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Onward Wines

May 30, 2017 - 10:01pm

When I was first introduced to Onward Wines, I was intrigued by the thought of three wines made from Malvasia Blanca, as I thought of how to approach a piece on unique wines for weekend brunching.  I love Malvasia, and there is really none to speak of in the US – save this little patch of land in Contra Costa County.

Further investigation in to Faith Armstrong Foster’s wines, however, revealed wines that are expressive of terroir in its purist form, quality, uniqueness, and a sense of place in every glass.

 

Onward 2015 Pétillant Naturel, Malvasia Bianca, Capp Inn Ranch, Suisun Valley

Beginning with the beguiling Pétillant Naturel, made from Malvasia Bianca, the Onward selections express freshness that can often get lost in the shuffle.  Pet-Nat, a fun, rustic take on sparkling wine, captures bubbles the old fashioned way.  Bottling these wines before primary fermentation occurs, without the addition of a dosage or yeast, Malvasia Blanca makes a natural muse for this style.

With nutty Marzipan, hazlenut and lychee notes, complemented with Asian pear and honey, the Pet Nat holds peaches and brioche, with ah hint of ripe tuscan melon.  There is a natural salinity coming fro the Malvasia, and a pinch of citrus zest to keep it fresh.

This Pét-Nat is floral and fruity, but refreshingly bone-dry. The opening aromatics are like sticking your nose in a fermentation vat, with yeasty brioche notes and lively youthful freshness. To follow are notes of night blooming jasmine, citrus blossom, melon rind, warm Kaffir lime scones with preserved lemon…and a refreshing hint of sea air….and did I mention soft tiny delicate bubbles!

 

Onward 2014 Malvasia Bianca, Capp Inn Ranch, Suisun Valley

Like a summer day in a bottle, Malvasia Blanca jumps out of the glass with stone fruit, fresh and floral notes and a searing acidity to refresh your hot and dusty taste buds.  The grapes were whole cluster pressed, adding much needed texture and tannin, the wine was finished in stainless steel while the lees were stirred every two weeks.  Oh so very fresh and happy, kumquats and pears dance around golden delicious apples with a splash of fresh cream.

 

Onward 2013 Pinot Noir, Hawkeye Ranch, Redwood Valley

The often forgotten Redwood Valley, deep in the forests of Mendocino County, is an interesting growing region.  With cooler than average temperatures, dense Redwood groves and chilly damp fog, it’s a challenging place to grow any wine – let alone pinot noir.  But grow it does, and this example is a beautiful expression of cool climate pinot noir.

Pale and clear, wild strawberries are front and center with bright hibiscus and Queen Anne cherries.  Juicy pomegranate and rhubarb are rounded out with lingering methol and forest floor notes.

 

Onward 2014 Carignane, Casa Roja Vineyard, Contra Costa County

i love Carignane.  It is one of those lost grapes of California, and was, at one point, a huge part of the old Italian field blends that helped to solidify the commercial wine industry in the state.  Often overlooked, Contra Costa is a prime growing area for Carignane as well as Zinfandel.

This inky dark wine jumps out of the glass with acid and spice notes, with rich blackberry notes.  The palate is juicy plum flesh, boysenberries, zesty hibiscus and fresh cranberry over a layer of black berry cobbler.  The rich blue and black fruit and tempered by brilliant acidity that keeps you wanting more.  You can just see the sneak attack by the field blend friends Mourvedre and Malvasia Nero hiding in there.

Onward doesn’t have a tasting room, but you can usually find Faith cruising around Napa or parts north seeking exceptional fruit.  The wines are available online and and select retailers and are priced beween $20 (Malvasia) and $40 (Pinot Noir) roughly.

A very special thank yuo to Charles Communications and Onward Wines for a wonder lives tasting, and these amazing wines!  I will definitely be adding these to my regular rotation of enjoyment.

For more of Faith’s wines, check out Farmstrong, hand crafted blends.

