Tag: California

This is what I call a drinking problem

This is what I call a drinking problem

There is a winery in Paso Robles – Dracaena Wines – that we have been hearing about for the past year or so.  Friends and fellow bloggers have posted about the winery’s Cabernet Franc and the reviews have been positively glowing.  On more than one occasion we visited the Dracaena website and took a closer look at their story – and it’s a really cool one.  For some reason, though, we never pulled the trigger and ordered any wine from them.  Until last week, that is.  We are not sure what happened on that particular day that compelled us to go to the Dracaena website (http://dracaenawines.com/) and order four bottles of the 2014 Cabernet Franc.  Usually we buy a single bottle just to make sure that we like the wine before making a bigger commitment.  However, at $32 a bottle (way below the Napa Valley average for any style of red wine) the value ratio was simply too high to purchase less than four.

Once the order was placed we sat back and waited for the wine and got very excited when the UPS tracking system alerted us the wine was scheduled for delivery that day.  Of course, both of us were out when the UPS truck came and all we had to show for our patience was a sticker on the front door promising that they would come back the next day.  Early evening the following day we were in the back yard and heard a truck coming up our secluded and dead-end street; at that time of day it could only be a delivery.  Both of us raced from our seating area, flew out the back gate and intercepted the UPS man in our driveway:  “Do you have something that requires a signature?” we asked him.  When he confirmed that one of our packages did in fact require a signature we knew that our wine had arrived.  It did not take us long to unpack the bottles and make the four lovely ladies feel at home.

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Aren’t they beautiful?

We have read about people who, when their wine arrives, put it away and save it for some time in the distant future.  We are not those people.  Five minutes after rescuing the wine from the UPS box, we had popped the cork and poured the first two glasses.  And the next night?  Yes, we had more of the 2014 Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc.

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We enjoyed it as much the second day

At the rate we are going we will run of the Dracaena Cab Franc before the end of this upcoming weekend!  We will try to be disciplined enough to set aside a bottle or two to enjoy in the coming months – especially now that we have learned that the 2014 Cab Franc is sold out and the 2015 is just being bottled.

Most Americans consume Cabernet Franc not as the exclusive or even primary grape in a bottle of wine, but generally as a smaller percentage blended with Cabernet Sauvignon.  A number of producers in the U.S., however, are making 100% Cab Franc (the 2015 Dracaena will be exclusively Cab Franc) or blends where Cab Franc is the majority grape.  For an excellent primer on the grape that is in fact one of the “parents” of Cabernet Sauvignon read this article:  Jancis Robinson on Cab Franc.

When we took our first sniff of the Dracaena Cabernet Franc, the aroma took us completely by surprise.  Often, Cab Franc has a very strong vegetal aroma, in particular bell pepper; we have tasted several Cab Franc’s with people who were turned off by the bell pepper aroma and flavor. (If you want to know why wines have the aroma and flavor of bell pepper, read this easy-to-understand article:  Why some wines taste like bell pepper).  With its super-value price of $32, we were definitely anticipating that the Dracaena Cab Franc would come across a bit young, harsh, and definitely have the strong vegetal/bell pepper aroma and flavor.

We could not have been more wrong.  The Dracaena Cab Franc was smooth, delicate, balanced, and sophisticated.  For several minutes after pouring the wine into the glass we were stuck on the first step of the three-step wine tasting process (“sniff, swirl and sip”).  We couldn’t seem to get past “sniff” because the Dracaena Cabernet Franc was so richly aromatic.  On the nose, the wine resembled something you might expect from France, and this expectation was reinforced on the palate as well.  The tannins were present but not overpowering and overall the wine balanced fruit and acidity very nicely.

We have some wines that we call “Tuesday night wines,” usually wines lower in cost and where a price-quality compromise has been considered.  On the other end of the spectrum are our “going out wines”:  those that are good enough to take to a fine restaurant and share with good friends.  The 2014 Dracaena Cabernet Franc is a “going out” wine . . . but at a Tuesday night wine price.  An American wine this good for $32.00 a bottle is an absolute find and an impressive addition to the roster of excellent Paso Robles wines.

Now that we know the 2014 Dracaena Cabernet Franc has sold out, we will try our best to hold out and not consume the last bottle until the 2015 release is in sight.  With our shaky self-control, however, we may not make it!

 

John & Irene Ingersoll

May 24, 2017

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Happy Blogiversary to Us

Happy Blogiversary to Us

One year ago we decided that we wanted to start a blog about life in Napa Valley wine country and our experiences visiting the restaurants and wineries here.  Almost immediately we felt that Napa Valley was too narrow a focus as our travels took us to other California wine region and wineries in other states.  Before the blog was 6 months old, we found ourselves in Europe writing about our adventures with food and wine across four countries.  A year later, we can say that our blog is still focused on sharing our food and wine experiences, but we no longer feel compelled to limit ourselves to any particular region.

