RAVENSWOOD WINERY “Blend Your Own” Wine Experience

“I always have a problem liking things I'm told I should like.”
― Karl Pilkington, An Idiot Abroad: The Travel Diaries of Karl Pilkington

It’s hard to understand what you like about a wine until you know what particular characteristics about that wine are pleasing to your palate.  Learning this is easier than you may think. And by learning this, you’ll be better able to communicate with retailers when asking for help selecting a wine.  You’ll be more relaxed ordering wine in restaurants and happier with the wines you bring home.  And no, it’s not necessary for you to become a wine “geek”, or study enology.

Of course, there are courses available, both formal and self-study. And then there are the “experiences.”  You can combine a fun experience with a vacation and come back with both wine and an appreciation of why it is that you like what you do. I enjoyed just such an experience at Ravenswood Winery in Sonoma last October.

Your host at the winery will start you with three wines. Ravenswood 
being famous for Zinfandel, that will be one. You’ll also have Carignan and a Petite Sirah.  Of course, you have the opportunity to taste these individually, but more important is learning what these varietals contribute to red blends (the fastest growing segment in America today).

Zinfandel, for example, contributes bright fruit with peppery spice and aromas of red fruit and clove. It’s often higher in alcohol than other varietals, which some people describe as creating a “hot” finish.  Carignan has saturated tannins and provides the acid that is necessary for a clean finish. Petite Sirah contributes body and structure, enhancing the mouthfeel. Since I’ve already said you needn’t become a wine “geek”, I’ve kept these descriptors simple.  Your host will provide you more information   

Starting out with a 20 milliter (ml) measuring tube, you’ll make your own blend.  A reference I was given as a starting point was 10 ml Zin, 5 ml Carignan and 5 ml Petite Sirah.  That works out to 50% Zin, and 25% each of Carignan and Petite Sirah: below the required 75% of any grape required to be sold as a varietal.  You can make several blends and taste each before arriving at your preferred red
Testing different blends before arriving
at my preferred combination
blend.  I increased and decreased percentages several times along the experience before I settled in at 13 parts Zin, 3 Carignan and 4 Petite Sirah.  My friend concocted even more potions before arriving at 3 ml of Zinfandel and 17 ml of Petite Sirah. She eliminated Carignan completely. We learned that she liked a wine I would consider “flabby” due to its “lack” of acid. Hers could legally be labeled Petite Sirah (and I have had several that I did enjoy). Mine would not be labeled as a varietal, but simply a red blend consisting of 65% Zinfandel, 15% Carignan and 20% Petite Sirah.

Remembering the words of Pliny the Elder spoken more than 2000 years ago (“The best wine is that which taste good to thine own palate”), there is no wrong blend. And whether you are a novice or advanced wine consumer, Ravenswood’s “Blend Your Own” experience will give you a memory and an understanding of wine and your likes that you will long enjoy.  To reinforce the experience, you’ll also leave with a corked and sealed 375ml bottle of your own blend.  And on a separate level, the whole experience is just good fun.

Your own bottle to
take home
The winery offers beautiful views and an opportunity to enjoy these views while tasting their acclaimed and awarded wines.  Although famous for Zinfandel, Ravenswood also produces Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, a red blend and Chardonnay in addition to those already mentioned.  Varietals are offered both as single vineyard and cuvees and along several price points. In fact, the winery’s first vintage of two single vineyard lots from 1976 were ranked #1 and #2 in 1979 at a San Francisco Tasting.  That’s a good history and things have only gotten better.

I haven’t read Pilkington’s book, and can’t claim to even heard of him. But I agree with the sentiment of his quote that it’s better liking what you like than being told what to like.  Ravenswood’s “Blend Your Own” experience gives you just that opportunity.

…………….. Jim
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18701 Gehricke Rd.
Sonoma, CA 95476


"His lips drink water, but his heart drinks wine."... E.E. Cummings

The Domaine came into existence through the merging of the Zind and Humbrecht families in 1959. But the Humbrecht family had been making wine since 1947 and growing grapes since 1620.  Domaine Zind Humbrecht is currently run by Oliver Humbrecht, a Master of Wine and proponent of biodynamic viticulture. The Domaine, in Alsace, is one of the most respected and maintains numerous vineyards sites of various soil composition and climate – from granite hills to limestone based soil and other types, and produces various labels of Gewurz, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Muscat. 

