Tag: Syrah

This shack sells fantastic grape juice

This shack sells fantastic grape juice


Westside Road winds and meanders its way through Sonoma County’s wine region, on some stretches moving East-West and along others North-South.  In all of its directions and gyrations, Westside Road takes its travelers past some of the best wineries in Sonoma’s impressive wine region. The Westside Wine Trail, as it’s also known, starts in the town of Healdsburg and ends in a forest-like setting near Guerneville.  One of our favorite wineries on this route is Porter Creek Vineyards, an easy place to miss if you happen to turn your head at the wrong moment …or blink.  Unlike many wineries in the area, Porter Creek does not have a huge tasting room building, visitor center, deli, or cafe.  They have a small shack.  It is a damn fine shack, we have to say, but still a shack.

The drive from Westside Road to the shack is along an unpaved dirt road.  After parking, this is the first thing we saw on our way to the shack.

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A winery committed to doing things the right way
This is the second thing that we saw.

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The chickens would be a greater threat to our dogs
No big fancy tasting room or winery property.  No paved road.  Organic farm with free-range chickens.  Hopefully you’re starting to get an important point about Porter Creek: they have a strong commitment to sustainable farming.  This commitment is not a marketing ploy but rather a long-standing one held by this family-owned winery since it purchased the land in 1977.  George Davis, the patriarch of Porter Creek Vineyards, combined his commitment to sustainabilty with a strong desire to remain true to the grape varietals planted in the vineyards.  His son Alex Davis, the current winemaker, continues his father’s commitments and in one important area – sustainable certification – is raising the bar even higher.  Porter Creek’s Aurora-certified vineyards are being transitioned to Demeter biodynamic certification.  For farming and/or sustainability geeks, here’s what that means:  Organic vs. Biodynamic

If you don’t care how your wine is made, that’s okay too.  We don’t drink Porter Creek – and it’s not on the menu at 3-Michelin star The French Laundry – just because it is organic or biodynamic.  Porter Creek makes fantastic wines that happen to be certified organic and, soon, certified biodynamic.

When we finally entered the shack there were only two others tasting wine, a rare treat as we are usually elbow-to-elbow with fellow tasters when we go to Porter Creek. But it was early in the day and during the week so we beat the weekend crowds.  Our cousins from Spain joined us for the tasting and we were excited to hear their reactions to our California wines.  We were met by Steve who took us through one of the most entertaining and comprehensive tastings we have experienced in a very long time.

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These were just some of the wines we enjoyed
Porter Creek has a fantastic selection of both white and red wines, including a splendid Rosè made from Zinfandel grapes.  We tasted everything on the tasting menu and another three or four wines thatare not part of a typical tasting; we must have looked interested – or at least thirsty!

All of the Porter Creek wines share a similar approach to winemaking: let the wine reflect the varietal as well as the place and conditions in which the grape was grown.  Oak is used to enhance the flavor of the wine but not to manipulate the final product.

Our Spanish cousins were pleasantly surprised by the high quality of the wine as well as the tasting experience.  In their home country they tend to drink “local” wines and have never been exposed to Somoma County or Russian River fine wine.  The balance, sophistication and refinement of the Porter Creek wines were obvious to them and they were able to overcome their Spanish wine snobbiness.  They readily admitted that these wines were on par with the best wines they have tasted.

We have been to Porter Creek before and we will go again, hopefully soon.  In the meantime we bought quite a few bottles to replenish our cellar at home, and a few bottles made the long trip back to Madrid with the cousins.

John & Irene Ingersoll

August 10, 2017

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Got Melka?

Got Melka?

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Who needs milk when you can have Melka?

According to a famous 1990’s advertising campaign,”milk does a  body good.”  We subscribe to the philosophy that wine –  good wine – also does a body good.  We recently met Sylvie Laly, the wonderful Sales and Wine Director for Napa Valley winery Melka Wines, who was gracious enough to share some of their wines with us.  After tasting one of their white wines and four reds, we can say that “Melka does a body good” as well.

