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Wineries to Watch: The Scholium Project

Scholium Project

Owner of Scholium Project, Abe Schoener, celebrating a win at our 2010 Throwdown.

Last week we hosted our Cult California Wine Throwdown featuring owner/winemaker of The Scholium Project, Abe Schoener. We have had the pleasure of getting to know Abe and his unique wines over the last couple years and have come to appreciate his truly unique approaches to the winemaking process.

The Scholium Project represents an experimental and educational approach to wine. Abe approaches each wine as a project, trying to emulate those in the industry whose methods and wines he admires.

Abe’s background begins at the famed Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars where he interned during a sabbatical from teaching at St. John’s College. While at Stag’s Leap, Abe worked with John Kongsgaard. After Stag’s Leap he continued to work with John at Luna Cellars, then White Rock Vineyards. In 2005, he made his first Scholium selections: Naucratis and Cena Trimalchinos.

Scholium wines are all sourced fruit from the best vineyards for the specific grape varietals in each wine. Grapes often found in the wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Merlot, Zinfandel, and Cinsault on the red side. And white varietals including Verdelho, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Gewurztraminer.

The Scholium Project offers a large array of wines to explore, each one is not for everyone but they are all wines to challenge your thinking and evaluation of what your mind thinks a ‘standard’ style of each grape is. We always say that the Scholium wines can make red drinkers love white and white lovers drink reds.

Our favorites? With this winery, you can have a favorite. But must tries include: Bricco Bebelico, Choepheroi, Gardens of Babylon (awesome!) , Prince in His Caves (a red drinker’s white).

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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.

Wine Review: The Prisoner 2009

A special guest blog appearance by our Cooked author – Jaclyn Poole….

Believe it or not, there was a time when I wasn’t a foodie and really didn’t know much about wine.  It all started one night in Columbus, Ohio. I don’t necessarily remember the occasion, but myself and my boyfriend (husband now) decided to treat ourselves to a nice dinner out. It was at that dinner that I was introduced to what is still one of our favorite wines – The 2009 Prisoner, the flagship wine of Orin Swift Cellars.

Overwhelmed by an extensive wine list, we asked the server for advice. All we really knew was that we enjoyed red wine and since it was a special occasion, we weren’t being too price conscious. Our server suggested the Prisoner because he was on a big Zinfandel kick.  But this particular wine was blended with several other varietals; Cabernet, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Charbono, Grenache and Malbec …to be exact. And they all blend together perfectly.

The color of the wine was the first thing to grab our attention; an opaque shade of ruby that seemed almost solid as it settled into the glass. We allowed the wine to open as we decided on our meals; shrimp and grits to split, barbequed mahi-mahi for me and a caramel seared pork chop for
the hubby.  These don’t seem like entrees you’d usually pair with a deep, bold Napa red – but I am convinced this wine pairs well with everything!  And that night it did.

The aromas of the wine surprised us – strong blackberry and raspberry – reminiscent of a summer fruit salad, sweet and tart. From the first sip you know you’re drinking something great; a powerful, full bodied burst of cherry flavors with pops of pepper on the tongue.  But wait, that’s not even the best part. The best part is the long finish. A velvety finish and softens the throat and warms your chest.  The wine offers plenty of tannins, but they’re subtle which is why it pairs well with so many different meals.

We sipped the wine slowly, even enjoying it with dessert and ever since then we have had at least one bottle of the ’09 Prisoner in our house at all times. Believe me, you won’t regret trying this one.

Winery Review: Silver Palm

Silver Palm WinesGrapes from premium vineyards across the North Coast, a winemaker with over 20 years experience, and artisan winemaking techniques usually translates into a $40-$50 bottle of wine…especially when that wine is Cabernet or Chardonnay from California. But Silver Palm has managed to accomplish all of those items and keep its wine reasonable – very reasonable.

It’s been our go-to table white and red for months, but after having it with dinner over the weekend (and being reminded just how good it is) I decided to take a deeper look at the winery. Silver Palm is owned by Kendall Jackson, but unlike its parent, the goal of this winery is to produce small-lot wines that will best be served at a high quality restaurant or connoisseur’s table rather than used as stackers in a grocery store. Melissa Bates, winemaker, sources fruit from only the best vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties to create complex and well-balanced wines. Currently the winery only produces two wines: Cabernet and Chardonnay which are crafted to pair perfectly with traditional cuisines for these grapes.

Cabernet Sauvignon
A blend of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cab Franc, 4.2% Merlot, 2.6% Petite Sirah, 2.2% Petite Verdot, the fruit is sourced from 50% Mendocino, Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley, and the Sonoma Coast. Surprisingly, it is also a blend of vintages (2007 – 2009), but with 95% of the fruit from the 2008 vintage it is bottled as such.

