Lori Reynolds, of Sonoita Vineyards, and the Mission Grape

Lori Reynolds, of Sonoita Vineyards

The trip to Arizona was supposed to be about vacation, time spent relaxing, visiting Michael’s family. So when we went to check out the state’s three main wine regions it was supposed to be for the fun of it.

So, naturally, we stumbled onto Sonoita Vineyards. It was the first winery in Arizona after Prohibition. They make a wine with one of the most unusual grapes out there, the Mission grape. And the winemaker is a woman.

Well, it took a while, but Anne finally connected with Lori Reynolds, the winemaker, who told us how Sonoita Vineyards was started by her grandfather, Dr. Gordon Duff.

“We had a thriving table grape industry here in the sixties and seventies,” Reynolds said.

However, she explained, competition from the California table grape industry was undercutting the Arizona grapes. So the governor went to the University of Arizona and met with a team there that included her grandfather, Dr. Gordon Dutt, a soil specialist who had been working with the table grape farmers.

“My grandfather said that if table grapes will grow in Arizona, then wine grapes will,” Reynolds said.

The winery was started in 1974 and opened in 1983. Reynolds came on as winemaker after she got her bachelor of science, then realized that she wasn’t as interested in becoming a veterinarian as she’d thought.

“I was having a hard time finding something to do,” she said.

But her grandfather insisted that she was born to make wine, so she studied winemaking through the U.C. Davis Extension, became the assistant winemaker, and in 2013, finally took over the job on her own. She works with her husband, Robi Reynolds, who took over as vineyard manager around the same time after an injury interrupted his plumbing career.

The vineyard grows grapes on 40 acres of the 60 acres they have, Lori Reynolds said. But the most interesting grape they have is a little-known variety that used to be widely planted across the Southwest – the Mission grape.

According to the experts we know, the Mission grape is a hybrid of a grape brought from Spain by Franciscan missionaries in the Eighteenth Century. And, actually, they were growing it in Arizona before it came to California.

We have an unusual connection to the grape via Deborah Hall and Michael’s project with the old vines in downtown Los Angeles. So to taste some of Reynolds’ wine was a treat, indeed. And it was quite tasty.

Reynolds doesn’t ferment her Mission wine to full dryness. Instead of letting the yeast eat up all the grapes’ sugar to make alcohol, she stops the fermentation leaving what’s called residual sugar behind.

“It’s very bitter and astringent without the residual sugar,” Reynolds said.

It can be a bit of a trick to get folks to try the wine until Reynolds explains what to expect.

“I always let [customers] know it’s not dry,” she said. “I also let them It’s not very deep in color. It’s always a ruby red. I let them know that it’s a lower acid, it’s got the sweetness and it depends on the vintage. The 2016, it smells a little like chili pepper. And my ’15 is very clove and cherry with some cranberry.”


What Oak Does for Wine

Some time ago, we got invited to a lunch and wine tasting featuring wines from Rioja, Spain. Not only were there some amazing wines, the winemaker was there and led us through a flight of the same red wine aged in different types of oak barrels.

Now, normally, Anne scoffs at tastings like this. Tasting wine based on what oak it was aged in is the sort of thing that wine snobs turn into exercises in precious without breathing hard. And they suck all the joy out of it in the process, too.

The other reason Anne scoffs is that the potential for groupthink in these situations is so high that whatever results you get are darned near pointless. What is groupthink? It’s what happens when people are in a group and someone says A, someone else agrees and the next thing you know, everyone is going along with it, us being the social critters that we are.

It’s how Riedel sells their variety-specific glasses. I don’t doubt their reps honestly believe that a type of wine actually tastes better in a specific glass. But I’ll bet they won’t let you do a tasting blind and/or by yourself, which we did. The wine works better in a specific glass because they keep telling you it will, and someone agrees and next thing you know, the whole room is going along with it.

But what made this Rioja tasting different is that the winemaker wasn’t trying to sell us on any one wine. He was merely trying to explain why he used different types of oak barrels to age his wine in.

