Friday, May 27, 2011

Southern San Luis Obispo County

San Luis Obispo / Edna Valley / Arroyo Grande can be lumped together as great Pinot Country. Not just Pinot Noir, but also Pinot Blanc and Pinot Grigio. (Note that Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are the same varietal the former is the Italian name and the latter is French.) There are also tasty Syrahs and other Rhone varietals and everyone should know Edna Valley Chardonnay by now; I see that stuff everywhere. There are also some fantastically floral Austrian-style dry Rieslings and Gewurztraminers at Claiborne and Churchill Winery.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Paso Robles

Note: I will mention Rhone varietals so here is the short list Reds: Syrah (Shiraz in Australia), Petite Sirah, Grenache (Garnacha in Spain), and Mourvedre. The whites are: Marsanne, Rousanne, and Viognier. The long list is somewhere in the high twenties.

What put Paso Robles on the wine map was a group of winemakers who called themselves the Rhone Rangers. They found that Paso was well suited to grow Rhone varietals into amazing wines. Paso also has good Cabs, Merlots, and Zinfandels at lower prices than Napa and Sonoma.

The wineries also make a large amount of Late Harvest Zinfandels. I have never been a big fan of LHZs, mostly because the wineries usually like to call them Ports and they usually aren't either the style of California Ports (e.g. Charbay or Ficklin) or true Portuguese Ports. They are also often too sweet for me, but to each their own.

Trinchero Vista Montone 2006 Napa Valley Pinot Noir

After a long day at work, I decided to open a Trinchero Vista Montone 2006 Napa Valley Pinot Noir. Every Sunday is long, but especially Easter when my family is feasting and drinking great wine and cocktails.

Yeah I now know '06 was a crummy year for California Pinot Noirs. However, I didn't realize that when I bought it. The first thing I noticed was how dark the wine is. A little too dark for a Pinot. High clarity as one would expect from such a large producer. The nose is dominated by cinnamon accented by fresh strawberries and a hint of dark berries. On the palate there is a woodiness almost like redwood accompanied by cherries, dusty earth and a slight under-ripe greeness. The palate is a bit dull at first but with time to mingle with the oxygen in the air it opened up a bit with some coffee on the bouquet and stronger cherries on the palate. The tannins are harsher than they should be both for the price point and for a Pinot Noir. I would have thought with 4 and a half years they would be silky. The wine could be a bit crisper but it is by no means flabby. The 14.5% alcohol is too much for this wine, but I must admit after work its not such a bad thing. I'm glad I didn't save this for a dinner party. It isn't a bad wine, there aren't any defects, but also not a great wine.

Note: Given the year, I wouldn't take this vintage as a representative of the Vista Montone vineyard nor of Trinchero. According to Wine Spectator, "2006 was a cool year with a big crop and uneven ripening [for Pinot Noirs]."

Monday, May 23, 2011

An Introduction to San Luis Obispo County

It recently came to my attention that many people near me who like wine only know about Napa and Sonoma as far as California wine is concerned. Of course Napa is a powerhouse for the most consumed wines in America (Cab Sauv, Merlot, Chardonnay) and Sonoma has amazing Zinfandels, Syrahs, Pinots, and some Cabs in Alexander Valley. So when you live here in the San Francisco Bay Area it is easy to stick with what you know and what is close. So I've decided to dedicate several blogs to San Luis Obispo County and Santa Barbara County. The original plan was one blog entry, but then I typed too much. :)

Part 1: An introduction to San Luis Obispo County

SLO makes great three day weekend trips if you are coming from the SF Bay Area, LA Area or the central valley. If you have the time, a week in summer or fall is wonderful! Beautiful rolling oak and vineyard covered hills, hot springs, great beaches, four wheeling at Oceano Dunes, Hearst Castle, great restaurants, and most importantly enchanting wines. If you visit Hearst Castle I highly recommend stopping at Hoppe's Garden Bistro in the sleepy beach community of Cayucos.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Robert Mondavi Winery 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

This wine shows a deep brilliant red hue in the glass. The initial aromas of blackberry jam and cherries mix well with the bouquet of cinnamon and cloves. Unfortunately, those scents are blanketed by alcohol.

The first thing I noticed when I sipped this wine was the astringency. This was followed by blueberries, blackberries and a hint of herbs. The tannins are so bitter and rough that this wine really needs 5+ years to age and the flavors are very tight so they will also benefit from a few years of aging. Unfortunately from what I've read wines with high percentages of alcohol don't age well.

Whoever made the label was brilliant though. They hid the alcohol percentage in the bottom right corner of the label outside of the border in small skinny  vertical text so you really have to search for it and at 15.5% percent I can't blame them.

I'm really surprised that Robert Mondavi Winery would release such a poor quality wine. 15.5% is a ridiculously high percentage for Cab. If you don't mind high alcohol then this wine will be pretty good when the tannins have softened and the wine has opened up. On the other hand there are certainly much better offerings out there right now. So this is one wine to avoid.  If I had to buy it I'm definitely glad I bought this on sale at Safeway.  If I had payed full price I would be quite upset at myself.  I usually prefer to buy from tasting rooms or buy wines I know just for this reason.  By the way Safeway has been having great sales on wine lately. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

6 Great Sulfite-Free Wines for under $25

Recently I was hired by Fat Grape Winery to write up tasting notes.  I've been friends with Rick Bowen (co-owner) and his dad Pat (winemaker & co-owner) for many, many years. Patrick started as a home winemaker in the late 90s before he delved into the business side in 2008.  He has always made powerful but not overbearing sulfite-free, unfined, unfiltered reds.  If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, I highly recommend you check out this little winery in the old Navy Brig on Treasure Island.  You can either make a quick trip or spend a day on the island as there are 4 other wineries out there and one of the most picturesque views of San Francisco.  When this was written the tasting was free.