We first heard about Melka wines through a recommendation from a sommelier at one of our favorite Napa Valley restaurants (Torc in downtown Napa) and enjoyed a bottle or two there.  We also were pleased to learn that some of their wines can be purchased at select Total Wine & More stores (with one conveniently located just 100 yards from work).

In total, Sylvie shared five wines with us, starting with the 2014 CJ Cabernet Sauvignon, named after Philippe and Cherie Melka’s children, Chloe and Jeremy.

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When in Napa …you have to make a great Cab

The CJ Cabernet is the most mass-produced of the Melka wines – if 1,800 cases counts as “mass production.”  This wine is 76% Cab with Petit Verdot, Cab Franc and Merlot blended in as well.  This wine is way too good to be anyone’s “Tuesday night wine” – it was luscious and bold, with a fine balance of fruit, acidity, minerality and tannins.  But at a $75.00 price point the wine is quite a value as it priced far less than Napa Cabs of similar quality that cost 50-100% more.

 

After finishing the CJ Cabernet, we moved on to the 2014 Melka Majestique – a 100% Syrah from the Paderewski vineyard in Paso Robles.

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Que Syrah, Syrah

Only the fourth vintage from this vineyard, the Majestique Syrah was one of the better California Syrahs that we have consumed:  complex with many layers, both in terms of aroma and flavor.  The Majestique had strong blackberry and blueberry notes but also was bursting with pepper and spice to deliver a balanced finish with surprisingly restrained tannins.  This is not a wine to sip while sitting by the pool or even reading a book on a rainy day – it will be better paired with food that can stand up to its bold flavor.

Sylvie followed the Syrah with the 2013 Proprietary Red from La Mekerra Vineyard in Knights Valley.

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An unusual Proprietary Blend that is unusually good!

Each year, winemaker Phillipe Melka strives to achieve as close to a 50/50 combination of Cabernet Franc and Merlot as he can.  For the 2013 vintage, the wine was 53% Cab Franc and 47% Merlot.  Like most of the Melka wines, the production quantities are small – only 400 total cases produced.  In our opinion, the Melka Proprietary Blend was their best wine – luscious, velvety, powerful, spicy with a strong tannic finish.  A more common blend in both Bordeaux and Napa would be Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, rather than Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Nevertheless, we think this wine holds its own against some of the most famous Napa Cabernet Sauvignon-anchored red blends at any price.

Our next wine was the 2013 Metisse from Napa Valley’s Jumping Goat Vineyard – a Cabernet Sauvignon with 13% Petit Verdot and 5% Merlot.

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When in Napa …you must make a Big Cab

This is Philippe Melka’s “Big Napa Cab” – 15.8% alcohol, aged 23 months in 80% new French oak barrels.  However, we don’t want to leave our readers with the impression that this wine was a typical Napa Cab “fruit bomb.”  For sure, the aroma and flavor of the wine are driven by dark fruit – blackberry and plum; but the wine is also complex, layered, sophisticated and nuanced and we imagine that over the course of an entire bottle the flavors would continue to unravel.

Too quickly we arrived at our last wine to taste – the 2014 Mekerra Proprietary White, Knights Valley, which is 97% Sauvignon Blanc and 3% Muscadelle.

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A lovely wine made from grapes grown at nearly 2,500 feet elevation

When Sylvie told us that the wine had undergone 100% secondary (malolactic) fermentation and had been in French oak barrels for nearly two years, we were not sure what to expect.  What we found in the glass, however, was a splendidly balanced white wine with none of the over-oaked aroma or flavor that you often find in California white wines.  There was plenty of fruit on the palate – citrus and melon – but the wine was also crisp and had enough acidity to provide a long finish.  We learned that the grapes for the Melka Sauvignon Blanc are sourced from Knights Valley, a vineyard location in Sonoma County with an elevation of over 2,300 feet.

If you pick up some Melka wine, make sure to take a close look at the label, each of which contains a close-up photo of the eyes of co-owner Philippe.  For each series of wine (Mekerra, Majestique, Metisse), his eyes change color.  For instance, on the label for the wines from Mekerra Vineyard, his eyes are blue (because Mekerra is the name of a river).