Now, here’s the thing about oak. Once upon a time, all wine was aged in oak barrels. Or wood barrels, but since oakwood was particularly good for making barrels, that’s what folks used. And because steel was insanely expensive and difficult to manipulate, it was put to better use as swords and other stuff. Even after the Industrial Revolution made big-ass metal containers easier to make and cheaper to sell, oak kind of hung on in the winery because old habits die hard and there wasn’t a clear benefit to using big-ass metal containers, at least, not right away, there wasn’t. That the wine picked up flavors from the wood, well, that was part of the flavor of wine.

Eventually, however, stainless steel tanks started showing up in wineries and winemakers realized that they could make white wines, in particular, taste really good without all that woody flavor. The red wines, not so much.

What oak barrels do is add a certain creaminess (lactic acid) to wine. In addition, because they are not completely air-tight, a tiny bit of the wine evaporates and the wine left inside is left with more intense flavor.

The interesting thing about oak is that it’s actually a plant and it’s affected by the same things that grape vines are. So oak from different places in the world adds slightly different flavors to the wine that’s aged in it.

It’s not a huge difference. It’s pretty subtle, in fact. You’re not going to taste a wine blind and know that it was aged in Hungarian rather than French oak. That’s the precious nonsense that makes Anne so crazy. But if you taste a wine that was aged in American barrels side by side with the same wine aged in French and/or Hungarian barrels, you can taste a slight difference. That’s kind of fun.

Leslie Sisneros on Murderously Good Pinot Noir

Leslie Sisneros of Murder Ridge Winery

We met Leslie Sisneros at the 2016 Family Winemakers of California Grand Tasting (in the interests of full disclosure, we got into this paid event for free in the hopes that we’d get around to writing something about it or the presenting winemakers sooner than we did). This is a great event, by the way, especially if you’re new to wine. The $75 for the ticket might seem like a lot, but we’ve seen smaller tastings that cost a lot more, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a greater breadth of wines. Plus, you’ve already paid for them all, so you might as well try even the ones you don’t think you like.

But back to Ms. Sisneros, of Murder Ridge Winery. She’s been making wine for over 20 years, but actually fell into making pinot noir.

“It wasn’t my choice,” she explained. “Because I started out at Kendall Jackson and I was assigned the variety. Actually, zin’s pretty hard, too. I guess it’s good when you start out with the hardest wine to make. But I’m always up for a challenge, so I just took it in stride.”

Pinot noir is a notoriously finicky grape and can be very hard to make well.

“There’s all kinds of different pinots,” Sisneros said. “It can go from the lowest priced ones to the premium ones. You’re looking for something that’s fruity and not overly tannic.”

But when you hear people wax eloquent about pinot noir, you’ll often hear them going on about the clone of the grape.

“There’s more people who talk about pinot in terms of clones than any other variety,” Sisneros said. Many grape varieties have their own specific clones, but it’s more of an issue with pinot noir. “It really does make a difference in what clones you plant and where you plant them. It determines the winemaker’s fingerprint.”

She explained that cloning is sort of like taking the natural process of evolution the next few steps further.

“In nature, everything generally mutates so the strongest survive,” Sisneros said. “What the people do is they’ll select a particular plant or several plants in a vineyard. They’ll take a bud culture and they will keep making it genetically the same and it will take generations and generations.”

She said that after individual clone, the other thing that really makes a difference in a pinot noir is where it’s grown.

“You can certainly tell a Russian River pinot noir,” she said. “To me, they’re like night and day. Mendocino pinot is more delicate. Russian River is dark and moody.”

Murder Ridge Winery is in Mendocino County, in a largely wilderness area known as Mendocino Ridge. The winery gets its name from the infamous murder of Joseph Cooper in 1911. Sisneros partnered with wine grower Steve Alden to form the label after having worked with his grapes for several other wineries for whom she’s worked as a consulting winemaker.


Picking Wine for the Wine Snob


2013-04-27 21.49.12 This is a re-post from a few years ago, but it’s (sigh) still relevant. Hope this helps. For other gift ideas, check out our friend Krista Lamb Davis’ blog Upkeep: Wine, Body and Soul. 

It’s holiday gift giving time and one of the biggest problems with all the elitism and snobbery surrounding the world of wine is that it makes the simple gesture of offering a gift of wine so fraught with terror. And it’s so very unfair and unnecessary.

