Beaujolais Nouveau Day and Thanksgiving Wine Pairing

Happy Beaujolais Nouveau Day - it's a great Thanksgiving wine pairing

Happy Beaujolais Nouveau Day – it’s a great Thanksgiving wine pairing

It’s the third Thursday of November and that means it’s time for the Beaujolais Nouveau 2014 release. No, the timing has nothing to do with Thanksgiving, although the wine is great paired with Thanksgiving dinner.

Beaujolai Nouveau literally means New Beaujolais. It’s basically wine from Beaujolais, France, that was still grapes back in September. It hasn’t aged. It hasn’t done anything, really, except ferment, making it light and fruity and all the things wine snobs love looking down their long, bony noses at.

Okay, let’s be real. It’s also about the marketing. It started with a guy named Georges DuBoeuf. He is a négociant, or basically, a merchant who collects lots of wine from various producers and blends it together under his own label and sells it. In the mid-1960s, he started his business and became quite the advocate for the wines of Beaujolais.

Winemakers had been making the new wine for years, but it was only for fun and local consumption. The DuBoeuf came along and turned the release into a media event. Local winemakers loved it because selling wine this way was very good for cash flow. It also got a lot of attention for the more serious wine made in the region called Beaujolais Villages, which you do not want to drink new.

The nouveau is made from the gamay grape and is made to drink young. In fact, if you have any hanging around from last year, dump it. Seriously. It’s not even good for sangria at this point.

But it is great for Thanksgiving dinner. Because it is light and fruity, it’s not going to get all tart and nasty with many of the sweeter elements of the meal. It’s perfect for those members of your family who are either new to wine, such as your niece who just graduated from college, or think they don’t like red wine, like the aged aunt who’s been drinking sweet wines all her life, if that.

And we get that some years Beaujolais Nouveau can be a little rocky. The winemakers don’t have time to compensate for less than ideal growing conditions, so the wine will often reflect that – another reason why the snobs sniff at it.

But this year was particularly good in Beaujolais, at least according to DuBoeuf’s publicists. And since they were nice enough to send us a sample for review, we got a chance to taste it the other night and…. It’s a good one!

Michael smelled raspberry on the nose, but even Anne got a lot of fruit in the flavor. Michael also noted that the body of the wine was rather thin (duh, it’s new) and got lots of carbonic acidity – which means it’s just a tiny bit fizzy. What tannins there were (i.e. that dry feeling you get), were pretty tight, which means it’s going to be great with food. In fact, we tasted it with some cheese and ham and it did very well with both.

It’s also reasonably price, usually between $10 and $12 a bottle. If you can get the DuBoeuf, go for it. But his is not the only label out there, and the wine is still worth giving a shot, either for drinking on its own or with your own Thanksgiving dinner.

Checking Out a Wine Panel

Before the panel began

Before the panel began

Eight winemakers from around California and even Arizona are on a panel, the topic: “The State of the Rhone Nation.” The result? An extended and wide-ranging conversation covering growing syrah in Arizona to earthquake damage in Napa to the miseries of being an “Other White” on a restaurant wine list. The panel happened at a recent Rhone Rangers tasting event in Los Angeles.

The Rhone Rangers was one of the first varietal advocacy groups. Winemakers got together about 20 years ago to start these groups to help market their wines and educate the public about grape varieties that were then pretty new and strange. While most advocacy groups seem to focus on a single grape variety – ZAP or Zinfandel Advocates and Producers, and TAPAS or Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society – the Rangers focus on the whole panoply of grapes traditionally grown in the Rhone River region of France, but which are also grown all over the world now, varieties such as grenache, syrah, mourvedre, viognier and others.rhonerangers2

We have to concede, the quality of the audio is not very good. Sorry about that. Audio is something new for us at OBG, but sometimes there is nothing like hearing things as they happened, and there’s some pretty good stuff here (even if it’s about 90 minutes long). The next recording will be better.

Thanks for your patience.

The OBG team.

Can You Get Into Canned Wine?

