Monday, December 28, 2009

A Bubbly Wonderland of Rosé

I am a pink lady... No--not like the characters in "Grease" or Hugh Hefner's Playboy bunnies who always wear pink. I am a pink lady as in I love my sparkling wines and Champagnes sporting the pink look. It's stylin'!!! All jokes aside, I've spent quite a bit of time in the last few weeks sampling all kinds of bubbly at local tastings and parties here in town---domestic and foreign--American, French, Australian, Spanish, Italian...More often than not though, I find myself gravitating toward the sparklers with the pink hue. Why is this? Why am I so obsessed with that lovely color? I figured out it was more about the flavor than the color. Don't get me wrong--I often enjoy a yeasty Champagne whose nose reminds me of fresh baked bread. But something about that pink hue and rich fruit flavor invites festivity, smiles, fun!! I love fun! And we all desperately need fun because in the dead of winter, nothing motivates us more than a little fun.

New Year's Eve is inevitably creeping upon us, faster than you can say "FUN!". So I've decided to compile a list of five sparklers I've tried lately--all pink, all fun, all price points. None of which will kill your pocketbook. You decide...

I found an Aussie sparkler recently, appropriately named "Pink". It is from a company called Yellowglen. (They also make one called "Yellow".) A beautiful pink hue, everything about this wine spells "BARGAIN". Part Pinot Noir, part Chardonnay, it is no muss, no fuss for the bargain hunter looking for an easy sparkler with a pink hue. It's delicious, barely sweet, inexpensive (around $10) and very easy to drink. Reminds me of a fun Jolly Rancher kind of fruity. So if you don't want to spend a lot, have lots of friends coming over etcetera, this wine can be found at your local grocery store. Easy enough.

Next up is Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs. Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves are located in the heart of Sonoma County, California and are producers of some fine sparkling wines. This one is no exception. Many years in a row, I have purchased this wine knowing I would be getting a great staple, well-rated, value sparkler and crowd pleaser. Predominantly Pinot Noir with a small amount of Chardonnay blended in, it gets its off-pink hue from a bit of Vin Gris thrown in. It's a beauty, it's a bargain at $20. (I got one on sale last night for around $15--pretty happy about that!) I will be opening one of these on New Year's Eve. How about you?

Ah, Mumm Napa...My first experience with them was in the Fall of 2006, when I visited their tasting room on the Silverado Trail in Napa. They sat me down and put a nice sampler of three sparklers in front of me and all "H***" broke loose. Kidding... I was feeling pretty good after that visit and when I went to shop their tasting room, I was faced with a menagerie of choices but the Blanc de Noirs went home with me. I noticed recently that they have changed the name of this wine to Brut Rosé. That's fine with me. I've always been impressed with the color of this wine. It's darker than most Brut Rosés. A very beautiful dark pink hue. The flavor is incredible. Lots of raspberries, strawberries, berry explosions! And at $24, it's still in the running as a great bargain--if you can find it. It disappears fast. I'm hiding one right now. For my eyes only... But I could be talked into opening it...

Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Rosé. What can I say? I had it for the first time at a tasting last night and I kept going back to retry it. I was pretty impressed with it. It had a beautiful hue of light to medium pink, delicate berry flavor, a moderate amount of bubbles and no funk. It's French, it's really Champagne (from Epernay in the Champagne region of France) and the bottom line is, at around $42 a bottle, this is a great deal, folks. So if you can find this wine in your local wine shop, go for it. Very enjoyable. Your friends will thank you!

OK, I left my favorite of the season for last...Taittinger Brut Prestige Rosé. I've never loved a bottle of bubbly so much in my entire life!! At around $60 a bottle, I still consider this sparkler a bargain from one of the top Champagne houses in France. Located in Reims, they churn out some top of the line Champagnes in the world! A vibrant shade of pink, full of delicate berries and slightly floral notes (such as roses), it's enjoyable and such a beautiful wine. Highly recommended!

