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Chateau Montelena 40th Vintage Chardonnay Released

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This month, Chateau Montelena Winery proudly released the 2011 Napa Valley Chardonnay, making this the 40th vintage of Chardonnay produced at Chateau Montelena.

Here is what our winemaker, Cameron Parry, has to say about the wine and the 2011 vintage:

“This Chardonnay shows a beautiful rich golden straw color in the glass with clean pure aromas of pear and crisp green apple, all overlaid with light tropical fruit notes and a hint of honeysuckle. On the palate, this wine has wonderful fullness and creaminess without being heavy. A clean soft entry is quickly followed by crisp acidity and a rich display of fruit including juicy nectarine and white peach along with a hint of lychee and fresh citrus. The flavors on the finish are reminiscent of pear tart while the oak contribution is well integrated throughout the profile, with just a touch of nuttiness showing through.”

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Wineries to Watch: Tamber Bey Vineyards

Tamber Bey Vineyards

Tamber Bey Vineyards

Barry Waite purchased his Yountville Ranch in 1999 for the primary purpose of raising his beloved horses. The name is after his first two Arabian endurance horses, Tamborina and Bayamo. But the fertile Yountville land called to him and before long he was planting grapes alongside the pastures, the Deux Chevaux Vineyards. He teamed up with winemaker Thomas Brown for his inaugural vintage and has been rocking since then. Brown has an impressive background in the wine industry including a little project known as Schraeder ($350/bottle).

Thomas Brown brought on “apprentice,” Mike Smith to help with the production of Tamber Bey. Smith is no slouch though, he has worked for a number of labels including Myriad. Barry later added a property in Oakville where they have been making a single vineyard Cabernet. The Tamber Bey wines overachieve given the price/quality ratio. Barry has strived to keep his price points reasonable, since this is not his primary business. These wines are under the radar and not submitted to press for ratings, relying on more word of mouth and delivering a high quality product. They make 3 wines: 2 from the Yountville and one from Oakville, all 100% estate wines.

Our favorites from Tamber Bey include: Tamber Bey Deux Chevaux Cabernet, Tamber Bey Deux Chevaux Rabicano, Tamber Bey Oakville Estate Cabernet.

Planning a trip to California wine country

Planning wine tripAl and I will be departing for what has become our bi-annual exploration of California wine country. In our two weeks of meetings and wine tasting we’ll travel through Santa Barbara, Monterey, Napa, and Sonoma. On the itinerary? Some old favorites and top sellers and places that we have always wanted to visit. What is more important than our actual plans and meetings, however, is what I can our ‘free’ time to explore the undiscovered. With that in mind, I thought a post on some tips on planning a wine country trip to California (or any other wine production region) was in order.

1. Leave “FREE” time: Yes, it is important to see Domaine Chandon or Robert Mondavi once in  your lifetime…but do not let those bigger types of wineries dominate your days. Our go-to plan, start out with a bigger winery in the morning each day and talk to the tasting room managers, they’ll give you the secrets to the small, hidden gems and sometimes even set you up with tasting.

2. Four wineries a day, no more: There is a point, for everyone, where you cannot taste anymore wine. We’ve found, in general, that comes at four wineries. Pick three to four to visit a day, take the extended tour and tasting, enjoy and then go have a nice, big meal.

3. Pack snacks: More and more wineries offer cheese and appetizers at their tasting rooms. But you will be tasting a lot of wine. Keep the car full of crackers and sparkling water to keep your palette (and head) clear.

4. Splurge for the expensive tasting: A $100 tasting fee sounds like a lot. But trust me, if a winery is charging a large tasting fee there is a reason for it. It is awesome, and they don’t want everyone invited to it. So go, it may be the best tasting of your life.

5. Do not sign up for the Wine Club: Most wineries would kill me here, but if you have a great experience at a winery take the information for the wine club home with you. Think about it for at least one week and then, if you want, sign up. I see too many people (like myself) get caught up in the fun of the tasting room experience and arrive back home with more club memberships than they can count on one hand. Wine clubs are a financial and culinary commitment, make sure you can afford (and drink) all that wine that you agree to purchase.

I Will Not Drink Bad Wine, I Will Not Drink Bad Wine

cc: Cabernet

CC: Cabernet, I Will Not Drink Bad Wine

It’s not often in life that you find a bottle of wine that completely sums up your philosophy.  We were fortunate enough to be introduced to such a bottle by one of our customers (thank you Bill!) last week.  It’s called simply “I Will Not Drink Bad Wine.”  There you go, our philosophy on life (well at least how its related to wine).