When we started we had no plan for, well, anything – frequency of posts, mix of content (food vs. wine vs. travel), length of blog.  To the question “how do I become a writer” there is an old joke response:   “You write.”  That’s how we started this blog: we wrote.  Our first post was about a visit to a wine pick-up party where they served a whole roasted pig to accompany the wines being poured.  That first blog can be accessed here:  A Bovine and Wine Saturday at HdV.  As soon as we published the article as better title came to mind “A Wine and Swine Saturday,” but we were too lazy to change it.  Faithful readers will know that as often as possible we title our blog posts with some sort of play on words that we hope qualifies as “clever.”  More often that not, though, the titles are more corny than clever.

After the first post we managed to write another 57 over the following year – almost 5 a month.  This might sound disciplined but the truth is our blog posts have had peaks and valleys rather than coming out in a steady stream.  Each of our first three months we managed 3 posts.  In August, we were very active visiting restaurants and wineries and we managed to publish 6 posts. Then came October, our most prolific month, where we published 12 separate posts about our California, Oregon and Europe trips.  The past few months the “day job” and other personal projects have brought our monthly volumes back down a bit.  Our goal as we head into Year 2 of our blogging adventure is to be a little bit more consistent – at least a blog post a week.

Looking back on the past year there are some facts and figures that blew us away:

  • We went from 0 followers to just over 8,000 at current count.  Writing a blog should be a labor of love because there is no guarantee, when you push “publish,” that anyone will see it, read it, or care about it.  The first follower was a delightful surprise as have been the ones that came after.
  • Our blog has been read in 95 countries according to our analytics reporting.  Our first follow, in fact, came from Australia from some fellow wine bloggers that we consider to be among the best in the world.  As a thanks we will provide a link to their blog:  The Wine Wankers.  Of course we could not have expected or even dreamed of such a wide reach. We have friends, family and colleagues in probably 20% of these countries; the others we have been able to reach using social media, in our case primarily Twitter.  We would like to give a shout-out to all of our international followers and a special recognition for the one visitor in each of the following countries that has read our blog:  Tanzania, Mauritius, Fiji, Djibouti and Antigua & Barbuda.  Hey, tell a friend about us, maybe we can get multiple readers in your country.
  • A large majority of our views come from the United States, not surprisingly given where we live, the language in which we we write, and how we distribute our blog.  Our second-largest viewership comes from the United Kingdom, followed by Croatia, Canada, Spain, Australia, France, Italy, Germany and India.  As we look down the list we realize how popular wine has become across the globe; even in countries where it may violate local laws and/or customs to purchase or consume wine we have followers.
  • Wine is being produced almost everywhere.  As we have pushed our blog across our WordPress platform, Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels, we have met wine makers in so many places.  It was a definite learning for us, for example, that all 50 of the United States produce wine.  In addition, our eyes have been opened to the excellent wines being made in parts of the world where grape growing is not a traditional form of agriculture.

As we buckle down to Year 2 we promise to sacrifice ourselves for our readers by visiting as many fine restaurants and wineries as we can and tasting wines from all over the glob.  Keep sending us your comments and questions and hitting that “like” button when you appreciate what we have done.  We hope to avoid a sophomore slump and will do our best to come up with witty/silly/clever/corny headlines and interesting content.

John & Irene Ingersoll

May 6, 2017

Honey Tasting in Napa Valley

Honey Tasting in Napa Valley

Who would come to Napa Valley for honey tastings? No one!  We did not really taste honey, but we did taste wine at a winery whose name means “honey” in German.  What is “honey” in German, you ask?  Honig.  And that’s where we found ourselves a few days ago, at Honig Vineyard & Winery in the town of Rutherford.  It was not our first visit (or even second) to Honig, but friends from out of town had never been and we knew they would enjoy the beautiful outdoor patio, the friendly staff and the wine.

One of the things that we really enjoy about Honig is that there is in fact a real-life Honig at the winery.  Owner Michael, the third-generation Honig at the helm, can often be seen at the winery talking to guests and, as was the case when we visited, trying to herd a couple of his smaller children as they ran around the winery property.  In a valley where more and more wineries are being established or acquired by giant global beverage mega-firms, it is most definitely quaint and encouraging when we encounter family owned wineries.

When we sat down for our tasting, we had a pretty good sense of what we would be tasting from our prior visits. Our friends, though, were making their first visit to Honig and were expecting to start with Chardonnay, the typical starter for many of the Valley’s tasting menus.  At Honig, though, you will not find any Chardonnay; it’s actually a point of pride for them and perhaps even a motto.

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Honig Winery’s cheeky slogan

 

Soon after moving to Napa Valley, we became members at Honig and started receiving shipments of their wine. Perhaps our favorite part of becoming a member was getting the hat in the picture above. It was definitely a conversation starter everywhere we went, ranging from supportive agreement to bitter and vehement opposition.  Personally, we do not have any thing against Chardonnay and drink it often and at home, restaurants, and other wineries.  Buy we also understand the thought behind the slogan:,there is enough Chardonnay in Napa Valley already,  let’s focus on some other white varietals.  In Honig’s case, this would be Sauvignon Blanc.  Owner Michael Honig is a tireless advocate for his wines and travels far and wide to get the word out about them and support sales and distribution.  Their Sauvignon Blanc can be found in many restaurants, wine stores and supermarkets across the United States, a quality wine at a very affordable price.

