Category Archives: California Wines

What’s your Game Plan for Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving celebrations differ from one home to the next. turkeyStill there are certain flavors, traditions and approaches connected with our most food focused holiday that strikes a chord in all of us.

Whether you go with the traditional turkey with sage and onion stuffing, giblet gravy, candied yams, and cranberry sauce; put a cultural twist on it, with a chipotle rubbed bird, red chili gravy and cornbread chorizo stuffing; or go the vegan route with a mound of riced potatoes shaped like a bird and glazed with browned butter with all those wonderful vegetable side dishes, Thanksgiving is a dinner you can sink your teeth into. But what to drink with it has been debated for many decades.

Every Turkey Day, the family sommelier faces the perplexing question: do I go with something sweet that can stand up to candied yams and tart cranberry sauce and keep Mom happy? Or go with Beaujolais Nouveau because it’s available now, red and fruity? Decisions, decisions.

Thanksgiving wines shouldn’t be intimidating. This is not the time to pull out that bottle you’ve been cellaring for a while. Serve something familiar, homey and delicious enough for those neophytes to be satisfied and thoughtful enough for wine lovers to appreciate.

Pairing wine with roasted, brined or deep fried turkey is a piece of cake but short of a dessert wine, nothing is sweet enough to do battle with yams blanketed with toasted marshmallows.

Dry, high alcohol wines will perish with all that sugar and salt. And white wines need a decent amount of acidity to cleanse your palate. Uncomplicated, fruity wines with a little residual sugar are the best recourse for matching with these courses.

Some of the better partners for Thanksgiving dinner, in my opinion, are Alsatian whites, German Rieslings, Grenache blends from France or Spain and Tempranillo from Spain or the West Coast. Pinot Noir, contrary to some opinions, has never worked for me with all those strong flavors dished up at Thanksgiving- unless, of course, it’s in the bubbly.

Balance is the key for the perfect pairing. For a white, think Riesling or one of those soft, slightly sweet Pinot Gris. For reds, fruity and friendly, low alcohol Zinfandels, Tempranillo or even Carmenere would work well.

sparkling glassEvery holiday dinner should begin with something celebratory and good. At my table, nothing says celebrate better than a bottle of bubbly. The pop of the cork signals the start of the celebration. And it’s off to the races from there.

Given the tradition of the day, here are some American bubblies with good acidity and a core of fruit to consider:  Chateau Ste. Michelle’s extra dry which is actually slightly sweeter in style than a brut despite its description; Oregon’s Argyle brut or Washington’s Treveri Cellars would grace any table. Treveri produces several Columbia Valley sparkling wines you should try. Three that would be perfect for this occasion would be their sparkling Riesling, Gewurztraminer or Syrah. You will be impressed! These sparklers range in price from $10.49 to $23.

white wine glassWhite wines to serve, could be California’s Oak Grove Pinot Grigio which is soft, fruity with crisp citrus flavors. Or Wine by Joe Pinot Gris from Oregon that has wonderful flavors of citrus, pear, and green apple with refreshing acidity. Both are under $10, so stock up for the holidays.

But Riesling is really the best white to serve.  And Washington makes second best – after Germany, of course.

Pacific Rim Riesling from Columbia Valley is a delicious off dry, richly fruity wine packed with peach, apricot flavors with a hint of wet stone. Milbrandt Riesling scored high with its fresh, lively stone fruit flavors and juicy acidity. These guys have been growing from in the Columbia Valley for generations. Latah Creek Columbia Valley Riesling is filled with flavors of green apple, ripe pear and spice with a crisp finish.

Jones of Washington Columbia Valley Riesling is an orange blossom special touched with pineapple and fresh picked apples. He also makes an estate Pinot Gris from the Ancient Lakes AVA that would perk a lot of  interest at the table.

Two Mountain Winery Rattlesnake Hills Riesling is another crisp refreshing wine with a nice balance of pear, citrus, and minerals on the palate.

red wine glassRed wines are trickier than white but if you make sure the alcohol is around 13% or less and there is a modicum of fruit, your chosen one will be a hit.  With that in mind here are a few grape suggestions: Lemberger, Tempranillo and Baco Noir.

Lemberger, a dark-skinned grape from Austria, is typically fruity with ripe plum and black cherry and a hint of pepper. It does well in colder climates where it goes by a more mellifluous name of Blaufränkisch.