Gewurztraminer has early bud break so it is susceptible to frost damage. But it grows best in cooler climates.  It needs dry and warm summers but not too hot or the grapes won’t develop enough acidity to balance their naturally high sugar content and any resulting wine will be flabby. It does best in soil with mineral content and good drainage. I mention this not because I suspect you want to start planting these vines, but to help you appreciate the challenges of growing and making a good Gewurz.  Domaine Zind Humbrecht’s vineyard for this 2011 vintage was on the coolest part of the Heimbourg vineyard. Vines averaged thirty years. The plot faces west so as to get a little less sunshine and where the marl-limestone soils are deepest and offer excellent drainage and steep slope.

In the glass, this attention produces a wine of pale yellow, belaying the rich sweetness of the wine. Its nose offers floral notes and hints of kiwi, tropical fruit, rose water, lychee and passion fruit.  Although more delicate than other vintages, allow the aromatics to warm up slightly and you’ll be treated as the wine opens in the glass. Spicy-sweet flavors dominate in a blend of these scents along with pear, citrus and ripe apple. The mouthfeel tends toward lush.  

I remember when the trend with German Rieslings was sweet.  Now it’s Trocken (dry) and you can’t even find a Trockenbeerenauslese (which, despite inclusion of “trocken” in the word is very sweet).   In Alsace, things moved differently.  It used to be assumed that Alsace Rieslings and Gewürztraminers were dry, but since the 1990s, they have been trending sweet.  I’ve had dry Rieslings that were sweet and Gewurztraminers that were dry, others sweet and some in-between.  


 There is yet no government restrictions or requirements for this, but some wineries are promoting a system of understanding. Not all wineries, however participate.  Domaine Zind Humbrecht, for example, uses a scale called an “indice” and it runs from 1 (driest) to 5 (PERCEIVED sweetest).  I say “perceived” because sweetness is subjective and it is determined by the interaction of several factors such as, of course, the amount of sugar in the wine but also its percentage relationship to 

alcohol levels, acidity and tannins. 
Acids promote sourness and working with tannins, counters sweetness. It matters too whether a wine is sparkling or not.


Without going on and losing your interest, suffice to say a 5 on the Indice is a sweet wine. With Domaine Zind Humbrecht, you will see the code (Indice) listed in small print next to the alcohol level. Depending on the label, that may be on the right side or the left side.  And with some producers, it may be nowhere. Trimbach, another excellent producer, does not use the Indice code.  Personally, I find it helpful and wish it were universally adopted.

For one thing, although both dry and sweet Gewurztraminers have shared floral characteristics and flavors, some styles do better with particular foods. I prefer the dry style with spicy Asian or Indian foods. A slightly sweeter style might be better with an apple-cider infused cheese fondue or dim sum. A grilled cheese and slice apple sandwich on rye bread – what’s your preferred style?

This wine (Heimbourg) has 57 grams of residual sugar per liter.  Before you panic, remember that Chateau d’ Yquem may have between 100 and 150 g/L of residual sugar.  A yummy Tokaji may come in at 450 g/L and occasionally go as high as 900 g/L. What matters is balance; balance with acidity keeping the wine from becoming cloying and therefore better served atop pancakes.  Grapes like Chenin blanc and Riesling generally keep their acidity even at high ripeness levels which is why a Vouvray (Chenin blanc) might have a higher residual sugar content than your palette would believe.

