Mini WSET-Style Review: 2011 Chateau Montelena Estate Zinfandel

The 2011s from Chateau Montelena

The 2011s from Chateau Montelena

Last night I participated in a live event at ToutSuite Social Club in Napa called Montelena Live: 2011 Ain’t So Bad. The name is ironic, as the 2011s from Chateau Montelena are nothing short of spectacular. As Bo Barrett and winemaker Cameron Parry explained, the goal at Montelena is to stay as true as possible to the purest expression of their grapes regardless of the of growing season.

As part of my continuing WSET exam practice, I elected to review the Zinfandel from last night and share it with you, my readers. I chose the Zinfandel because it’s quite different in style than other California Zinfandels you may have tasted.

2011 Chateau Montelena Zinfandel

2011 Chateau Montelena Zinfandel

2011 Chateau Montelena Estate Zinfandel, Calistoga, Napa Valley

Appearance
This Zinfandel is clear with a medium-intense ruby color and light sheeting on the glass.

Nose
The nose is clean with developing, medium-plus intense aromas of red and black fruits and spice.

Palate
On the palate, this Zinfandel is dry, with medium acidity, medium-plus alcohol, medium-plus body, medium-plus intense blackberry, black cherry, raspberry, and spice flavors, and a medium-plus finish. It is balanced and pure, not a jammy, overripe Zinfandel. The mélange of red and black fruit aromas and flavors is reflective of the 2011 cooler growing season.

Quality
This Zinfandel is very good. You may drink it now, but it has potential for further aging. As per WSET standards, this would be considered a premium-priced wine at $44.00/750ml bottle.

Other Information
HARVEST DATE: October 12 to 25, 2011
BARREL AGING: 14 months, 50% French and 50% American, 13% new
BOTTLING DATE: December 2012
RELEASE DATE: March 2014
ALCOHOL: 14.5%

Thank you to Chateau Montelena and ToutSuite Social Club for a fantastic event.

Cheers!
Beth

Rios de Chile Carmenère

Rios de Chile Carmenères

Rios de Chile Carmenères

This blog post comes almost three months after my move to Napa and four weeks away from my trip to Philadelphia to take my Wine & Spirit Education Trust Level 3 Advanced Exam in Wine and Spirits. Truth be told, I am very nervous about this exam and I probably shouldn’t have tried to take on a new life, career, time zone, and advanced wine certification course at the same time. Every day I am thankful for the support and patience of my wine study partner, Uncorked Remarks, who has had to bear the brunt of this craziness since I arrived in California and committed myself to this home study version of the course.

Carmenère has experienced its own tumultuous ride and rebirth after being misidentified until two decades ago. Once it thrived in Bordeaux, France. However, after the phylloxera plague, it was not replanted there, but made its way to Chile and reappeared among Merlot vineyards. For a long time, it was thought that Carmenère was a Chilean version of Merlot until Jean-Michel Boursiquot, a French ampelographer (someone who identifies and classifies grapevines), helped discover Carmenère in Chile’s Maule Valley. Ninety-eight percent of all Carmènere is found in Chile and it is second in production only to Cabernet Sauvignon. (Reference: “The Accidental Wine” in Wine Enthusiast, March 2014 issue, pp. 34-39.)

When The Baddish Group contacted me about tasting some samples from Rios de Chile, I jumped on the opportunity to taste Carmenère for the first time and practice writing tasting notes according to WSET’s Systematic Approach to Tasting (SAT). I decided to taste the two differently produced Carmenères side by side.

2011 Rios de Chile Carmenère

2011 Rios de Chile Carmenère

2011 Rios de Chile Carmenère D.O. Central Valley, Chile
Appearance/Color (in natural daylight) – The wine is clear, with a deep ruby color and clingy sheeting on the glass that leaves behind a ruby coating.
Nose – The nose is clean and developing, with medium intense aromas of dried dark berries and spices.
Palate – The wine is dry and has medium plus alcohol, medium tannins, medium acidity, medium plus body, flavors of baked blackberry and black cherry, spices, and pepper, and a medium plus finish. Due to stainless steel production, this wine exhibits an intense and very pure expression of fruit.
Quality – The wine is good. It’s young and vibrant, so drink now, not suitable for further aging.
Price – MSRP of $9.95.