Look for Kiona Vineyards and Winery on Red Mountain, the largest grower of Lemberger in the United States. Others include Alexandria Nicole Cellars, FairWinds Winery, Kana Winery Olympic Cellars, and Whidbey Island Winery. Priced between $10 and $22.

I had hoped to recommend another grape of Spanish origin from Washington and California that would be fabulous with dinner, but they all went past the affordable for a big dinner party price. So I’m taking you to Spain for delicious, affordable and the perfect reds for Thanksgiving.

The best made and priced would be the Campo de Borja Borsao Red  from La Mancha, Spain. With its intense, smoky, black cherry and spicy flavors, this wine is a blend of mostly Grenache and a dollop of Tempranillo this wine is a deep ruby/purple color.

From Valencia, the El Prado Red is another blend this time Tempranillo and Cabernet. It’s a medium bodied with raspberry and current flavors. And from Rioja, with 100% Tempranillo is the Cune Rioja Crianza. The toasty, cherry flavors are smooth and satisfying.

Also from Spain but made in Prosser is the Red Diamond Temperamental. Red Diamond sources grapes from the best locations around the world. This Spanish blend offers flavors of berries and plum has a silky smooth finish.

Garnacha de Fuego Old Vines from Calatayud is another intensely flavored wine that emphasizes fruit. Mostly black cherry but there are plum and raspberry with smooth tannins and a long finish.

The best thing about these wines is the price – all under $10 and most around $7. So, stock up on these affordable wines, because there are more holiday dinners in your immediate future.

Have a warm and happy Thanksgiving.

Easter Ham with Pinot Noir

There was always a big ham on the Easter dinner table.  And for the longest time, I thought all hams came smoked, on the bone with cloves stuck into the scored top and sprinkled with brown sugar.

Until many years later, after reading a recipe somewhere, I ordered a fresh ham from the butcher without knowing what I was getting myself into. When I unwrapped it, I had serious misgivings. It had the bone, it was the right shape but it just didn’t look like ham to me.

I faithfully followed the recipe and served it with a creamed horseradish sauce and a big jug of Navalle Burgundy. Forks were flying and before long there was just a soup bone left.

Fresh ham, it turns out, is a pork roast with a big bone in it. Never brined, cured, or smoked. It’s fresh.

Today, this baked fresh ham will be served3girls with a dried cherry and leek sauce and a Pinot Noir. And I have just the wine for the match! Having recently tried a couple of wines from a winery I was not familiar with – Oak Ridge Winery  –  I can highly recommend this Lodi winery.

Lodi lies between the Sierra Nevada foothills and the San Francisco Bay where the days are quite warm and the nights are cool. The Lodi AVA was established in 1986 but grape growing in this prolific farming region has been going on since the 1850s. Many German farming families formed cooperatives and sold their grapes to outfits like Sebastiani and Bronco.

The winery, opened in 1934, was originally a cooperative for the local growers. In 2001, winegrower Rudy Maggio and his partners, Don and Rocky Reynolds, bought the winery. They produce small lots of hand-crafted wines, and like many Lodi wineries, they’re known for Zinfandel, Old Vine Zinfandel.

While over 50 grape varietals thrive in Lodi, Zinfandel shines. Old gnarly vines, some over 100 years old, sculpted by time, yield small amounts of fruit to create a fabulous wine.

While Zinfandel would be great with this dinner, the wine that I had in mind was their Pinot Noir. Pretty unusual climate for Pinot Noir but there it is. The 3 Girls Vineyard California Pinot Noir is not produced from 80% Lodi grapes to get Lodi on the label.  And it actually has 13% Zinfandel in it!

I’m happy I didn’t know that while I was enjoying this delicious bottle of wine. The latent wine snob in me might have emerged.

Oak Ridge is one of the fastest growing wineries in the U.S. and easily the one with most extraordinary tasting room. It’s made from a 75 year old redwood holding tank. The tank had a capacity of 49,429 gallons of wine or 20,610 cases of wine.