Underwood Pinot Gris

Underwood Pinot Gris

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Underwood Pinot Noir

To say that Michael was skeptical when Anne brought home samples of the Underwood Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir might be the understatement of the month. Possibly even the year. And to be fair, he was not entirely unjustified either. Usually when you get a really unusual container for wine (in this case aluminum cans), it becomes about the container and not about the wine and that just does not make for a tasty experience.

But Anne is nothing if not adventurous and she found the wine at one of our favorite wine stores, Everson Royce in Pasadena. The nice folks there have only steered us wrong once, and the bottle in question was what we’d asked for. So when the guy behind the counter said that it was good wine and he couldn’t taste the metal unless he drank the wine straight from the can.

We can’t say we were blown away by the wine, but it was darned tasty and pretty much just what you’d want from Oregon pinot noir and pinot gris. And we could taste the metal when we drank straight from the can. We bought our cans for $5 apiece. Each can is basically half a bottle, so if you happen to be on your own one evening and don’t want to waste half a bottle of red, then you’ve got a reasonably priced alternative.

Other good reasons for wine in a can, to take it places like your swimming pool, where glass can be a hazard. Or on a picnic where maybe a bottle of wine might be frowned upon – not that we encourage folks to break the law. As to whether or not the aluminum keeps the wine any colder than glass does, we don’t know. Finally, there’s no reason not to package wine in a can. In fact, restaurants are doing something similar by buying big kegs of wine and serving them by the glass. The kegs use pressure to keep the wines from oxidizing, but it’s a form of stainless steel that houses it all. The only thing you can’t really do in a can is age the wine because it’s completely sealed off from the microscopic bits of oxygen that allows aging to happen.

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Clyde checks it out – no, we didn’t give the dog wine. He’s such a sloppy drunk.

There are good reasons to be skeptical about strange packaging. But there are also good reasons for giving it a try.

What odd packaging for wine have you tried lately?

Celebrating Grenache and Grenache Day with Steve Anglim

Bet you didn’t know that Friday, September 19 is Grenache Day. Truth be told, we didn’t either until Anne got the press release from the International Grenache Association.

But we did happen to have an interview with winemaker Steve Anglim, of Anglim Winery, talking about Grenache. And we thought while everyone else is tasting and tweeting #GrenacheDay, we’d jump into the fray with our interview.

Steve Anglim at a recent tasting event.

Steve Anglim at a recent tasting event.

One of the two ways folks end up as winemakers is that they start out as home winemakers, get hooked and work their way into becoming pros – and that’s Anglim’s story, as well. His daughter got him started when she bought him a winemaking kit for Father’s Day. It didn’t take long for Anglim to start making wine directly from grapes (he even belonged to the Cellarmasters, the same home winemaking club that we belong to), and finally landed in Paso Robles, California, opening his winery in 2002 and specializing in what are called the Rhone varieties, which include mouvedre, syrah and, of course, grenache.

“Grenache is both virtuous and difficult,” Anglim said. “It’s difficulty comes from- It needs to be very actively managed and grown or it produces a wine of rather non-descript and somewhat uninspiring character.”

In the right conditions, he explained, the vines get a little too exuberant and put out tons of fruit. Now, that sounds like a good thing, but often when a vine over-produces, the fruit flavors get diluted and blah. And that means non-descript or uninspiring wine, or as Anglim put it, “Gallo Hearty Burgundy.”

But Anglim went on to point out that when the grenache vines are made to struggle, the fruit they produce is much nicer.

“Generally, it will be a bright cherry [flavor], a vibrant character to the wine,” Anglim said about what you can find in a bottle of grenache. “If you’re in the premium section, you would expect more color development, more richness, more layers.”

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Anglim in his tasting room. That’s his wife Steffanie Anglim serving the other two customers.

As for what to eat while drinking grenache, you don’t want something too light or too heavy, Anglim said.

“Anything in the middle of the menu,” he said. “Pork, lamb always works. You can do pasta with any kind of sausages.”