At Honig we started with the Sauvignon Blanc and proceeded to a couple of reds and ended with one of our all-time favorite dessert wines.

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A well-rounded tasting

After the Sauvignon Blanc we tasted two Honig Cabernet Sauvignon offerings:  their 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet and their 2012 Vyborny Vineyard Cab.  If you look closely at the tasting menu above you can see that the first Cab is half the price of the second.  This should not, however, lead anyone to conclude that the Honig Napa Valley Cab is not worthy of attention or tasting.  On the contrary, the 2014 offering was a nice example of Napa Cabernet with balance and texture.  The 2012 Vyborny Vineyard offering also lived up to expectations and a notch or two above the 2014 Napa Cab due to its silky texture and greater richness on the palate.

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Our friend Kelly seems to approve of the wines

Like all previous Honig tastings, our most recent ended with the 2015 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc.  This wine lives up to the meaning of “Honig” – honey.

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Look closely, you can see honey in this glass

Many dessert wines end up being overly sweet and simply taste like syrup.  Don’t get us wrong, the Honig Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc is certainly sweet – that’s why we think of it as honey.  Complementing the sweet, though, are multiple layers of flavor that you will get with each sip.  This is a wine that either one of us could easily consume in a single sitting …and regret it quickly, given the high sugar content (over 25%).

Over three years had passed since our first visit to Honig and our understanding of wines and our palates have developed considerably.  Nevertheless, we enjoyed Honig as much on this most recent visit as the first time due in large part to the wine but also to the service and culture at the winery:  laid-back, friendly, open and genuinely interested in their guests.  As he has on previous visits, Michael Honig came by the table for a brief chat and then corralled his two youngest kids and wrangled them towards their house.  The Honigs live on the estate right behind the winery, which we imagine contributes to their desire to create a hospitable and harmonious vibe for their guests.

As summer approaches and the flood of friends and family to Napa Valley intensifies, we anticipate more trips to Honig this year.

John & Irene Ingersoll

May 1, 2017

Puncutation Matters in Napa Valley

Puncutation Matters in Napa Valley

Visitors to Paradise (aka Napa Valley) expect to immerse themselves in the beauty of nature, the decadence of fine cuisine, and the poetry of the region’s wines.  Left behind are the pressures and rules of “real life,” right?  Surely something as mundane and constricting as grammar doesn’t matter in this world-famous wine region.  Well, this is what we thought until this past weekend when we were arranging to meet an old friend at a winery in the highly regarded Stags Leap District.  The night before our visit we decided it would be nice to send her a note with the name and location of the winery.  Each of us, though, came up with a different address – they were a couple of miles apart. “You looked up Stags Leap, right,” she asked.  “Yes, he replied.”  We shared our phones with each other and one of us said:  “Your winery is s-apostrophe,” while the other said “Your winery is apostrophe-s.”  Huh?  There are two wineries in the Stags (no apostrophe) Leap District that have “Stags Leap” in their name.  One of them is Stag’s Leap, the other is Stags’ Leap.  Seriously.  This really happened.

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Apostrophes Matter

It turns out that the place we were going was apostrophe-s (Stag’s Leap), and once we cleared up this confusion we sent confirming details to our friend. What difference does it make which side of the “s” the apostrophe sits?  A lot!  Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars is one of the wineries that put Napa Valley on the map as a legitimate global region.  We have written before about the 1976 Judgement of Paris, a tasting where Napa red and white wines competed against some of the most famous and expensive French wines.  (For a refresher on the man who made the Chardonnay that bested the French, read this post:  A Pair of Aces for Father’s Day.)  On that particular day in Paris in 1976, Stag’s Leap 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon was judged the best, beating out not only five other California entrants but also scoring higher than the royalty of Bordeaux:  Haut-Brion, Mouton-Rothschild, Montrose, and Leoville Las Cases.  This is not to say that the s-apostrophe winery (Stags’ Leap) is bad, as they do make quality wines; but we wanted to take our friend and her discriminating palate to one of Napa’s historical spots.

Thankfully, Stag’s Leap did not disappoint on any measure – location and ambience, service, or the wine.  We were fortunate to be seated outside on the patio just a few feet away from the vineyards.  The winery is nestled in what is often called a “valley within a valley.”

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Gorgeous location – Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

The Stag’s Leap property is surrounded immediately by vineyards and farther out by mountains and the Napa River.  From our table we overlooked Stag’s Leap’s two estate vineyards – Fay Vineyard and SLD Vineyard.

After settling in we took a look at the tasting menu and opted for the Estate Collection Tasting Flight.  This tasting is comprised 100% of wines made from grapes grown on Stag’s Leap property and offered both white and red options.

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Cab, Cab and more Cab!

As most tastings do, our Stag’s Leap adventure started with a white wine: the 2014 Arcadia Chardonnay.  This wine is sourced from the Arcadia Vineyard, a large property on Napa Valley’s Mount George.  This wine was not a “California chardonnay”:  creamy, almost buttery texture with hints of oak and low acidity; instead, what we tasted was a wine resembling a more traditional French approach:  higher acidity and more balance.  We were surprised to find out that the Stag’s Leap Chardonnay had been aged in French oak and had also undergone malolactic (secondary) fermentation, which often result in the more buttery wine. However, the use of only 20% new oak likely accounts for the balanced outcome.