Their very affordable wines can be found at these local markets:

CostPlus World Market – Silverdale

Fred Meyer – Port Orchard

Central Market – Poulsbo

Savage Vine – Kingston

Orange Muscat with Pancakes

Pairing breakfast with wine is not the way to start the day unless of course, it’s a Sunday, a brunch and a celebration. And then, we generally gravitate to the celebration wine that always works with breakfast type foods – sparkling wines.
But rather than another sparkling wine with this Aloha breakfast that Ann Vogel is suggesting, let’s look at it as a bit like a dessert rather than breakfast. And the rule of thumb for pairing desserts with wine is the wine is must be a bit sweeter than the dessert.
If you think about it, pineapples and coconut syrup, pancakes with nuts, have all the ingredients of a pie. Or a pineapple upside down cake. Or some of the ingredients of grilled pineapple with a side of coconut ice cream. So, which wine with pineapples and coconuts?
There are few wines as sweet and floral as a Muscat.  Muscat is in the Vitis Vinifera family along with Cabernet, Syrah and Chardonnay.
There are many varieties of Muscat that range in color white to black. Muscat is very much like Gewurztraminer in the aroma department; it’s very fragrant with a distinct floral aroma.
A few of the most popular muscats are Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains which is used to produce Asti Spumante from Italy’s Piedmont region. In France, a fortified wine called vin doux naturel is made from this variety of muscat.
One of my all time favorites is a Muscat Liqueur from Australia, very hard to come by but worth seeking out. It’s very PX like with aroma of coffee, fruit cake, raisins and toffee.
Spanish Moscatel is also fortified, made from the Muscat of Alexandria grape. Moscatel de Setúbal is a fortified wine from Portugal, usually served in bars or as an aperitif.
I first tasted Muscat Ottonel many years ago at a little winery in Oregon called Eyrie; it was dry and very aromatic. And there is Muscat Canelli, with quite a few vineyards in Washington, BV’s Muscat de Beauleiu is made from Muscat Frontignan , Moscato Bianco, Muscat de Frontignan, Muscat d’Alsace, Muskateller, Moscatel Rosé, and Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise. Those are the white skinned grapes, but most are caramel colored in the finished product.
For darker skinned grapes, there is Muscat Rose à Petit Grains, Moscato Giallo, Moscato Rosa. These produce light fragrant rose scented wines.
 in California and Cyprus, dessert wine is made from the Black Muscat.
And then there is the Orange Muscat. These dessert wines have something of an orange aroma and a delightful sweetness to them that just pairs naturally to the pineapple and coconut.
Quady Winery out of California has been “keeping it sweet” since 1975. They make a number of dessert wines including port and a variety of muscats.
Their Essensia is an orange scented wine fortified to 15% alcohol and aged for 3 months in French oak puncheons. Its vibrancy makes it an excellent accompaniment to desserts such as the pineapple pancakes.
But even better is their Electra. As stated on the website, this little sweetie is “light as springtime, delicately sweet, refreshingly crisp, a bouquet of flowers with the taste of peach and melon.”
The wine is filtered at bottling when it is at 4% alcohol which makes it the perfect wine for an Aloha breakfast.
Quady is distributed by Unique Wines. Essencia 2012 is $20 for a full bottle and $15 for the half. Electra 2012 is $10 for the half bottle. Enjoy!

What to Drink – La Crema Monterey Pinot Noir

La Crema 2012 Monterey Pinot Noir

La Crema Winery is really into cool. They have some of the coolest vineyards, Russian River, Carneros, Monterey, Sonoma Coast and Anderson Valley. All perfect places to grow those Burundian grapes of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

They believe the wine is in the details. When grown in the vineyardscool climate vineyards, fruit develops wonderful aromatics and lush flavors with a crisp, firm structure.

The Monterey appellation begins just north of the Monterey Bay and extends south to Paso Robles. This 90-mile-long valley is cooled by ocean winds. The cool climate, abundant sun, strong winds and low rainfall lower the yield, and provide extended hang time which makes for a concentrated flavors and aromas. Also ideal conditions for cultivating the bright acidity that’s the hallmark of a proper Pinot Noir.

The 2012 vintage was a good one. The fruit ripened slowly, with good concentration and fruit character that can only come from extended hang time.

It’s both savory and sweet, showcasing aromas and flavors of pomegranate and blackberry. Framed by sweet herbs and bright acidity, it’s juicy with smooth tannins, a perfect food wine.

This is the wine when everyone is ordering a different entrée which may explain why it was voted Most Popular in a national restaurant poll.

La Crema Monterey Pinot Noir sells for under $20.

What to Drink – Que Sirah, Syrah

Whether it’s Sirah or Syrah, they’re pronounced the same.

These are two grape varieties, are not, however, related even though they taste very similarly. The spelling is one of the small differences between these two grapes.

Petite Sirah is unique to California, the land of Pink Chablis and a jug of burgundy. Petite Sirah got its name because it looked the same a Syrah only smaller, more petite. so they called it Petite Sirah.