 

 




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Achaval-Ferrer – wines of distinction from Argentina

May 17, 2017 - 12:00am

When you think of a classic wine from Argentina, you probably think of Malbec.  But would you also think of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and yes – even Merlot?  What exactly is Cabernet’s role in Argentina anyway?

Enter the upstart minds of Achaval-Ferrer.  In 1995, the first twinkle in the eyes of the winery partners appeared, with their minds set to the gestalt of creating the best wines possible.  In 1998, the first property was purchased, Diamonte Vineyard and the winery was founded.

So, last month on #winestudio, we explored the wines of Achaval-Ferrer, from Malbec to Cab Franc, and what a journey it was!  Wine Studio is an ongoing educational project that seeks to bring writers, wineries, and consumers together on Tuesday evenings on Twitter. For the month of April, we explored the wines of Achaval-Ferrer.  My favorites of this series are outlined below.

One Tuesday in April, which happened to be #worldmalbecday, we tasted two wines blind.  Naturally we knew that they were 100%, or at least, significantly, malbec based, but what no one anticipated was that we were actually tasting two vintages of the same wine, with very different results.

These wines were the 2012 & 2013 Quimera, named for the top of the line blend that is made, lke all good wine, in the vineyard.  More than simply the sum of it’s parts, the blend varies ever so slightly every year but is always predominately Malbec.  To showcase the other varietals that Achaval-Ferrer focuses on, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon is blended in.

2012 Quimera

Earthy forest floor erupting n eucalyptus and menthol.  Tobacco and dark chocolate mingling with blueberry and blackberry, with old fashioned black licorice on the finish. Astute and developed but can be cellared for years to come.   $30

 

2013 Quimera (pre-release)

Bursting with fruit, classic Malbec.  Fresh plums, baking spice, hint of dried lavender and herbs de Provence.

What we didn’t know at the time of tasting s that this was the same wine, same blend, but with vintage variation.  According to the winemakers, 2013 was actually a clear year at the site, however, the fruit was showing more, undoubtedly due to it youth.

So what is the point?  The point is that wine is a living thing; wine changes in the bottle, but it changes in the vineyard.  The same wine can be impacted by climate, localized weather, harvest conditions and so much more.

Also, there is more to Argentina than fruit bomb Malbecs.  While they are fun, and great for a party, there is more and more of a Bordeaux influence creeping in; this is natural given the origins of Malbec in Cahors (just south of Bordeaux) and it’s use in many Bordeaux blends.  Stylistically, Malbec from France is quite different, but as time goes on and Argentinian wine grows up, you can see the development of these restrained and austere styles.

So go out and taste some Argentinian blends!  They are relatively inexpensive, and while not cheap (compared to many mass marketed Malbecs) and can offer an eye opening look at what Argentina can produce

Achaval-Ferrer also makes a stunning Cabernet Franc which we also tasted and I highly reccomend!

 

 

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Rosé Colored Glasses: Sidebar Cellars

April 15, 2017 - 11:56am

When I first tasted the Sidebar Cellars Kerner, from the Mokelumne Glen vineyard in Lodi, I thought to myself, “wow this is a fun little white”, as I sat in the heat of Lodi in April.  At that time, we were exploring the Mokelumne River AVA, and I didn’t make the connection to David Ramey of Ramey Cellars.

Fast forward to 2016, and as I get my rosés ready to rumble, a little birdie told me that Sidebar Cellars did a rosé.  Knowing how much I love pink wine around this time of year, I made sure I got my hands on one and I was glad I did!

Sidebar Cellars was born out of Ramey’s desire to play around a bit, and presents a departure from the Ramey Wine Cellars more austere lineup of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon; hence, Sidebar.

The 2016 Sidebar Cellars Russian River Valley Rosé comes from an old-vine Syrah vineyard, and represents a refreshing change of pace from the more common place saignée (bleed off) Pinot Noir rosés, which while delicious, can get a little boring.

Bursting with strawberry and peach on the nose, herbal rose hips and hibiscus came through on the palate.  Tart plum skins and tannin give this wine some oomph, while ruby red grapefruit hides at the back f the palate, offering a refreshing finish.  The zesty green apple and lime lingers on your palate with a hint of pickled watermelon rind, and keeps you going back for another sip.