Delicious with brined pork and cabbage spiced
with apple cider vinegar
Nonetheless, this single vineyard Gewurz from Domaine Zind-Humbrecht is sweet. It’s also delicious with all the flavors in harmonious balance. It’s also the last year that the domaine will use this vineyard because wood disease is decimating the vines. I’ve enjoyed numerous Gewurztraminers over many decades and from different producers and made in different styles. Generally, I prefer a drier style. But a sweeter style, harmonious and in balance, is a treat and should be experienced.  This wine, at $46 ARP, is higher priced than others of the same Domaine’s (dryer style for example. Not single vineyard).  But then again, look at the price of many late harvest varietals; look at Sauternes, Tokaji, or a Beerenauslese. (see http://www.winemizer.net/2013/02/beerenauslese-and-trockenbeerenauslese.html  for my blog on these wines).  “Ice Wines” (which for me offer nowhere near the complexity) often cost more.  Wine Spectator awarded this Gewurz 93 points.  It also has terrific aging potential.

Indice 1: Dry. Tasting as the “Classical Alsace style.”
Indice 2: Sweetness in not apparent on the palate.
Indice 3: Semi-sweet
Indice 4: Sweet. Corresponds to the term VT or Vendange Tardive used by other producers
Indice 5: High Sweetness but without botytis (noble rot).

Domaine Zind Humbrecht produces several styles of Gewurztraminer (see http://www.winemizer.net/2014/12/domaine-zind-humbrecht-gewurztraminer.html for my review of a dry style).

……………. Jim
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Alcohol:           13.8% (14% on label)
R/S:                  57 g/L
Total Acidity:   3.6 g/L H2S04
pH:                   3.6
Bottled:           Sept. 2012
Avg Age Vines 30 Yrs
Terroir:            Oligocene calcareous, facing west, steep slope
Optimum Drink Through:  2014-2029
Indice:             5 (sweet)


“Scores do not reveal the most important facts about a wine. The written commentary (tasting notes) that accompanies the ratings is a better source of information than any score regarding the wine’s style and personality, its quality level relative to its peers, and its relative value and aging potential.” – Robert M. Parker, Jr.

Mizer Rating 4 Glasses! 

Unless you’re a lobster fisherman off the coast of New England, I understand why you haven’t filled your wine racks with bottles of buttery Chardonnay.  While such wines go well with chunks of lobster dipped in butter, they’re a bit much for other things, and you’re probably not eating lobster every day.  And, as things go to the challenge and sometimes frustration of winemakers, pendulums swing and the publics’ preference for Chardonnay turned toward steel: fresh, fruity, crisp, and acidic. But in that effort to meet a changing public demand, I've been exposed to Chardonnays so acidic, they seemed to threaten the enamel of my teeth.

Stonestreet Wines' "Broken Road"
Can we, in the U.S. just settle in?  France did so years ago with Mersaults and White Burgundies, Mercury and Pouilly-Fuisse (all made from the Chardonnay grape).  But in the U.S. while we continue to label bottles with names of grapes (instead of regions) it’s sometimes anyone’s guess what style is inside the bottle. Then again, maybe that’s what makes for surprise and the joy of discovery.  I recently had such a joyous experience tasting again a bottle of Stonestreet’s “Broken Road” Chardonnay and it has put the fun back into wine tasting. 

I’m perfectly happy, mind you, enjoying a Chassagne or Puligny-Montrachet on a beautiful day sitting by the beach. It never disappoints. It’s always delicious. But it never surprises anymore. After so many decades of tasting wine, the pleasure remains but the thrill is gone.  In fact, while enjoying many wines for review this year, few –though all pleasurable – thrilled me.  “Broken Road” thrilled me to the extent that even remembering the tasting still excites.
This wine is unique enough to make descriptions almost nonsensical. To begin, the nose of this Alexander Valley AVA Chardonnay offers soft oak but also tangerine, honeysuckle and tropical fruit. And here’s where it get nonsensical:  it hints – doesn’t confuse with, but hints – just a soft whisper – at Gewürztraminer!  No, you won’t confuse the two, and trust me, the experience is delightful. The spice and tropical fruit aromas of this wine are a delicate ballet of balance. In music, these would be grace notes.  And these same suggestions carry into the taste, but again as a most delicate hint. There’s no confusing the two grapes. There’s subtle butterscotch and caramel from well-handled Chardonnay, but it’s the orange zest that excites and surprises the palette.  There’s also peach. But still, nothing overwhelms. The orange zest is evident, but plays as an important instrument along in a symphony of flavors. With all this going on, all this freshness, the wine’s mouth feel is creamy and evidences that balance is not just in the aromatics and flavors but also in the wine’s texture. Yes, this is a Chardonnay that is oaked but so deftly handled that an abundance of fruit is evident, not obstructed. To Stonestreet’s credit (and certainly the winemaker’s) the fruit, I think, is improved through its delicate malo-marriage in wood. The wine is clean, crisp and with fruit evident yet creamy and lush in the mouth.

