Tag Archives: Chardonnay

Weekend in California Wine Country – Day One

A weekend in Wine Country is never enough time.

Although the Wine Country is a great getaway and incredibly beautiful; 2 days in California Wine Country is just not enough. Especially if you are half a continent away from California in Dallas, Texas and you spend much of your valuable time in an airport, on an airplane, or trying to get a rental car!

My beautiful wife Margie was going to be in Oakland and Sacramento on business back in March, so I decided that would be the PERFECT excuse to take a day off and spend the weekend together in my personal  Mecca; Napa and Sonoma! So I set up a few appointments for winery visits on the first day day and left the last day wide open to do whatever came to mind.

Wine County Weekend!
Wine County Weekend!

You can imagine I have a multitude of  connections in the wine industry, and get offers to visit and write about my experiences on a regular basis. So I could have scheduled 4-5 winery visits per day and had every minute of our two days booked.But I really needed a nice relaxing and romantic weekend with my beautiful wife more than I needed to visit new wineries.

Margie is a Director of a large hair care products distributor, and lots of travel is just part of her job description. And the beginning of a New Year always brings on even more travel (to get the New Year started), so she has been away from home more than usual. Spending really quality time with each other was very high on our list.

SO…I only scheduled TWO (yes you read right, two) winery visits for the trip!

I flew into Oakland on Thursday, landing about Noon and rented a convertible Mustang. I then drove “topless” to Sacramento to pick Margie up at her hotel. She had just finished meeting with her clients in the early afternoon, and they were begging her to go to happy hour to celebrate a successful meeting. She politely said no, offering that I was picking her up and we were going to Wine Country for a fun weekend!

My wife is absolutely my best friend in the world, and we have an incredible marriage. We have so much fun together, sometimes doing absolutly nothing but making the best of our time making each other laugh.

I am a lucky man indeed!

 

Happy Couple
Happy Couple

The first night we decided to head over to Healdsburg for dinner at one of our favorite restaurants in Sonoma Valley;  BarnDiva. Located on Center Street in Healdsburg, it is an eclectic blend of different modern and old barn decor, with an ever changing menu. The bar scene is terrific and hip at night, and the Patio and area out back is calm, artistic, and relaxing during the day. The food is always creative, delicious, and ever changing according to the season. If you go you have to try the goat cheese croquettes with Wildflower Honey and Lavender is is incredible!!!

Goat Cheese Croquettes with Lavender Honey.
Goat Cheese Croquettes with Lavender Honey.

We enjoyed a perfect 2009 Simmonet-Febvre Vaillons 1ér Cru Chablis with our dinner that was outstanding.

Bar at BarnDiva Healdsburg
Bar at BarnDiva Healdsburg

The next morning I had a 9:30 appointment with Jeff Mangahas, Winemaker at the legendary Williams Selyem Winery in Russian River, Sonoma Valley. Jeff was gracious and accommodating with his time. You can read more and the actual interview with Jeff in my previous post in March. It is times like these that I dearly love what I do, as I feel very humbled to have had this opportunity to interview and spend time just visiting and talking wine with Jeff. We loved the behind the scenes stories as well that can only be told by the winemaker!

Williams-Selyem Russian River
Williams-Selyem Russian River
Rare "Winery Only" wines, sold on premise.
Rare “Winery Only” wines, sold on premise.
Talking Wine and theory with Jeff Mangahas
Talking Wine and theory with Jeff Mangahas
Thank you Jeff!
Thank you Jeff!

Our next appointment wasn’t until 2:30 but it was across the mountain range in St Helena, Napa Valley. For those of you that have driven from Santa Rosa to Napa Valley know there is a mountain range between the two valleys. So as the crow flies it isn’t that far. But to drive you have 2 choices;

1. Go south on Hwy 101 and go around Southern Sonoma down and come up along the highway 121 to Scenic Hwy 29 where all the wineries are located just North of the City of Napa (BORING).

2. From Santa Rosa in Sonoma Valley head east along Calistoga Road, across the mountains to Petrified Forest Road to Calistoga. This is the scenic route! If you can ALWAYS take this route because it is so beautiful and so “Northern California”.

Calistoga, CA is a beautiful place to stay, taste wine, have lunch or dinner, shop, and just spend time! We had about 2 hours to kill before our next appointment at Fantesca, so we stopped and had lunch outside at Calistoga Kitchen on Cedar St. Very quaint and full of character. Great food, and we were so impressed with the owner and Chef Rick Wankel. Margie and I split a terrific BLT with duck egg and it was incredible! The bacon was localy sourced thick cut, smoked to perfection, and very meaty! We split a County Line Mixed Green Salad, and enjoyed a bottle of 2012 Cakebread Cellars Napa Chardonnay (that matched perfectly) and we were in heaven! The owner Rick explained his food is ingredients driven, featuring local growers, purveyors, and wines. If you are in the area I highly suggest a visit and tell them the Terry Hill the Texas Wineaux sent you!