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A lovely chardonnay

Moving on to the reds, we did not have to make any tough choices – there were three Cabernet Sauvignon offerings to try.  We started with the 2011 Fay Cabernet Sauvignon and proceeded to try the 2011 S.L.D. Cab and then the 2010 Cask 23 Cabernet.  All three wines were excellent representations of Cab from the Stags Leap District but also different as a result of their different soil types and winemaking approaches.  In our group of five there were different opinions as to which of the Cabernet offerings was the best but we all agreed that all three are among the best we have tasted in Napa Valley.  None of the three would be considered a classic Napa Valley “fruit bomb” Cabernet, even though they each had strong presence of dark fruits in the aroma and on the palate.  However, due to the unique soil of the Stags Leap District, each of the red wines had elements of earthiness and minerality that provided structure and depth to the wines.  One of the Cabs – the S.L.D. – was the wine that won in Paris in 1976 and it was easy to see why.  The 2010 Cask 23 Cab – a blend of the best Cab grapes from each of the vineyards – was by far the most sophisticated, intense and powerful of the Cabs, at least to our taste.   We went to another winery later that day and we should have reversed the order and started at the other winery, which also produced a Cabernet Sauvignon.  This other winery’s Cab offering was solid, perfectly drinkable, but, alas, not at the level of the Stag’s Leap Cabs (any of them).

We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Stag’s Leap and cannot review our experience without mentioning the great service.  Our host was attentive, knowledgeable and, in the end, very generous.  When he overheard us talking about where we live in Napa, he realized we were neighbors and comped one of our tastings even though it was  a weekend.  Normally Napa Valley residents can get a complimentary tasting but only during the week; we appreciated the courtesy and have already planned a return visit.

John & Irene Ingersoll

April 27, 2017

The fruits – or grapes – of war.  

The fruits – or grapes – of war.  

Last night we opened a bottle of 2015 De La Guerra Viognier from Napa Valley’s Carneros region.  Translated literally, the words “de la Guerra” in Spanish mean “of the war” or “from the war.”  In this case, however, De La Guerra refers not to any battle or war but instead is the name of one of the oldest winemaking families in California.  De La Guerra is a second wine label of the esteemed HdV Winery in Napa.  In our very first post on this blog, we wrote about HdV, a partnership between the Hyde family in California and the famous de Villaine family in France.  Larry Hyde, grower of some of Carneros’ best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, is a De La Guerra descendant .

De La Guerra 2014 Viognier

Like all of the HdV and De La Guerra wines, the Viognier was sophisticated, balanced and luscious. For those that have not experienced this varietal – Viognier is a French grape from the Rhine region of France.  Typically, it has strong citrus and floral aromatics and flavor with a full-bodied finish.  Many American expressions of Viognier end up very smooth and creamy as a result of ripe fruit, secondary (malolactic) fermentation, and the use of new oak.

Lovely golden color and silky texture.

Fortunately, the De La Guerra Viognier was made in the more traditional French style and did not suffer from the overdone, heavy-handed style that often results in a sweet, almost syrupy wine.  On the nose, the Viognier had strong citrus elements – lemon and tangerine – as well as a strong floral component with hints of rose and honeysuckle.  On the palate, the wine was crisp, pleasantly acidic, with clear minerality mingling with the fruit flavors.  The Viognier went nicely with dinner but could also be enjoyed by itself (by which we mean with a good book and a patio chair outside).

We have many bottles of the HdV brand at home but this was our only bottle of any variety from the De La Guerra label; there is also a Chardonnay listed on the website that we are planning to order.  For more information on HdV or De La Guerra wines, visit the HdV website:  HdV Wines.

For the HdV story and an introduction to the team, click here:  The HdV Story and Team.

John & Irene Ingersoll

April 17, 2017

A Wine Rating System That Makes Sense To Us

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A wine rating legend – Robert Parker

We recently visited VGS Chateau Potelle in Napa Valley’s quaint town of Saint Helena and encountered a wine rating scale that we think has some appeal:  VGS.  Even casual wine buyers are familiar with the more common 100-point wine rating scale that Robert Parker first introduced in the 1980’s in The Wine Advocate.  Since Parker introduced this scale, it has been adopted by virtually all wine publications.  This rating scale has some appeal, especially in the United States where most schools and universities grade on a scale of 0 to 100.  A zero equates to total failure and a 100 suggests perfection.

While we find the 100 point scale to be useful, the “VGS” designation that we learned about at Chateau Potelle is one that we think could have broad appeal to the full gamut of wine consumers – snobs and novices alike.  When we sat down last week at VGS Chateau Potelle for our tasting with Shelby, we figured “VGS” stood for the name of a corporate parent or ownership group.  In our defense, it was our first visit to the winery and we knew little about them other than we had tasted a luscious bottle of their 1996 Zinfandel at Alice Water’s famous Chez Panisse in Berkeley the week before.  “So,” we asked, “who or what is ‘VGS’?”  “That stands for ‘very good shit,’ she explained.  At first we thought this was a gag but it turns out that the letters do in fact stand for those descriptive words.  As the story goes, some visitors to the winery many years ago described the Chateau Potelle wines as “very good shit” to the winemaker, Jean-Noel Fourmeaux. Apparently, he was not offended by this designation and latched onto the letters “VGS.”  Over the years, VGS has become a more prominent feature in the winery’s branding to the point where, today, both the tasting room and the bottles are branded “VGS Chateau Potelle.”