Wine geeks that we are, we have gotten our fair share of kindly-meant white zinfandel (and if you’re not a wine person and don’t know why this is not a good thing to do, relax, you’ve hit the right page). Yet we have not mocked anyone who has ever done so, nor have we cut said people off or thought less of them. But then, we try to be nice and accept the gift as an attempt to respect who we are.

At the same time, we recognize that there might be a boss, a future in-law or just somebody you would like to know better and you’d like to please and/or impress said person and you know this person likes wine. And the sad truth is, this person may also be a wine snob.

The problem is, there are wines that are pretty “safe,” in that almost anybody who likes wine will be reasonably impressed with a bottle of, say, a cabernet sauvignon from Silver Oak winery. But you’re talking about wine that can get pretty pricey. And, truth be told, there are those who think Silver Oak is trading on its label, so you’re still not safe, as it were.

So the first thing to do, if you’re not a wine drinker or know much about wines, is give up on the notion that you’re going to be able to convince a real wine snob that you “know” wines. Because no one knows wine like a wine snob does, unless that person happens to agree with said snob often enough. And that includes people like us who make wine and know what “fine” wine tastes like. That’s what a snob is and why we generally don’t cater to such people. We get that said snob may have a son you’re planning on marrying or may be the manager you’re hoping will promote you. We’re just pointing out that you’re not likely to get on said snob’s good side by trying to impress this person with knowledge you don’t have (and you can’t have it because the only knowledge this person counts as valid is his or her own).

That doesn’t mean you can’t give this person a gift of wine that shows some thought and care in the giving. After all, it’s the thought that counts and while you don’t want to send the message that you weren’t thinking, the vast majority of people out there, including wine snobs, are willing to accept that you made an effort on their behalf. As long as it’s clear that you made the effort. Again, we recognize that there are some people willing to attribute the worst motives to you no matter what you do, and at that point you may want to start looking for another job or settle in for a rocky relationship with the in-laws or re-think the potential relationship. But the following tips should help you with the vast majority of folks.

So when you don’t have knowledge, sometimes the easiest thing to do is ask. If you really, really want to keep it a surprise, you can try framing the question as a request for another friend who likes wine. But simply saying you don’t really know that much about wine and want to learn will generally warm the cockles of even the grinchiest of hearts because there are few things wine snobs love to do more than pontificate about their preferences. You might try asking where a good place to get wine is or what’s a good wine for someone who’s really into wine.

Now, if said snob responds with several different preferred wine shops and asks about budget, or asks what your friend likes, then you’re probably not dealing with a true wine snob. Which means you can go to yet another wine store and ask the person behind the counter to guide you to a good bottle of something unusual. If said snob says things, “Well, the only place to go is…” or “Obviously, your friend will only want….” then you are, in fact, dealing with a snob, and it might be time to check out that tie or purse.

You can also respond with the “Gee, I’m not sure what my friend likes. What do you like?” Listen carefully, because your target snob will give you plenty to go on. As soon as you feasibly can, write down anything you remember. Then you’ve got two options. If your budget is wide open, then you can go to said snob’s preferred store and ask the sales person to help you. Most are pretty cool and get it. Sometimes you’ll run into a fellow snob, but then you can walk and shop elsewhere.

Any decent wine store will have someone willing to help a newbie purchase a bottle for someone else. And the good ones won’t make the noob feel like an idiot. Because you’re not an idiot. You’re trying to please someone with a bottle of wine and it really shouldn’t be this complicated. And it shouldn’t break the bank, either, because there are lots and lots of great wines for under $20 and several under $10. If you get a really obscure label from a truly tiny producer, you can also proclaim it a boutique wine, which might forestall some lip curling.

Now, you’ll note we’re not recommending any specific wines here. Why? Because there are far, far too many to list and every time we read one of these lists, we find we have a heck of a time finding a given label – which doesn’t help when you’re looking at the rows and rows of bottles without a clue what to buy.

So worse case scenario? You don’t know what the target snob likes, just that he or she likes wine. Go with a Bordeaux red, if the person tends toward stuffiness, go with a premium California cab sauv if the person loves labels and status, go with a red made from something unusual, such as negrette or tempranillo, if your giftee likes taking chances and adventure. And, again, try and ask your friendly wine store employee for suggestions. They can offer you ideas even we haven’t thought of.