A Natural With Any Seafood
I tasted this wine again on the second day. With the small remainder, another hint toward citrus, now Meyer lemon, but again – reserved, enticing, not clubbing the senses. It finished with a nice (take that to mean balanced) oaky, but zesty citrus/orange/Meyer lemon in a long, palette-cleansing finish.

It is not possible for retail outlets to carry every wine produced, so if your retailer does not stock or cannot order this wine, I’ve included information below for contacting / visiting the tasting room and winery.  If that serves as a reason for a vacation trip to Sonoma, all the better.  But if you prefer to take an armchair vacation and enjoy pairing wine with a meal at home, seafood is a natural. Mussels and shrimp?  Great. Any cheese based or béchamel enriched pasta dish would benefit from the wine’s cleansing acidity. Enjoy a glass of wine, look through your recipe collection and let your imagination begin.

Respecting what Robert Parker, Jr. said concerning written commentary, I’m sure my commentary is inadequate. It’s so because rarely does a wine so excite me that describing it requires stepping so far outside the cliché box as to risk embarrassment.  So let me point out that Mr. Parker awarded this wine 93 points. Stephen Tanzer wasn’t far away with 92 points.  And perhaps once a year, and even less frequently than that, I award a “4 Glasses” rating to any wine. But Stonestreet’s “Broken Road” Chardonnay deserves it.  I brought this wine to a holiday dinner party and will pass along that it was acclaimed by everyone at the table.  So forgetting the experts and the somewhat experts (like me) it seems this chardonnay has a lot of appeal and shouldn’t be missed.

OK for all the wine geeks out there, (and those that want to learn the jargon) following are the “Tech Specs” that some like so much. Reading them should give you a clue as to how this wine offers such fresh fruit while maintaining a creaminess. 

…………………. Jim
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Winery & Tasting Room
7111 Highway 128
Healdsburg CA 95448
Tel: 800-355-8008

Downtown Tasting Room
337 Healdsburg Ave
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Tel: 707-473-3377

AVA:                                          Alexander Valley, Sonoma County
                                                    Mayacamas Mountains
Geology:                                     Yorkville Clay Loam
Elevation:                                    1,800 ft.
Elevation:                                    1,800 ft.
Slope Exposure:                          Southwest
Planted:                                       1992
Rootstock:                                   110R
Clone:                                          4

Fermentation                             Primary fermentation in barrel, followed by 100% malolactic in                                                             barrel. Native yeasts. Lees stirred monthly. 
Aging:                                         10 months, 47% new French Oak, balance neutral
                                                    Wines are only minimally fined, filtered only when necessary
Alc:                                             14.2%
TA: (titratable acidity)                0.55g/ 100mL
PH: (acidity vs. alkalinity)          3.53

Winemaker:                                 Lisa Valtenbergs

JOSEPH DROUHIN, 2012. A Tale of Two Pinots

“It's a hard grape to grow, as you know. Right? It's uh, it's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's, you know, it's not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it's neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they're just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and... ancient on the planet.”….  Miles Raymond in the movie “Sideways.” *

“Pinot Noir is not about color and tannins.”  …. Veronique Drouhin, winemaker at Domaine Drouhin Oregon
I’ve tasted Pinot Noir from Burgundy and from a vineyard in New Zealand that so resembled that from Burgundy, I doubt many people would be able to identify them correctly in a blind tasting.  I have had “Pinot Noir” from Germany (Spatburgunder) and Macedonia and Pinot Noir in California and Oregon and estate grown on vineyards in Michigan. Many were delicious; some – highly rated – left me unimpressed.  Others, from which I had not expected much, surprised and delighted. At such times, I’m reminded of the art cliché: “I don’t know what makes for good art, but I know what I like.”  Putting aside obvious defects like corked wine or one affected by Brett or other obvious faults, appreciating wine is subjective.  Pliny the Elder nailed that simple truth over two thousand years ago. And while traditionally, the wine world has embraced the “French” style as the epitome of the craft, you have every right to prefer a more fruit forward “new world” style is that is your liking.