Without reservation, we can say that the 1996 Zinfandel that we had at Chez Panisse was VGS. We decided to taste the current Chateau Potelle Vintages to see how they ranked on the scale.

We sat down for a paired tasting – four wines overall with a small bite to complement the wine. We started with the 2014 Chardonnay, which was paired with Vichyssoise with Dungeness crab.  We have to say, the bites were delicious, not surprising when we found out that they are provided by one of Napa’s highest-rated restaurants, Michelin-starred La Toque.  Given that Chateau Potelle’s winemaker is from France, we were expecting more of a French-style Chardonnay – crisp, bone dry, no oak, and very light in appearance.  Instead, the Chardonnay turned out to be very yellow, similar to the Chardonnays made in Napa in the “California style.”  However, the flavor was not buttery like a typical California Chard – it was a mix of both styles both in terms of color, aroma and flavor.  Overall, a nice wine.

Our second wine was the 2014 Zinfandel – nearly 20 years younger than the wine we enjoyed the previous weekend – paired with bacon rillette.  We found the 2014 Zin to be a very nice wine – balanced fruit, spice, smooth tannins and a nice silky texture.  It was difficult not to compare it to the 1996, and in that comparison it could not hold up as the older wine had such intriguing texture and flavor.

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Our third wine was the 2014 Potelle Two – a quasi-Bordeaux blend; we say “quasi” because in addition to the traditional Bordeaux blend varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, the winemaker has blended Syrah and Zinfandel.  This wine was very balanced and drinkable for such a young red wine and paired nicely with a Spanish Idiazabal cheese.

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The fourth and final wine was Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa’s Mount Veeder appellation, paired with Niman Ranch beef.  With just over 75% of its grapes coming from Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine is labelled a Cab but could easily be considered a proprietary blend as it includes Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cab Franc and Malbec. The wine was very balanced but more powerful than the Potelle Two, with a stronger and longer finish and stronger tannins.  Also, there were more layers of flavor in the Cab – something that can be cellared and enjoyed for years to come.

We enjoyed the wines and had the good fortune to be attended by Shelby who not only shared her deep knowledge of the wines with us but also engaged us in a lively conversation about her Armenian family and the current state of U.S. politics.  We also enjoyed the tasting room which is cozy and arranged in away that allows groups to enjoy sit-down tastings with a fair amount of privacy and personal attention.  There is also a lovely outdoor area that felt very much like a French garden that we would have loved to enjoy had it not been raining for what felt like the 100th consecutive day in 2017.  When we get back to Chateau Potelle to try some more VGS, we will choose a sunny day and have our tasting outside.

We’re not sure a new rating scale for wine will catch on, but we would like to propose three levels for wine quality:
“S” – for truly shit wine, the one that you regift as soon as you get it, or use it for cooking.  Not even good enough to be a “Tuesday night wine.”

“GS” – for wines that are good shit; not very good, just good.  Definitely worthy of Tuesday night but also good enough to take to a restaurant for date night.

“VGS” – for the very good shit wines that you drink for special occasions and hide from  friends or family that can’t tell the different between S, GS, or VGS.

What do you think – can this rating scale catch on?

John & Irene Ingersoll

February 10, 2017

Wine Pairs With Football in Napa

The Oakland Raiders are one of America’s most successful franchises:  owners of three National Football league championships and a team that has placed twelve players, one coach and their owner into the NFL Hall of Fame.  Over the course of their history, the Raiders have developed the reputation as one of the fiercest teams in the country.  So what comes to mind when we think of the Raiders?

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For many of us, the Raiders’ logo is the first thing that comes to mind:  the pirate or “raider” with the eye patch wearing a football helmet dressed in the team’s sliver and black colors.  For others, what comes to mind is an image of the players themselves, either as a unit …

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Raider players at practice

…or perhaps a favorite individual player.

As much as the players are celebrities, the Raider fans have also become notorious for their intense love for their team, their elaborate costumes, and the inhospitable nature of the Raiders’ home stadium, the Oakland Coliseum.

These are the images and ideas that we conjure up when we hear the words “Oakland Raiders.”  What we do not conjure up are …Cabernet Sauvignon, fine wine, Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley.  Nevertheless, American football and the Oakland Raiders do in fact have a strong connection to Napa Valley, wine and great Cabernet Sauvignon.  This past week at a local Italian restaurant (thanks, Pasta Prego!) we ordered wine from a label that was new to us: Twenty Four Wines.  Our waitress explained that “Twenty Four” was a reference to the uniform number worn by previous NFL football player Charles Woodson, a member of the Oakland Raiders (retired in 2016).