This is a great summer sipper and pairs surprisingly well with sriracha potato chips!  It would also be an excellent match to your Easter Ham or a roast chicken.

Special thanks to Alexandra O’Gorman, Communications Director at Ramey Wine  Cellars for this delightful sample!

 




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Rosé Colored Glasses – Rodney Strong Rosé of Pinot Noir

April 6, 2017 - 10:42pm

There is something about this time of year that is magical; cool foggy mornings and evenings are tempered with the mild warmth of daylight.  The days are a touch longer, and we can be languid in the sunshine of the late afternoon.

This is rosé season.  Frankly, it’s always rosé season, but right now, in the promising first days of Spring, the wide rainbow of pale salmon, vibrant raspberry, and deep rose deliver a transitional beverage that is simply divine.

Rose can be made from any varietal, but perhaps the most common is Pinot Noir.  In 2016, Sonoma County’s Rodney Strnog Vineyards, which has been going strong for over 25 yeras, released their first rosé, expressly made from Pinot Noir grapes (no saignée here!).

While Russian River Valley can produce Pinot Nori that is a bit too bold for my liking, this rosé is, simply said, perfect.  Harvested at ~20 brix, the grapes kissed the skins for a mere nine hours as the whle clusters were pressed gently.  Slowly fermented in a temperature controlled cellar, the pale salmon pink has hints of orange hues and golden rays of sunlight.

Unlike many rosés of Pinot Noir, the first note is not strawberry or raspberry, but rather a savory one.  Fresh green herbs meet jasmine and grilled peaches, while wild mountain strawberry dances on the tongue at the finish.

An excellent late afternoon tipple on a warm day, especially sweet for the price of $25.

Thanks to the cru at Rodney Strong for making this lovely wine, and sending me a sample!

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Winesense, nonsense, Riesling sense!

April 1, 2017 - 11:33pm

When I was studying for my Certified Specialist of Wine credential, one of the most challenging regions for me was Germany.  Not because of the wines specifically, as while there are some unusual varietals, most German wines are fairly well known, but for the simple reason that deciphering a German wine labels is an exercise in linguistics, frustration, and a pyramid that  would make Giza look simple.

The Rise of Riesling

One of the most classic German wines is Riesling.  Riesling is one of the most complex, diverse, and wondrous wines in the world, and I often want to say “taste the rainbow” when I think of Riesling.

 

From bone dry, to sticky sweet, oily and petrol driven, to chalk and shale, Riesling is produced in a wide variety of styles.  Understanding how to find the specific style you are looking for is part of the mystery and fascination of German wine.

 

Cracking the Code
Varietal

The grape variety is clearly marked, so that’s easy.  We have Riesling

Must Weight

Next, to determine the level of ripeness – or more technically the must weight of the harvested grapes (which really does not have any impact no sweetness of the finished wine), we look at the Prädikat level.  For example, a Riesling picked at it’s fullest potential ripeness, or just a hare’s breath past late harvest, is known as Spätlese.  If you’re looking for something that is picked below full ripeness, go for a Kabinett.  For the sweet sticky beauty of a dessert wine, you want a wine that is at least Auslese, which is late harvest, but true stickies are Beerenauslese or Trokenbeerenauslese.  Confusingly, Troken is also the word for “dry”.

For this wine, it’s marked Spätlese, next to Riesling.

Are you with me?

How Sweet It Is

Here we get to the tricky part.  Since you need to determine the level of sweetness separately from the must weight, you need to classify the taste of the sugar content, using Troken (dry) or Feinherb (off-dry).

This wine is dry, or Trocken.

The relatively new Riesling Scale can help us Americans with these things.  While some people disparage the International Riesling Foundation’s dumbing down of Riesling, at a simple level, it’s helpful.

That said, remember that Riesling is a high acid grape.  Acid balances sweetness, so that even a Medium Sweet Riesling may not play that tune when you are drinking it with maple smoked salmon.