We look forward to tasting wines with Sylvie again when Melka’s winery opens.  Be sure to check out Melka wines at their website:  Melka Wines.

John & Irene Ingersoll

February 14, 2017

Pinot Noir? Pinot Nowhere.

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Troon Winery in southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley

As we rolled up to our final winery of our Oregon visit, we might be forgiven for expecting to enjoy one more glass of Pinot Noir before returning to California.  Certainly, the Willamette Valley, where we spent the beginning of our Oregon wine sojourn, is best known for Pinot Noir:  over 70% of vines are planted to Pinot Noir.  Our final winery, however, is a trend setter of sorts and is carving out an approach and style all its own.  Troon Vineyards is located in the Rogue Valley AVA about a 15 minute drive from the I-5 freeway that connects Canada to Mexico.

When we left the Willamette Valley that same morning, the temperature was in the 60’s and it was raining.  By the time we arrived at Troon, the sky was a perfect blue and the dashboard temperature monitor showed an outside temperature approaching 100°.  Nestled between the Cascade and Siskiyou mountain ranges, the Rogue Valley benefits from what is referred to as a “rain shadow effect”:  the mountains create a barrier against moisture that results in a very dry climate.   Situated near Medford and Grant’s Pass, Troon has a climate that more closely resembles California’s Central Valley that it does Willamette Valley or Coastal Oregon.

We arrived at Troon around 1:30 in the afternoon and were met by Craig Camp, one of our virtual friends from Twitter whom we have been following for the past several months.  Craig recently moved to Troon from Napa Valley where he was General Manager at Cornerstone Cellars. Our first pour of wine established the uniqueness of the varietals planted at Troon:  it was the only Vermentino that we consumed in Oregon.  In fact, it was our first Vermentino we have ever consumed anywhere. It turned out to be the perfect companion for walking around the large estate on a scorching day in early Fall.  Craig showed us the breadth of the vineyard plantings and the impressive number of varietals currently being farmed – upwards of twenty if we recall correctly.  Not a single planted vine was Pinot Noir.  Paraphrasing Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz”:  “Toto, we are not in Willamette Valley anymore.”

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Vermentino vines at Troon Vineyards
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Old-vine Zinfandel at Troon Vineyards

Many of Troon’s vines were planted nearly 45 years ago, qualifying them as true “old growth” vines. The winery’s founder, Dick Troon, has a pioneering spirit and a keen sense of curiosity.  He wanted to figure out what would thrive in the hotter southern part of Oregon and experimented with a number of different varietals, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon among them.  In addition, Troon planted Malbec, Tannat, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Montepulciano, Syrah, Carignane, Vermentino, Chardonnay, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc.  We may even be forgetting some varietals!

If you read any of Craig Camp’s articles, blog posts or Tweets, you’ll understand the philosophy that he and the entire team at Troon are attempting to fulfill:   follow sustainable farming practices, create a healthy environment for the vines to thrive, and do as little as possible to the grapes before they go into the bottle.  Consistent with this approach, Troon hand-picks its grapes, rather than harvest them by machine as some other wineries do.  More impressively, they crush their grapes the old-fashioned way, by stepping on the grapes and allowing the juice to come out without the aggressive pressure from machine crush.  During fermentation, Troon allows the wine to ferment in the grape’s native yeast rather than adding commercial yeasts into the mix; fermentation is done in mostly neutral oak to minimize the addition of aromas and flavors that result from the use of new oak.  Craig also mentioned that rather than blend some of their wines (where two different varietals are fermented separately and then blended together), Troon is doing co-fermentation: the grapes are harvested and then fermented together. Blending is the more common technique as grape varietals often require different practices during fermentation, which makes co-fermentation a bit trickier.  But co-fermentation also yields a different result than blending, since the individual varietals have been together since before crush.  The difference has been described as similar to making a stew:  if you cook all of the ingredients together from the beginning, the flavors come together to form something different than if the potatoes and meat were cooked separately and mixed together at the end.