Happy New Year everyone! Here's to a great 2010! May it be even better than 2009!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Little Bit Of (Horse) Heaven...

Washington’s Columbia Crest Winery has been in the spotlight a lot lately and it has been well-deserved. Starting off with many of their wines earning top scores year round to earning the “Top Accolade” of having the Number One Wine of the Year in Wine Spectator Magazine, it is their time to really shine!

I was at a tasting recently (yes—another one. I do this often!) and I spied a bottle of 2007 Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon. I couldn’t wait to get a sampling of it. You see, in my fair state of Iowa, the H3 tier of their wines has been relatively difficult to get hold of. So, the excitement mounted as I made my way toward the table and happily over-extended my stay. This wine is a great find and not to be missed!

Horse Heaven Hills is an AVA (American Viticultural Area), located southeast of Yakima Valley, southwest of Red Mountain and stretches to the Oregon border. 570,000 acres (6000 used for grapes-growing) of gorgeous land located east of the Cascade Mountains at a 14,000 ft. elevation. Why is this terroir perfect for grape growing? Because its southern exposure allows the grapes to get a lot of sunlight, making for very intensely-flavored grapes. And it is this intense flavor that shines in the H3 Cabernet Sauvignon.

It is a jammy, earthy animal! Huge, bursting cherry fruit, firm tannins and chocolate-y, smooth finish! My mouth is watering just thinking about this wine! Your pocketbook will thank you too! At $15.00 a bottle, I don’t foresee many bottles of this wine sticking around for very long! In fact, at the tasting I was at, they disappeared faster than you can say “H3”!!! I was lucky to get a bottle but I did take one home. Lucky me!

The 2007 vintage is relatively new so I’m expecting to read great things about it going forward. At least I hope so. It is a really nice buy. When I visit Washington in the Summer of 2010, I hope I can experience a bit of Horse Heaven for myself! I am looking forward to it!

A Christmas Wish

Greetings to all! This will be a more unusual post, not so much about wine, but about hope and support and thanks to everyone who has been reading and supporting my blog since its inception four months ago. I want to thank you all. It all began in 2008 when I joined the Facebook application "Wine Beagles". 800+ wine reviews, an appearance on "Wine Biz Radio" and a lot of reciprocated blog entries later, I feel I am finally making a difference. What began as a hobby just keeps getting better and I have all of you to thank for that!

The next year will bring many more great things as I venture into new territory, blogging about Oregon and Washington wines as well as my familiar California territory and who knows--maybe France, Spain, Italy. The possibilities are endless! I hope to keep all of you entertained with my endless tales of wine-soaked adventures and am looking forward to my first trip to Washington wine country! And another visit to Napa and Sonoma! Look out, here I come!

Most of all, I wish all my readers and supporters a very Merry Christmas and hope that the new year brings many many good tidings to you (and a lot of good wines as well!). Thanks again for your friendship and support! I will continue to support you also! Cheers and be safe!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cellarmistress Tastes Live--From Paso Robles

Yes! Once again I am "Tasting Live", this time from Paso Robles, California. Fresh off the event, which took place last night live on Twitter, I along with seven other wine bloggers had the opportunity to sample five Syrahs (three from the Paso Robles area and two from the Rhône region of France) courtesy of our sponsors, @tastelive and the Hospice du Rhône (@HdR2010). As those of you who follow me know, I am a novice to Syrah, so when this opportunity came up, I jumped fast! I learned Syrahs can range from "Rich fruit bombs to funky, barnyard-like and earthy!"

Founded in 1991, the Hospice Du Rhône is a non-profit business league dedicated to representing and embodying the spirit of Rhône varieties and the producers of these wines. They are based in Paso Robles, California and hold an annual event to celebrate! I was excited to learn that there are twenty-two (count 'em) Rhône varieties, including many I've never heard of. Today we will discuss one of the many: Syrah--a highly colored, aromatic varietal with firm structure and the Syrahs I sampled last night run the gamut when it comes to different flavors. In this segment, I will discuss the three California Syrahs tasted. (Stay tuned for a possible future segment on the French Syrahs we sampled.)