Are You A Good Witch, or a Bad Witch?

Now that we understand what the flavor profile might be in the glass, we need to look at where it is from.  The Qualitätswein (QbA) and Prädikatswein (QmP) designations denote quality wine and quality wine from a specific region, and table wine (Taflewein) and bulk wine (Landwein) are the lower brow everyday wines.

This wine is Prädikatswein, a quality wine from a specific region

The Mosel

Right.  So really, there are many layers of classification but once you understand the basis for categorization, you can generally interpret what to expect from the wine.  So, for January’s Wine Studio Project, we embarked on a tour of the Mosel with Massanois Imports.

The Mosel River winds it’s way through Germany, Luxombourg and France, and the water moderate the frigid temperatures of the region making the steep banks of the river a prime growing region.

The Wines

I won’t bore you with the tasting notes here, but suffice it to say these are some pretty splendid wines.  They serve to show you that the variety of Riesling is wide, and there is something for everyone.

Don’t be afraid of a sweet Riesling!  The searing acidity balances the sweetness out and while it may be shocking when looking at the residual sugar, the balance is magical.  Paired with creamy Indian curries, spicy Thai noodles, and even Ethiopan food, Riesling is an adaptive, changing, developing wine.

 




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A star rises in Amador County

March 31, 2017 - 11:30pm
This past summer,

after the mayhem that is the Wine Bloggers Conference, I was delighted to be invited to visit Bella Grace Vineyards in Amador County.
Just under an hour from Lodi, the Bella Grace Vineyards tasting cave  is tucked away in a hidden cave on 20 acres of vines in Plymouth, with an additional tasting room in the small town of Sutter Creek.

Bella Grace’s Stephen Havill

Our driver, guide, host, and 2nd generation owner, Steven Havill, showed off his family’s property, planted with a wide variety of grapes, with a particular focus on Rhone varietals as well as the classic Amador offering, Zinfandel.

 

Sustainable Quality

With an emphasis on sustainability, it is particular important to the Havills that the highest quality grapes come out of their vineyard, establishing Bella Grace as a force to experience for yourself.

Perfect Pairings

On our visit, Robert Havill, prepared delicious food pairings with the wines.  What happens when you put 10 wine bloggers in a cave and make Frank Morgan get in the car?  Magic!

 

Cutom made t-shirts really throw the message home: Frank Morgan! GET IN THE CAR (if it’s going to Bella Grace)

Variety

Bella Grace has many wines to chose from, including a sparkling brut that is bottled at Anderson Valley’s Roederer Estate facility.   This kicked off the afternoon, as we tasting through the meandering menu of delicious nuggets.  While Zinfandel typically dominates in this region, the rolling foothills also offer some delicious Rhone inspired wines.  Additionally, the Havills source grapes to add variety to their portfolio.

 

 

Olive Oils

Bella Grace also produces a wide variety of olive oils, both natural and with essential flavor components.  I particularly enjoyed the grapefruit and lemon oils!

My wine picks

With so many to choose from, and a long after noon of tasting, it was hard to narrow it down, but my favorites were:

Vermintino – While there is some Vermitino in the 3 Graces Blanc, this is new release and is a great alternative to Sauvignon Blanc.  This Italian varietal does well in Lodi and the foothills, where the hot days yield to cooler evenings, giving this white it’s characteristic acid.

This Spring, Bella Grace is featured in the Wine Bloggers Conference scholarship Wine Club, which was founded by yours truly and Worlds Best Wine Clubs features some unique wineries as well as benefit the scholarship that I work so hard on.

Today, at 6pm, we are featuring the Vermintino from Bella Grace on a live tasting.  Curious in checking out the wine club?  Join us on Facebook Live and hear more about this wine and the club!

Grenache Blanc – one of my go to varietals, this is no exception.  A rich white with creamy acid shows golden delicious apples, lime zest, a hint of oily petrol, and crumbled shale minreatlity.