During our visit to Troon, we tasted every single wine currently in release – all of the reds and the whites.  We really enjoyed the Vermentino on the white side, as well as the Rosé; of the reds, our favorites were the Zinfandel (both the blue label and the red label) and the Sangiovese.  We purchased several bottles and Craig sent us home with some complimentary bottles as well (which we appreciate but have not influenced this review).  Living in Napa Valley, we have grudgingly accepted the rising cost of wine in our area.  It is not uncommon for Cabernet Sauvignon to exceed $100 or even $150.  Chardonnay routinely costs $50-75.  Zinfandel and Merlot from Napa and Pinot Noir from Sonoma County regularly cost $60 or more.  Thus, when we saw the Troon prices we were very pleasantly surprised:  all of the white wines were under $30, with most closer to $20.  Their most expensive red wine is $50, but almost all of the rest of the reds are $35 or less.  The Troon “red label” Zinfandel, which we think is a very drinkable wine, sells for $20.  These price points are extremely competitive and we encourage fans of sustainable, quality wines to give Troon a try.

John & Irene Ingersoll

October 17, 2016

A Bovine and Wine Saturday at HdV

A Bovine and Wine Saturday at HdV

Bacon and wine.  Is there anything better?  This past weekend marked the release of the 2014 vintages at HdV Winery.  In addition to tasting some fantastic wines, the staff at HdV and their caterers laid out an impressive assortment of cheeses, charcuterie, and, yes, a whole pig.  If you have not added HdV to your “must visit” list yet, well, you must.  I realize there are somewhere between 400 and 500 wineries in the Napa Valley, and, no matter how hard you try, you can’t get to all of them.  This one, though, is truly one of the best.  For those not familiar with HdV, here’s the quick low-down:  the “H” stands for Hyde – Larry Hyde, to be exact.  Known as the “King of Carneros,” Larry Hyde farms over 140 acres of prime vines in the Carneros A.V.A., known for having a cooler and breezier climate best suited for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Larry’s passion is growing grapes, which he does for a couple of dozen Napa and Sonoma wineries, including Patz & Hall, Hobbs, Duckhorn, Mondavi, Ramey, and Kistler.  Not a bad pedigree, I’m sure you’ll agree.  The “dV” in “HdV” has an equal if not more weighty reputation – Aubert de Villaine is the co-owner of Domaine de la Romanee Conti in Burgundy, France.  In the world of wine, the Domaine is usually just referred to as “DRC.”  You could try your luck finding a bottle at auction, or next time you’re up in Napa, round out your dinner at the French Laundry with a bottle of the 2009 Crand Cru.  Bottle price?  $25,000.  I’m pretty sure they don’t sell it by the glass.  So, HdV – Hyde and de Villaine – a New World and Old World powerhouse that decided to combine local vineyard mastery with generations of European wine making prowess.  The result is wines that are not always as bold, fruity or alcohol-rich as wines in Napa can be.  In our view, though, the wines has a bit more finesse although still very rich in flavor and complexity.

If you missed the release party, don’t fret, you can visit  by appointment any day of the week. If you live in the area or have passed through Napa, you may have driven by without even knowing it.  The tasting room is located on Trancas Street in Napa, just west of Silverado Trail, with only a small sign at the road to mark the entrance.  When you arrive for your tasting, you’ll probably meet Eddie Townsend, one of the coolest and nicest people in the wine business.  A certified sommelier, he certainly has the wine cred but also knows how to bring it down to the level of those of us that are lower on the wine learning curve.  I can’t promise that you’ll find a whole pig there when you go; in fact, I’m pretty sure you will not.  But you will enjoy being in the barrel room, the time spent with Eddie, and getting to taste high quality wines that (mostly) sell for prices that are below the Napa average for wines of similar caliber.  We like all of the wines but, if forced to pick one to take with us to a desert island, would put the Syrah slightly above the rest.

About DRC

HdV Website