The first of the three was the 2007 Tercero Larner Vineyard Syrah from the Santa Ynez Valley, (just north of Santa Barbara-Ballard Canyon in Los Olivos). Winemaker Larry Schaffer was on hand to answer any questions we may have had. I asked him the significance of the winery name and he mentioned it meant "3". There were a lot of threes in his life, therefore he chose an appropriate name. The Syrah was meaty! It had a terrific, nose and a huge midpalate--very juicy, bursting with berries--- jammy and very spicy and just a little funk. I would've liked a slightly longer finish and this is possibly because of how young it was. Bottled recently, it didn't have enough bottle time to evolve. I would love to try it again in a year or so, meaning it's great to drink now but save a few bottles. It does come with a screwcap instead of a cork but I don't find that a deterrant. I think this wine will age beautifully for many years to come. Definitely worth seeking out. This wine is available on their website for $28.00. Please take the time to seek out this beauty!

The next wine was the 2006 Ortman Family Vineyards Syrah Paso Robles. I was stopped dead in my tracks with this one. My friend Jennifer (and she will kill me for saying this!) has coined a new phrase for this wine: "Oh Oh Oh Ortman!!" Be proud of this wine, Matt! We're so excited and we just can't hide it! This wine was unbelievable! Under $25! Smooth and velvety, it was classy, beautiful, and elegant. Nearly perfect from start to finish. Dark fruits and violets. Long, lingering finish. By the time I was ready to ask questions, the system was moving a bit slow so I just kept enjoying it! Hailing from Brave Oak Vineyard in the Paso Robles-area, the vineyard yields small, but intensely flavored grapes and it shows! One taste of this wine and you will be hooked! I will be screaming, "I want my Ortman Syrah" for many moons to come! Please contact for this wine. It is not available on their online store, but you can purchase their previous ('05) vintage for $22.

The third wine we sampled was the 2006 JC Cellars Syrah Haley's Reserve Rockpile Vineyard from the Rockpile appellation. The Rockpile Appellation is actually not anywhere near Paso Robles, but in northern California in Sonoma County north of Healdsburg-- known for big yielding, high alcohol rugged Zinfandels. This Syrah is high alcohol-15.5%. It has the elegance of a velvety Syrah but is a bit rough and rugged. Very meaty and earthy. Lots of blackberry and bramble. Absolutely huge. It recently received huge accolades from the Wine Spectator clocking in at a noteworthy 95 points (from James Laube). Concentrated, layered and lovely. Jeff Cohn, the winemaker, spent several years at Rosenblum Cellars before venturing out on his own. Anyone who enjoys Rosenblum's big fruit-bomb wines will find some memories in this wonderful Syrah! $60.00 at 351 cases made.

After these three came the French wines from the Rhône region. But I'm saving that for another time. (Awwwww!) Sorry folks, but please go out and discover these for yourself. For me, it's been more of an education--an enjoyable one! Thanks to Craig Drollett and TasteLive, Hospice du Rhône, Larry Schaffer of Tercero Wines, Matt Ortman of Ortman Family Vineyards and Jeff Cohn of JC Cellars for being great hosts! I look forward to future tastings and possibly future visits to Paso Robles!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Chardonnay For A New Generation

Sometimes when you least expect it, you're blessed with something fun and unexpected. I have a friend named Cindy Cosco. Though I have never met her personally, she's been a great friend online. She is living the dream! And the dream is coming true. I will admit, we wine bloggers would probably love nothing more than to create and bottle our own wines someday. It's harder than it seems. You have to know when to leave your past life and start your new one. You have to labor and toil and work hard! Cindy did just that.

