ALEXANDER VALLEY VINEYARDS

“Wine ... changing even as we taste it, delivers a message with meaning only in our response. If we are in the right key when we receive it, our eyes will shine and we shall radiate pleasure.”  GERALD ASHER, The Pleasures of Wine

So many wines, so many wineries, yet I can’t think of a winery (at least none immediately come to mind) that doesn't make at least one label that I've enjoyed. On the other hand, it’s a challenge to think of a domestic winery whose entire portfolio of wine is pleasing to both the wallet and the lips. But Alexander Valley Vineyards comes to mind immediately in meeting that challenge.  And that’s particularly impressive given the size of their portfolio. I poured several of their wines at a Waterleaf event some years ago in Glen Ellyn (IL., not Sonoma) and visited the winery last October.  Tasting their wines again and since – not just a few or several, all but two of them  – reinforced my initial impression that this winery vinified a formula for standards of quality fortified with value.

Entrance to AVV's Labyrinth Like Caves
A good example is their 2013 estate Chardonnay.  70% of the grapes are harvested at night when grapes are cool.  They’re cold fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel without any barrel aging or allowed to undergo malolactic fermentation. Resulting juice is fresh, clean and fruity with citrus and green apple flavors. But to balance the wine, 30% of their best grapes are whole cluster pressed instead of being sent through a de-stemmer. It’s slower, more costly and juice yields are a little lower. And this method develops fewer tannins by limiting exposure to oxygen. This juice is aged in French oak between 6-8 months and aged on the spent yeast cells (lees).  The result is a richer mouth feel, with rounder flavors of apple, pear, peach and apricot.  Finally, blending the two is its own art. In 2012, the wine was 100% Chardonnay, in 2013 it was blended with 1.4% Viognier.

Hank Wetzel (r) and I (the Wine Mizer)
with a glass of my beloved "Cyrus."
I brought you through this travelogue to help you appreciate the expense involved in such detail.  Is such attention to detail and expense common with every Chardonnay made?  Well, in some vineyards, yes and in others – no. Have I ever had a better Chardonnay? Of course, or so I think. I've enjoyed a few white Burgundies, for example, that just seem to be where my preference resides.  Since tasting is impacted by one’s cultural history, experiences and prejudices, “better” is always partly subjective. But that preference is also expensive and not one I regularly indulge.  What impresses and makes me happy is the quality of AlexanderValley Vineyard’s Chardonnay at its price levelWine Advocate put it bluntly: “This well made Chardonnay is a steal at $18 a bottle.”  So the better framed question would be, “Have I had a better Chardonnay at that price?” and that question becomes more difficult to answer.

Bringing in the last grapes for
the crush.
Pricing is its own art and influenced by too many factors to explore in detail here. But Hank Wetzel (owner) mentioned that the land had been paid off years ago and certainly that helps.  Whatever the reasons, what is important for us as consumers is being able to enjoy that ratio of quality to price. And that price to value ratio is evident throughout Alexander Valley Vineyard’s portfolio.

Hank, me and Kevin Hall (winemaker) enjoying a
moment while watching the crush
At the upper end is Alexander Valley Vineyard’s “Cyrus,” a Bordeaux like red blend which retails for about $60.  I enjoyed tasting the 2010 which earned 92 points from Wine Enthusiast. Bordered by the Russian River and the Mayacamas Mountains, estate grown grapes used in this blend enjoy warm days and cool evenings.  Selected, barrel aged lots of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petite Verdot and 2% Malbec were used in the blend. All enjoyed 100% French Oak with the exception of the Merlot, which was aged in equal amounts of both French and American oak. The blended wine was then barrel aged an additional 12 months in French Oak and bottle aged another 8 months.

Just a few of the many wines offered
It’s no surprise that the wine offers cassis, plum, toasty oak and vanilla with berry notes and hints of dark fruit, spice and cocoa. The surprise is the manner in which it is presented:  Like a symphony in which many instruments blend together, the whole of this wine is so much better than its parts.  Notes are balanced and harmonious. The wine is complex, structured and tastes higher – considerably higher – than priced (but don’t tell them).  Delicious now, it will only get better with age.
Medium toast French Oak

En route toward “Cyrus,” stop and visit the suburb of Zinfandel: “Temptation” ($12) “Sin Zin” ($20) and “Redemption” ($22).  If your sins have been grievous, you may need the “Alexander School Reserve.” From a single hillside with old vines (50 years), wine for this limited production Zin is aged in oak barrels for twenty-four months.  At $40 for the standard 750ml bottle, that’s some kind of rent control.