All of which brings me to a comparison of two wines, both Pinot Noir, both bearing the name Drouhin.  Both 2012. One from the Cote De Nuit in Burgundy, the other from Dundee Hills in the Willamette Valley AVA of Oregon about 28 miles southwest of Portland.  For the tasting, I invited another wine writer and a casual appreciator.  Wines were served side by side, in identical glasses and my guests did not know which wine was in which glass. 

A lot has been written about terroir, some by me, and about wines that offer a sense of place in their taste.  Could these wines really be similar?  In 1987, Burgundy’s Maison Joseph Drouhin established the vineyard in Dundee believing the area to be ideal for growing Pinot Noir. Today, Veronique Drouhin-Boss and Phillipe Drouhin (4th generation winemaker and viticulturist) are responsible for the output of Oregon’s “DDO” (Domaine Drouhin Oregon). Even the back label proudly proclaims “French Soul, Oregon Soil.”  So one family, one varietal, a shared philosophy of winemaking --- but thousands of miles apart.   

In the glass, side by side, the wines looked the same.  The wine from Burgundy (since I poured, I knew which wine was in what glass) offered a nose of subdued but ripe black fruit. With air, it developed brighter, more cherry notes. DDO’s nose, however, was brighter with immediate notes of cherry. Conversely, these notes became more restrained with exposure. 

I have to say that I was struck by the similarities in the wines, though there were other differences. The Burgundy offered a hint of earthy mushroom in the taste. The finish was dry and with more tannin and mineral evident.  The DDO seemed lighter overall, though more “peppery”.  At 14.1% vs. 13% alcohol in the French, that explained the “pepper” burn. But its finish was clean and nicely acid crisp.

The casual appreciator originally preferred the DDO from Oregon, but then changed her mind and voted for the Burgundy.  The other wine writer opined that Number 1 (the Burgundy) was more graceful and with better aromatics, although – he said – number 2 was more structured. Overall, he preferred the Burgundy.

I enjoyed both wines but preferred the Burgundy immediately and throughout, though I generally have a preference for “old world” style and was aware of which wine was being tasted. I was also aware of something else I did not reveal to my guests.  The Burgundy cost $24 and the DDO cost $40. 


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·     These erudite understandings of Pinot Noir were spoken by the same Miles Raymond who later drank from the spit bucket on the counter in a tasting room.


·     First Impressions are a new addition to Wine Mizer.  They are short reviews based on an initial impression. No maps. No lengthy reviews. No technical specifications or information on how the grapes are vinified.  I hope you find “First Impressions” interesting in their simplicity.

A rainbow of wine: Red, White, Rose, and, and …… and ORANGE?  Yes, orange!  Quady Winery in Madera California makes “Essensia” from Orange Muscat grapes. Quady makes only dessert wines and “Essencia” is certainly that. Wine Enthusiast recommends serving it with cheesecake. “Drink it with cheesecake and go to heaven” they said. Then they gave it 93 points.  I agree: flavors of apricot, honey and golden raisin, but for me – a strong taste of orange. While it is definitely sweet, it’s not cloying and the wine finishes cleanly with an excellent balance of acid to fruit.  This would be an excellent wine to include at holiday dinner gatherings. (And I will try it with cheese cake).     

I found it delicious with a dessert plate of
cheeses and Sumo Mandarin Orange segments.
Quadry seems to be on to something with their decision to specialize in dessert wines because they have done it so well. While many “new world” dessert wines are syrupy and cloying and better served atop pancakes, Essensia is a sweet wine but with flavors well integrated.  Grapes are obviously respected and allowed to announce their natural character without excess manipulation. 

