Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Rosé Colored Glasses

Photo By Bonnie Walker
This past Saturday I had the privileged to sit on the panel of the Rambling Rosé event at Becker Vineyards.  It is a annual ritual we do with the CULINARIA and our host Dr. Richard and Bunny Becker to celebrate the arrival of the new vintage of Provençal!  Having participated for several years now I have a three lessons to share with you.

First; the Becker Vineyards Provençal is excellent!  Year after year we taste it blind, side by side with great rosé wines from around the world.  The Provençal is always equal to better than the other rosés.  This year there were two rosés from the south of France and it was difficult to tell them apart from the Provencal.  Kudos to the entire team at Becker Vineyards.

Second; most people do not know what to think of rosé colored wines in their glasses. "Is it sweet?" "Am I less of a man when my friends see me drinking this pink stuff."  In our culture 'pink wine' in synonymous with White Zinfandel a sweet and unsophisticated wine with a love/hate relationship with the wine community; some people love it others hate it.  In other cultures rosé wines are consumed just like light beer is enjoyed here; ice cold by the glassfuls after a long hard day at work in the sun and heat, preferably in a rowdy bar with your friends while watching sports, by men, manly men who will kick your derrière if you make fun of them for drinking 'pink wine.'

Third; Rosé wines like the Provençal are completely dry (the opposite of sweet) and when made right they have all the complexity and flavor of a red wine only with the volume or intensity level turned down.  The best will have earthyness, smoky notes, red and black fruits only in a "sotto-voce" way.  Like the definition of sotto-voce "intentionally lowering one's voice for emphasis" the winemaker is making a wine that shows you more of what the vines have to offer through a whisper rather than a shout.  There are many a occasion and meals that call for this liquid whisper.  Today; don't we need a bit less shouting?

So, chill down a bottle of Povençal for yourself, pull the cork and listen a some fine classic musicLadies and Gentelmen; MR. JOHN CON-LEE...

If you just got to have the Provencal right now come out to The Westin La Catera Resort to see me and taste the Mourvedre Rosé, Dry, Becker Vineyards, “Provençal”, Texas, 2010:  twelve
 dollars  for a six ounce glass and forty-seven a bottle.
And please reply to this blog; is Rosé  your  favorite wine?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Wine Study- "Pinot Noir"

Romanée-Conti Grand Cru Vineyards

“If Bordeaux’s pleasures are above the neck, 
then red Burgundy is something completely different…”
 –Jancis Robinson."

We continue a series of sessions with the Francesca's at Sunset and Brannon's Cafe teams we are calling "Wine Study."  We are meeting every other Saturday for the purpose of expanding our knowledge and experience with wine.  Some Saturdays we have had to miss due to high business volumes at the resort or because I was out of town.  No matter how long we take off; wine is waiting for us when we return. Our guide is Jancis Robinson's Wine Course DVD, Mrs. Robinson poured depth and detail into this television series that aired in the United Kingdom in 1995 it withstands the test of time!  If you have not purchased this DVD series yet; do so now, it is really GREAT!

Episode 7- Pinot Noir is exciting like the previous episodes where we have seen personalities of the winemakers influencing the wines and/or the terrior of different regions in comparison.  This episode we see the drama that unfolds over many vintages and a significant paradigm shift... 

The show starts in a peaceful pastoral setting in BurgundyEastern France, and Jancis warns us there are passions smoldering underneath the calm surface.  She tells us about “Queen of Burgundy” who is in exile, “Pope of Burgundy” given up earthly matters almost retired and hints at the drama surrounding the creation of these "Bottles to Die For" coming from this world famous village; Vosne-Romanee!

As dramatic as this all sounds coming from a breathless Mrs. Robinson it is nothing compared to the French Revolution.  It is brought up here to explain how the vineyard plots are carved up into smaller and smaller segments with each generation. The French Revolution, with it's overworked GUILLOTINES, ushered in the Napoleonic Code which changed the inheritance laws so that all family members shared equally.  Thus, when a person died with four children; each child received ¼ of the holdings.  For a vineyard site that was two hectares the four children would then each have 1/2 a hectare.  If each of them has only two children they will end up with a 1/4 hectare and within a couple more generations the family will be dividing up vine rows and then individual vines. Seems very fare to the families yet brutal to the vineyards and the terribly crippling to the making and selling of great wine. 

Where ever some men make problems; others will make solutions.  Out of this fragmented ownership came a robust system of  negociaints. The good negociaint assembles wines from a variety of sources and sells them to customers and exporters/importers.  Examples of negociaints are Bouchard Père et Fils, Joseph Drouhin, Jadot, Faiveley, and Jean-Claude Boisset.  While these names we see the most on the wine shop shelves and restaurant wine list Jancis devotes many minutes to the noble grower producers.  Because there are over 115 négociants who produce the vast majority of the burgundy wine; they only control around 8-10% of the area. Individual growers own 65-67% of the area, and only produce and market only 25% of the wine. Yet, when they become successful they become ROCKSTARS of the wine world! 
Pop-culture t-shirt honoring an old farmer!