The wine had a lovely aroma of dark fruits (blackberry, blueberry) as well as some spice and a hint of oak.  Based on the bold aroma, we were expecting a very fruit-forward, high-alcohol wine that jumped out of the glass. Instead, our first couple of sips revealed a very restrained wine; it almost seemed like it was holding itself back.  Initially, the fruit was muted by the acidity and dryness of the wine and there was not much to the finish.  We decided to let it open up more and a few minutes later the fruit flavors become more prominent as did the tannins, leading to a much longer finish and more satisfying balance of fruit and acidity.

You might wonder how Charles Woodson went from this …

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Two future Hall of Famers meeting

…to this:

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Charles Woodson courtesy of charleswoodsonwines.com

Charles Woodson was drafted by the Raiders in 1998 and attended his first training camp that year in the city of Napa, where we live.  Through his annual visits to training camp and exposure to the Napa Valley, Woodson became more and more interested in wine and became friends with some knowledgeable wine people along the way.  After leasing a property in Calistoga in 2001, he planted vines and made his first wine in 2005, a Cabernet Sauvignon. Today, he bottles Cab as well as Sauvignon Blanc, which we also had a chance to taste at Pasta Prego.  We were impressed with the aroma and flavor of the Sav Blanc as well – a nice balance of fruit and acidity.

Like many of our favorite wineries in Napa Valley, Twenty Four Wines is still a small production operation compared to the “big fish” in the Valley.  But with the quality of the wines, the energy of its owner, and the interesting story behind the brand, we anticipate that growth is in their future.  Next time you’re going to a Raider game, forget about that flask of whiskey, case of beer, or bottles of tequila.  Get yourself a bottle (or six) of Twenty Four Wines and tailgate like a Hall of Famer.  And don’t forget your wine glasses, good Cab does not taste good in a plastic cup.

You can find Charles Woodson’s wines here:  http://www.charleswoodsonwines.com/

John & Irene Ingersoll

January 27, 2017

Old-fashioned new wine co-op in Napa

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When winemakers used to work together

Today we made our third visit to Holman Cellars, a winery in Napa where some really interesting wines are being made.  What keeps drawing us back is the unique setup at Holman Cellars, where there are multiple winemakers and wine labels working out of the same space, sharing the same crush pad, and learning from each other’s successes (and occasional mistakes).  This may not sound so unusual but today’s Napa Valley is dominated by huge estate vineyards and high-volume wineries producing tens of thousands – or in some instances, hundreds of thousands – of cases annually.  Many wineries are owned or being acquired by international mega-corporations, including some of the most well-known family wineries in the Valley.  Without question, the wine industry has turned into a very competitive business.

It bears remembering, however, that before Napa Valley was one of the worlds’s most respected wine regions, wineries were still struggling to find the right balance of viticulture and enology.  The wineries of mid-20th Century Napa Valley – Mondavi, Beringer, Freemark Abbey, Inglenook – realized that they could not succeed individually, but rather would need to succeed together.  In 1944, seven vintners formed the Napa Valley Vintners, which today boasts over 500 members.  There are many stories of the early “pioneer” winemakers helping each other out with tools or equipment, lessons learned and shared successes.

This “pioneer” spirit is alive and well at Holman Cellars, which is also home to Newberry Wines and Cadle Family Wines.  This afternoon we had the pleasure of being hosted by Brian Newberry, the man behind the Newberry label.

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Brian Newberry telling us his story

Brian makes wine using the same small crush pad as Jason Holman and Kevin Cadle and they also share barrels and other equipment.

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Barrel room tasting spot at Holman Cellars

Compared to many other wineries, their space is small but they have a cozy tasting room as well as a large table for tasting inside the barrel room itself.  We tasted the white wines in the tasting room and moved into the barrel room to taste the reds.

One of the great things about wine tasting at a cooperative location like Holman is that you get to try wines from multiple labels.  Each time we’ve been to Holman, we’ve seen each of the winemakers pour not only their own wines but also the wines from the co-op partners.  This afternoon we had the chance to taste not just Brian’s Newberry label but also a couple of Kevin’s Cadle Family wines as well as a wine from Jason Holman’s Uncharted label.

Our first wine was a 2015 Newberry Chenin Blanc, a real treat for us as there are very few wineries in Napa that still make wine made from this grape variety.

In the 1980’s there were still over 2,000 acres planted to Chenin Blanc, compared to less than 100 acres based on a recent survey.  Vineyard owners have systematically torn out Chenin Blanc and replaced the acreage with vines that make more economic sense:  Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.  Brian Newberry was able to find a unique vineyard in Yolo County, tucked up against the Sacramento River, and works closely with the vineyard owner to grow and deliver the best grapes for his Newberry Chenin Blanc.  We really enjoyed the wine which was crisp, bone-dry (no residual sugar), and aged in a combination of stainless steel and neutral French oak.  In other words, “our type of white wine”:  balanced with strong acidity and minerality but with plenty of fruit flavor on the finish.

Our second white wine was from Kevin’s label – 2015 Cadle Family Gewürztraminer.  Like the Newberry white, the Cadle Gewurtz was crisp and dry but also a nice balance of acidity/minerality and fruit flavor.

