Wednesday, September 28, 2011

An Ideal Wine

An Ideal Wine : One Generation's Pursuit of Perfection - and Profit - in Californiaby David Darlington, chronicles the California wine industry primarily through two players: Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon and Leo McCloskey of Enologix. Into these two people's main stories, the book seamlessly integrates numerous other interesting tales ranging from the outrageous Beverly Hills Wine Merchant, to the rebuilding of the wine educational system post prohibition, to the formation of Kendall-Jackson, Two Buck Chuck, and [yellow tail], just to name a few. Randall and Leo take very different paths to try and create great wine, exploring drastically different parts of the wine world, both equally interesting, and sometimes in opposition. Randall searches for the perfect terrior, while Leo uses state of the art wine analysis.

I really enjoyed this 337 page book. Both of the characters are interesting and I love the way the author integrated the multitude of interesting subplots. I feel like I've learned a lot about how wine is made and the history of California wine.

Reading this book has also put a hankering inside me to revisit Bonny Doon, now that I have a history of the place, the man behind the wine, and his struggles. I also wish I could do some sort of blind tasting of a Randall vs Leo wine.

Some Randall Grahm Quotes I Love

"The great pinots are the greatest wines. They're captivating-they have depth, seductiveness, fragrance, complexity... There's nothing like them-they're unrivaled"

Pinot being one of my favorites, how could I not like this.

His description of Zinfandel : "oversized, loud, blustery, lacking finesse...the SUV of grapes...a wine for enthusiasts, not connoisseurs."

I'll be using this to prod Jose, a good friend and Zinfandel nut, for years to come.

I found the chapter on Rhys Vineyard very interesting. I wanted to try their wine so I signed up for their mailing list on their web site. Here's the response I received:

"We have added you to our waiting list. We currently sell all of our wine to our active mailing list. We estimate that there is a 1-2 year wait before you will be able to purchase wine and move onto our active mailing list."

Interesting Terms

biodynamics - Think organic farming to the nines and a little crazy.

lees - The leftover junk (sediment, pulp, and yeast cells) that settle out of a wine after it's been pressed. They consume oxygen, contributing to the chemical process known as reduction.

micro-ox - The controlled injection of oxygen into wine to help soften the tannins.

reverse osmosis - A filtration process that separates a wine's flavor and color from its water and alcohol.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Intimate Zinfandel Blind Tasting

After reading Robert Parker's ratings for the 2009 Ridge wines, I had a hankering to put this to the test.

Our house was a mess due to our refrigerator breaking down, coolers of food were strewn accross the family room, and everything usually found atop the frig, was now on the dining room table; what better time to have a blind tasting. That I would even consider a blind tasting in this situation attests to my fanaticism and my wife's ability to entertain on a moments notice and her likeness to an angel. I sent a text to Jose, good friend and known Zinfindel lover, about my crazy idea. He quickly responded; he and Lili were in.

I headed to K&L and Sue went to work on the house. Arriving, I found the shelves empty of the Ridge wines I was looking for. At this point it occurred to me that I should have checked their availability via the web site before I drove the 25 minutes to the store. Thankfully, after some searching and help from the staff, I found what I was looking for: 2009 "Lytton Springs", 2009 "Geyserville", and even the 2009 "East Bench", which the web site said they were out of.

I didn't want to just taste Ridge wines, and Sue thought 5 was too much, so I decided to only taste the top two. Additionally, I threw in a Zin from Storrs I had lying around and a 2006 Picchetti Bellicitti, a group favorite and a wine I know Lili loves.

Jose brought a bottle, even though I told him not to. Instead of putting it into the mix, we decided to try it afterwards.

Ready to Taste Some Zins

We all dug in, trying the wines and comparing notes. It was a tad cool and a little breezy, which may have influenced the wine tastes and smells. Everyone had a hard time getting a good nose off the wines.