The flavor of Petite Sirah is rich, spicy, and full-bodied. All those aromas, flavors and colors are in its skin. And because this grape is so petite, its skin to pulp ratio is high, therefore, more aromas, flavors and color than say, a Cabernet grape.

And that thick skin of the Petite Syrah delivers the classic teeth staining Petite Sirah with rich aromas of blueberry, spice, chocolate and flavors of blueberry and black pepper.  Yum!

Try these longtime producers:

  • Michael David’s Earthquake Petite Sirah which is intense from an old Lodi vineyard planted around the same time of San Francisco’s great Earthquake of 1906. With over 15% alcohol and that tooth staining color, this wine is that purple. Around $20.
  • Bogle Winery California Petite Sirah is sourced from vineyards around Clarksburg and Lodi, and aged in American oak for 12 months. This wine is so impressive with its inky, dark and glass staining features. There are blackberries and blueberries and a concentrated, rich note of toasty oak with hints of mocha. All for $10.
  • EOS Paso Robles Petite Syrah is inky purple in color with the blueberry and black pepper nose and flavors. Very full bodied with more intense fruit, followed by toasted oak and mocha. Mostly Petite Sirah, 84% so it’s legal to put it on the label, blended with a dash of Tempranillo, Grenache, and Syrah. $20 although the 2010 is selling for $6 at Grocery Outlet. Bargain alert, bargain alert…

Cheers!

Wine pair: Roasted pork tenderloin and full-bodied chardonnay

It’s hard to believe that it was only three years ago that Cheers to You came to life online with a simple blog post explaining what we hoped to accomplish with our pairing — a budding wine enthusiast looking to learn more and a seasoned wine aficionado looking to share her knowledge.

Since our first blog post on Aug. 3, 2010 we have expanded our weekly wine talks to include regular posts about wines we’re drinking, definitions of wine terms, and of course this beloved wine pairing column that has found a home in the Kitsap Life section twice a month.

Fortunately for you dear reader this column will continue to appear in print the first and third Sundays of the month, but after today’s column there will be one less face smiling back at you when you pick up the paper. Brynn’s last day with the Kitsap Sun, and Cheers to You, was Oct. 29. She left Kitsap for a new gig a little farther south in Tacoma.

To commemorate her departure and all the fun we’ve had since starting Cheers to You, we are recommending a wine for this week’s pairing that is a little more expensive than we normally would suggest. But don’t worry, we have your interests at heart, so we’re also going to recommend a second, more affordable wine.

Because this is Brynn’s last Cheers to You wine pairing, we felt it only appropriate that we recommend her favorite wine variety to match Ann Vogel’s recipe for roasted pork tenderloin with apples and onions: chardonnay.

Not only are we suggesting a chardonnay, we’re suggesting a creamy, oak-infused chardonnay from California’s prestigious Napa Valley.

A couple of years ago Mary gave Brynn a bottle of her coveted Shafer Chardonnay, sourced from a single vineyard at the northern tip of San Francisco Bay in the Carneros region. We pulled the cork on the bottle this summer and sat back to enjoy its exotic fruit flavors of kiwi, pineapple, lime, papaya, apricot and citrus zest.

As we sipped we discussed the complexity of this wine. It is layered with the crispness of citrus fruits, but balanced almost perfectly with caramelized notes and a crème brûlée finish that lingers. The winery uses wild yeast for its fermentation and does not put the wine through malolactic fermentation. While the wine is full bodied and creamy, these rich notes don’t slap you in the face like some over-oaked California chardonnays.

At $50 this wine is likely not going to make it to many people’s dinner table, but if you have something to celebrate and feel like splurging, keep it on your list.

Sticking with chardonnay, but offering a much more budget-conscious bottle, we also think Waterbrook has a beautiful chardonnay that would pair just as well with the roasted pork tenderloin.

This Walla Walla winery’s 2011 chardonnay has fragrant pineapple and mango aromas with buttery notes. Dried apricots and apple give this wine a full mouthfeel with lingering toast notes on the finish. At $12 (and likely less if you find it on sale at the grocery store) this wine is a great addition to your fall table.

What we’re drinking: Trader Joe’s 2010 Russian River Valley Grand Reserve Pinot Noir

Mary writes:

Pinot Noir is the red grape responsible for red burgundy, the most capricious of all the vinifera vines.

So the Blind Wine group decided to get familiar with this grape that is the most difficult to grow and ferment. Part of the reason for the variation in Pinot Noir lies in its genetic makeup and its propensity to mutate. There are more clones of Pinot Noir than any other varietal.