The wine shows a brilliant, purple color and shows aromas and flavors of dark cherry, blackberry, spice and toast. The medium tannins provide a backbone without the drying and bittering feeling of some bolder wines.
$18

Chardonnay
A blend of 98% Chardonnay with 2% Viognier from Sonoma County and Mendocino County, this vintage is the premiere of the Chardonnay for Silver Palm. The wine is fermented entirely in stainless steel, preserving the fruit characteristics to showcase the strong aromas of tropical fruit (pineapple, melon) paired with hints of apple and pear that is the Chardonnay grape’s signature. Of the wine, Bates says “For the premier release of our Chardonnay, I chose to present the varietal in a chic and elegant manner.” Elegant and chic it is.
$18

Wine in a keg? What’s next in the wine world?

Recently I read an article from Inside Scoop in San Francisco about local restaurants serving wine out of a keg? I have to admit at first, I was a bit taken back. I mean this is wine we are talking about being tapped and served by the glass. But after further thought, maybe this isn’t such a bad idea?

Let’s be honest, most wines by the glass at restaurants are crap, swill if you will. Sutterhome and Coastal Vines, no matter how you serve them, will never be a premium product. But a good go-to glass at the bar? Sure, and you bet restaurants will continue to serve it for years and years. Most of these bottles are opened when ordered, and then kept in a cooler and served over the next few days or until the bottle is empty. The only problem with this process is that you are dealing with a product (wine in general) that is really only suppose to last a day or two at most after its opened. If you are that person that orders a glass of White Zin on day three, your wine is not as good as it was on day one…fact.

So back to the keg. A keg provides a cool and oxygen-free environment for the wines. There is no more bottle waste for restaurants and consumers are getting a fresh glass every time. The non-waste issue gives restaurants more flexibility on their wine-by-the-glass list by reducing the potential cost of lost inventory if say a Gruner Veltliner is not the most popular wine on the list. Not to mention the environmental issue of reducing all that material (bottles, corks, foil) by switching to a reusable resource.

Disturbing at first, yes. But kegs in the wine industry may just make an appearance outside of San Francisco yet, and might have a positive impact on the industry.

Wine Review: Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Hands of Time, 2008

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Hands of TimeStag’s Leap Wine Cellars is one of the most storied wineries in the Napa Valley, most famous for their wine in the famous 1976 Judgement of Paris. The most important tasting for American wine history celebrates its 35th anniversary this year and I thought it appropriate to feature one of Stag’s Leap’s wines in honor of the anniversary.

After their success at the Judgement of Paris (they won the Cabernet Sauvignon category with a 1973 S.L.V. Cabernet, it is the part left out of the movie about the tasting, Bottle Shock) the winery became one of the top premium producers in the valley. Through their history a number of influential winemakers, growers and industry leaders have helped shape what the winery is today. In 2003, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars celebrated those individuals through a Hands of Time memorial which showcases the hands of each at the winery.

The 2008 Hands of Time wine is a reflection of those people and is dedicated to the winemakers whom were raised in the Stag’s Leap cellars. Some notable faces include: Bob Sessions (1973, Hanzell), John Williams (1975-6, Frog’s Leap), John Kongsgaard (1977, Kongsgaard Winery/Arietta), Richard Ward (1978, Saintsbury), Ricardo Hererra (1986-1994, Screaming Eagle), Paul Hobbs (1994-5, Paul Hobbs Winery), Michael Silacci (1995-2001, Opus One), and Abe Schroener (1998, Scholium Project). Not too shabby of a list.

The 2008 Hands of Time is equally impressive. The blend of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 46% Merlot, and 3% Syrah provides a solid backbone with a smooth finish. Vibrant red fruit flavors precede cocoa and nutmeg that lead to a vanilla and spicy finish. The fruit is entirely from the Stag’s Leap vineyards, often called one of Napa’s ‘first growths,’ produced in the premium style of the winery but at a very friendly price point – $30. We don’t plan on seeing this wine for long, but we will definitely take all that we can get.

Summer’s hot new white grape….Torrontes

There is no doubt in the wine industry that South America is the new ‘hot’ (in terms of popularity) growing region of the world. One of my favorite finds has been not the signature Malbec, but a relatively unknown white grape – Torrontes. See the details below and taste my recommendation at our Century Club Tasting this Thursday.

Grape Name:  Torrontes

Pronunciation:  Tor RON taze,

Color:  Green skin grape, produces white wine.

From:  Torrontes has recently become the standout white grape from Argentina – namely Mendoza. It can also be found in small quantities in Chile, as it is successful growing at high altitudes.

History: Torrontes is actually a general name used for three different varieties:  Torrontés Riojano,  Torrontés Sanjuanino, and Torrontés Mendocino. Torrontes Riojano is the most common and has come to be referred to as simply ‘Torrontes.’ This is the majority of the white wine that you will see in the U.S. All three varieties are native to Argentina from the Criollas grape family, an American born family with roots from the European species -vitis vinifera. Recent DNA testing has found that Torrontes is a cross between Muscat of Alexandria and the Mission grapes.

Climate: Torrontes prefers a high altitude climate with dry and windy conditions.