Too often, Gewürztraminer can be overly sweet and syrupy, drinking more like a dessert wine than something you want to consume on its own or with appetizers or fish.  Cadle’s version, however, was made the way we enjoy it and could definitely be enjoyed with or without food (we’re imagining a good book and a fire).

After tasting these two whites, we moved to the wooden table inside the barrel room to taste three red wines – one each from the Newberry, Cadle and Holman labels.  Our first red wine was a 2015 Cadle Family Sangiovese, a full-bodied wine with flavors of black fruit, spices and medium tannins on the finish.

Kevin sources the Sangiovese grapes from Knights Valley in Sonoma County, a location that has elevations ranging from 500 to over 1,000 feet.  We have had Sangiovese wine from a few wineries in Napa Valley, one in Oregon, and several in Italy and we would stack the Cadle offering up against any of them.

The second red wine offering was Newberry 2014 Cabernet Franc, a varietal that more often is used for blending with other wines, typically Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.

Not so many wineries make a single-varietal Cabernet Franc, although several in Napa Valley now do.  The Newberry Cab Franc was simply delicious with a velvety mouthfeel and plenty of acidity and spice to complement the cranberry and cherry flavors.

Brian sources his Cab Franc fruit from Rutherford, one of the best sources in all of Napa Valley for Bordeaux-type varietals.  The vineyards that he pulls his fruit from are at a high elevation, around 600 feet above sea level.  We were intrigued by the color of the Cab Franc – ruby and garnet but much lighter than we often see with wines made exclusively from this varietal.  Brian’s Cab Franc was translucent and could almost have passed for a dark Pinot Noir.  Newberry refuses to add color as other wineries admit to doing.

Our final red wine was a proprietary red blend from Jason Holman’s Uncharted label.

The 2012 Uncharted red blend was also delicious but different from many of the other red blends that we have tasted in Napa Valley.  Jason sources his fruit from Coombsville, a well-known AVA in Napa Valley, but his wine is more complex than many other wineries’ proprietary red blends.  It is typical of Napa red blends to be super high in alcohol and very fruit-forward – a style that we enjoy drinking from high-quality producers, by the way. However, Jason’s Uncharted Proprietor’s Blend balances the flavors of dark fruit with acidity and minerality and strong tannins on the finish.

Having tasted wines from three winemakers in the Holman cooperative, it is clear that a singular approach to making wines binds them together:  buying high-quality fruit and making wines that are clean, crisp and true to the terroir where the grapes were grown.  Another thing that binds these winemakers together is their interest in exploring varietals that are not necessarily “typical” of Northern California wine regions.  Brian, Kevin, and Jason are making a wide range of different wines and willing to source them from different vineyards both in Napa Valley and elsewhere.  As we were leaving the wine tasting today, Brian showed us a barrel that Jason Holman is using to age a wine blend that, if we heard him correctly, holds 43 separate grape varietals!  What emerges from this barrel may be a fantastic and delicious blend … or it may be a horrible disaster.  Either way, the guys are going to enjoy the process of having experimented with something new – the kind of pioneer spirit that marked the early days of Napa Valley and is starting to show itself again in some great micro-wineries across the Valley.

John & Irene Ingersoll

December 30, 2016

Que Sirah Sirah

Most wine regions are known for something specific.  Burgundy is best-known for Chablis (Chardonnay) and Pinot Noir, Bordeaux for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  The Rioja wine region in Spain is best-known for Tempranillo.  In Italy’s Tuscany region, Sangiovese is king.  If there is a grape that defines Napa Valley, it would be Cabernet Sauvignon, although wine makers here have planted dozens of varietals.  “Napa Cab” is a real “thing” and at most wineries in the Valley the signature wine is Cabernet Sauvignon.

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Cab is King in Napa Valley

In a Valley with more than 450 wineries, though, there is something for everyone, including quite a few small-production wineries that specialize in varietals other than Cab.  We started this blog because we wanted to share these “hidden gems” with our followers.  This past weekend we visited another gem, one that our friends Inna and Igor have been telling us about since we met them:  Vincent Arroyo Winery located  a bit off the beaten track just north of Calistoga .

Since Inna and Igor have really good taste, we expected the Vincent Arroyo wines to be very good, which they were.  During our visit we realized that we had been missing out on a real cult winery with a strong, loyal following. Unlike many of the Napa Valley trend-followers, Vincent Arroyo is not a “Cab house,” as some of the big Cabernet Sauvignon producers like to call themselves. Instead, Vincent Arroyo is a “Petite Sirah house” – if there is even such a thing!   Petite Sirah is their “signature” wine and Vincent Arroyo produces multiple Petite Sirah wines from different estate vineyards.  We were fortunate to taste three:  the Rattlesnake Acres, made from grapes grown in the vineyards directly in front of the winery building; Greenwood Ranch, another vineyard-designated Petite Sirah from grapes grown behind the winery; and the standard Petite Sirah that is a blend of several estate blocks.  Although there are other wineries in Napa Valley that grow Petite Sirah, there are not many that feature the wine as their signature wine, or that have so many separate offerings to choose from.  We really enjoyed the Petite Sirah and were surprised how different the three were from each other.  There is also a Petite Sirah port that we understand sells out very quickly.