We also find that a lighter grenache does very nicely paired with food that has a sweeter edge to it, and Anglim agreed, but added that you can’t count on it.

“For me, grenache is very funny and we see this when we’re doing the blends,” he said. “Sometimes grenache doesn’t like to sleep with its friends.”

In short, he’ll have what seems like a perfect grenache to blend with its traditional partner mourvedre only to find that the wine doesn’t blend at all well.

So give your grenache a quick taste before deciding what to have for dinner. Or just drink it.

We tasted Anglim’s 2011 grenache in his tasting room and Michael thought it was a good full wine – not at all pale, with a savory herbal element alongside the pomegranate and red fruit character and a hint of oak. We do have another bottle in the wine fridge at the moment. The debate now is whether to open it or find some other grenache to enjoy for Grenache Day.

 

 

We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties

Annoyance of annoyances. We’re hoping you’re not experiencing the glitch that’s been popping up when you click on one of our post’s actual pages. But if you are, please let us know, including which browser (IE, Firefox, Chrome) that you’re using.

In the meantime, instead of writing another post this, we’re going to figure out how to fix the verdamnt problem.

The Last of our WBC14 Posts. We Hope.

A vineyard visit, photo courtesy WBC 14.

A vineyard visit, photo courtesy WBC 14.

The Wine Bloggers Conference last July was indeed a rich experience, with good friends to be made, lots of great information and even more wonderful wines. But there was one problem – and we know we’re not the first to point it out. There was a serious lack of women winemakers represented. At a time when it seemed like every winery in the Santa Barbara region had some representation, why were the wineries owned by women mostly absent?

Now, it is possible that Cold Heaven Cellars (owner and winemaker Morgan Clendenen), Riverbench (winemaker Clarissa Nagy), Fiddlehead Cellars (owner and winemaker Kathy Joseph) and Rideau (owned by Iris Rideau) were all asked to participate and for whatever reason couldn’t. Heaven knows, we’ve had the devil’s own time trying to pin Ms. Clendenen down for an interview. It’s also possible that with so much going on, we didn’t see that there was more than the one Fiddlehead bottle at the one lunch floating around. But, even beyond WBC, when panel after panel at wine event after wine event feature nothing but White male winemakers, even when you know there are good women who could be there, you have to wonder what’s going on.

As our colleague and fellow attendee Alison Smith Marriott noted, this isn’t about being cranky and pointing fingers. We do want to acknowledge the excellent #MerlotMe panel that featured Marisa Taylor, winemaker at Rutherford Hill. Nor do we have anything against White guys – heck, Michael is one. Still, what about the local women, one of whom happens to be a woman of color, by the way?

The thing is, we know this kind of exclusion is not intentional or even conscious – and that’s the problem. Winemakers are a very jolly lot and as a rule do not see each other as competition. There’s always room for another winemaker at the table simply because consumers don’t stop drinking Brand A when they discover Brand B. But because the vast majority of winemakers are White males, very often we forget that there are women making fabulous wine, that there are people of color making fabulous wine. It simply doesn’t occur to us to ask.

Well, here at OddBallGrape.com, we’re asking and it is our goal to feature as many women and people of color in the wine biz as possible. We’re not going to ignore the guys – come on, when you’ve got Rick Longoria talking tannins, you don’t turn that down. But we want the emphasis here to be on the under-represented. Because the world isn’t going to remember that winemakers and wine lovers all come in different genders, colors, sizes, whatever, unless some of us who have a voice remind them. Fair enough?

Basic Merlot with Marisa Taylor of Rutherford Hill

Winemaker Marisa Taylor of Rutherford Hill

Winemaker Marisa Taylor of Rutherford Hill

Today’s lesson is about the much-abused merlot grape and it’s coming from a winemaker who makes some of the most glorious merlot wine we’ve tasted in a very long time.