The Four Wines

Almost everyone but Lili was convinced the first wine was actually a Pinot, which drove me nuts wondering how I had messed up the bottles. It was a lot lighter than the other Zins, and had a vegital Pinot smell. At one point Jose was willing to bet $100 on it, but I couldn't take the bet for two reasons. First, I never like to bet such huge amounts. Second, I thought I knew more than he did, since I thought the wine was a Ridge from the silver neck I had noticed when I poured it. As it turns out, it was the Storr's Zin, or so the bottle said. Jose was still convinced it was a mislabeled bottle.

After we were finished rating the 4 planned wines, we poured a glass of what Jose brought and rated it.

The Aftermath


Top to Bottom from Left to Right

D - 2006 Picchetti, Bellicitti came in first with an average rating of 4.0625. Purchased at club case discount price at the winery for $25; retails for approximately $37, though I've never paid this. I originally purchased 3 cases when I found out it was in short supply. After this one, I'm down to 3 left.

C - Ridge 2009 Geyserville came in second with an average rating of 3.5. Purchased from K&L for $29.99. It was given 94 points from Robert Parker. Parker said it's anticipated maturity is 2012-2029, so it'll probably get even better.

A - Storrs 2006 Rusty Ridge came in third with an average rating of 3. Purchased from the winery for $30; I believe we got 10% to 15% off this price, but I can't remember. This was the wine all of us, but Lili, thought was a Pinot.

E - 2007 Martin Ranch, Therese Vineyards came in fourth with an average rating of 2.875. Jose brought this because it was from Amador county, and he was sure I wouldn't have any from that region. He likes wine from this region. He paid $25.99 at Whole Foods. It was too jammy and sweet for my taste.

B - Ridge 2009 Lytton Springs came in dead last with an average rating of 2. Purchased from K&L for $31.99. It was given 95 points from Robert Parker. In fairness, Parker said it's anticipated maturity is 2013-2029, so it'll hopefully get better.

The Results in Ted's Trademarked Format

It's pretty shocking that Lytton Springs came in last. I was glad to see the Picchetti held up.

We headed inside with our favorite glass to enjoy what Sue had whipped up for us.

9/25/2011 - Pick of the Week

My Pick of the Week
Sue's Pick of the Week
Weekly Indulgence
  • 2004 Fleming Jenkins, Napa Valley, Red Wine, Choreography
  • 2008 Marilyn Remark, Arroyo Loma Vineyard, Monterey County, Syrah
  • 2008 Hahn Winery, Central Coast, Red Wine, Meritage
  • 2008 Pierce, San Antonion Valley, Monterey County, Cosecheiro
    • A blend of 52% Tempranillo, 38% Touriga, 6% Graciano, 4% Petite Sirah
  • 2007 Sycamore Creek, Winemakers Selection, Santa Clara Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2008 Sycamore Creek, Santa Clara Valley, Red Wine, Mosaico

Friday, September 23, 2011

Parker Scores Ridge Zinfandels High

The front page of K&L Wines was showing Parker's ratings of Ridge's Zinfandels

  • 2009 Ridge Vineyards "Lytton Springs" Dry Creek Zinfandel
    • 95 Points
  • 2009 Ridge Vineyards "Geyserville" Sonoma Zinfandel
    • 94 Points
  • 2009 Ridge Vineyards "East Bench" Sonoma Zinfandel
    • 92 Points
It's amazing how well Ridge's wines are rated, and they're just up the hill. I'm obviously not enjoying them often enough.


I've been slow to come around to Parker no longer tastes California wines. It turns out that these were actually rated by someone else at Robert Parker's Wine Advocate. Does it make a difference? You tell me.

Fleming Jenkins

Fleming Jenkins announced to their club members that they were closing at the end of the year. We went with Ted and Shannon to their tasting room in downtown Los Gatos to check out their closeout deals.

We drove with Shannon, so a car was nearby for wine transportation purposes (Ted's idea), while Ted walked Sport the five blocks from their house. Sport was not allowed inside, but they said we could taste with him at the tables outside. Ted and Shannon decided he could stay outside while we tasted. Sport begrudgingly waited just outside the door.