Characteristics:  Torrontes can produce two very different styles of wine: crisp and light or full-bodied and fruit forward. The crisp and light style is most similar to an Italian Pinot Grigio with amble acidity, citrus flavors and a light body. The second style features flavors of honey suckle, tropical fruits and citrus. It is most comparable to a unoaked,warm climate Chardonnay.

Pairing: Depending on the style, this wine does best with seafood and poultry with light sauces that are lemon or white wine based.

Recommendation: Goulart Torrontes, $15

What confuses you about wine?

Today’s post is more of an inquiry, as we are finishing up some updates on decantedwines.com for a site relaunch (shhh!), I’m working on a new section to be announced to help individuals weed through the information about wine and beer.  So I ask, what confuses you about wine? I’m looking for honest questions which will be kept completely anonymous. There is really truly no stupid question, especially when it comes to such a confusing topic.

You can post your answers here, on Facebook, DM us on Twitter, or send an email to info@decantedwines.com.

Beer Review: Dogfish Head Theobroma

We were sitting at Amis in Philadelphia last weekend waiting for my sister, husband, and in-laws to join us for dinner. Grabbing a drink at the bar we thought best to order some local brews. Al spotted one of our favorite beers (not available in Florida) – Allagash White Belgian Ale – and decided on that. I spotted an unknown DFH beer (at least to me) brewed with cocoa and ancho chiles? Now I had to try that. After a sip of each beer, Al was holding the Theobroma hostage from me.

For those unfamiliar with Dogfish Head, they are the epitome of what makes craft beer great. They push the envelope, do things others wouldn’t, and are slightly crazy. But all great creations come from people that are just a little nuts. Dogfish Head got its start in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware serving microbrews and great food to summer vacationers in 1995. It wasn’t long before those vacationers craved the beer at home – mainly in the Philadelphia and DC areas. Year after year, they grew. Soon enough they were nationally recognized and distributed, their 120 minute IPA even created a phenomenon of its own. Today you can find DFH in 25 different states, although the majority of their brews stay at that Brewpub in Delaware.

Now about Theobroma…whose story may be more interesting than the beer itself. To quote the Dogfish website,

This beer is based on chemical analysis of pottery fragments found in Honduras which revealed the earliest known alcoholic chocolate drink used by early civilizations to toast special occasions. The discovery of this beverage pushed back the earliest use of cocoa for human consumption more than 500 years to 1200 BC.

Pretty deep for a beer, huh? Based on this discovery, Theobroma which means “food of the gods” is brewed with Aztec Cocoa Powder and Cocoa Nibs. Honey, ancho chiles and annatto (fragrant tree seeds) are added to the mix which deliver most of their flavors on the end of the palette. The beer is medium bodied with a low-hop, smooth finish. We paired this with a spicy pasta dish with jalapenos and sun-dried tomatoes. The sweetness from the cocoa balanced the spiciness of the dish on the front but didn’t overwhelm it because of the chile kick in the beer on the finish.

Overall, an interesting and complex beer and not surprisingly one of our new favorites. Want to know more? Check out this video DFH created about the beer, informative and fun!

Wine Review: Mad Hatter

Mad Hatter CabernetI’ll start this post with a quote from my sister, Jackie, (and fellow blog contributor for the ‘Cooked’ section), “that wine was so good, but it went so fast.” The true sign of a good wine? It is consumed fast and fights break out over the last drop. It has happened on more than one occasion between Al and I, but I’ve never seen it occur with more than a group of four. Now I won’t call it a fight but over dinner with my sisters, my sister’s new husband, his parents, Al and I all seven of us did reach for that last drop.

The Mad Hatter is the second label of Dancing Hares. Dancing Hares Vineyard is an impressive team with Andy Erickson (Screaming Eagle, Favia, Leviathan) at the helm as head winemaker with assistance from Michael Rolland and renowned vineyard manager David Abreu. The 2007 Dancing Hares Proprietary Wine is an exquisite blend of 39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Cabernet Franc, 37% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, at about $125 per bottle. Exquisite, yes but not quite your every day drinker.

The Mad Hatter is a similar blend at a friendly price point – about $60 per bottle – that is if you can find it. The vineyard itself seems to produce impeccable Cabernet Franc and Merlot which balance each other perfectly in the blend and give only the best characteristics of each varietal. In taste, the Cabernet Sauvignon almost seems subdued and restrained allowing the other varietals to come through. Erickson says, about the wine:

“The 2008 Mad Hatter is a bold, ripe expression of the vintage.  Those lots from our estate that show upfront fruit, soft tannins, and immediate appeal form the core of this wine.  This vintage is enjoyable from the outset, with plump, ripe fruit character and a lingering intensity.  Notes of darjeeling tea leaves, ripe blueberries, brown sugar and cream lead the way for this hedonistic wine.”

It’s a wine worth grabbing, enjoying and fighting over if the situation presents itself. And, I am proud to say I did get the last drop.