The only hard and fast rule (unless you know for a fact otherwise) is never, never buy white zinfandel for a wine snob. As a wine, it tends to be just dreadful, sick sweet stuff, which is why we don’t like it. There may be good ones out there and you might even like it, which is cool. But most people who like wine don’t tend to like white zin.

Oh, and for the record, there’s a reason we’re the OddBallGrape. We love trying stuff we’ve never heard of.

How to Choose Your Wine for Thanksgiving

wine for ThanksgivingThis is the time of year when all the wine pundits are falling all over themselves writing about the best wine for Thanksgiving dinner. And everyone writes about a different wine. And at least one or more of those choices you look at and wonder what planet is that writer from?

No need to stress out on this one. You can pick out your own wine for Thanksgiving. Seriously. It’s easy.

You do a blind tasting. Now this is something you want to do with friends because it involves multiple open bottles of wine. But that will also make it a lot more fun.

Choosing wine for Thanksgiving Dinner is actually kind of tough because several of the traditional elements are sweet and do not go well with dry wines, whereas the savory elements are often overwhelmed by sweet wines. And just to confuse things, while turkey is technically at least part white meat, its stronger flavor tends to do better with dry reds.

There are a few exceptions. Sparkling wines go with pretty much everything. Some really fruity dry reds, such as syrahs or zinfandels, do okay with the sweeter foods as well as the savory. Anne doesn’t agree – her palate is more sensitive to the sour of acids, and to her, that’s how anything dry tastes after anything sweet.

Now since dinner is what this is all about, you will need some food to go with your tasting. We recommend turkey pot pie, something cranberry, and baked sweet potato. Pretty much everything you’re going to be eating that day is combined in those three elements.

Next, you need a few wines to try. Check in with your favorite wine merchant or see what the local Trader Joe’s is recommending. Pick up, say, three different bottles. Or have your other friends each bring one. Or get the same number of different whites and different reds, if you want to get that fancy. Because a lone white in a tasting of reds kind of gives itself away.

Doing the blind tasting

Once you’ve got your food elements ready, open the wine bottles, unless they’re white wines. Red wines usually need a touch of air to taste their best. Now, here’s the fun part. Have one person put each bottle into a different paper bag. Have another person shuffle the bottles around and number the bags. That way, no one really knows what’s in each bag.

If you have them, get out enough glasses so that each person has one glass for each wine. So, if you’ve got three wines, each person gets three glasses. But don’t stress. If you don’t have that many glasses, you don’t. Just rinse between tastes.

Then eat the food and taste the wines along with it. Make notes about what you like and don’t like.

That’s it. Simple. Then you serve the wine you liked best and to heck with what the pundit said you should be drinking. Pundits can only offer suggestions. You and your family are the only palates that count in this one.

Women Winemakers of Chablis, Part Nine

White wine, french wine, dry white wineThis is our final post on the Women Winemakers of Chablis. We’d like to thank all of the women who participated, as well as Marguerite de Chaumont-Quitry, who went to the enormous trouble of setting this all up for us. We asked all nine women the same three questions and Ms. de Chaumont-Quitry got the answers translated for us.

Our final winemaker is Athénais de Béru of Château de Béru.

1)    What makes Chablis different from other wines made from chardonnay?

Chablis is not only the name of a charming city in North Burgundy. The terroir of Chablis is unique. The soils of Chablis have a unique geological composition dating from the Jurassic era, named Kimmeridgian. What is Kimmeridgian? Complex limestones full of marine fossils, oysters concentrated salt and iodine. This very unique terroir brings a very unique typicity to the wines produced on Chablis land.
Of course, our grape variety is 100% Chardonnay which is one of the most planted grape varieties in the world. Chardonnay has a very interesting characteristic: it reveals the perfect image and tipicity of where it grows. In a rich and warm soil, it will produce a rich, fat and warm Chardonnay. In a stony, mineral soil with cold temperate weather, it can produce an amazing stony mineral pure and crystalline Chardonnay: a Chablis!

2)    If my reader sees Chablis on the label of a bottle of wine, what should she expect to taste in the wine?