In addition to Essensia, Quady offers “Elysium” from Black Muscat grapes and “Electra” from Orange Muscat. “Electra” is different from “Essensia” in that it is blended (25%) with Canelli and is made frizzante (a little “bubbly”) as a Moscato d’ Asti).      

The vintage I have is a 2010 and is drinkable through 2025 with proper storage. Average retail price is $26, at the winery $22.   

…………… Jim
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Quady Winery
13181Road 24
Madera, CA 93637
Phone: (800) 733-8068



“Wine improves with age. The older I get, the more I like it.” ….. Anonymous

Close your eyes and think of Pinot Grigio. Are you thinking of Italy?  Are you thinking of a great value, yummy-delicious Italian Pinot Grigio with a short, very un-Italian sounding name, or of another from there that (my opinion) is both overpriced and disappointing? Both shall go un-named here. But I’d bet that in the process of that exercise, you didn’t think once of Paw Paw Michigan.

My first experience with this winery was at their tasting room in Union Pier located in Southwest Michigan in the designated Lake Michigan Shore AVA. I was so impressed, I subsequently visited the winery in Paw Paw. Other tasting rooms are located in Frankenmuth and Dundee to the East.  What attracted me was their signage reading, “Italian Roots. Michigan Soil.”  The attraction proved fatal and I’ve been a fan ever since.

The “Italian roots” are evident in this delicious Pinot Grigio.  This is a bright, zesty wine with all the best characteristics of Pinot Grigio that have made that varietal so popular. But blended to include a small percentage of Traminette (a cross of Joannes Seyve 23.416 and Gewurztraminer), St. Julian’s Pinot Grigio offers delightful twists and surprises.  In the glass, the wine shows as lemon grass tea. Aromatics are strong with notes of kiwi, tropical fruit, pear and spice. These same notes carry into the taste in a symphony of flavors with notes of Honeycrisp apple, zesty lemon, lychee, pineapple and pear all making their contribution.  With more body than most Pinot Grigios,
(L) Angela Braganini, David Braganini
and The "Mizer" enjoying a Riesling
it’s also lush in the mouth, a contribution of the Traminette, yet finishes clean with an excellent fruit to acid balance.  Together, these grapes create a most enjoyable sweet/tart interplay on the palette; a push-pull of flavors collecting in the pocket mid tongue, then developing while yet teasing for replenishment.  Quite simply, this wine is fun.

Entrance to Paw Paw Winery
To keep it fresh, grapes are collected in the cool, early morning hours. Skin contact is limited and the juice sees no wood. Fermentation and aging is within temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. No malolactic fermentation is allowed.  The result is a wine that is fresh, fragrant, floral and fun --- and meant to be enjoyed young. As with most “finds,” the tendency is to put off opening the last bottle so that you’ll always have one available. But I’ve tasted several vintages and found this wine to be consistently pleasing.  

Depending on how prepared or sauced, this wine would pair
well with roast fowl and seasonal vegetables, or baked macaroni with Fontina cheese and béchamel sauce.  Its sweet / tart interplay lends itself also to enjoyment with some desserts at the end of a meal. But as the cold weather here begins to give way to spring breezes, I’m thinking of carefree hours spent outdoors by a lake at a picnic table with sandwich in the basket and this wine in the glass.

……………… Jim
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St. Julian Winery
7166 S Kalamazoo St
Paw Paw, MI 49070
(269) 657-5568


“If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere. It’s up to you New York, New York!”

But as was said in George Gershwin’s 1935 opera “Porgy & Bess”, “It ain’t necessarily so.”  While Frank Sinatra (backed by a terrific band) made a terrific song, when it comes to wine it is definitely not so.  Recently I had an opportunity to taste some of the estate wines of Villa Bellangelo. The wines were not only delicious, they served to affirm the importance of terroir.  Bellangelo Vineyards and Winery is located in Dundee near Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes Region of New York. 