You’ll find all the standards of course:  Cab Franc ($28), Syrah ($20), Pinot Noir ($28), Cab Sauv ($23, or $28 for organic). At the Waterleaf event, I was very impressed with the quality of the Cabernet Sauvignon but most of the people attending requested the Merlot ($20) and then came back with friends.  An exciting addition is AVV’s “Aluvia,” a GSM blend (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) with a touch of Viognier.  The grapes and blending are classic Rhone style. Another “Alexander School Reserve,” this limited production (226 cases) wine is also aged 24 months in French oak and sells at $40.  Back on the lighter side,
Estate grapes of Alexander Valley Vineyards
there is a $10 Gewürztraminer, a dry rose of Sangiovese ($14) and a richer, creamier more vanilla style Chardonnay (2013 “Reserve Chardonnay”) at $35 and available at the winery only (a good reason to include AVV in any wine vacation).

Pricing is its own art and no question – it influences consumer choices.  But pricing alone is not reason enough to select a wine; certainly not a wine you don’t enjoy.  Visiting Alexander Valley Vineyards and tasting their wine was a great experience.  I remember AVV’s first vintages from the mid 1970’s. And like me, they grew up and got better with the years.  If it’s been a while since you remember tasting Alexander Valley Wines, I suggest a reunion is in order. You’ll not only be impressed with the quality of their wines but also deserving of self-congratulations for recognizing value.

Cheers!
……………….. Jim
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RUTINI 2012 TRUMPETER MALBEC

“Here's to the corkscrew - a useful key to unlock the storehouse of wit, the treasury of laughter, the front door of fellowship, and the gate of pleasant folly.” …. W.E.P. French
(From the wine list of Commander's Palace in New Orleans, LA 


I just enjoyed tasting Rutini’s “Encuentro” 2011 Malbec when a friend announced herself and I subsequently opened Rutini’s 2012 Trumpeter Malbec. (For more on Rutini’s history and their “Encuentro” wine, see previous post:

In the glass, Trumpetor is dark purple and offers a nose of sour cherry jam with allspice. With air and a little time, this evolved to blackberry and cherry salsa without the heat.  Taste was certainly not peppery or presented with any alcohol burn on the back palate.  In fact, the wine was fruit forward with blackberry, plum and hints of pencil shavings and bacon fat. As its higher priced (but still bargain respecting cousin “Encuentro”), Trumpetor is silky and lush in the mouth due to 100% malolactic fermentation.  Grapes are 100% estate grown and hand-harvested from Rutini’s Tupungato vineyard in the Uco Valley in Mendoza (Argentina).  The wine is 100% Malbec.

With each wine I taste and write about, I’m reminded of Pliny the Elder’s quote: “The best wine is that which tastes good to thine own palate.”  If “chewy” Cabernet Sauvignons or moisture-sucking Petite Sirahs are your style, you might not be enamored by this style of Malbec.  Rutini’s “Encuentro” Malbec might be more to your liking, though that too is “new world” in style albeit less fruity.

And with each wine I taste and write about, I better appreciate that the
world is bigger than me.  I was reminded of that again when my friend said she preferred the “Trumpeter.”  She enjoyed its softer, fruit-forward profile and simply that it was easy drinking and enjoyable.  Apparently, she has lots of company. Rutini’s Trumpeter has been Argentina’s “Best Buy” for over 15 years. With a suggested retail price of under $11, even I can appreciate that.

My instincts tell me that this is a crowd pleaser in a mixed group getting together for good times.   

Salud!
…………….. Jim

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TECH SPECS:
Varietal:                      100% Malbec
Vineyard:                     Tupungato, Mendoza
Malo:                           100%
Oak:                             30% new American
                                    30% new French
                                    40% 2nd and 3rd yr American
Aging                           7 months as per above
Alc:                              13.5%
Wine Maker:               Mariano Di Paola
Imported By:               Rutini Wines, Bridgeport PA

·         Sample provided by publicist for review.