Rick Warkel Chef, Calistoga Kitchen
Rick Warkel Chef, Calistoga Kitchen
Duck Egg BLT at Calistoga Kitchen
Duck Egg BLT at Calistoga Kitchen

When I took my Sommelier class at Texas Sommelier Conference (TEXSOM) many years ago, Master Sommelier DLynn Proctor assisted in our instructions and blind tastings, and I have kept contact with him over the years. You may know DLynn from the movie “SOMM”. Dlynn had suggested a few wineries to vist that were “unknown gems”  in Napa. I chose Fantesca Winery from his suggestion and it was terrific. Fantesca was an extremely interesting story.

Susan and Duane Hoff  were working for Best Buy, and decided they wanted to be in the wine business. So they bought 53 acres with 10 planted to vines in Napa Valley. The property was originally part of Caroline Bale’s dowry when she married Charles Krug, and the vineyards dated back to the 1860’s. After Phylloxera epidemic of the 1900’s and then Prohibition in the 1920’s the vineyard was allowed to go back to native forest for more than 70 years! The vineyard was replanted in 1997 with only 10 acres.

Susan Hoff is the real heart and soul of Fantesca, and she recruited the legendary winemaker Heidi Barrett to be the Winemaker. If you are not familiar with Heidi Barrett; she gained legendary status at Dalle Valle by creating powerful Cabs including the famous “Maya” cult cab that received two perfect 100-pt scores from Robert Parker. She then was hired by Screaming Eagle and AGAIN received two perfect 100-pt scores from Parker! This is a legendary name in Napa and she married well too. You may know Heidi’s husband Bo Barrett and Father-in-Law Jim Barrett of Chateau Montelena and the famous Judgment of Paris and the movie Bottle Shock.

We had a personal tasting of available wines, a barrel tasting, and a tour of the facilities including the Cave. The Cave was an old silver mine in Spring Mountain, and it holds the barrels for aging at a perfect 58-F.

Barrel Tasting in the Cave at Fantesca!
Barrel Tasting in the Cave at Fantesca!
Fantesca Chardonnay
Fantesca Chardonnay

The 2012 King Richard Reserve Russian River Pinot Noir and the 2012 Russian River Sonoma County Chardonnay were all that was available for tasting, and both were quite impressive. We left with few bottles of each, and we are looking forward to sharing these incredible Heidi Barrett wines soon! I will have tasting notes at that time.

Next stop was the iconic and legendary Chateau Montelena! I This is the historic winery that bested the French Burgundy in the famous Judgement of Paris! I have been all over Sonoma and Napa Valley and never visited in the past, so a quick visit of the beautiful property so full of history was a “must stop”. We strolled around the beautiful grounds longer than we did tasting wine because I know how incredible these Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are already because Margie and I often drink them at home.

The Pond at Chateau Montelena
The Pond at Chateau Montelena
Chateau Montelena
Chateau Montelena

 

Bottle Sizes of Ch Montelena
Bottle Sizes of Ch Montelena

We headed South on Hwy 29, and even though I knew it was getting late in the day I always have to stop at one of my favorite wineries; Peju Province Winery in the mecca for Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford. We stopped in for a quick tasting! Then back in the car to visit my very special friend Carrie at Napa Valley Wine and Cigar in the city of Napa!

Carrie at NV Wine and Cigar!
Carrie at NV Wine and Cigar!

Stopping to see Carrie is ALWAYS a MUST STOP for me when in Napa!

She is such a sweetheart, and she has an absolutely phenomenal selection of wines and cigars for all your hedonistic needs. If you tell her I sent you and ask very nicely, she will take you to the back room and the “special stash” of wines. I have bought some great wines from her over the years because she is on everyone’s wine lists, and has the wines in stock when no one else does!

Looking for a Harlan Estates or Screaming Eagle? She has it! How about a Dalle Valle or Saxum’s James Berry Vineyard? She has it!

Pick up a great stogie while you are there too!

We were exhausted after a long day in paradise, so we had a simple dinner and an early night getting ready for the next day!

Check back soon for Day-2 where we have NO SCHEDULE and we improvise the entire day!

Terry Hill The Texas Wineaux!

(Leave a comment!)

Wine: In Pursuit Of Balance

Wines in California have been dominated of late by the modern style of wine making; i.e. big wines with high alcohol, low acidity, and very fruit forward. However there is a very discernable movement in the last few years to go back to the more “old world style” of wines where overall balance in all areas is much more important. This is the manifesto of in pursuit of balance.

 

Cheers!

 

Which is a better wine; rich buttery California chardonnay dominated by oak, or  balanced French Burgundy that is dominated by terroir?

I have had this argument with many of my wine buddies, and often with my beautiful wife Margie. She and her girlfriends prefer the rich, buttery, oaky chards to the French Burgundy. The bigger the butter bomb the better in their opinion! And who am I to say what is right and what is wrong? Obviously the market ultimately decides what is most popular. The big butter bomb chardonnay, as well as over ripe pinot noir with low acidity have become some of most popular and best selling wines in America. Thank the movie Sideways for the explosion of Pinot Noir in the US 10 years ago this month. But the proliferation of plunk wines that comes with quick popularity has ended us at this juntion.