The conditions for ideal grape growing in this region were actually set into motion tens of thousands of years ago. Retreating glaciers deposited a layer of topsoil on shale beds above the lakes. Seneca Lake is the deepest of the Finger Lakes at 618 feet and rarely freezes. And the lakes (there are eleven) moderate the region’s temperatures.

Move forward several tens of thousands of years and I was enjoying wines from the Finger Lakes here (in the Midwest) in the early 1970’s. But as California gained prominence, retail outlets allocated more of their limited shelf space to that state’s offerings, as well as to the expanding market here for non U.S. wines, and New York’s wines became difficult to find and enjoy. More the pity because these wines are affordable and exciting and truly unique.
Shale From The Seneca Lake Vineyard
This piece about 3"x3"x1/4" 
As Chateaubriand and Filet Mignon are similar, they are also different:  Bellangelo’s Gewurztraminer is similar to Alsace, and its Rieslings are similar to those of the Mosel region of Germany - similar but so appreciably different. Any lover of wine who professes an appreciation of terroir is self-obligated to taste Villa Bellangelo and other wines of the Finger Lakes.

I’ll be posting more detailed reviews of some of these wines in the months ahead. But in the meantime, these wines are too “Wine Mizer worthy”   to remain unmentioned. So being the dedicated reviewer that I am, I’ve ordered additional of these wines to taste a second time. And in the meantime, here are my first impressions:    

1)    2013 Seyval Blanc $16.  I’m starting with this wine because I generally don’t enjoy Seyval Blanc and there always seem to be so many other white wines to enjoy. For me, Seyval is weak in character; listless, wondering what to make of itself.  Even its color is non-descript.  But the nose of this rendering from Villa Bellangelo immediately captivated me. Character a plenty with notes of quince and lemon. Silky mouthfeel. Back taste brings in hints of orange and vanilla. A white wine of balance that plays with all its flavor hints in tandem and with a surprisingly long finish.
2)      2012 Gewurztraminer $20.  Nose is faint, but pleasantly floral. Kiwi, peach, quince, lychee. A luscious mouthfeel (more glycerin like than the 2013). Long finish.  Both this and the 2013 share similarities with a Gewurz from Alsace yet provide a uniqueness that give a sense of place and make these wines so fun to drink.
3)    2013 Gewurztraminer. Nose of honeyed peach that carries into the taste along with apple that develops noticeably. Sharper acid finish. 
4)     2013 Cabernet Franc $18.  Cherry colored in the glass – like a Pinot Noir. I’m concerned the wine may be thin.  Then again, I recently had a Cabernet Franc from Argentina that was hot-climate deep purple and tasted too much like Cabernet Sauvignon.  I’m looking for the graceful, unassuming but balanced style of a Loire style Cabernet Franc.  Another reviewer visited unexpectedly and I offered him a taste. “Delicious” he said immediately.  I enjoyed a delicate nose of sour cherry and raspberry and a taste of cherry cordial chocolates. A little alcohol-black pepper in the throat that thankfully wasn’t present in subsequent tastes.  My fault – I needed to give the wine more air and will be tasting this again.
5)     2013 Semi-Dry Riesling $18.  The nose is Mosel:  smell/taste this wine blind and you might take it to be an Auslese. Tart green apple that softens in the taste as sweet ripe pear develops. The tart-sweet interplay mid-palette is intriguing, but the experience continues as an interplay develops between honeydew melon and pear. Who said white wines can’t be complex?
6)      2013 Dry Riesling $18.  Classic, pale straw in the glass with edges that are almost translucent. Again, looks like a Riesling from Mosel. Nose is light, delicate and floral with orange blossoms. Heavier bodied than a Mosel Kabinet, it offers Granny Smith apple and Meyer lemon with hints of orange and a taste that just continues to build in this uniquely characterized wine. Long finish.

Frank Sinatra had a great song, was a great singer and certainly could afford to buy great wine. But what they do in New York is unique and just can’t be done anywhere.  The sampling of wines from Villa Bellangelo delighted me with wines that are graceful, play with the senses and uniquely reflect a sense of place.  And you needn’t have a star’s pocketbook to afford them. At prices shown, these wines are super values.

