The focus of a blind wine tasting is on the aromas, flavors and colors. Rather than blindfolding everyone, which gets very messy, all the bottles are brown bagged, numbered and corks removed before presenting to the tasting party.
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 served 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
Umbria is fairly unique in that it is one of two landlocked regions in Italy. The other 18 regions all border on the sea.
But in landlocked Umbria just southeast of Tuscany, La Carraia was founded in 1976 by two families. One of the founders was an Italian marketing and production entrepreneur. Before long, La Carraia began producing bulk wines for a couple of top estates, Ruffino and Rocca delle Macie.
Today the winery owns almost 200 hundred acres near the heart of the Orvieto Classico region which is planted to the allowed grapes of Grechetto, Trebbiano, Verdelllo, Drupeggio and Malvasia.
This Sangiovese is a brilliant ruby red color fermented in stainless steel with a lot of punch downs, then aged in oak for 3 months. It has loads of juicy plum and berry fruits on the nose. The plush fruit carries through on the palate with blackberry, plum and hints of herbs and spicy oak. Full bodied with crisp acidity and smooth tannins.
This wine is a bargain at just under $9.
that’s Amore! from Dean Martin’s song, That’s Amore!
One of the loveliest of Italian grapes is Sangiovese. This darkly colored grape gets its name from the Latin, sanguis Jovis or blood of Jove. Jove being the king of gods until Christianity came along.
Italy’s love affair with Sangiovese is proven by the fact that it is the most widely planted red grape variety in Italy. In the romantic Tuscan region, Sangiovese is the grape or the base of some great wines from Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Chianti to Morellino di Scansano.
Ever wondered about the makeup of a Super Tuscan? Generally, these upscale wines from Tuscany allow blending Sangiovese with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah. These tend to be expensive ($$$) and long lived.
Other Italian wine regions planted to Sangiovese and very affordable are Lazio, Umbria, Marche and the Island of Corsica. Outside of Italy, Sangiovese has put down roots in California, Washington and Australia where its naturally high acidity is an asset in those hot climates.
Sangiovese is a thin-skinned, slow ripener. So slow in fact, some vineyards aren’t ready for harvesting until well into October. This extended growing season makes for richer, more concentrated aromas and flavors.
The characteristic Sangiovese flavors are dark cherry and black stone fruit framed with savory notes of tomato leaf and dried herbs. There are many clones, the most prevalent Sangisovese Grosso, is known for its high acidity, sweet and savory flavors and mild tannins.
Brunello di Montalcino is Tuscany’s most famous wine. Brunello from the Sangiovese Grosso clone, is from around the hilltop town of Montalcino where the vineyards radiate down the hillsides from the town.
Although it is not release until it is five years old, Brunello is, with more age, fantastically aromatic, smooth with dark fruits and hints of savory herbs. It’s the perfect marriage with Osso Buco, a traditional Italian dish. This slow and delicious dish of braised veal shanks would surely melt anyone’s heart.
The absolute best Brunello is from Vasco Sassetti. Others to look for would be Biondi Santi, Frescobaldi or Banfi. Brunello di Montalcino averages around $50 to 75.
That would be my dream dinner for Valentine’s Day so here’s another ideal scenario: Spaghetti and Meatballs. Picture two Dalmatians at a checkered tablecloth out the backdoor of an Italian restaurant sucking down the same noodle. It’s a classic scene and an entrée best served with a bottle of Chianti Classico.
The traditional Chianti blend was 75 to 90% Sangiovese with a bit of Canaiolo (10 to 30%) and 10 to 30% Trebbiano and/ or Malvasia. Today, a new law has reduced Canaiolo to 10% and permits up to 10 % non-traditional grapes such as Cabernet and Merlot.
Chianti Classico is situated between Florence and Siena, the inner zone within Tuscany’s Chianti district. Isole y Olena, Gabbiano, and Ruffino are all likely candidates for the seductively simple spaghetti and meatballs with a lovely price point right around $15.
And for that sweet ending to a luscious meal, Ann Vogel’s recipe for Tiramisu must be accompanied by Vin Santo. It’s a style of Tuscan dessert wine made from dried Malvasia or Trebbiano grapes. The best way to describe it – it’s like the kiss of an angel.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
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.
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.
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…
I took her seriously because when we had this discussion, we were sipping Veuve Clicquot. (Just so you know, Justine, I did not buy this wine, but I did enjoy the heck out of it despite the animal on the label.)
Llama is the name and the animal on the label of Belasco de Baquedano Winery’s Malbec. Nestled in the foothills of the Andes, this dark colored wine is from 100 year old vines. Its extracted color stained my glass, and that’s impressive. The intriguing aromas of black cherries and minerals had intense juicy cherry and blackberry flavors set off to perfection by the balancing acidity with a lush, smooth texture and hint of licorice on the finish.