We met Marisa Taylor, winemaker for Rutherford Hill, at a tasting event for a local TV station. She’s one of the three winemakers featured in Vintage: Napa Valley 2012, a six-part documentary on winemaking. We met her again at the Wine Bloggers Conference in July, where she led a tasting on Napa merlots with P.J. Alviso, Director of Estate Viticulture for Duckhorn Vineyards. It was one of those rare tastings that gives conspicuous consumption a good name. Taylor does not make cheap wine, let us tell you. But it is worth it. So was the chat we had with her after the tasting.

“You can expect a luciousness…  juicy,” Tayler said about what to expect when you open a good bottle of merlot. “I think merlot tends to be more of a red fruit flavor.”

That’s tasting more like cherries or strawberries, rather than dark, heavy blackberries. In short, it tends to be a somewhat lighter wine than its blending pal cabernet sauvignon.

“You’ll know it when you taste it,” Taylor said about the red flavor profile. “Is it just darker or, hey, no. It makes me feel happy and it’s nice and rosy and red. In general, I think that merlot is a nice complement, companion with food. And I think that it’s something that will fill your mouth and be full-bodied. And it’s not like a hard… Cabernets can be tannic and tough and just dry your mouth out. And merlot doesn’t generally do that.”

The merlot grape is one of the five traditional components of Bordeaux wine, where it is grown and blended in varying strengths with cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot. Outside of France and Europe, it’s frequently made as a stand-alone variety.

The wine, alas, got a really bad rep in the late 1990s when it got really popular and everyone started growing and making merlot. And a lot of it was really bad wine. Then, in 2004, the film Sideways came out, about two guys dealing with their issues while wine tasting in the Santa Ynez Valley. And in one memorable scene, Miles (Paul Giamatti), the so-called expert of the two, trashes merlot.

But Taylor thinks that the bad old days are gone when it comes to merlot.

“I think bad merlots have been weeded out from that Sideways effect,” she said. “And I think that we are seeing better and better merlots on the market.”

Taylor’s tips for finding a good one? She suggested looking for the appellation, or where the grapes are grown, such as the Napa region Or…

“Look for Rutherford Hill on the label,” she joked.

Which is not entirely bad advice. We tasted their Napa Valley Merlot, 2010, which is at least 75 percent merlot, but this one also has a little bit of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and syrah blended in. Mike noted its dark color – pretty typical of merlot wine – a caramel chocolate nose, with good acids with smooth, abundant tannins, and a nice finish. Plus it’s got great aging potential. It was Mike’s favorite.

Anne, however, preferred the Atlas Peak Merlot, 2010, which was 100 percent merlot. Mike noted a bit of anise and tar (it’s actually a good thing) on the nose, with good fruity, earthy flavor. The tannins were still there. And while Mike thought this had a shorter finish (the taste didn’t linger as long on the tongue), he also thought this one had even better potential for aging.

Now, the Napa Valley Merlot retails at $28, which sounds like a lot until you realize that the Atlas Peak was second least expensive, at a mere $50 for wine club members. Yipes! The rest of the bottles in the tasting all retailed at $95 and up. Oddly enough, the two above wines were our favorites – and that’s before we knew what they cost.

There’s (Finally) an App for That, What We Found at WBC 14

This post is pretty much coming at you from Anne’s voice, since Michael is a Luddite and doesn’t get all that excited about apps and Anne does. The below video is basically a commercial, but it does a lovely job of showing what the app does.

I kind of have to say this upfront, but the timing of this post is our way of entering a contest. That being said, we would not be writing about Quini if we didn’t like it. Because, really, the odds of us winning a contest are pretty much nil. But since we’d be writing about the app anyway, may as well take a shot at that .0000000000001 percent chance of winning.

Frankly, I’ve been pretty skeptical about wine-related apps. We’ve been asked to review several and I haven’t really found any that were truly useful. The vast majority of them want to recommend wines for us and we don’t need recommendations. Plus, when you consider that one of the purposes of this blog is to help you become confident in making your own wine choice, it doesn’t really make sense to encourage using an app to make the choice for you.