The tasting room was nicely decorated with plenty of room at the bar. It also included a small gift shop area.

I was surprised to see both the owners, Greg Jenkins and Peggy Fleming, were in the tasting room. I had visited their a couple of times before and had never seen either of them. It was exciting to see them. They came over and introduced themselves to us. They were very friendly. You could tell they were genuinely nice people.

Hey, Look, It's Peggy Fleming!

They told us how sad they were to be leaving the business, but they wanted to have more time for themselves. Ted asked Greg, who is also the wine maker, what would happen to all the equipment. Greg explained that they made all their wine at Testarossa, and didn't own any equipment.

Conversation wandered to entertaining. Greg and Peggy talked about entertaining friends recently where they barbecued salad, and finished the meal up with barbecued watermelon. They seemed to find inventive uses for the BBQ, also telling us about barbecuing peaches with blue cheese. This sounded interesting, though I doubt I could work up the nerve to try it.

Afterwards I felt stupid for not getting a good picture of the two of them. At least I got one of these two lovely ladies.

We tasted four wines: 2010 Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay, 2008 Santa Cruz Mountains Syrah, 2007 Choreography, their scrumptious Bordeaux style blend, and a Port. Everything was very good, except the port, which I can never stomach the sweetness of. The wines were a tad expensive, most at $40 a bottle, but were more in the decent price range with the closing and wine club discounts. They had two other really good Syrahs from Black Ridge and Madden Ranch that we didn't try; I can't remember why these were not on the menu. A number of items were already sold out, which might have explained this.

Another reason for going was to pick up some of their Victories Rosé, which both Shannon and Sue love. The wine was created to raise money to find a cure for breast cancer after Peggy was diagnosed and subsequently conquered the horrible disease. I can give or take most Rosés, but I can appreciate drinking this one, since it's supports a good cause.

We left with some cases in hand. Sport was glad to see us.

Winery Details

Sunday, September 18, 2011

9/18/2011 - Pick of the Week

My Pick of the Week
Sue's Pick of the Week
Weekly Indulgence
  • 2008 Fleming Jenkins, Santa Cruz Mountains, Syrah
  • 2003 Naumann, Santa Cruz Mountains, Estate, Merlot
  • 2009 Villa del Monte, Santa Cruz Mountains, Villa Festa Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2006 Thomas Fogarty, Oleta Vineyard, Fiddleton, Barbera
  • 2009 Smith & Hook (a brand of Hahn), Central Coast, Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2007 Pierce, San Antonio Valley, Petite Sirah
  • 2007 Sycamore Creek, Winemakers Selection, Santa Clara Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon

Friday, September 16, 2011

Skov Winery

Nebraska was up 23 to 0 at half time vs Tennessee at Chattanooga in the season opener, so we decided to hit a winery that Ted and Shannon had discovered a couple of weeks before at the Scotts Valley Wine Walk. An hour later and 20 degrees cooler we had gone a hop, skip, and a jump from Scotts Valley, via a winding, thick forested road, and had arrived at Skov Winery.

The Road to Skov

Annette and David Hunt purchased Roudon-Smith Winery in 2003, but went their own way in December of 2010, forming Skov. They opened the tasting room March 19th; no wonder I'd never heard of them. Skov, pronounced Sko (the V is silent), is a Danish word meaning forest, reflecting Annette's heritage and the location of the winery.

The tasting room was nicely decorated though a tad small, fitting 2 or 3 couples comfortably. Outside, the scenic grounds had plenty of room to sit and enjoy your tasting or even a picnic. Sahara, the winery dog, greeted everyone warmly, except for the occasional dog riding by in a truck, which she would run after barking and warn off. Families and dogs were equally welcomed.