Practically all of the world’s Malbec is grown in Argentina. Successful Argentine growers know this French varietal produces inexpensive, delicious Malbecs from the higher elevation vineyards.
Malbec used to be the favored Bordeaux blending grape but not so much anymore. France has less than 15,000 acres now with the bulk of those vineyards in the Sud Ouest – a ways from its roots in Bordeaux. Higher elevation than Bordeaux but nothing compared to Argentina’s high elevations.
There is also a smattering of Malbec in Washington and California but if you total up the world’s Malbec vineyards, Argentina dominates. Malbec just plain loves the climate Mother Nature bestows on the Mendoza Valley. But Mendoza is vast, and that means different climates in the huge area can produce different flavors and aromas to the same grape variety. Some may have the dark fruit notes while a hundred miles away, more minerals and subdued fruit just like its cousin in Bordeaux.
This fine wine sells for around $10 and worth every penny.
Not too long ago, an old friend stopped by with a bottle of wine in hand. That put a smile on my face. And I was delighted to visit and taste this winery’s Syrah.
I recalled that brothers Jerry and Butch Milbrandt were farmers first, the same as many wineries in Eastern Washington, having worked their family’s Columbia Valley farm for 50 some years growing row crops and orchards. Then in 1996, a couple of big wineries recruited the Millbrandts to grow grapes. They began planting vineyards in 1997.
Today, Milbrandt Vineyards has more than 2,300 acres of grapevines; most of their estate vineyards are located in two AVAs in the Columbia Valley, Wahluke Slope AVA and Ancient Lakes AVA.
The high quality of their fruit became so well known and in such demand, the Milbrandts were selling tons of their grapes to many Washington wineries. That was the impetus for building a custom crush facility in 2005. And then in 2007, they launched their own wines.
The 29 acre Clifton Hill Vineyard in the Wahluke Slope AVA near Mattawa was planted to Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Syrah in 1999. Now a fully mature vineyard, it produces an intense purple-black colored Syrah with a ton of black fruit flavors sprinkled with a hint of herbs and great balanced acidity. This is a big wine with surprising finesse. Expressive and classy, it has a wonderful long smooth finish.
Distributed in Washington by Unique Distributing and sells for around $23.
Remember when we said it was a good thing when there is a lot of real estate listed on the label pinpointing to specific vineyards? Well, this wine, or vinho in Portuguese, doesn’t really have a lot of real estate on the label but it looks and tastes like one.
This highly colored wine is made from a blend of 40% Castelão, widely planted all over Portugal, 15% Tinta Roriz, also known as Tempranillo, 15% Touriga Nacional, the base grape in port and %15 Syrah grapes.
Castelão is a hardy little grape that does well in desert like conditions – dry, sandy and hot – that are the norm around the Lisbon area.
The color is an extracted bright ruby from a long, cool maceration. Bright red fruits dominate the nose. It has concentrated dark cherry and blackberry flavors, and pleasant acidity with light toasty oak notes. It ends with smooth tannins and a fruity finish.
This well balanced wine has good aging potential and sells for $8 to $10.
Imported by Cavatappi Distribuzione, Seattle.
Columbia Crest Syrah
Some time during the Merlot craze of the 90s, David Lake had a few acres of Syrah planted in Washington State. Lake, the winemaker at Columbia Winery, Master of Wine and firm believer in terrior, had a vision of what Syrah could become in Eastern Washington. In 1990, there were a mere 15 acres planted to Syrah; today, there are 3,103 acres of Syrah in the ground.
Washington’s Syrah are luscious and ready to drink upon release unlike Old World Syrah that typically require a few years’ aging.
While dining with a friend recently, a bottle of Columbia Crest Syrah was opened to pair with the grilled flank steak with Chimichurri sauce.
This gorgeous wine was flawless from start to finish. Elegant aromas of smoke, cinnamon, blackerrries and cedar, followed by flavors of pepper, blackberries and currants. It’s a big wine, though the tannins are silky and smooth.
Columbia Crest Winery, not to be confused with Columbia Winery that first planted Syrah, was established in 1983. They are part of Stimson Lane that includes Chateau Ste. Michelle.
The winery is located in the Horse Heaven Hills. And it is huge. It was described when I toured it in 1986 as being as large as four football fields and could store 27,000 59 gallon barrels.
Over the years, Columbia Crest Winery has been named Winery of the Year by numerous wine trade magazines. And now by this blog! At $12.00, it’s a lot of wine for the money.