Nelson Family 2007 Orange Muscat

The Nelson Family Vineyards 2007 Orange Muscat is a surprising reminder of what a muscat can become when treated well.  And let’s face it, too many winemakers have made a mess of this grape, making wine that is sweet, cloying, thick and generally overdone with no subtle flavors.
Tragic.

Muscat is easy to recognize most of the time. The orange scent wafting from the glass is unmistakable. It’s been said that adding one or two percent muscat to a chardonnay to increase the florals gives you all muscat and no chardonnay.

But this wine is all about the muscat. For starters, it’s been fermented dry, with no residual sugar.  The flavor is full and rich in the mouth but not cloying like a cough syrup. If you have been turned off by one of those other “muscats”, the Nelson is worth investigating. One sip may be enough to change your mind. We speak from personal experience.

Nelson Family Vineyards 2007 Riesling

Mendocino County is famous for three specific grapes: pinot noir, more pinot noir and something other than pinot noir.  Okay, it’s more than pinot. Chardonnay and riesling are especially at home there as well. And many more good grapes abound in this region, but that’s another post or twenty down the road.

This is about the riesling from Nelson Family Vineyards. Riesling is another grape that has been given a bad reputation by growing in too many bad neighborhoods and hanging with the wrong crowd – winemakers without the right skill set for good Riesling production. The fact that the Nelsons grow their own doesn’t guarantee that a good wine could result. But this time it’s true.

The 2007 Nelson Family Riesling has a honey and flowery nose – think honeysuckle not gardenias. There is also a quality peculiar to riesling that smells slightly of petroleum or kerosene. That is a fusal compound in the grape and only the best fruit and proper care can tame or mute it. If your last Rielsing smelled like a gasoline can and tasted weird, don’t judge all Rieslings this way.

The Nelson has a lush mouthfeel and the spiciness known in the best rieslings. The overall quality of the Nelson makes it perfect for either sweet or spicy dinners.  Or both, such as spicy orange chicken (a fave around here) or maybe spicy tortilla soup with lots of corn.

The Nelson Family Vineyards

Missy and Greg Nelson
Missy and Greg Nelson

Talk about letting your wines speak for you!  We met Greg and Missy Nelson at the Mendocino Grape Growers event in Santa Rosa last spring, which we attended on a press pass.  We enjoyed chatting with Missy, but Greg kind of hung back and didn’t talk too much.

It’s apparently Greg’s style.  When Anne emailed him, since that’s whose card we had, his responses were terse, at best.  So is the website.  That’s fine.  The wines are a lot of fun and we’ve got a couple sweeter ones to feature this week.

The Nelsons have been farming in Mendocino County, California, since Greg’s parents moved there in the early 1950s, and Greg has been growing grapes all of his life.  According to the website, in addition to grapes, the family grows bartlett pears and Christmas trees.  But with 200 acres planted out in 11 different varieties, grapes are a major part of their business, with the line-up including zinfandel, carignane, pinot grigio, cabernet sauvignon, viognier, petite verdot, petite sirah, orange muscat, riesling, and merlot.

Only five percent of their crop ends up in bottles with their family name on it.  Greg’s son Chris is the winemaker and according to Greg, it was Chris’s idea to start the winery.  This is truly a family business, with Tyler Nelson listed as the vineyard manager.

Exploration Fun

This being the middle of the harvest, we’re pretty busy here at OddBallGrape.  Put almost 1,500 miles on the car last week and the week before in three trips to Paso Robles, California, to go pick and bring back cabernet franc, syrah, primitivo, vernacchia and merlot grapes for our own home winemaking efforts.

And, gee, since we were in the heart of the Central Coast wine country and since there just happen to be…  (ahem) a few wineries up there (like almost 100) and on the way back through the Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Rita Hills.  Yeah, we did a little tasting here and there, catching up on some old friends and making a couple new discoveries.

Some of those will be featured in future posts, but we did want to mention the fun we had at Wild Horse winery in Templeton, which is just south of Paso Robles.  Yes, Wild Horse is a label you can find in your local grocery store – Trader Joe’s, in particular, carries it.  So normally, we wouldn’t have bothered.  But since it’s right next door to our merlot grower and since we’d heard that wine maker Clay Brock, formerly of Zaca Mesa, had joined the crew there (and we really liked Clay’s wines), we thought, what the heck.

The thing with Wild Horse is that this is where wine maker Kenneth Volk got his start, and he’s the one who instituted their blaufrankisch and negrette programs.  They also make a white from a grape called malvasia.  And it’s also where we got interested in odd ball grapes – we loved the blaufrankisch, and you can’t get it at the store.  It’s only available in the tasting room.

We’d been back since Volk had moved on to start his own label, about a couple, three years ago, and were sad to see that there was no blaufrankisch available.  Huzzah, huzzah, it’s back now.  Along with negrette and malvasia.  And we don’t have notes because we went in just for the fun of it.

However, it is a lesson in wine tasting.  While avoiding the supermarket labels has its place, it’s sometimes worth it to check out the tasting rooms of such wineries anyway.  Some of them have wines you can’t get in the supers, including varieties you don’t see anywhere else.  In fact, it was Blackstone Winery that introduced us to tannat – and they are one of the biggies out there.

By the way, in the interests of full disclosure and transparency, the guy in the tasting room at Wild Horse comped us for the tasting fee as being part of the trade.  We don’t think he heard us talking about the blog, but we were talking about being home winemakers, so….

Three Sticks 2006 Durell Vineyards Chardonnay

Courtesy Three Sticks
Courtesy Three Sticks

We tasted the Three Sticks 06 Chard in possibly the worst possible situation – a gigantic show and tasting put on by the Family Winemakers of California.  Imagine a room as big as a football field, with over 100 wineries, each trying to impress restaurant owners and retailers and even some consumers.  It was chaotic and noisy.  And there was a lot of wine.  So it really means something that this one chardonnay managed to stand out – in a good way.

It has the classic chardonnay nose, with a little hint of honeysuckle, just enough to tease, but not enough to smell sweet or cloying.  There’s a touch of oak, a combination of fifty percent new French oak and fifty percent neutral oak, just enough to concentrate the flavors that make a good chardonnay without tasting like splinters.

Tasting, Michael got apples, citrus and melons with a rich mouthfeel and enough tannins to keep the palate happy.  This is a good food wine.  Try fruit, cheeses, chicken and possibly a cream sauce with pasta. And if you really want to, you can cellar it, thanks to the right balance of acids, tannins and alcohol.