Lodi Wines Do L.A.

One of the cool things about having done a wine blog for some time is that we get invited to some pretty awesome events and trade tastings. The Lodi in Los Angeles event late last winter was one such event featuring Lodi wines. There was a grand tasting for the public that evening. But we got in with the trade (which also means we got in for free).

Located at the northern end of the San Joaquin Valley and south of Sacramento, the Lodi region is right at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. They are best known for their old vines zinfandel (and, indeed, we tasted one from 102-year-old vines, which is really old). However, they’ve been growing a lot of Spanish and Italian varieties. Actually, they grow all manner of varieties up there, as we found out last November at the Wine Bloggers Conference, including a couple even Michael hadn’t heard of. That’s saying something.

We ended up tasting over 30 wines that afternoon (and doing a lot of spitting). We seldom do more than 20 at a go because, after a while, one’s palate just gets too fatigued. But these were great wines and there were plenty of nibblies to go along with them.

There’s no way in heck we can list all the wines we tasted. But we did run into several women winemakers that we hope to catch up with in the next few months. We may consider catching up with John Gash at Prie Winery. Not only did he have the 102-year-old zin vines, he poured some carignane from 118-year-old vines. Michael wrote about the zin: Nice fruit, but no jam. Good acids, making a tasty sipper and excellent food wine. The carignane (a red wine) had some cedar on the nose, red fruit and cedar in the flavor, with nice acidity and a long finish.

So while old vine zinfandel from Lodi is justly lauded, there’s a lot of very interesting and very tasty stuff coming out of the region.

Tasting From Bordeaux

What do you do when you get an invitation to a grand tasting of wines from France’s Bordeaux region? What we did – we leaped at the chance. Being a blog, we got in for free, but that only made it sweeter.

The tasting was put on by the Union Des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, basically, their winemakers’ marketing cooperative. You’d think Bordeaux pretty much sells itself, but it doesn’t entirely. Aside from the few premiers crus (the really, really expensive and legendary wines like Chateau Margaux), there are a lot of lesser-known wineries in the area. Not to mention that since wine in Europe is named by where it comes from, a lot of people here in the States don’t necessarily realize that Graves and St. Emilion, among others, are part of Bordeaux.

The region is in the southwest of France, not far from the Pyrannees and the English Channel. The growing days are warm and the nights fairly cool. Cabernet Sauvignon is the grape variety most commonly associated with the region, but merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot are the other grapes that generally make up the blends produced in the area. Oh, and sauvignon blanc and semillion for the whites – and, yes, there are some glorious whites made there, too.

The funny thing is, Michael noted that the wines all pretty much tasted alike. This is not to say they weren’t fabulous. They were utterly delicious. Some were more fabulous than the others, but they were all terrific, and rich, and lush, and subtle, and everything you expect from a good Bordeaux.

The big takeaway is that it’s hard to go wrong when you see Bordeaux on the bottle. Or St. Emillion, or Graves, or Pomerol, or St. Julien, or Medoc, or Haut-Medoc, or… You get the picture.

One other caveat, however, these wines are made to go with food. Drinking them in isolation, they will taste good, but a little flat. Pair the reds with a nice bit of dried sausage or a bit of meat, and they spring to life in your mouth.

You can check out the individual wineries and chateaux here. It’s the English version of the site. Oh, and forget about what you’ve heard about snobby French people. Those are the Parisians. The people in Bordeaux are very nice, and back in 1990, when Anne visited on a tour, when they heard she was from California, several actually said, “California? They make good wine there.” Which we do. But so do the nice people in Bordeaux.

(Not That) Peter Jackson on New Zealand Wines

New Zealand wines, New Zealand sauvignon blanc, white wine
Peter Jackson

When we were invited to do a tasting of New Zealand wines and interview with winemaker Peter Jackson, we were expecting to be part of a much larger group. Instead, it was just the two of us, Jackson and his publicist at a bar in Downtown Los Angeles.

By the way, this Peter Jackson is not the film director. He’s pretty good-natured about sharing his name.

“I grew up in Australia,” where, he added, there was a menswear company known as Peter Jackson. “I’ve just been cursed my whole life.”

When it comes to New Zealand wines, most people immediately think of sauvignon blanc, and there’s a good reason for that.  The variety accounts for around 80 percent of all grapes grown in New Zealand, although Jackson added that there is a growing demand for pinot gris and pinot noir, as well as chardonnay. Almost all of the grape growing is done in the state of Marlborough, which is at the southern tip of the island country.