Grenache – another favorite varietal, which has a wide swatch of expression.  Here, the bold garnet red color shows it’s young nature, with rose petals and ripe cherries.  With earthy leather and tobacco buried in the mid-palate, it finishes with figs and chocolate.  Delicious!

3 Graces Noir – Bella Grace’s GSM blend shows off the Mourvedre base with cracked spices and forest notes.  The fruitiness of the Grenache softens the bones of the Mourvedre, while the Syrah rounds everything out and smooths over the cracks.

Reserve Barbera – Perhaps one of my faovirte domestic Barberas that I have tasted, this luscious and acid forward wine didn’t last the tasting!  This is the oen one I kept going back to with our food pairings.  Inky dark and rich but repleate with red fruit and bitter plum skin, I can’t wait to taste it again and see how more age has mellowed her out.

Melanie, the Dallas Wine Chick, is clearly enjoying her wine!

If you are visiting Amador wine country, it is approximately 2 hours from the San Francisco Bay Area.  Plymouth, where Bella Grace is located, is another 20 minutes on country roads which are a beautiful way to experience the region in good weather.  A second tasting room is located in the historic town of Sutter Creek.

 




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AA Badenhorst – Swartland history in a glass

March 7, 2017 - 6:11pm

If you ask the average person about South Africa, typically you will hear Nelson Mandela, Apartheid, and Pinotage.  If you ask a wine persona about South Africa, you are likely to hear Pinotage and Chenin Blanc.

Chenin Blanc is a unique white wine, with origins in teh Loire Valley of France and is made is a wide variety of styles.  In the South African wine growing regions, Chenin is king.

With 60ish official appellations, and nearly 100,000 hectares plated to vine, wines range from average to exceptional.

The Swartland region of the Western Cape winelands in South Africa, is one of the youngest wine regions in the country, and rapidly growing.  The decomposing granite soils tumble off the low mountains in to a fertile valley that is prime for grapes.

Planted in the 1950s and 1960s with Chenin Blanc, Cinsault, and Grenache, the Badenhorst is located in the  Swartland region of the Western Cape, which is a younger wine region but growing.  The decomposing granite and shale soils tumble off the low mountains in to a fertile valley that is prime for grapes.

Co-owner Adi Badenhorst is a bit of rebel, taking the time to make even the smallest decision such as picking for peak freshness and blending choices.  Raised in a farming community with his cousin Hein, they purchased the Kalmoesfontein farm in 2007 and set about restoring the badly neglected property.

Modeling it on the farms they grew up on with an eye towards making natural wines, the Badenhorts maintain the old techniques of dry farming and hand foot crushing whole clusters.  Using concrete tanks and large wooden vats for fermentation, these wines have a taste of yesterday, with earthy back to the earth flavors and mouthfeel.

With his blends co-fermenting in a bit of a mish mash, Adi doesn’t using rules or classic winemaking by numbers to make his wine.  Instead he relies on what nature has done n the field.


2012 AA Badenhorst Red Blend

This complex blend of Cinsault, Grenache, Shriaz, Mouvedre and Tinta Barocca is a lovely representation of how Rhône varietals do well in many climates.  You might know that Cinsault is one of the parent grapes of Pinotage, but here, it is an earthy backbone to this lush red wine and I love the flavors it imparts.  Cinsault here, is an old school country grape, and was often used to make bulk or table wine.  Today, is once again a premium grape.

Aging in 4000 liter casks for 16 months, the oak is a very subtle note and not at all influential in this easy to drink red.

The savory, smoke meat mingles with old leather and black tea while ripe blackberries layer with dried herbs for a pleasing, masculine blend.  There is fruit here, but the key notes are savory and herbal which is a nice departure from a bold and bombastic Shiraz or Southern Rhone blend.  The silky tannins finish with a minty fresh dusting of black pepper.

The $30 price tag shouldn’t deter you from this wine, and it should be enjoyed with a juicy burger, a steak, or any BBQ.

Special thanks to Colangelo & Partners and Wines of South Africa for providing samples and images!

 




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