Amy Butler Talks about Carignan

This is another new venture for us at OddBallGrape.com – video!

We went to the 2014 Garagiste Festival in Pasa Robles and caught up with some amazing women in wine, not least of all was Amy Butler. We first ran across her at an Hospice du Rhone, back when she was working at Edward Sellars. Now, she’s the consulting winemaker at LXV (a post that will be coming soon) and has her own label, Ranchero Cellars.

Amy’s big thing is the carignan grape (also spelled carignane). We’ll let you look at the video to tell you why. We’ve tasted the wine and it was awesome!

What Gifts to Get for a Wine Lover

A not-at-all useful item for wine lovers.

This is a repeat post from a couple years ago about what gifts to get for a wine lover – or more importantly, what not to get, but it’s still relevant. By now, you’re home from your Black Friday spree, putting your feet up (preferably with a nice, soothing glass of your favorite wine). But that doesn’t mean you got just the right gift for the wine lovers on your list. Or maybe you got the wrong one – sorry about that, but it happens and you’ve still got time to fix it.

This is the time of year when we get all kinds of pitches for wine accessories that almost unilaterally underwhelm us. There are so many products out there that are supposed to “enhance” the wine experience. Trust us, they probably don’t.

You know what really enhances the wine experience? Good friends and/or a really good meal. That’s it. Aerators, custom glasses for each variety of wine, drip shields, wine chillers, fancy cork pulls, fancier wine stoppers, all this stuff doesn’t do nearly as much for the wine as the folks pushing them would have you believe, and certainly not for the money they cost.

Anne even ran across an over-sized wine glass to store your pulled corks in. Uh, okay. Pretty pointless, and if you have an active cat in the house, pretty much doomed since it’s top heavy. Yes, we have a special receptacle for our corks, and it is actually a wine serving bucket that someone gave us that we don’t use as a wine bucket. But it’s next to the monster cork pull (which is one of the rare exceptions to the general uselessness of fancy cork pulls) as a matter of convenience, not because we find pulled corks particularly decorative.

If you want to give a wine-lover something he or she really, really wants, it’s easy – more wine. If your wine lover is on a tight budget, maybe splurge on something really nice that she or he wouldn’t normally cough up for. Something special and different, such as a Sauternes, for the truly adventurous wine lover.

And if you’re really unsure, go to your local wine shop and ask the nice person behind the counter. As always, if said person gives you any sign of looking down his or her long bony nose at your utter ignorance, leave. You don’t need to spend your hard-earned bucks someplace where they won’t treat you with respect.

A gift certificate can be a lot of fun. For example, our daughter and her roommates got Michael a gift certificate for his birthday recently. Better yet, it was from a wine shop near where they live in San Francisco, meaning that we’d have to make the trek up there from Los Angeles. How sweet. Not only was it an invitation to come visit, Michael had a blast picking out the perfect bottles while there last.

Basic waiter’s cork pull, with leverage bar, and foil cutter

If you need a stocking stuffer or for some other reason a bottle or gift certificate just isn’t quite right, there are a few things most wine lovers need more than one of. Such as cork screws or pulls. The basic waiter’s pull works very well. Rabbit pulls are supposedly pretty good, although Anne has never been able to get one to work. Electric ones are usually more trouble than they’re worth unless your wine lover has arthritis or some other problem with his or her hands that would make a conventional cork pull a problem.

Decanters can be a lovely gift, and a wine lover can generally use more than one. Decorative wine racks are generally less useful, although Anne recently talked with a woman who scatters hers throughout her small apartment for her wine storage.

But if you really want to do something special for your very own wine lover, try a dinner out together at someplace with good food and a great wine list. After all, it’s the being together that makes the experience, not the gadgets.

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

IMG_2580

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.

IMG_2589

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.”

14.0710.obg_AnglimInTastingRoom

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.