For years, Cindy worked in law enforcement on the east coast. She grew up in an Italian family who had a passion for wine. They instilled this in her. After realizing that wine was her true calling, she finally made the move to the west coast and hasn't looked back. She began her wine industry career as a harvest intern at Chateau St. Jean in Sonoma County, eventually staying on full-time in their lab. After a few years, she made the move to Crushpad, the world-famous custom crush facility in San Francisco, where she currently works as a lab manager and also creats her own wine there, the Passaggio Unoaked Chardonnay. The recently-released second vintage(2008) is made from grapes sourced from Lodi, California. I received a sample from her recently and was thrilled to try it!

The 2008 Passaggio Unoaked Chardonnay is dubbed "New Generation Chardonnay." I think any generation would love it! I certainly did and I'm no spring chicken! The bottle, which sells for $13.00, is a steal! It is light but certainly not without a medium-bodied mouthfeel at the midpalate. Loaded with lush tropical flavors and stone fruits (I got a lot of peach and apricot). The finish is crisp and clean, making it a nice wine to pair up with poultry and seafood dishes as well as light pasta dishes and salads. Very enjoyable. This wine can be purchased through her website: Cindy also has a great blogsite which is on the bloglist to the right of this page. Please check it out!

I wish Cindy the best of luck in her future ventures and am hoping to see more of her talent shine. She's definitely a role model for a future generation of budding winemakers. Some day, I hope to visit Crushpad and meet her in person!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

All Hail To The Raven!

Whenever I am in Sonoma County, one of my favorite places to visit is Ravenswood Winery. Located in the town of Sonoma, this winery is one of the first California wineries I ever visited and I keep going back for more! I've been there three times now. One of the reasons I enjoy visiting so much is because of the vast amount of different wines they make, including an enormous selection of Zinfandels. And we all know how I feel about Zinfandel!

I believe this winery truly has so much to offer. Founded in 1976, by winemaker Joel Peterson, it began as a small winery and eventually became a world renowned brand! You can pretty much go anywhere and see several of their wines sitting on the shelves! Now I have not met Joel personally (but hope to someday) but the staff at the winery is well-educated and enthusiastic. In fact, I enjoyed my last visit there so much, I visited again a few days later! Guess I couldn't get enough! I have sat on their "patio" with the umbrella covered tables and enjoyed the view, toured their nearby vineyards and even done their famous "blending lab", where you blend your own Zin and and are given a small bottle of your blend to take with! That makes for a decadent afternoon! Afterwards we got to barrel taste! Even better. We definitely needed some help leaving the place. We were just having way too much fun!

As stated before, they make a lot of wines and their wines come in different tier selections. There are the "Vintner's Blend" wines, which are what I call their entry-level wines. Easy drinking, everyday wines at a reasonable price. Usually around $10 at your local shops. I've sampled several of those (sent to me by a local distributor) and I found them to be a great value. So far I have tried the Zinfandel, Merlot and Shiraz. They also make a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Petite Sirah as well as a Chardonnay. The next tier is the "County Series", which are Zinfandels made from Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Lodi fruit. Very nice and sell for just under $20 a bottle. These are also easy to find. The tier I am going to discuss today is the "Vineyard Designate" tier. The winery carries a lot of these and I have managed to find a few at some of the wine shops.

Several months ago, I received a couple "Vineyard Designates" from Sam Folsom & Associates, a public relations firm based in San Francisco. I had actually not tried these two yet, which was remarkable considering how many wines Ravenswood offers on their tasting menu. Both Zinfandels were like night and day. The first one was the 2006 Barricia Vineyard Zinfandel. Barricia Vineyard is located in the Sonoma Valley. This was an elegant and smooth Zinfandel. Very luscious blackberry and an almost blueberry flavor with a lot of spicy undertones. I coined the word "pretty" to describe it. It was very delicate. The second one was the 2006 Teldeschi Vineyard Zinfandel. Teldeschi Vineyard is located up in northern Sonoma County near the town of Healdsburg. It is the prototypical Dry Creek Zinfandel--a lot more rugged, brambly, jammy and in your face! Huge blackberry flavor, spice and some earthiness. A very big Zin! Both Zinfandels sell for $36.00 each.