Chablis is a huge appellation with many different soils, expositions, many winemakers with many different styles.
Personally, I am against standardization, so I would say there is not one only taste in a Chablis or in any other wine. I am located in Beru, my vineyards are above 300 meters altitude, the personality of my wines cannot be the same as the other lands from Chablis. Each wine is unique. But, generally speaking, a wine from Chablis revealing the best of its Terrroir will be pure and mineral with delicious aromas of citrus fruits like lime or orange and sometimes ripe white fruits like pears or peaches… and with intense saltiness, which brings freshness, salinity and complexity to our wines. The limestones and the chalk also bring nice flinty stones, smoky aromas.

3)   Finally, how are things changing for women winemakers in France? In the U.S., making wine is still very dominated by men. Are there more women becoming winemakers? Do women make wine differently than men, and if they do, what do they do that’s different?

I think most of the working world is still more masculine, but it has changed a lot and more women are involved. I am not a feminist. We need both men and women in a project. Making wine is an adventure which also needs both men and women.
To the question “is a wine made by a woman more feminine?” My answer is no.
Wine depends on the land, on the grape variety, on the climate, on the terroir, on the personality of the winemaker. We are all unique. Our wines are unique.


Syrah with Sabrine Rodems

red wine, syrah wine, winemaingWe first came across Wrath Wines several years ago at a Rhone Rangers trade tasting of mostly syrah wines. We got in free, although we can’t remember now if tickets were sold or if the event was even open to the public.

However, most of what the participating wineries were pouring were syrahs from 2011, a particularly challenging year for California wine, and those wines were, well, pretty lousy.

Except for the syrah from Wrath Wines. So when we decided to do a lesson on syrah, we naturally thought of Wrath’s winemaker, Sabrine Rodems.

Rodems told us that she had been a stagehand, then decided to go back to school in a pre-med program. However, when she decided that medicine was probably not her thing, after all, her sister told her that the family needed an enologist.

“It was a joke,” Rodems said, adding that her family was mostly scientists of some sort. “We were all into food and wine. The beauty of being a winemaker is that it’s both art and science.”

The thing to remember about syrah, she said is that it can be strong.

“It has a huge amount of flavor,” she said.

But how much and what kind of flavors tends to depend on where the syrah grapes are grown.

“Cool-climate syrah tends to be more plummy,” Rodems said.

Syrahs from Paso Robles, which has a warmer climate, tend to be meatier, with hints of bacon. Hers tend to have lots of spice, fruit such as black cherry, nutmeg, cloves, sometimes even a hint of juniper.

As for what to serve with it?

“It just depends on your mood,” Rodems said. For example, if it’s a Friday night, you can uncork one to relax with before dinner gets to the house. “You can drink them by themselves.”

That being said, syrahs are still great with food.

“It definitely goes with meat,” Rodems said. “Lamb and syrah, you can’t go wrong there.”


Women Winemakers of Chablis, Part Eight

white wines, women winemakers, chablis
L.C. Poitout and Catherine Poitout

This is our second to the last installment on the Women Winemakers of Chablis. We’ve got nine total. Today, we’re featuring Catherine Poitout of L&C Poitout, in the Chablis region of France. Chablis is also the delicious white wine made from the chardonnay grape (remember, European wines are usually named after where they’re made, rather than by what they’re made of). This series is from a group of email interviews with nine women winemakers from the Chablis region, translated from the original French by someone else because Anne’s French is in terrible shape. We asked each woman the same three questions.

1)    What makes Chablis different from other wines made from chardonnay?

Chablis’ location and soils make its Chardonnay stand out compared to other Chardonnays.  It is in at a very northern latitude, with extremely cold weather, and planted on chalky soils from the Kimmeridgien and Portlandian eras, full of fossilized sea animals.  This results in very mineral-driven wines that are bright and refreshing, yet complex.

2)    If my reader sees Chablis on the label of a bottle of wine, what should she expect to taste in the wine?

Your readers should expect a beautiful white wine, with very bright fruit and high acid.  These wines can be very complex and elegant, skewing more towards finesse than power.  They are perfect for shellfish, light white meats and cheeses.

3)   Finally, how are things changing for women winemakers in France? In the U.S., making wine is still very dominated by men. Are there more women becoming winemakers? Do women make wine differently than men, and if they do, what do they do that’s different?