The Russian River Valley has the perfect climate for this finicky grape.  Trader Joe’s 2010 Russian River Valley Grand Reserve Pinot Noir was one of the stars of the seven wines in our blind tasting.

But 2010 wasn’t an easy year in the Russian River Valley. The young grapes had a wet and chilly spring. Late spring rains prompted growers to pull leaves to open up the canopies and expose the fruit to drying breezes and sunlight. The summer saw plenty of fog and wet weather further slowing grape maturity. Thankfully, an August heat spike promoted development so the grapes were able to reach full maturity in September. This cool spring and summer resulted in balanced flavors and smooth tannins.

Despite the harrowing growing season, this wine had a wonderful sweet black cherry nose with hints of spice; big up front cherry, raspberry flavors with smooth tannins and a spicy, smooth finish. Under $15!

A chardonnay to celebrate your chanterelle harvest

After the blue skies and hot weather here last week, it’s easy to forget about the deluge of heavy rain we had the first week of September.

But if you’re a mushroom hunter, or a chanterelle mushroom lover, you’re probably thanking Mother Nature because that rain resulted in a healthy crop of chanterelles ripe for picking.

These meaty, funnel shaped fungi range in odor and flavor. Different species boast different profiles including fruity, woody or earthy and even peppery or spicy.

The common denominator among all species though is the mushroom’s chemistry that makes it the perfect food to saute in butter or oil, as recommended in Ann Vogel’s two chanterelle recipes. Because they contain smaller amounts of water, the mushrooms pick up flavors imparted by wine if you choose to use it when cooking — also recommended in one of Vogel’s recipes.

Her sauteed recipe calls for using 1/4 cup of dry white wine. We suggest you buy a bottle of dry white wine to drink alongside both dishes.

If you regularly read this column, or the Cheers to You blog where we write about wine every week, you should know by now we’re chardonnay lovers. And seeing that chardonnay is a dry white wine, we highly recommend you cook your chanterelles with chardonnay and pour the rest of the bottle into your glass to sip while you enjoy the fruits of your labor.

California’s J. Lohr Vineyards and Winery has a reasonably priced chardonnay that would match the earthiness of Vogel’s sauteed chanterelles and the richness of her chanterelle and crab pasta.

The 2011 Estates Riverstone Chardonnay comes from the Arroyo Seco Appellation in California’s Monterey County. The wine has a full mouth feel that balances a toasted oak finish with tropical notes and stone fruit flavors. The weight of the wine will go well with the rich flavors of the chanterelles.

The wine is easily found at most grocery stores and retails at $14, but is often offered on discount closer to $10 to $12.

What we’re drinking: Contempo Petite Sirah

Mary writes:

Pettite sirah is unique to California. And although the names sound the same, Sirah is not related to Syrah — note the different spelling.

While they might not be related, Sirah did get its name from Syrah because of the similarities in aroma and flavor.

The Contempo brand is from O’Neil Vintners and Distillers in Parlier, Calif. They supply grapes and do custom crush at their facilities for a number of producers such as Back Story, Camelot, Cloud Break, Pepi, Tin Roof and Wink.

They operate in the style of an old world négociant.

The Petite Sirah is dark red with a lovely purple robe, smooth with plum and tart cherry aromas and flavors with a hint of mocha on the finish. It would make a great barbecue accompaniment.

Grocery Outlet has this screw capped bottle for $4.

What we’re drinking: Pump House Pinot Noir

Mary writes:

Reading the label on this bargain bottle of wine gives a little information about what’s inside.

It was cellared and bottled by Our Cellars out of Healdsburg, Calif. and is a product of France with  12.5 percent alcohol.

So what does that mean? I’ll translate: The pinot noir grapes were picked, crushed and fermented in France. The juice was shipped to California, where it was cellared and bottled.

Further investigation leads me to the conclusion it’s a private label for TJ’s (aka Trader Joe’s). Seems we just can’t stay away from this grocer when it comes to looking for bargain wines (although I bought this at Grocery Outlet).

About the wine. It’s French in style, meaning the fruit is understated and the mineral flavors more prominent. Because of this, it did not show well when first opened. But when aired, it showed tangy red cherry, some raspberry, a hint of orange peel, a nice mineral note, and a slightly tannic finish.

It’s nicely structured and a great everyday red. Another bargain find from Grocery Outlet that will only set you back $6. Grill up some salmon and enjoy with friends. It’s a great match.