……………. Jim
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·         Wines reviewed provided as a sample by the winery

Villa Bellangelo
150 Poplar Point Rd
Dundee, NY 14837


"Drinking good wine with good food in good company is one of life’s most civilized pleasures.” -Michael Broadbent

News, by definition, is not about the ordinary.  It is the attention getting story that gets played or published.  And so when wine gets attention in the mass media, it is often about a record setting price paid for a particular Bordeaux wine.  Along the line of “Tell a lie often enough about a generality and people will begin to accept it as truth for all particulars” we need to be reminded that not all Bordeaux wine is the same.  Just ask the French.  They live there and know something about French wine. 

They also know something about vintages which many of us take for granted here.  Weather is important to all types of agriculture everywhere.  But in France, where irrigating grape vines is not allowed, rain (its timing and its amount) are critical as are other factors that affect grape and other crops elsewhere.  So while wine collectors and investors worldwide pay big sums for a Grand Cru from a great vintage (hoping to later cash in on escalating prices), I buy wine to drink it.

And I prefer to pay other than big prices.

And I prefer to enjoy good wine.

And the two are not exclusive of each other.  And you can too.

So now we need to get to vintages and why they are important in Bordeaux, for example.  I’m not a fancier of numerology, but recent vintages of note are 1995, 2000, 2005, (2009) and 2010. Two-thousand and nine was, perhaps, made a good year by Mother Nature just in order to throw off the numerologists.  2007 also had its merit, but is a year to appreciate early. If you learn the years of good vintages, want to drink good wine and want to do so inexpensively, it’s important to learn this so that you can work with the “Wine Mizer” system.

When a year (vintage) is really stellar, almost any wine from that area will be enjoyable. It will not, certainly, be as complex or as structured or even as cellarable as a Premier Cru. It will also not necessitate that you apply for a home equity loan in order to enjoy a bottle.  A good example is Chateau Cadillac from 2010 (pictured here).  The Chateau is near Fronsac in Bordeaux and uses regional blends in making everyday table wine.   Their red blend is 70% Merlot / 30% Cabernet Sauvignon… pretty classic even without Cabernet Franc or Petit Verdot and made in an “old world” style being less fruit forward. The wine is medium-bodied and offers all the classic depth and elegance associated with French Bordeaux.

It cost me $17.

Now that I have your attention, let me better describe this $17 wine.  Respecting that palettes differ, I enjoyed the wine’s nose of pencil lead and dark cherry which carried into the taste and married with leather and juicy cassis. The finish hinted at black tea although tannins were smooth and the finish carried along some dark chocolate.

Chateau Cadillac is labeled “Bordeaux Superieur” meaning it is slightly “superior” to standard Bordeaux AOC wines. Although the Chateau is a 13th Century Estate and makes what I consider very good value wine, and although the estate’s chalk and gravel soils produce grapes of character and a sense of place, wine begins in the field.  And 2010 was a great year for that area.

2004, an "off" year but drinking
beautifully  now from these 3rd growth estates.
Being a contrarian, and since I so enjoy Bordeaux wine, I do buy Grand Crus in off years. 2004 and 2006 encapsulated the great vintage of 2005.  I bought each of those years limiting my selection to 3rd growths (Troisiemes Crus). The respected estates’ blending experience, and their access to quality barrels assure me of a wine that will cellar and develop beautifully over time. Buying the best (or at least very good) in off years means you don’t have to in great years. It means you can consistently enjoy quality “old world” wine in all years and at substantial savings in each.    

For another review of an excellent but remarkably value-priced wine, see my review of Chateau Pey La Tour (2010) and click this link:  http://www.winemizer.net/2014/01/chateau-pey-la-tour-2010.html

In the meantime,
Even the Mizer does occasionally splurge: Here on some
2010s - a great year - but they're 3rds.
why not try this Wine Mizer system for enjoying excellent Bordeaux wine at surprisingly affordable prices?  You’ll thank me later (if your parents raised you correctly).

……………….. Jim (Master Gardner, April 1992. U of I Cooperative Extension Service).

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