But Quini, which was presented at the recent Wine Bloggers Conference, intrigued me from the get-go. It’s designed to help you write your tasting notes by using the visual metaphor of a flower. An easier way to take tasting notes? Now, that is actually useful. It’s a royal PITA trying to take notes on a small pad of paper while holding a wine glass, pen, spit cup and maybe even a camera, which is what we’re up against when we go to these major tasting events. Usually I just sit Michael down in a corner where there’s a table and I run and fetch for him. But that’s not as much fun for him since he can’t talk to the winemakers or whoever’s pouring, assuming the crowds aren’t so heavy we’re both ready to run screaming.

The good news is the app does mostly work as advertised. You enter the basic information on the wine you’re tasting, or pull it up from Quini’s database (which we have yet to do, guess we’re not drinking what everyone else is). Then you Open for Tasting (press the button), and go through the basic elements from color to nose to taste and everything in between. But it’s the way you do it. Beyond the basic data, there’s no typing on a tiny phone keypad, just swiping up and down and back and forth on a colored “petal.” You can also check off various nose and flavor elements.

Keep in mind that we were testing the beta Android version, which just has the basic family of flavor elements, such as floral, woody. While I was playing with the web app, which I suspect reflects the iOS version more closely, tapping a flavor family pulled up more specific elements, like rose and orange blossom under floral and a veritable fruit bowl under the fruity family label.

Quini also has a wish list section, so if there’s something you see in a wine store that intrigues you, but you can’t buy it just then for whatever reason, you can presumably enter the wine there and then when you’re trying to remember what it was, you can pull it up. It can do recommendations, which are based on the wines you review and how you review them, but you don’t have to use it. Or you can. Up to you.

We haven’t tried the actual version, nor have we really put the app through its paces at a major tasting. But we will. We will.

WBC 14 Speed Tasting: Ooo, Do We Go With the Bad Boy or The Sensitive One?

Actually, this was from  last year's Wine Bloggers Conference speed tasting event, but it looks the same.

Actually, this was from last year’s Wine Bloggers Conference speed tasting event, but it looks the same.

Speed Dating – we mean Tasting continued. When we left you last week, we had just finished some highlights of a round of white wines – all insanely yummy – while attending last month’s Wine Bloggers Conference in Buellton, California.

Today, the Reds. Like speed dating, you’ve got a bunch of folks coming table to table to give you about five minutes to decide if you want a relationship with their wine. Unlike speed dating, in which the objective is to weed out, speed tasting is all about getting as many different wines into your personal portfolio as possible. We got way too many to write about here, but the highlights included:

The Sensitive Evolved One, the 2012 Ferrari-Carano Siena, a red blend with a deep ruby color and a hint of sweetness, making it a great sipper and even better with food.

Cheryl McMillan, who was representing Ferrari-Carano, said that the wine is a blend of sangiovese and malbec, with some petite syrah and cabernet sauvignon. We noted the screw cap and asked about aging (because wine under screw caps supposedly doesn’t age as well), and McMillan said that really wasn’t an issue with this wine.

“It’s made to drink now,” she said. “It’s not going to lay down for very long.”

In other words, a little flirtation, maybe a short fling, but not an extended commitment. Okay. Oh, and another plus – Ferrrari-Carano’s executive winemaker is Sarah Quider, and the gal who actually made it is associate winemaker Rebecka Deike, who does the red wines for the winery.

Next up, consider the attraction of a Bad Boy, one who is all wrong, but so very right in the moment. Now, meet Alexander Valley Vineyards 2012 Sin Zin. And the fact that it’s zinfandel is what makes it so very wrong, at least in Anne’s opinion. Anne doesn’t really like zins, but she liked this one. The Wetzel Family, who own the vineyard and the winery, have been bottling this zinfandel for over 35 years. Michael really liked it as a more subtle zinfandel (making it all the more dangerous), with an excellent balance between fruit and acidity, and a good long finish.

Katie Wetzel, who did the honors of pouring for us, said that the goal is not to make a zinfandel with the heavy jammy notes, but to also keep the fruit character of the wine.

“This zin tends to be in the middle,” she told us.