Skov's Outdoor Area

The interesting and entertaining Fred Reiss poured our tastes for us. He has authored three books, which were on the bar: Gidget Must Die,, and Insult and Live!. Fred showed us the bottling line, explaining how everything worked. He threw out a French term, ullage, which is the unfilled space at the top of a bottle of wine; first time I'd heard that before. He continued his education, explaining that harvest was close and how wine makers would use refractometers to determine the percentage of sugar in a grape. Given our interest in wine, Fred recommended the book An Ideal Wine, which Bob had also recommended via a Washington Post review. He also recommended a couple of movies: MonteVino and Blood Into Wine. Fred's retelling of some of the scenes in MonteVino made the movie sound very interesting; we can't wait for this DVD to come in the mail. Blood Into Wine was available via NetFlix streaming and we enjoyed it that night.

At some point during our tasting Annette came into the tasting room and enthusiastically greeted everyone. You could tell she loved what she was doing! She made her way around the room, trying to talk to everyone and making them feel welcome.

While we tasted, a friendly couple from southern California, who were camping nearby, picked up a couple of bottles of the Chard for company that was due to arrive soon.

I Enjoy the Zin and Give a Pet

The wine was very good. In addition to trying all the wines on the tasting menu we paid $5 for a glass of Merlot and Zinfandel to complete the sampling. Both were very interesting, in a good way, but probably could have used some time to breathe. We picked up a bottle of the Pinot, even though I wasn't totally sold, but knew Ted would enjoy it, and the Zin, which begged to be tasted again.

Sue Enjoys the Merlot

We headed home, getting the final score on the game: 40 to 7.

Winery Details


Unfortunately, Skov has closed its doors.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"May be the single finest value in American Pinot Noir" - Wine Advocate

I just received an email from K&L titled "May be the single finest value in American Pinot Noir" - Wine Advocate. How on earth am I supposed to be able to not at least try a bottle of this stuff, especially at $19.99? I think the best strategy is to not receive the email.

I'll let you know.

92 points Robert Parker's Wine Advocate: "The 2009 Pinot Noir bursts from the glass with expressive red fruit, flowers, spices and mint. It shows lovely mid-palate juiciness and an elegant, polished finish. At $24 a bottle, it may very well be the single finest value in American Pinot Noir. I was hardly surprised to learn Emirates chose to serve this wine in their business class cabin last year. This is a dazzling wine from start to finish. It is also one of the two 2008 Pinots made from fully destemmed fruit. Wow! Anticipated maturity: 2011-2016." (08/11)

Buyer's Remorse

On a reread I'm not certain I originally saw the word value. I believe I read "May be the single finest American Pinot Noir" when I ordered it. Just a slight difference.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11/2011 - Pick of the Week

My Pick of the Week
Sue's Pick of the Week
Weekly Indulgence
  • 2009 Picchetti, Malbec, Paso Rolbles
    • Part of last month's club delivery
  • 2008 Wrath, Quasi Nullia, Monterey, Pinot Noir
  • 2005 Silver Mountain Vineyards, Central Coast Red Wine, Alloy
  • 2008 Picchetti, Tempranillo, Grace Vineyards, El Dorado County
    • Part of last month's club delivery
  • 2007 Gatos Locos (a brand of Vine Hill), Clements Hills, Syrah

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Mountain Winery U - Wine Classes

A couple of weeks ago, Ted, Shannon, Sue and I took a couple of classes at The Mountain WineryWine Tasting Basics: See, Sniff, Sip, Sense and Component Tasting.

The classes were taught by Ilyse Pender, a certified sommelier and then some. She seemed a little timid at first but quickly warmed up to the group, sharing her knowledge in a friendly manner. She explained that this was the inaugural class and they were still working out some of the kinks. Interestingly, the classroom was right behind the stage where the Devo roadies were setting up for the show that night, not that we could hear any of their work.

Ilyse Pender

Wine Tasting Basics: See, Sniff, Sip, Sense

Ted, Shannon, & Sue Enjoy a Wine Tasting Basics Refresh

This class covered the basics of wines tasting delving into a See, Sniff, Sip, and Sense system. Most of this we'd had before, but a review every year or so is always fun.

For smell she taught a FEW system, (F)ruit/Non-Fruit, (E)arth, and (W)ood, accompanied with a handout of common smells in the category, which worked well.