“I haven’t a SECRET; I let nature take its course.  I am not a brave person and as nature does the work SO WELL, I don’t see why I should interfere.”  -Henri Jayer

Lalou Bize-Leroy of Domaine Leroy is still rocking!  She set the wine world on fire with sales of DRC to the Japanese market. When she was kicked out of DRC she founded Domaine Leroy which is now fierce competition to the old historic estate.  All the while she remains in harmony with nature and practiceBIODYNAMIC farming.  This is a system of organic agriculture based on a series of lectures to farmers in 1924 by Rudolf Steiner, a German Theosophist.  Biodynamics uses the principles of organic farming—no pesticides or chemical fertilizers—and goes on to include practices of planting and harvesting by solar and lunar cycles and fighting pests such as moths and rabbits by scattering the ashes of their predecessors.  Sometimes looking a lot like 'witchcraft' it is often misunderstood.  One thing seems to be clean the farmers practicing Biodynamics are highly focused on their vines and their vineyard and producing some OUTSTANDING grapes!

“I am sure that it’s for the GLORY of WINE!” -Lalou Bize-Leroy

With so many of these man made obstacles and the impossibly wet and cold conditions, remarkably; Burgundy makes some of the greatest wines in the world!  You see; seventy million years ago Burgundy was underwater, this region was covered with silt, shells and bones of sea creatures that became fossils.  Then thirty-five million years ago geological activity forced up the hills and ridges making fortunately east facing slopes.  The combined effect with the people's wine making ingenuity; these breathtaking wines that can not be made anywhere else on the planet...

Then Mrs. Robinson takes us across the globe to the western coast of the USA for an International Pinot Noir Festival held in OREGON every year.  Here she interviews two men; James Halliday, wine writer and wine maker, along with Robert Kacher, Burgundy Importer.  They raise the question “What is man’s contribution to terrior?” They review the many things a grape grower and wine maker can do that influence the quality of the wine.  Things like;  lowering yields, using state-of-the-art trellising, green harvesting of fruit at the point at which grapes start to change color, hand harvesting of fruit at the point of physiological (taste) ripeness (not analytically (laboratory) ripeness) and sorting by quality as the grapes are harvested.  Just as important, if not more important than the place the grapes are grown is the care and effort by the people growing the grapes and making the wines.

Which is a very nice segue into Jancis' short interview of  the first man to plant Pinot Noir in Oregon; David Lett, founder of Eyrie Vineyards.  He recounts a time in a class at UC Davis, our nations leading university for viticulture, when the professor said “There is NO climate cool enough for Pinot Noir in California.”  Mr. Lett took the professor at his word and searched for a region closer to the same climate as Burgundy and he found the Willamette Valley.  

Today, the world is in love with the Pinot Noirs from Oregon.  Can you imagine if everyone had ONLY gone to Oregon to plant Pinot Noir?  Can you imagine a wine world with out California Pinot Noir???  There would have been no 'Sideways Effect,' there would have been no Williams-Seylem Winery, in the Russian River Valley!  Which is Jancis Robinson's next stop to interview Burt Willaims and Ed Selyem.  Two friends who made incredible success by making Pinot Noir.  Starting in 1981 they grew to the point in 1995 when the interview was filmed they were making five-thousand case a year and selling it in three weeks!  And, in 1998 they sell their winery to the John and Kathe Dyson who by all accounts are making wines as good if not better than the founder's of the winery.  On top of that they have expanded production and built a beautiful new winery!  (Makes one wonder where Mr. Lett's UC Davis Professor is today?) 
“The Old Ways are better.” –Burt Willaims
Williams-Selyem Winery, Russian River Valley 1981

Williams-Selyem Winery, Russian River Valley 2011
That is all for this episode.  On a casual viewing I missed it.  Cheers to Mrs. Robinson and her team; they  have expertly woven into this short show all the wonder and complexity that is Pinot Noir!  A bit of mystery and intrigue, along with some earthy Biodynamic farming and sophisticated power plays in the business of wine.  Reoccurring in these personalities is a bit to a lot of contradiction and this is a quality that I find in some Pinot Noirs and can make this varietal a challenging wine drink, even more so to make. All together we see a portrait of a grape varietal, amazing television.

If you will read this handout which has a few notes from the video and a lot of information and links to more on the web related to the topics Jancis covers, hopefully it adds to the subjects and fills you in on where the personalities from the video are today.  It is my sincere hope that you are finding this blog informative and instructional

To check your learning experience and highlight the most important information here is the quiz.  And the quiz with answers.  And please reply to this blog; is Pinot Noir  your  favorite wine?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Making A Diffrence

If you spend any time at all visiting wineries, talking to wine sales people and/or winemakers you will no doubt hear them try to convince you that one percentage change in a wine blend makes a difference in the taste of the finished wine.  Having espoused this view myself it was very gratifying to have the opportunity to experience it first hand at the Raymond Sommelier Selection blending of the 2009 vintage.