I Will Not Drink Bad Wine is produced as both a Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay from Napa Valley & Monterey respectively and retails for $25 (Cab) and $17 (Chard).  Although the label is catching on its own, the best part about this wine is that it really is that good for the price point.  The proper name of the wine is CC:, but we like to call it by its nickname.

After a perusal of their website (which is fun just to visit, click here), I found out that the wine is produced by Betts & Scholl.  Betts & Scholl is a partnership project between Richard Betts, Master Sommelier & Wine Director at The Little Nell in Aspen, Colorado (just one more reason we love Aspen so much) and Dennis Scholl, a wine collector and enthusiast who splits his time between Aspen and Miami (kind of like us!)  Betts & Scholl is dedicated to premium wines from only the best land and best fruit, their wines typically range from $40 – 70 per bottle.  So for them, CC: is kind of second label.  A second label we’d put up against any value wine in the store though…

The Chardonnay is crisp and clean with the characteristic fruit you should enjoy from a Chardonnay.  Produced entirely in stainless steel there is no oak or butter to get in the way.  The Cabernet has great fruit and a well balanced – soft but complex – finish.  CC: claims the fruit comes from a famous vineyard off of Route 29 in Napa Valley – Hall perhaps, Grgich Hills, Whitehall Lane, even Far Niente/Nickel & Nickel?  I guess we’ll never no.  But the most important part, is that this wine is definitely not bad.

CC: Chardonnay (I Will Not Drink Bad Wine)

Winery Feature – Klinker Brick

Klinker Brick WineryWhen someone says ‘old vines’ in California, you might immediately recall the 60’s when the hippies first invaded Napa County or the 1970’s when California wine first made a name for itself.  But the early 1900’s?  Never in a 110 years would my mind go there.

But that is when the Fleten family settled in the Lodi district and planted their grapes including Zinfandel, Tokay, Carignane, and Alicante.  Since then, the Felten family has kept the winery in the family…currently owned and operated by Steve & Lori Felten (fifth generation winemakers), their team as includes extended relatives Barry Gnekow (winemaker) and Lynne Whyte Bernard (President).

Alluvial FanThe Lodi region of California is located on the edge of the San Joaquin Valley just east of San Francisco.  Although the region didn’t and AVA designation until 1986, the region has been growing grapes since as early as the 1950’s.  The region has a climate very similar to areas along the Mediterranean Sea’s coast with warm days and cool nights.  The region has a great variety of soil contents, although in most cases it contains deep loam and large rocks.  Klinker Brick grows most of their old vine Zinfandel in the sub appellation of the Mokelumner River, which is an area that follows the river from the Sierra Nevadas to the San Joaquin River (the heart of the appellation).  Soil here is deposits of sand and loam in an alluvial fan shape (see an example of an alluvial fan to the right).

Here are some of our favorite selections from Klinker Brick:

2008 Old Vine Zinfandel
From: Mokelumne River, Lodi, California
About (From the Winery): The 2008 vintage produced lower yields than the previous vintage resulting in wines with deep color and rich, explosive fruit. This wine offers aromas of black cherries and fresh strawberries and toasty oak. On the palate, there are layers of dark fruit intermingled with sweet vanilla and spice. This wine has an incredibly smooth and long, lingering finish. Our winemaker believes that it is the best Klinker Brick Old Vine Zinfandel that we have produced to date.
$18

2008 Lodi Farrah Syrah
From:
Lodi, California
About (From the Winery): With aromas of black cherry, cedar shavings with just a hint of tobacco, the 2008 Farrah Syrah is a smooth, beautifully balanced wine with dense layers of spiced plum. The texture is supple and silky and the finish, long and lingering.
$20

A Profile on Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc

Once in a while children become superstars.  It happened with Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, and yes…Cabernet Sauvignon.  The child of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon often outshines its parent when it comes to red varietal wines and even in traditional Bordeaux and Meritage style blends.

Cabernet Franc is one of the main red grape varietals in the world.  It is one of the seven Bordeaux grapes grown in Bordeaux, France and traditionally blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  But Cabernet Franc can be made into a 100% varietal wine in many areas of the world including the Loire Valley in France, California, Washington and Argentina.

Cabernet Franc was discovered in the Libournais region of France (Southwest) in the 17th century, almost immediately transplanted to the Loire Valley.  In the 18th century, Cabernet Franc spread into the Bordeaux region and began to appear in the red blended wines famous to the region.  In the late 1990’s many noticed the similarities between the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and a relationship between the two was discovered.