Jackson, himself, grew up in Queensland, Australia, went to school in France, then ended up working for Crowded House and Catalina Sounds, which are two labels produced by the company.

What makes New Zealand wines distinctive

What makes a New Zealand sauv blanc so distinctive, according to Jackson, in the bright acidity and citrus.

“There’s a raciness and freshness that’s pretty hard to replicate,” he said. “You know you’ve got a wine that’s packed with flavor.”

Jackson recommends Asian noodles, fresh seafood, salads, and salty cheeses.

“There’s nothing better than fresh mussels,” he said. “It will hold up well with delicate white meat.”

We tasted the 2016 Crowded House sauvignon blanc, and Michael noted cut grass and some gooseberry on the nose. It had a dry finish and citrus flavors, minerals and acids. The 2017 Catalina Sounds sauv blanc had a more delicate nose and a quieter profile. There was, of course, citrus and some gooseberry, too.New Zealand wine, sauvignon blanc, white wine

Jackson said that pinot noir is getting to be an up and coming grape in New Zealand. It hadn’t done well until recently.

“They were planting the wrong clones,” Jackson said.

But nowadays, growers seem to have found the right clones, and are planting it more on the hillsides. Jackson makes his with native ferments.

“I can’t remember the last time I used yeast on a red,” he said.

We tried two Catalina Sounds pinot noirs. Michael noted that the 2015 was a slightly savory wine, with dry red and black fruit. The 2016 was very similar, but with a hint of spice.

Jackson said that he’s become very fond of his adopted country, where the people are quite humble and friendly.

“It’s absolutely one thing I love about New Zealand,” he said. “We realize that we’re all in it together. What’s good for you is going to be good for me.”

So, if you can’t find Crowded House or Catalina Sounds at your local wine store, try looking for a New Zealand wine, in general. They’re pretty tasty.



El Dorado Wine Country Speed Tasting

El dorado Wine Country, red wine, tasting notes
A rep from the El Dorado Wine Country gives some pointers for wine bloggers after the speed tasting

Imagine a hotel ballroom filled with tables of wine bloggers. Add a bunch of winery owners, marketing folk, and the occasional winemaker. How many wines can you pour for said wine bloggers in less than an hour? Not too many. But that’s okay because, for us, it turned out to be a good introduction to the El Dorado Wine Country.

It’s basically speed dating for wine at November’s Wine Bloggers Conference. You get about six to eight wine bloggers at a table and the winery person comes around with a bottle or two and has about five to ten minutes to try to be heard over everyone else.

Anne fired questions at whomever was pouring because that’s what Anne does, while Michael took tasting notes because that’s what Michael does. Alas, we only have so many hands, so pictures didn’t get taken.

We tasted wines from four different wineries. However, we’re going to (hopefully) feature one of them sometime later this year, so we’ll focus on the other three.

El Dorado County is just east of Sacramento. Most of the wineries are located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This is the heart of California gold country, so it’s a pretty scenic and interesting area, in general.

Some of the Wines from El Dorado Wine Country

The first folks to visit our table were Lexi and Justin Boeger of Boeger Winery. They’re a brother and sister, with Justin being the winemaker, and their father, who started the enterprise, is the vineyard manager. According to Lexi, their grandfather had a vineyard in Napa, but their father went to El Dorado to start his.

“He just would get interested in unusual stuff,” Lexi said.

Interesting? Oh, yeah. We tasted the 2014 Migliori blend, which was made up of 62 % refosco grapes, 19 % aglianico, and 19% charbono. Michael tasted some light oak, cherry, and red berry. We both really liked the blend.

Next, Eric Hays, owner and winemaker at Chateau Davell, poured his 2014 Marguerite blend made up of 67% syrah and 33% grenache.

“To me, it’s more about the natural process,” he told us.

Michael noted that the wine had a rather light color for something with as much syrah in it as this one did. He also caught some good acidity and decent tannins.

Leanne Davis is the co-owner and vineyard manager for Via Romano Vineyards. Not surprisingly, she and her winemaker husband focus on Italian varieties. Like many of the winemakers we talked to, they want to stay a small boutique winery.

“I don’t want to make twenty-five thousand cases,” Davis told us.

We tried the Papa Roman Red, which is a Super Tuscan-style blend of 38% sangiovese, 38% cabernet sauvignon, 12% cabernet franc, and 12% merlot. Michael liked the “grippy” tannins and also the black fruit and the hint of dirt. It was very drinkable, but still very young.

And that’s a quick look at what was a very quick event.