RUTINI ENCUENTRO 2011 MALBEC

“Grapes are the most noble and challenging of fruits.”  ……. Malcolm Dunn, Head Gardener to the 7th Viscount Powercourt, c 1867.

The old saw, “The only constant is change” is probably the only thing that hasn’t changed over the decades.  Malbec, originally from France, immediately triggers thoughts today, for example, of Argentina. Whether that’s because of a style preference or because this thin-skinned grape that demands even more heat and sun than Cabernet Sauvignon was devastated (75%) in 1956 by a frost in France, I don’t know.  It was planted in Argentina and has since become the country’s claim to wine fame, Mendoza being that country’s Napa.

Rutini wines predate all this however. The winery was started by Italian emigrant Filipe Rutini in 1885 (then called La Rural Winery) in the Uco Valley, Mendoza.  1994 saw change continuing as the winery (Rutini) underwent technological renovation under Nicolas Catena and Jose Benegas-Lynch (two major forces in the Argentine wine industry and from one of Mendoza’s oldest and most celebrated wine families) and Mariano DiPaola was appointed winemaker.

Today, Rutini has vineyards in five different areas of Mendoza: Maipu, Rivadavia, La Consulta, Altamira and Tupungato (where the grapes for Encuentro are grown).  By blending grapes from different vineyards within Tupungato, Rutini is able to take advantage of different vineyard elevations/terroirs in order to create the best expression of the varietal within the bottle.

In the glass, Encuentro shows as inky purple. The nose is complex with vanilla-caramel and cocoa powder with clove and violet.  I enjoyed hints of cooked fruit, especially plum that carried into the wine’s flavor along with violet, cassis and blackberry. Despite all this going on, I most appreciated the wine’s balance. While plum, blackberry and violet were distinct, they were not overpowering. The fruit was balanced against the wine’s tannic structure and the result was harmony in the glass. Encuentro is creamy on the palette (thanks to its 100% malolactic fermentation) and enjoys a moderate finish that is clean thanks to its fruit/acid balance.

Malbecs from Argentina have been and are, because of terroir, more fruit forward than those of France.  And I’ve made no secret over the years that I lean toward old world style wine.  But I genuinely appreciated the deft handling of fruit in the graceful manner that Encuentro offered. Another old saw goes like this: “If it grows together, it goes together.” Argentinians are well known for meals rich with grilled meat and sausages. And I can’t imagine a better pairing than Encuentro and grilled spicy sausages and beef, blue cheese and mushrooms.

“Encuentro” means “encounter.”  With a suggested retail price under $20, this is a wine that’s worth encountering, especially if you’re a fan of Argentinian Malbecs – or would like to encounter what it is about them that make them so popular.

Salud!
…………. Jim

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TECH SPECS:
Varietal:                                  Malbec, 100%
Vineyard:                                 Tupungato, Mendoza, Aregntina
Malolactic Fermentation:       100%
Aging:                                      50% new & 2nd use French oak
                                                50% new American oak         
                                                12 Months

·         Bottle provided as sample by publicist.




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.

Cheers!
…………….. Jim
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RAVENSWOOD WINERY
18701 Gehricke Rd.
Sonoma, CA 95476
707-933-2332



DOMAINE ZIND HUMBRECHT “HEIMBOURG” (SINGLE VINEYARD) 2011 GEWURZTRAMINER

"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.  

BUT HOW CAN YOU TELL IF THE WINE IS DRY OR SWEET? THINGS SEEM TO   KEEP CHANGING.
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.  

SWEET
DRY

 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?

SO HOW SWEET IS SWEET?
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.

HERE IS THE SCALE 
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).

Sante!
……………. Jim
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TECH SPECS:
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)




STONESTREET “BROKEN ROAD” 2011 CHARDONNAY

“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. 

Cheers!
…………………. Jim
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STONESTREET
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

TECH SPECS:
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
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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. 

Sante!/Cheers!
…………………………Jim

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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.


ESSENSIA ORANGE MUSCAT 2010

FIRST IMPRESSION*
·     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.
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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.   

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