Cabernet Franc is traditionally a bit lighter in body than Cabernet Sauvignon, but offers a spicier flavor profile often with hints of pepper, tobacco, cassis and even violets and greenness.  The flavor of Cabernet Franc is very specific and often surprises many people, in many ways it is similar to its child, but the reduced tannins and green flavors are very distinctive.

Some of the differences in the flavors of the wine are do to the viticulture and growing practices.  Cabernet Franc buds and ripens about a week prior to Cabernet Sauvignon.  Cabernet Franc is also a bit more versatile in the the types of soil it can grow in, but thrives in sandy, chalky soils.

You can find Cabernet Franc at all price points, however if you are exploring this ‘new’ grape we highly suggest spending the extra money to get a high quality wine from a premium producer.  Here are some reccomendations:

1.  Cougar Crest Cabernet Franc
Columbia Valley, Washington
By far one of my favorite wines (not just Cabernet Franc but overall), this wine is smooth and full bodied…jammy berries balanced with oak, tobacco, pepper, and green herbs.
92 points, Wine Spectator
$38

2. Darioush Cabernet Franc
Napa Valley, California
A premium producer in Napa, this wine is blended with 5% Merlot which perfectly balances the Cabernet Franc.  Vibrant dark fruits (blackberry, cassis) balanced earth and lavendar.
$60

Craft Beer from the Heart of Wine Country

Nestled in the midst of rolling vineyards and an abundance of  wine-o’s, the Smith family took a leap of faith, embracing the craft beer movement by opening Napa Smith Brewery. They are hoping by using the name “Napa” in their brewery name, that instead of conjuring up images of vineyards and wine, images of artistry,  craftsmanship and fine beverages will come to mind.

In the spirit of fine beverages, leave it to a brewery right out of Napa Valley to create a series of beers that are meant to pair with food. Napa Smith currently produce three varieties of ales; a Pale Ale, an Amber and a Wheat beer. They believe there are certain foods that beers pair with easier than wine and that certain beers will actually make the food taste better. Their three beers are meant to pair with a large range of food types including seafood, pasta, chicken and pork.

Family owned and operated, they believe that life is about having fun and that good food should be accompanied with great beer.

Ranked in Wine Enthusiast’s Top 25 Beers, Napa Smith’s Amber Ale is a crowd pleaser. $9/4 pack

Napa Smith’s Amber Ale uses seven malt varieties, and three unique selections of hops in order to achieve deep complex flavors. The taste starts slightly sweet and then progresses to a clean, dry finish.

You can find Napa Smith beer and other craft beers at Decanted 1410 Pine Ridge Rd, Naples FL 34108 or online at http://www.decantedwines.com

A Truly Arrogant Ale

“This is an aggressive beer. You probably won’t like it. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth. We would suggest that you stick to a safer and more familiar territory — maybe something with a multi-million dollar ad campaign aimed at convincing you it’s made in a little brewery, or one that implies that their tasteless fizzy yellow beer will give you more sex appeal. Perhaps you think multi-million dollar ad campaigns make a beer taste better. Perhaps you’re mouthing your words as you read this.”

This beer tells you that you won’t like it. It belittles you before you even take your first whiff. And that’s exactly what I like about it. It’s a true craft beer drinkers beer. Big and bold, full of hops, this American Strong Ale is one of my staple favorites. Amber in color, big on flavor, probably a little much for a newbie beer drinker, but perfect for the pros.

Located  in Escondido, California, Stone Brewing Company was founded by Steve Wagner and Greg Koch in 1996. Passionate about craft beer, these two friends teamed up as brewer and business man, creating a legend. I’ll let them sum up who they really are, because frankly, they do it best:

“We are a small, honest brewery with unrealistically high, yet cantankerously unwavering, standards. We concentrate on creating the most satisflying, big character ales imaginable, by using only the finest natural ingredients. And lots of ’em!”

Quick Facts:

I know they sound tough with their big scary beers, but they do appreciate the environment like true Californians. In 2008, they covered the roof of the brewery with solar panels, which cut operating costs in half.

Stone  started out with 400 barrels per year in 1996 and in 2009 they were up to 98,500 barrels per year. They were listed in the top 100 fastest growing San Diego businesses in 2004, 2005, 2006 in the San Diego Business Journal. They must be doing something right!