Some interesting things we learned:
  • Don't initially swirl the wine before your first smell. There are delicate aromas that may be lost when swirling.
  • How to sense the structure of a wine
    • To sense sweetness stick the tip of the tongue in the glass
    • To sense acidity put the wine of the side of the tongue and notice if you begin to salivate
    • Oak tannin can be sensed as a drying sensation on the back of the tongue. Fruit tannin is sensed on the gums of the front teeth.

Component Tasting

The second class was more intimate, about half the people from the first didn't attend.

Component Tasting Setup

First we learned where on our tongues we tasted sweetness, acidity, and tannins. This was followed up by giving us four glasses of Chardonnay, 3 of which were spiked. Our task was to determine how each was spiked, either with sweetness, acid, or tannin. This sounds simple, but wasn't, at least not for me.

Next they had us pour the wine of our choice and decompose it with the help of different FEW stations set up with the different components. We moved from stations to station, smelling the components and trying to find matches in our wine. I found this immensely helpful, and wished I had a box full of these smells.


The first class was well worth the $25. The second class seemed a tad expensive at $40 for what we got. If they add in a little more structure I think they'll have a winner.

The Winery

While we were not there to strictly wine taste, we did get to taste and decompose most of the wines they had to offer. We also purchased a couple of cheese plates for lunch, not our original plan, but worked well enough, and checked out the tasting area.

Ted & Sue at the Tasting Station Picking Up Some Cheese Plates

Sue Checks Out One of the Tasting Areas

The winery has a beautiful outdoor tasting room with a great view, and plenty of room for hanging out with friends and tasting wine. The wine was good, but nothing really stood out to me.

A View from the Winery

They also are a fantastic venue for concerts. A little expensive, but mostly worth the intimacy.

The Amphitheater

Fact Check

During one of the classes, I asserted that it is illegal to add sugar to wine in the United States. Only European wine makers could add sugar while only US wine makers could add acid.

It turns out this is false. Chaptalization, adding sugar to unfermented grapes in order to increase the alcohol content after fermentation, is legal in the US, though not in California.

"In the United States, federal law permits chaptalization when producing natural grape wine from juice with low sugar content.[13] This allows chaptalization in cooler states such as Oregon, or in states such as Florida where the native grape (Muscadine) is naturally low in sugar. However, individual states may still create their own regulations; California, for example, prohibits chaptalization,[14] although California winemakers may add grape concentrate."

I lost $5 on this bet and sent Ilyse a "you were right" email.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Wine Movie : Blood Into Wine

We streamed Blood into Wine on the recommendation of Fred Reiss, our pourer from Skov Winery. Our preference was to watch his Mondovino recommendation, but this was unavailable for streaming on NetFlix. We'll have to wait for the DVD.

The movie is an interesting look at Maynard James Keenan's journey to make wine in Arizona. Maynard is the lead singer of Tool, A Perfect Circle, and Puscifer; none of which Sue nor I are very familiar with. Maynard teams up with Eric Glomski, previously a wine maker at David Bruce, to create a winery: Cadeceus Cellars.

The movie is more about Maynard's journey than wine making in general. He's a pretty interesting character, but the movie probably fares better with his existing fans. We would have preferred more wine related information. We give it a weak recommendation.

Maynard used this incredibly cool fish corkscrew. I wonder how many of these they have sold since the movie. I know we ordered one.

Pisces Corkscrew

The wine sounded pretty interesting and we'd love to try some, though a lot of it seems sold out on their web site.

I recommend this movie. I liked it, giving it it three stars out of five.

*** Spoiler Alert ***

Q: Was that show at the beginning real? It seemed way to unbelievable to be real.

A: ???