When we entered the blending room we were first oriented by Raymond's winemaker Stephanie L. Putnam.  She introduced us to the five component wines that could be used with two rules. First; the wine has to be a Cabernet Sauvignon; so by law there must be seventy-five percent of the blend.  Second;  the Cabernet Franc wine was limited in the quantity available so a maximum of five-percent is all we could assign this component wine in the final blend.  We were paired in teams of two and I blessed to blend with Virginia Phillip MS.  After that we got to taste each of the component wines...
  • 2009 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon: Red scarlet in color with a wide meniscus.  The aromas are straightforward; cherry, smoke and earthy heft in the background.  The flavors are big and BOLD; juicy lush cherry and velvety vanilla with noticeable tannins and a delicious finish.
  • 2009 Napa Cabernet Franc: Red with notes of brown and purple in the highlights.  A very pretty nose; smoky up front with cranberry and tart cherry and a cedar quality in the depths of the aroma.  The taste is rich with red cherry, vanilla and a tart tannic structure in the finish. (We really liked this wine, a lot. Five percent did not seam like it would be enough.)
  • 2009 Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon: Dark red in color approaching inky quality.  The aromas are a bit closed with notes of black cherry and a brooding qualities that implies a really big wine.  The promise in the aromas are delivered to the palate with a BIG TANNIC entrance with flavors of red and black cherry developing into vanilla and a long smooth finish.
  • 2009 Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon: Red wine with brown highlights.  The aromas start out green with a appealing Eucalyptus quality leading to blackberry fruit.  The flavors are fruit forward with red cherry, blackberry and plum, so fruity are the flavors it implies sweetness.
  • 2009 Sonoma Merlot: Red with blueish tints in the color.  The aromas are blackberry with a tart quality, yet on the palate it tastes soft and rich with blueberries and blackberries, notes of vanilla and a hint of earth in the background.
The five percent Cabernet Franc was a no brainer.  From there we had a preference toward the Napa and Lake Cabs upping their percentage through several blends.  We did try cutting back the Cab Franc to three percent and did not like it as much.  Virginia was very thoughtful in her blending approach and was helpful in guiding the blending to the fifth blend or "Wine E." We both agreed that we really had something in this wine;  45% Napa Cab, 5% Napa Cab Franc, 35% Lake Cab, 5% Sonoma Cab and 10% Sonoma Merlot.  It was smoky in aroma with cherry fruit and a herbaceous note in the background. The flavor was fruit forward with cherry and vanilla giving way to smoky flavors and a tasty finish.  This tasted like THE WINE and it goes on to be tied with the blend from Emily Wines and Matthew Turner which wins the tie breaker.

Stephanie had recommended that when you found the blend you liked to keep blend to see if you could improve upon your success.  We blended three more wines.  "Wine G" I really liked, it had 47% Napa Cab, 5% Napa Cab Franc, 37% Lake Cab, 5% Sonoma Cab and 6% Sonoma Merlot.  The aromas of black cherry came through the smoky qualities and a hint of blueberries shows up with vanilla and richness.  The flavors are also rich with a nice tartness from black and red cherry fruit and vanilla giving way to full tannins and a complex finish.  It was destined to be voted the least liked wine by the group and I am still a little hurt about it.  It was a better wine than that; but some wine had to be last.

Emily and Matt's WINNING blend really was the best blend of the day. It was 60% Napa Cab, 5% Napa Cab Franc, 20% Lake Cab, 12% Sonoma Cab and 3% Sonoma Merlot.  The nose was lush with smoky notes up front with black cherry fruit and a pretty vanilla background.  The mouthfeel was velvety and smooth with the vanilla flavors opening the palate and giving way to juicy red cherry and earthy note in the background fading into a very long finish. In the blind tasting I rated this wine higher than my own and in the tie breaking vote I voted for this wine; it is delicious!
From Left to Right: Matthew Turner -Michael Mina, Stephanie L. Putnam -Raymond,
Jean-Charles Boisset -Raymond, Emily Wines -Kimpton.

Congratulations Emily and Matt for a great job on blending this wine.  The few percentage points difference in the blends really are making a difference in the finished wine. It will be easy to sell and very fun to drink. The experience blending with this group of Sommeliers is a memory I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Thank you to Jean-Charles, Stephanie, Peggy, Carla and everyone at the Boisset Family Estates.

If you think this sounded like fun; well hold on, because you will be able to do it too!!! When the winery renovation is complete the blending room will be open to the public and you will be able to create YOUR OWN blend which the winery will bottle and label for you while you wait!  This will be very exciting; I might go back and make another "Wine G" for myself.