Eden Canyon – Small and Interesting

edencanyon

It was just a fluke that we happened upon Elaine Villamin, of Eden Canyon Vineyards, when we stopped in at Red Carpet Wine in Glendale, California.  We were trying to kill time before our dinner reservation and had no intention of doing any tasting.  But Villamin was not only there with a nice selection of her winery’s offerings, she spent some significant time with us, telling us her story.

In 1996, her father, Danny Villemin, suddenly decided to grow grapes on his 10 acres near San Luis Obispo.  He wasn’t even a wine drinker, but being the kind of guy he is, that didn’t stop him.  Neither did the August 2006 wildfire that burnt down the vineyard.  edencanyonfire

Well, you know how you can use the process of crushing grapes to make wine as a metaphor for coming out a better person after suffering a crushing blow?  Well, the Eden Canyon is another one.  Elaine told us that all that ash from the fire has actually made a better vineyard.  Indeed, even winemaker Kenneth Volk was buying their grapes.

“That’s how my dad got started,” Elaine said.

Eventually, both she and her dad studied viticulture at one of the U.C. Davis programs, and Elaine went on to enroll in the L’ecole de Bordeaux in Bordeaux, France.

“It’s like a boot camp,” she said.

She’s now the wine maker, although her father still gets plenty of input.

You can get Eden Canyon wines through Red Carpet Wine (redcarpetwine.com) or through the Eden Canyon Website (edencanyon.com).  They’re also on FaceBook

Coral Mustang 2006 Tempranillo Rosé

When you’re ready to drink this rosé, pull it from the fridge about half an hour to an hour before you drink it.  You want it chilled, but not too cold or you’ll miss all the lovely complexities in the wine.

It’s light in color with a strawberry nose.  There are none of the herbs, leather or smoke that you normally associate with tempranillo.  That’s because those elements, along with the color, come from the skins of the grapes.  Red wines are red because they are initially fermented after the whole grape berry has been crushed to release some of the juice, but before that juice is pressed out of the grape. Roses are usually made from juice that’s been in contact with the grape skins for a short time before being bled off a larger red wine batch or pressed out of the skins.

Whe you taste the Coral Mustang rose, you should get dry lighter fruit with some acidity to cleanse the palate. Modest in alcohol, it’s an excellent summer sipper on its own or a best friend to a salad of any kind. This was one of the first Roses we tried and it still stands out as one of the best against French, Spanish and our own home made.

Coral Mustang 2005 Tempranillo

This is seriously yummy stuff.  Not to diss Kenneth Volk, because he makes some very, very good tempranillo, but the Coral Mustang Tempranillo is even better.  The deep ruby color sets you up for dark fruit and bramble fruit – think blackberries.  It’s extremely well balanced with the perfect acid/tannin/alcohol triumvirate.  It made Mike take a second long taste to see if he had missed some critical detail. Nope.  It’s just rich and satisfying.  It’s great on its own but would go well with any dish you want to take off the grill or even a nice little pan-fried steak with mushroom gravy.  Or chicken breast with blackberry and traditional beurre blanc.  Or whatever richly flavored meal you can think of.

Check Out Coral Mustang

When we first met Penny Gadd-Coster, now owner and winemaker for Coral Mustang, she was still working at Jordan Winery as the enologist.  She and her husband Frank had invited us to meet with them and tour the winery, which was closed to the public.  When Penny took us up to the lab and pulled out several Riedel glasses and a wine thief, we knew this was not going to be your ordinary tour.

Some years (and another winery job) later, Penny decided it was time to strike out on her own with the Coral Mustang label.  Coral is her middle name and a mustang, in the parlance of the U.S. Marines, is an officer who has come up through the ranks, as opposed to starting as an officer.  That’s Penny’s story, too.

She’s focusing on tempranillo.  Penny told us a few years ago that she made that choice because it was an up and coming grape with not a lot of competition in a tight wine market.  And the grape is, indeed, finally getting some traction in the wine world.  Although she is based in Sonoma, she sources her grapes from Paso Robles.

The result?  Some of the most incredible tempranillo wines on the planet.  Penny makes her wines to be friendly with a wide range of foods.  One night, when she came to visit us, we made dinner together.  Chicken breasts with two kinds of beurre blanc.  Anne made the traditional, lemon-based style, and Penny did a version with blueberries.  Her tempranillo worked beautifully with both.

Penny just joined a brand-new tasting room called Vino Veritas, 118 North Street, Healdsburg, California.  You can also buy Coral Mustang wines here.