And where there’s a bad boy, you know there’s going to be a Smooth Talker, and in this case, it’s the Adelaida Touriga Nacional 2010. If any of the wines we tasted were smooth, this one was it, with a nice dark color and an earthy profile. Good luck finding it on the Adelaida website, though. Anne searched and searched and could only find some technical notes buried under the Trade & Media tab. Think this one was trying to slip something past us?

Finally, there’s the one you’ll actually want to make a commitment to, and we are OddBallGrape for a reason – we love those unusual grapes, and the Urban Legend 2010 Teraldego definitely needs a commitment. Why? It won’t be ready to drink for a few years yet. But, oh, the potential!

It’s made by Merilee and Steve Shaffer, a husband and wife team of winemakers.

“I’m the goddess of fermentation, he’s the god of the barrels,” Merilee explained as she poured our wine. Winemaking is not the first business venture these two have had. “We’re serial entrepreneurs. It’s a little like being serial murderers.”

The wine had an inky dark color, a good fruit nose, dense texture, and strong tannins. Yes, give it a few years, then serve with a good steak dinner. Or something beefy and garlicky. This is going to be a very special wine.

And now, back to recovering. Actually, we’re hoping to catch up with several of the above folks in the future to ask them about wines, grapes and winemaking.

Speed Tasting at the Wine Bloggers Conference – Oh, You Little Flirt!

Getting ready for speed dating, um, speed tasting/live blogging at WBC14

Getting ready for speed dating, um, speed tasting/live blogging at WBC14

You’re in a hotel ballroom, the noise level is rising like the tides, and just when you get to like one, the next one shows up. Is this any way to build a relationship?

Well, the nice folks at the Wine Bloggers Conference thought if speed dating works for singles, it could work for wine. And, really, it did, but it was a challenge.

Oh, wait. What’s the Wine Bloggers Conference? It’s exactly what it sounds like – a conference or convention for people who blog about wine. And if you’ve ever Googled “wine blog,” you know that there are about 50-bajillion of us out there writing about our love of wine, and wine, and what we eat while drinking wine, and more wine. So mid-July, about 350 of us got together at the Marriott in Buellton, California, to talk about writing about wine and, uh, to taste wine. Which we did. A lot of it. Buellton, by the way, is smack in the heart of the Santa Barbara County wine region, kind of between the Santa Ynez Valley and the Santa Rita Hills.

So imagine a couple hundred people in a hotel ballroom, the chatter (and noise) increasing by the glassful, while each winemaker and his or her representative had five minutes to serve six to 10 people and tell us about the wine. We did two sessions over the two days of the conference, one for whites and one for reds. Fortunately, this wasn’t about weeding out because all of the wines were fabulous. But we now have a chance to use all those pretentious descriptors, like flirty, that don’t really mean anything as we bring you some of the highlights.

In fact, we’ll begin with The Flirt, herself – the Yorkville Cellars 2011 Cuvée Brut. A real bubbly personality. Literally, it’s a bubbly, and it was poured by Yorkville’s owners Deborah and Edward Wallo and their son Ben. Michael noted that it had a nice light toast color with good bubbles, bright acidity and a clean finish. It’s made from semillion and sauvignon blanc grapes, which are not your usual bubbly grapes.

“We like to play around with different varieties,” Deborah told us. Or was it Ben?

Then we got to the Cheap Date – Bandit Pinot Grigio, which comes in a one-liter box for $8. Yes, the box is recyclable. Michael noted that it had a neutral nose and tropical fruit taste with some sweetness, possibly making it good with spicy food.

But the white that we were most likely to make a commitment to was the Consilience 2012 Santa Barbara Viognier.

“If they try it,” said Consilience’s PR person Dan Fredman, about when people will buy an unusual wine like viognier. “Once they taste it, then they become evangelical about it.”

Well, we’re evangelical about this one – Michael noted that it had the traditional floral nose, with golden color and a light, clean fruit flavor. Good as a sipper and great as a food wine. Yum.

Next up – The Reds