Stone features 8 year round beers and an assortment of limited and special releases as well as collaboration releases with Dogfish Head and Victory Brewing Companies. More information on their portfolio visit http://www.stonebrew.com

Beer Advocate Rating: A-

Arrogant Bastard Ale 7.2% ABV, 22oz $5.75

You can find Arrogant Bastard as well as other craft beers at Decanted 1410 Pine Ridge Rd, Naples FL 34108 or online at http://www.decantedwines.com

A Brief History of American Wine

Whenever I look at something that refers to “History of (insert boring title here)” I tend to find myself nodding off before I finish the preface. So I will attempt to make this article both informative and entertaining. I mean, it is “History of American Wines,” it can’t be too dreary, right?

A lot went on from when the first settlers arrived bearing precious European vines, to several centuries later in this day and age where wine production is both a commercialized enterprise and an art form. I will try to consolidate and spare you too many details. There are plenty of books and references, so if you find yourself enthralled with the topic, you can look no further than your local friendly bookstore for additional reading.

Photo Courtesy of discovercaliforniawine.com

Five hundred years ago, when the first European immigrants began arriving, they realized they were missing a very important part of their daily lives. From a culture that drinks wine as a lifeblood, I imagine it must have come as a shock to involuntarily jump on the wagon. Shipping wine from Europe proved extremely expensive, as most imports usually are.  However, the settlers were delighted to find grapevines growing wild all up and down the East Coast. The earliest recordings of wine making were by the French Huguenot settlers in Jacksonville, FL, around 1562. The new wine makers soon began to realize that the native American vines were not the same vines as their homeland, and not nearly as palatable. This led to attempts at importing and growing the European vine, vitis vinifera. The vines were met with numerous hardships with pests and diseases that challenged the European vines but the American grapes, vitis labrusca, were immune to. The European grapes were fighting a losing battle and the wine makers turned to the American vine for small production every day drinking wine. In 1683, William Penn planted the first vineyard in Pennsylvania The vines were a cross breed of American and French vines, creating the hybrid grape, Alexander. This grape was successful in holding up against the native diseases and today is the main grape varietal grown on the East Coast.

Now let’s move on to California, the hub of American wine production. Wine production in California started with the Spanish.

Photo Courtesy of insidesocal.com

The first winery in California was opened in 1769 by the Franciscan missionaries near San Diego. Although the first vines were a vitis vinifera relative, brought up from Mexico by the Spanish settlers, the wine was only really used as sacramental holy wine and was average quality at best. Wine gained popularity in California during the mid-1800’s when the Gold Rush brought new settlers from the East Coast and Europe with their ingrained wine making traditions. In 1861 the governor of California funded the selection and planting of European grapes in California soil. Riesling, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay were among those chosen.

In 1863, Europe faced a severe hardship as the phylloxera disease took over their precious crops. Phylloxera is an aphid pest that is native to the East Coast. It was accidentally brought over to Europe on American vines that were used for experimentation. The disease ravaged the European vines and lowered production drastically. This raised demand for the California wines because it was the only other place in the world growing European style wines.  California was producing both affordable, drinkable table wine as well as high quality wines.

Then came Prohibition. Now, I could say a piece on Prohibition and talk about how the descendants of Europeans could possibly promote the ban on an everyday drink like wine in the “Land of the Free,” but I’m not going to get political. Needless to say, Prohibition prohibited and basically destroyed the previously flourishing and lucrative wine industry in the US. The only wine that was allowed during the period of 1920-1933 was for sacramental or medicinal purposes. By the end of Prohibition, Americans had lost interest in quality wine. It would be nearly 50 years before California returned to its place as a regarded wine making region of the world.

Photo Courtesy of allposters.com

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, a small group of California wine makers began experimenting with the revived European style wines. They focused on quality wines and soon began to be recognized by writers and wine enthusiasts around the country. These wine makers realized they needed to distinguish themselves from the table wines that used generic names like Chablis and Burgundy. They began naming the wines by grape name and it caught on. Wine drinkers were able to easily remember the wines they liked by the specific taste of the grape. By the 1980’s naming wines by grape varietal became the standard.

Today, wine is produced in all fifty states. Believe it or not, Florida actually has forty-two wineries, the majority of them specialize in sweet fruit based wines. Wyoming has the least amount, coming in at two. The typical wine drinker today has a more distinguished palate and has access to a wealth of knowledge on the subject with local wine tastings and educational sessions, specialty shops, means of shipping and delivery of quality wine direct to their doorstep.

Information from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_wine