Yosemite View 2005 Syrah

Like them or not, screw tops are showing up on wine bottles. No long tradition or ceremony in their extraction and no twenty-year studies on storage issues – yet. But do not let the top of the bottle distract you from the Yosemite View’s 2005 Syrah inside,  It’s ready to drink when you are.
The nose has raspberry and the sweet hint of oak with cherry underneath.
The deep red color delivers on the promise of red fruits like cherries and the aforementioned oak adds some tannins that dry the palate instead of coating it. The acids are there as well and cleanse the mouth. The finish is decent and drying. This is not a syrah meant to be kept but to be enjoyed young.  And if the big worry about screw caps is the ability to age the wines bottled with them, then it’s so not an issue here.
Any number of pasta dishes with tomato sauces or acid-based flavors would compliment the acids in the wine and the 14.5 percent alcohol should leave you able to enjoy the next bite and sip. And the next one after that.

Yosemite View 2007 California Caprice Rose

Yosemite View is Mariposa Wine Company’s “value” line, but it is a significant value, especially the 2007 Caprice Rose.

Roses are often blends and it’s not unusual to sip one and wonder what went into it.  Fortunately, we didn’t have to wonder with the Caprice Rose, an exceptional wine, let alone rose.
The blend of juices is 30 percent cinsault, 60 percent zinfandel and 10 percent pinot grigio. which is different to be sure. Take away the cinsault’s structure and the pinot grigio’s acidity and you’re left with the usual syrupy sweet white zinfandel. But put together with some consideration, the result is a real treat of a wine.
Since roses almost never have any exposure to oak or long term storage, there should be nothing between your nose and the fruit.  The nose on the Yosemite View is a lovely combination of strawberry and passionfruit.
The first taste was a surprise and Mike took another right away to make sure he wasn’t missing something. The surprise was the balance of acids to tannins to what sweetness there was in the wine. No one component stood out but all were there. As a home winemaker, this is the rose that Mike wants to make for himself.
Needless to say, the Caprice is a terrific food wine for cool, summer salads or a nice ham sandwich or even hot dogs off the grill. The alcohol is a modest 11.9 percent. That means even the alcohol doesn’t get in the way of a second glass after dinner in the park on a summer’s night.

Carmichael Sur Le Pont 2005 Monterey County

surlepont_revised_chivalryWhile the Carmichael Sur le Pont is not technically an oddball bottle of wine.  The fact that it is made up of 80 percent syrah means it can be legally called a syrah, and that’s hardly oddball these days.  But that other 20 percent of lesser known grapes adds something really special to the final product. We promise tastings of grenaches, mouvedres and carignans in the future. But for now they are all present in the 2005 Carmichael Sur Le Pont, with 14 percent mouvedre, 5 percent carignan and 1 percent grenache.
These are all Rhone varietals, meaning they are largely grown in and inspired by the winemaking in the fertile valley surrounding the Rhone River in France. Unlike the five Bordeaux grapes (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot, malbec and cabernet franc), there are 22 grapes grown in the Rhone Valley, so you can just imagine all the possible blends. Where do we start? Right here!

The wine Sur le Pont is named after the French children’s tune “Sur le pont D’Avignon,” or On Avignon’s Bridge, Avignon being one of the primary cities in the Rhone (and also more infamously known as the base for a series of Roman Catholic popes/non-popes, who during the Middle Ages tried to take over).

The wine has the nose of blackberries and cola. The taste has some dry fruit, but it’s not jammy.  Instead the wine is lightweight in the mouth without being cloying or burning with excessive alcohol.  In fact, at 14.3 percent, it’s almost a lightweight compared to the hot (high in alcohol) syrahs that are often made today.  This makes it an excellent companion to meat off the summer grill or winter stews of lamb or beef. The acids keep the palate stimulated and can handle sauces that are not spicy or terribly sweet – a mushroom gravy comes to mind.

Carmichael 2007 Grigio e Bianco

courtesty Mariposa Wine Company
courtesty Mariposa Wine Company

Carmichael is Mariposa Wine Company’s mid-range label.  The fun thing is that the Grigio e Bianco is a lovely, very drinkable blend of pinto grigio, sauvignon blanc and a splash of chardonnay.