Sunday, September 4, 2011

9/04/2011 - Pick of the Week

My Pick of the Week
Sue's Pick of the Week
Weekly Indulgence
  • 2007 Pierce, San Antonio Valley, Monterey County, Tempranillo
  • 2008 Tondre, Santa Lucia Highlands, Tondre Grapefield, Pinot Noir
  • 2008 Cantina del Pino, Lange Nebbiolo
  • 2008 Bethel Heights, "Estate", Eola-Amity Hills, Pinot Noir
  • 2008 Domaine Drouhin, Oregon, Willamette Valley, Pinot Noir
  • 2008 Domaine Serene, "Yamhill Cuvee", Willamette Valley, Pinot Noir

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Intimate Pinot Blind Tasting

On a whim I thought it would be fun to have a simple dinner and blind wine tasting with the Fosters. I figured the chances were slim sending a text at 5:30, but was pleasantly surprised when they replied that they were in. We had caught them just in time; they were pulling out of their driveway about to go to a dinner reservation at Town. 45 minutes later they were at our house wanting to socialize and ready to try some Pinots.

I wanted to try out a couple of wines I had recently picked up. The first wines I wanted to try were two Oregon Pinots I picked up on a recommendation from an acquaintance at work. The third wine I had also picked up one of the highly ranked Russian River Pinots Wine Enthusiast recommended in a recent round up of the region. To make an even four, I threw in a random Pinot we had picked up from Hahn that I knew I would not be able to identify by taste. I only knew I had liked it enough to buy it when visiting the winery, which can mean less than you think.

I wanted to start off with a white, since Carolyn prefers them, but all I could find was a cold Lambrusco. I poured a little in an attempt to entertain Bob and Carolyn as I put the final parts of the tasting together. It didn't go over very well. Sue loves this stuff, but I'm iffy on it, as were our guests.

Kaitlynn begrudgingly helped me randomize and number the bottles. She insisted she would rather be working on homework. It was a Friday night, I somehow doubted it. I felt the love.

Everything all set up

Individual set up

I told everyone what I knew of the Pinots. I wasn't certain this was the best policy, but I thought it might give me some advantage, so I risked sharing the knowledge. I knew that two were from Oregon, one was from the Russian River Valley, and one was from Santa Lucia Highlands. Knowing this allowed us to also take a guess at the regions of wines, as we tasted.

Ready to taste some Pinots

For close to a couple of hours we examined, smelled, and tasted the four wines. After allowing everyone to form their own opinions, we talked about what we were experiencing. We had fun resampling and comparing the wines. Having all wines in front of us allowed everyone to refine their opinions. Some even drastically changed. Bob originally gave D a 5, noting a taste of chocolate, but ended up lowering it to a 2. It's possible obvious that we influenced each other, but it was more enjoyable this way.

Finally we tallied up the scores and revealed the wines.


Top to bottom from left to right

B - 2009 Hahn SLH Estate Pinot Noir came in first place with an average of 4.075. I can't remember what we paid for it at the winery. It looks like retail is $29, but I found on the web for $24.

2009 Hahn SLH Estate Pinot Noir

A - 2008 Shea Wine Cellars Estate Willamette Valley Pinot Noir came in a close second with an average of 3.75. I paid $38 for this from K&L.

2008 Shea Wine Cellars Estate Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 

D - 2007 Domaine Serene "Evenstad Reserve" Willamette Valley Pinot Noir came in third. I paid $50 for this from K&L. This was the recommendation of an Oregon Pinot lover acquaintance at work.

2007 Domaine Serene "Evenstad Reserve" Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

C - 2007 Joseph Swan "Trenton Estate" Russian River Valley Pinot Noir came in last. I paid $50 for this from K&L. Wine Enthusiast ranked this as their #1 classic pic from the Santa Rosa Plains, giving it a 97 and an Editor's Choice.

2007 Joseph Swan "Trenton Estate" Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

The Results in Ted's Trade Marked Format

I was shocked that the Hahn came in first. I was convinced the crappy D was the Hahn. Wow was I surprised when it turned out to be the main recommendation from the Oregon Pinot lover at work. I thought A, B, and C were all very good. My top to bottom order was A, B, C, D.

We dug into pizza and pasta from Amici's, enjoying more of each other's company before calling it a night.