Wine-making is still very dominated by men in France as well.  Currently, most women involved in wine-making rarely start wineries, but take over inheritances.  While they are less present in the fields due to the intense physical labor required, we do see more and more women in the winery as winemakers or wine-making  Speaking in generalities, women seem to seek out more elegance and finesse than power when making wine, and have a very positive impact on the design of the labels.

Winery Chef Amanda Martin Talks Food and Wine

Amanda Martin
Amanda Martin

When you want to talk about food and wine together, it’s hard to do better than talking with someone who works with both every day. Amanda Martin is the sous chef at Leoness Cellars in Temecula, California, and part of her job is coming up with dishes to serve with the wines made there.

We literally stumbled into her at a restaurant show last year and couldn’t resist doing a quick interview.

Q- What’s it like working at a winery as opposed to a restaurant?

Martin – With the winery, we have a little bit more flexibility, as far as the type of food, we get to serve because it is independent. With corporate restaurants, it’s a little bit harder because you’re told what to produce and how much and so forth. We create our own menus there, our own dishes there.

Q- So how much liberty do you have? Do you always have to include the wines?

Martin – No, I chose to include the wines. As far as in the cooking process? Obviously, when you’re cooking sauces, or preparing sauces in certain dishes, or pastas, you’re going to want a wine to deglaze. So I choose to use our wines in the process.

Q – How do you create a dish with a specific wine in mind, one that’s not necessarily going into it, but to go with it.

Martin –  We just try to, uh, as far as what’s made with the wine? We try to have it complement the wines.

Q- So do you taste the wine first?

Martin – We taste the wine first and then go from there.

Q – And what flavors go with what – the idea being how to tell what goes with what wine? And since you’re creating dishes to go with a wine all the time, you can tell us.

Martin – A lot of the times, people try to associate reds with meats, whites with fishes. That’s not always necessarily the case. You have to get the tannins, the sweetness behind the wine and then compare it that way. Like with a scallop dish, if you have something that’s salty within it, I would go with a sweeter wine, just so it plays harmoniously with your palate.

Q – Is this something you just have to test, doing trial and error?

Martin – Yeah, it’s just trial and error. Unless you have your sommelier, you know.  Also, wine and food is just more of a personal preference. It’s hard to pin point. What I enjoy, somebody else might not like. We can make our recommendations for it. Absolutely, but at the end of the day, it’s what you enjoy and that’s what we want it to be. It’s your experience.

Q – So what do you recommend? Just trying a bunch of different wines, such as different cab sauvs with a bunch of different foods? Or a Riesling with a bunch of different foods.

Martin – A Riesling would go excellent with the scallops, with fish. Halibut, surprisingly, we serve it with a port reduction. So you wouldn’t think a red wine sauce with a fish, but it goes beautifully with it. It’s trying. Have fun with it. That’s what food is, it’s fun. And wine. After a few glasses of wine, everything’s fun though.

Women Winemakers of Chablis, Part Five

white wine, chablis wine, women winemakers
Lyne Marchive

And here’s another installment on the Women Winemakers of Chablis. We’ve got nine total. Today, we’re featuring Lyne Marchive – Domaine des Malandes, in the Chablis region of France. Chablis is also the delicious white wine made from the chardonnay grape (remember, European wines are usually named after where they’re made, rather than by what they’re made of). This series is from a group of email interviews with six women winemakers from the Chablis region, translated from the original French by someone else because Anne’s French is in terrible shape. We asked each woman the same three questions.

1)    What makes Chablis different from other wines made from chardonnay?

Its subsoil, the Kimmeridgian from the Jurassic period, allows Chardonnay to express itself here like no other place.

2)    If my reader sees Chablis on the label of a bottle of wine, what should she expect to taste in the wine?

They should expect to taste a fresh and relaxing wine, with a cheering liveliness.

3)   Finally, how are things changing for women winemakers in France? In the U.S., making wine is still very dominated by men. Are there more women becoming winemakers? Do women make wine differently than men, and if they do, what do they do that’s different?

In my opinion, this topic isn’t an issue: a lot of professions have opened up to women, not just the wine industry (justice, police forces, sciences, mechanics, etc.). The most important thing is to remain extremely professional.

A woman does not make wine in a similar or different way from a man: she can also make it differently from another woman. It is just a matter of conviction and sensitivity.