Pinot grigio is a hard grape to describe – the most obvious tag is that it’s not chardonnay. Sometimes considered to be of little value in some of its traditional French and Italian locations, it has been used as a filler in lesser bottlings of Friuli and some Burgundies. While some of the better examples are reputed to be in Oregon and the French Alsace, there are other places to find some good pinot grigios, including Monterey County, from whence Mariposa has sourced the fruit for this wine.
Since pinot grigio’s flavors tend to be more of the citrus variety, the nose of the Carmichael 2007 Pinot Grigio is noticeably different in its tropical fruitiness with almost a banana edge. The answer lies in the blend: 88 percent pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc fermented in steel (we couldn’t find how much of that 88 percent is pinto grigio and how much is sauv blanc) and 12% is chardonnay from neutral oak. The tropical nose tends to suggest warmer location and greater ripeness in the vineyard – a distinct possibility with all the microclimate options in California and in Monterey County for this specific wine.
But the nose is somewhat deceptive. The taste reveals the acid streak and lighter flavors of a ‘typical’ pinot grigio. There is no lingering sweetness and the overall effect is that palate cleanser we refer to. The finish holds some of that crispness, wonderful after taking that swallow on a warm afternoon or with a shrimp dish, roasted chicken or  a plate of mozerella, tomato and basil with just a hint of balsamic –  you don’t want to overpower the acids of the wine.   Just chill out with them.

A Central Valley Surprise, Mariposa Wine Company

wine-trip-april-09-097So the two of us are driving north to Calaveras County on California highway 99, and we’re looking for a good spot to snag some lunch, stretch our legs – the usual sort of road trip stop.  The 99, if you’ve never been on it, runs up the middle of the San Joaquin Valley (aka California’s Central Valley), to the east of Interstate 5, which also runs through the San Joaquin Valley.  This is the state’s massive agricultural region, and they’re growing a little bit of everything out here and lots and lots of raisins, fruits, nuts, cotton and other veggies.  They also grow a lot of wine grapes – in fact, more wine grapes are grown in the San Joaquin Valley than anywhere else in California.

In any case, while these are rather interesting facts, scenery-wise, it’s not too exciting.  Especially when you’re on the road and the only stops are the usual fast food folks and gas stations.  When we’re on the road, we try to avoid places that we have at home.  There were, however, a couple signs for Wine Tasting.  The first didn’t come up at a good place to stop.  But the second came up at a good time to be stopping, in Madera, California.  It didn’t look like much, just a big factory-style building out in the middle of nowhere with a small, red clapboard building next to it advertising produce and nuts.wine-trip-april-09-093

Hmmm.  Mariposa Wine Company.  The yard out in front of the tasting room was nicely decorated.  Next to the parking lot was a whole lot of giant crushing machines and some stainless steel tanks.  It had the right smell.  The tasting room was lovely.  Margaret Ruiz, the tasting room hostess, was delightful and chatty and full of good information about the wines, although Mike’s more technical questions caught her a little off-guard.  They were good questions, just not the kind most folks ask.  And Margaret was able to answer most of them.

The winery and tasting room have been open since 2003 and they produce just under 5,000 cases a year, under three different labels.  But Ruiz said they are all made by the same winemaker.  They do get their grapes from the better known wine regions in California.  However, they are part of a growing network of small wineries in the Madera area.

Coming up next, we’ll be looking at a couple of the wines from the company’s mid-range label, Carmichael.  In the meantime, you can check out the winery here.

wine-trip-april-09-095

Kenneth Volk Negrette – Tasty and Odd

Courtesy of Kenneth Volk Vineyards
Courtesy of Kenneth Volk Vineyards

Negrette is a true Oddball Grape if ever there was one. It’s not seen that much outside of France – or even within France.  It is a French grape, but if you’re going to find it, it will be in the southwest of France, in the Toulouse region.

Kenneth Volk’s negrette has the deep red, almost black, color of a syrah. The nose has cedar, earth and dark fruits similar to blackberries. This is a textbook example of that perfect balance of acids, tannins and alcohol that create a whole that is better than the sum of its parts. The finish lasted a good 15 seconds after we decided to swallow it.

The tannins were drying and could easily withstand a year in the cellar, in spite of negrette’s reputation as a wine best drunk young. The flavors can stand up to cheeses – we tried some yellow cheddar – and we can’t wait to enjoy it with Brie spread on a good baguette with some dried salami on the side. But a steak might be too much for it and it would be a shame to miss the fruit.
The negrette seems to be available in the Kenneth Volk tasting room but if you call the winery, they might ship it. It’s worth hunting for.