Champagne Romance with Vitalie Taittinger

Ah, Champagne. We’re talking the real stuff, from Champagne, France. Everything else is sparkling wine, perfectly lovely in most cases. But there’s just something about the original.

So when we got an invitation to party in Beverly Hills with Vitalie Taittinger, whose family owns the famous high end label, heck, yes, we jumped at it. Who better to explain the mystique? The romance? And with Valentine’s Day almost upon us, why not?

The party was hosted by Jordane Andrieu, of Héritage Wines, in Beverly Hills, and was very chi-chi, which was kind of scary because we’re anything but chi-chi. Still, with the bubbly flowing like a fountain (and in the video, rather literally), who cared? Ms. Taittinger was  a little late, so we got antsy and started asking anyone and everyone what is about Champagne that we associate it so firmly with romance?

Champagne is sophisticated and light

Kendra Walker thought it was about the bubbles,

Kendra Walker and Dana Prieto

“Bubbly is romantic because it’s effervescent and light,” White said.

Her friend, Dana Prieto, agreed.

“Bubbly is just fancy,” Prieto said.  “That’s why it’s so great.”

“I think it’s just the fact that it literally looks beautiful in a glass,” said Annie Trevino. “You feel so sophisticated when you’re drinking it. And the way you feel after you’ve had a glass or two is kind of different compared to any other kind of spirit, rather beer or hard liquor. It makes you feel light. And I think that’s a beautiful thing.”

Champagne Taittinger
Annie Trevino

Publicist Dana Bruneau pointed out that it’s very easy to write copy about Champagne.

“Honestly, it’s so fluid,” she said. “You don’t even have to think about it. I mean, the craziest stuff can come to your mind, like seduction and sultry and creamy and silky. So many adjectives to describe champagne.”

And Renita White came up with yet another

“It’s velvety,” she said.

Yep. Good Champagne does feel a little like velvet going down.

Ms. Taittinger has her say

But then Ms. Taittinger showed up and here’s what she had to say about the connection between Champagne and romance.

Champagne Taittinger
Vitalie Taittinger

“I think that Champagne is special because of the terroir and the minerality and everything, but at the end it’s also special because it’s not only a wine, it’s also a symbol. A symbol of celebration, a symbol of joy, happiness,” Taittinger said, adding that it can be hard to pin down why it’s so romantic. “I think you just have to drink a glass of it to understand that. Because the effect of champagne on people is just that it gives you so much energy, power, love, freedom, that you’re happy.”

Ah, but some folks we know have gotten very sick drinking Champagne.

“But that’s a good point because you can drink a lot of good champagne without to be sick,” Taittinger said. “I think when you have a good champagne, you are never sick.”

At least, we weren’t sick the next morning. Still, even with as good a thing as really good bubbly, it doesn’t hurt to moderate it a bit.


Italian Wines Make A Slow Wine Event

At last year’s Slow Wine event, we were expecting more about the movement. This year,knowing full well that the event is about introducing Americans to the best of Italian wines, we came ready to get our taste buds dazzled. And, indeed, they were.

Italian Wines
Stefano Coppola of Tenuta Ferrocintto

The fun of attending tasting events is discovering and tasting wines that you probably won’t get a chance to under normal circumstances. Not every wine shop is going to carry the Montepulciano Rosé from Torre Dei Beati, in Abruzzo, Italy. Or Cà ed Balos’ amazing dolcettos out of the Piedmont region (more on those later, we promise). There’s also the joy of tasting something you’d never be able to afford otherwise.

Almost extinct Italian wines

Italian wines
Rare wines from Tenute Ferrocinto

Then there are the truly rare goodies, such as the three wines brought by enologist Stefano Coppola, from Tenute Ferrocinto, in the Calabria region.The white was made from a grape called Montonico, and the two reds from Magliocco grapes. Both grapes are almost extinct, partly because they take a lot more work to get good fruit than other varieties. In fact, only a few very tiny producers make the wine. But Signor Coppola’s company is trying to bring the varieties back. The vineyards are in a national park in Italy, with the intent that they will keep everything as it was

The kicker? The wines aren’t available in the United States because the company hasn’t found a distributor yet. Well, we hope they found one at the event. Because wine from historical varieties that are dying out? It’s pretty awesome.

Unfortunately, we can’t cover all the wonderful goodies we found at the tasting – and we didn’t even get to all of the 50-odd producers who were there. Just remember there’s a lot more to Italian wines than chianti, prosecco and pinot grigio. And if you get a chance to go to a tasting event, dress in dark clothes, be ready to spit and have fun checking out all of the different wines. You never know when you’re going to come across something rare or even a new fave.