I can't wait to go back and visit them again. A couple of my friends joined their monthly wine club and have amassed a huge lot of their wines--verticals and all. I'm going to have to raid their wine cellar one of these days! Hint-hint! All in all Ravenswood is a fun winery, producer of some great wines and a great place to start your wine education, blend your own wine or spend a couple nice hours sipping on their patio. Their philosophy is "No Wimpy Wines" so I leave you with this thought...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Little Taste Of Dry Creek In Iowa

On the final day of WBC09 last July, we were treated to a picnic lunch at Dry Creek Vineyard, a winery in the northern Sonoma County town of Healdsburg. It seemed like a magical place and though it wouldn't be until after I arrived home that I learned of the history of this winery, I was happy to have visited and looked forward to the day when I could go back and re-visit. The short amount of time we spent there just wasn't enough to satisfy my appetite for such a beautiful place!

About a month ago, I learned that the President of Dry Creek Vineyard, Don Wallace, would be making a promotional trip here to our fair city of Des Moines. I was excited to meet him and to discuss the wines and the winery at length. So on that Thursday evening, I headed to Hy-Vee, a local grocery store, to meet the man in person. There was a tasting of Dry Creek Vineyard wines, free and open to the public.

Don was very personable and kind enough to give me the background on the winery and how it came to be. Dry Creek Vineyard had been the dream of his father-in-law, David Stare. David, who was MIT-educated and worked for the railroad in New England, had fallen in love with the wines of the Loire Valley in France. Eventually, he moved his family to Sonoma County after realizing he wanted to become a winemaker. Once in California, he started from scratch, going to school and learning the ropes of winemaking. Finally, in 1972, he broke ground for what would become his winery and his passion. The family also has a passion for sailing which is reflected in the beauiful labels that adorn their wine bottles.

The wines speak for themselves and the winery produces many of them. I got to taste quite a few, my favorites highlighted below:

2008 Dry Chenin Blanc--I consider this wine a sort of flagship for their white varietals. Chenin Blanc is a varietal best known in the Loire Valley of France. Dry Creek Vineyard are one of the only wineries that produce a dry Chenin Blanc in California. It had a crisp apple flavor, very clean, very easy on the palate. The grapes for this wine are sourced up in Clarksburg. $12.00.

2008 Sauvignon Blanc---This is one that I got to sample at the winery as well as here and I truly enjoyed every drop of it. It's classic California Sauvignon Blanc with some wonderful citrus and grassy notes. Crisp and refreshing! $16.00.

2005 Dry Creek Merlot--Juicy and rich with ripe berries, cassis, vanilla and chocolate. It drank like a Cabernet Sauvignon at a fraction of the price. $19.00.

2005 Mariner---This is a classic Bordeaux-blend, beautifully layered, solid structure, nice firm tannins. You could lay this down for awhile but why wait!

2004 Late Harvest Zinfandel--Before sampling this, I'd never tried a late harvest Zinfandel before. It was really smooth and richly sweet with ripe blackberries. Perfect little wine to go with my chocolate dessert. $30.00.

The winery produces an array of other wines including Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and several Zinfandels--some of which are single vineyard. Their wines are distributed nationwide as well as being available in their winery tasting room and on their website at Don's wife and the company vice-president, Kim Stare Wallace, has a blog called "Wilma's Wine World." Please check out her blog at the link on my blog list to the right.

I purchased a bottle of the Chenin Blanc, autographed by Don. All in all, I feel I can make a great solid choice with their wines and am very pleased. I look forward to visiting again and came away with an invitation to tour their property when I re-visit. I want to thank Don and Kim for their great hospitality and hope to see you again next year!