piano, va sano e va lontano.” He who goes slowly, goes safely and goes far.  As the story goes, the winemaker spent his senior year in college in Italy, where he fell in love with the Italian wine industry and decided to make a career out of it.  The vineyards were planted in 1999, the first vintage (2003) was released in 2005.

The tasting room is set on a hill with a beautiful view, and is styled after a Tuscan Villa.  It is a beautiful facility.  But Jon and I were  a little worried before we went in, because there was a white, stretch limo parked outside…  Oh dear, Bachelorette Party?  But it turned out to be just one couple in the limo, with a woman about my age being treated to a nice birthday wine tour weekend!  The atmosphere in the tasting room was light and fun, and the two other couples there were friendly and eager to interact.

Va Piano Vineyards Tasting Room

Va Piano Vineyards Tasting Room

Our tasting began with a 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, which was blended with a touch of Riesling.  This wine is excellent; very crisp with a green apple finish.  I think it is very similar to New Zealand Sauv. Blancs that I like so well.

Then we moved into the reds, with a Cabernet Sauvignon called Bruno’s Blend.  It had medium tannins, light oak, and flavors of raspberry.  Very good!

The next wine was a library release – a 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, that had much heavier tannins and oak that the earlier blend – it didn’t have much fruit left.  This wine was too much for me.

But their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon had much more fruit and acidity with flavors of black raspberry.  I thought it was very nice.

The tasting ended with their 2009 Syrah – all I wrote was “very good!”  I do remember that it is very similar to the 2006 Dobbes Family Estate Syrah that we bought down in Oregon on a tasting trip there.  That was one of the best Syrahs I have ever tried, so that says a lot about the Va Piano Syrah.

We left with the Sauvignon Blanc and the Syrah – not bad for a place we had never heard of!