I personally do not enjoy these high alcohol and highly manipulated wines. In fact almost refuse to drink them. Life is too short to drink a wine I do not enjoy. So I have gotten to the point I simply open a bottle for her, and then open  another bottle of wine for myself.

I became a member of the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) club many years ago.

IMG_2819

Then I toured and tasted Chablis and Cote d’ Beaune in Burgundy, France several years ago, and I discovered what the true expression of the Chardonnay  grape can actually be!

Chardonnay when done right and not overworked by an overzealous winemaker can be the most expressive, incredible, food friendly and world class wines in the world!

The same can be said for Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast, and of course Burgundy, France!

But the style of Pinot Noir that has been becoming more and more popular in California is made in the “Modern Style”, rather than “Old World” style. What is the difference you say?

The Modern style  of California wine industry has been dominated by a richer, fruit forward, low-acidity, with excessive use of oak, and a high alcohol approach. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay have been at the forefront of this movement.  Balance (in my opinion) has completely been lost in making many wines, as some winemakers keep pushing the limits further and further. And even though we love big in Texas:

Bigger is NOT always better. Balance in wines is better!

So let’s consider balance, and why this is important when it comes to wine.

There is a group of individuals, wineries, sommeliers, and wine writers that have joined a movement by the name of In Pursuit Of Balance (IPOB). Organized by Jasmine Hirsch, of Hirsch Vineyards, and Rajat Parr, owner of RN74 and the wine director for the Michael Mina Group of restaurants, they are intent on highlighting what the organizers feel is a style of winemaking that goes underappreciated in California. That is a true balance in winemaking.

“The genius of Pinot Noir is found in subtlety and poise, in its graceful and transparent expression of the soils and climate in which it is grown. Balance in Pinot Noir enables these characteristics to reach their highest expression in a complete wine where no single element dominates the whole.”  – The Manifesto Of Balance

This includes:

  • Whole-picture farming and winemaking. Artisan winemaking techniques are a given at this point. Looking beyond that, let’s consider farming, or even pre-farming decisions, and the thought process behind identifying a great terroir. How do these decisions affect the balance of the ultimate wine?
  • Growing healthy fruit and maintaining natural acidity to achieve optimum ripeness without being overripe. What is ripeness and what is its relation to balance?
  • A question of intention: Can balance in wine be achieved through corrections in the winery or is it the result of a natural process informed by carefully considered intention at every step of the way?
  • Reconsidering the importance of heritage Pinot Noir clones with respect to the omnipresent Dijon clones. What do heritage clones contribute to balanced wine?

Without getting to complicated  and drug down by minutia;

Wines should be an expression of the soils, with a balance that incorporates all its main components; tannins, acid, sweetness, and alcohol in a manner where no one single component stands out above any other.

Sonoma Valley Grapevines
Sonoma Valley Grapevines

Robert Parker Jr. has been a big proponant of  higher alcohol and very fruit driven wines for decades, and his 100 pt scale has rewarded exactly this style of winemaking. As such as you can imagine he has been very critical of IPOB. In fact he was quoted:

“I just don’t think that people making those wines should be trashing the other wines that are big, rich, full-bodied, and alcoholic as some sort of beverage for Neanderthals,” said Parker while speaking at a public gathering of wine professionals last year.

Now I understand that a so called perfect wine is not always possible. There are many things that have a huge effect on the grapes during the growing season such as the weather, soil, climate, and sunlight that play a large role in determineing an excellent,  good or bad vintage.

The French have a word for this called “Terroir”.

But balance should be the main goal for every serious winemaker!

So if you agree with me and the IPOB movement toward a pursuit of balance in California wines, what is the next step? Where do you find these wines?

My personal favorite is Foppoli Wines located in Russian River Valley, Sonoma. Now granted these wines are almost impossible to find unless you are on the membership list. Foppoli believes; great wine is primarily made in the vineyard first and foremost, judicious use of new oak (or no oak), perfect acidity is paramont, and near perfect balance is the most important attribute. And I dare say  Foppoli Lion Edition Chardonnay is one of the best chardonnays I have ever tasted. Email Christina Foppoli at ctfoppoli@yahoo.com  next time you are going to Sonoma and ask for a personal tasting at the ranch. Foppoli insists on meeting you personally;  this is the only way they will add you to the membership list or sell you wine. Trust me when I say it is worth it!

Check out the many wineries and producers such as Hirsch, Twomey Cellars, and Au Bon Climat who have committed to the Manifesto To Balance for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at the IPOB website here.

Thank you for taking the time to review my ramblings and thoughts. Please leave a comment (good or not so good) as I would love your thoughts on this or any of the other articles here at Texas Wineaux.

Hanging grapes

Terry Hill is the Texas Wineaux!