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Yes, please

Because overall production is relatively low (about 8,000 cases annually), demand for Vincent Arroyo’s wines often exceeds supply.  Like other precious commodities, the Vincent Arroyo wines are sold as futures – they can be reserved  by members before they are released or even bottled.  The Vincent Arroyo concept of “membership” is very different from that of almost all other Napa Valley wineries. Typically, membership in a wine club requires a commitment to a specific number of bottles per year and can easily exceed $1,000 annually for the more expensive wines.

At Vincent Arroyo, anyone that has purchased wine is entitled to be a Standing Orders member.  Let’s say we purchased two bottles of Tempranillo and we wanted to make sure that we were able to taste the next year’s vintage (or another varietal).  We would reserve the wine that we wanted (as a “future”), essentially making up our own allocation rather than the winery mandating the “member” allocation.  We do not know any other wineries that operate this way but we love the control that it gives to us as wine buyers.

When we pulled up to the winery the first thing we noticed was the winery building, a structure that resembled a farmhouse.  It was a stormy day in Napa Valley when we visited but this did not daunt us and we made the most of our visit.

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Vincent Arroyo Tasting Room

Inside, the tasting room had several tables and stations set up for tasting.  Even though the weather was foul, the tasting room was full when we arrived and throughout our visit new tasters continued to stream in until closing time.  At Vincent Arroyo appointments are required but tastings are free for 4 or fewer people.  Yes, we said free.  We are not sure how many other wineries in Napa Valley still offer free tastings, but if we were counting we would only know of one (this one).

Vincent Arroyo grows 9-10 different varietals and makes 15 or 16 different wines from them.

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Enjoying the wines with our guide

In addition to the Petite Sirah, we also tasted Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet.  Typical of the wines that we prefer, all of the Vincent Arroyo wines were nicely balanced and structured – certainly not overly-oaked or manipulated wines.

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Many wines!

We were even more drawn to the Vincent Arroyo story when we heard that Mr. Arroyo, like one of the writers of this blog, is the son of a parent from Spain (in his case his father).  We have been surprised by the number of wineries run by immigrants from Spain as well as the influx of Spanish wineries in Northern California wine country (Marimar in Sonoma, Artesa and Gloria Ferrer in Carneros).  When we heard the rest of his story we were hooked.  Vincent Arroyo was working as a mechanical engineer in the 1970’s when a friend brought to his attention an advertisement for land for sale in Calistoga.  At that time, Napa Valley did not have the phenomenal global presence that it has today.  After driving up from the South Bay to check out the property, Arroyo returned to work, resigned his job, and decided to purchase the 22-acre parcel.  Prune orchards have become vineyards and the rest, as they say, is history.

Since our friends our “members” of Vincent Arroyo, we are hoping that we will be invited to join them soon for another tasting or, even better, a winery party.  We hear that their events are spectacular and frequently have a giant paella as a featured attraction.  We are suckers for paella and great wine!

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You had me at paella

John & Irene Ingersoll

December 13, 2016

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A library of labels
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Wisdom
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Glasses can help you see better

 

 

Shouldn’t All Wine Be Natural?

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Ingredients: Organic Grapes

Almost ten years ago we visited a prominent winery in Northern California to taste some of their wines.  We were motivated to visit by the fact that one of the world’s top-rated restaurants (Napa Valley’s The French Laundry) had recently added one of their wines to its impressive wine menu.  During the course of our tasting, we asked about their wine-making practices and we learned that they were organic.  As it turned out, they were certified organic, which means that they follow certain practices but also comply with a set of complex federal requirements.  We assumed that their organic status was something that they would promote on their labels and in their advertising.  We were wrong.  Why wouldn’t a winery promote its natural, healthy approach to growing grapes and making wine?  “Consumers equate `organic’ as sub par,” we were told.

As Loretta Lynn sang in the 1970’s, “We’ve come a long way baby.”  Today, consumers are flocking to natural, organic and biodynamic wines made without artificial pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, fertilizers and other additives.  This upcoming weekend, there is a two-day wine fair in San Francisco celebrating and showcasing dozens of California’s natural wine makers. This event, Califermentation, will be held at TerroirSF, a wine bar in the City that caters to organic and natural wines.  From 12-4 pm both Saturday and Sunday, there will be at least 20 wineries a day pouring wine for ticket holders.  In addition, there will be seminars both days on topics of interest both to wine makers as well as wine consumers.  Saturday’s seminar topic relates to the use of sulfur dioxide (a preservative) in wines.  Sunday’s seminar topic is on the challenge of sourcing organic grapes in California.  One of the speakers for this session, Tracey Brandt, is a co-founder and co-owner at one of our personal favorite natural wineries, Donkey & Goat in Berkeley, California.

Tickets for Saturday only are $45.00 and a weekend pass is $80.00, which seems like a real bargain compared to other wine festivals that we have attended in the Bay Area.  We are looking forward to trying out some new wines and tasting some wines we have already tried.  For those that want to learn more about Califermentation, we have attached the event flyer below. To buy tickets, click on the link below and find the “Buy Tickets” button.  We hope to see you there!

Brochure: califermentation

Website: https://califermentation.com/