Other specifications:
100% Carmenère
Vertical Espalier Vintification
Alcohol 13.5%
Residual Sugar 2.3 g
Acidity 5.08 g/l
Aged in Stainless Steel
Natural Cork Closure

2009 Rios de Chile Reserva Carmenère

2009 Rios de Chile Reserva Carmenère

2009 Rios de Chile Reserva Carmenère, D.O. Cachapoal Valley, Chile
Appearance/Color (in natural daylight) – The wine is clear with a medium ruby color, but is starting to tend a bit towards garnet after a few years in the bottle, with sheeting on the glass, but less than the more youthful 2011.
Nose – The nose is clean and fully developed, with medium intense aromas of dark berries and fruit, mint, smoke, spices, and vanilla.
Palate – The wine is dry and has medium plus alcohol, medium plus tannins, medium acidity, medium plus body, flavors of dark berries and fruits, mint, spices, and vanilla, and a medium plus finish.  It presents itself as slightly more refined, complex, older sibling of the 2011.
Quality – The wine is good. I would drink now, not suitable for further aging.
Price – MSRP of $14.95.

Other specifications:
100% Carmenère
Vertical Espalier Vintification
Alcohol 14%
Residual Sugar 2.51 g
Acidity 4.99 g/l
Aged 8 Months in Oak Barrels
Natural Cork Closure

Both wines demonstrate how Carmenère can shine at a very good price-to-quality ratio. If you’ve never tried Carmenère, these two would be great examples with which to begin. To learn more about Rios de Chile wines, please visit them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.

Cheers!
Beth

Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting at Napa Valley Museum

It’s been a while since I wrote about wine on my blog. However, I haven’t stopped tasting. In fact, I’m probably tasting more wine than I ever have in my life after having moved to Napa and studying for my WSET Level 3 Advanced Exam. What I’ve been trying to do more of is just savor moments in real life instead of taking notes. However, today was an unexpected, fun day of learning at the Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting at Napa Valley Museum that I thought I should share while it was fresh on my mind. I knew there was no way I could taste everything there, so I focused my efforts on a few wineries whose wines I’d had or whose wines I’d been wanting to try, and discovered a few gems shared below.

Two Shepherds Wine Lineup

Two Shepherds Wine Lineup

Two Shepherds: I have known William Allen since his Simple Hedonisms blog and via social media, and met him in person for the first time last May, where we tasted through some of his wines. Fast forward 10 months later to his latest releases, all of which are stellar examples of Rhone-style wines, some of which many people may have never tasted. My personal favorites today were the 2012 Grenache Blanc and 2013 Grenache Gris Rosé. I’m a cool-climate acid freak and these wines don’t disappoint. I must say I was especially enamored with the Rosé, whose grapes are sourced from a 100-year-old vineyard in Mendocino. It’s just so different from any Rosé on the market, due to the grape choice and the way it’s produced: crushed and left seven days on the skins, fermented with native yeast, aged in stainless steel, and left unfiltered and unfined. It is fresh, mouthwatering, and would be perfect with a variety of food or on its own. The Grenache Blanc, whose grapes are sourced from Saarloos Vineyard in Santa Ynez, is a lovely, balanced wine that displays a mélange of citrus, stone, and tree fruits, yet has a softness to it that rounds out the acidity.

MacLaren Side by Side Syrahs

MacLaren Wine Company: I had such a great time tasting three of their cooler-climate Syrahs side by side, because it was like a light bulb went off for me. We talk about Rhone-style Syrahs and Australian Shiraz in my WSET class, but until you taste a few examples together, the differences don’t always click. Today they clicked. The three I tasted were the 2010 Judge Family Vineyard Syrah, Bennett Valley, Sonoma County; the 2010 Drouthy Neebors blend (50% Judge Family, 25% Saralee’s Trenton Station and 25% Samantha’s vineyards, a 50-50 split between Bennett Valley and the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County); and the 2011 Stagecoach Vineyard, Napa Valley. As mentioned previously, I am all over a wine with great acidity, so the Bennett Valley was my favorite. In fact, I am not sure I’ve ever had that style of Syrah before. The three together, from the most cool to the warmest, yet still cool, climate, created a progression from a lighter to bolder style: from ruby purple to dark purple, red berries to black cherry to blackcurrant, and coffee to chocolate, each with more spice and peppery flavors than the one preceding it. I know I must have had a smile on my face that Heather MacLaren didn’t understand when I left the table, but inside I knew I had experienced an ah-ha Syrah moment.

The Move To Napa: Chatting with Elizabeth Smith on Blog Talk Radio

Vineyard view on Silverado Trail

Vineyard view on Silverado Trail

On February 22, 2014, I had the pleasure of chatting with The Iowa Wino, Dan Goderis, on Blog Talk Radio about my journey to Napa. You can also catch up with Dan on Twitter.

I hope that you will listen and remember that you can have anything you want, as long as you have the passion to move forward, you’re willing to work hard, and you’re willing to risk it all to live the life you desire.

Interview Link: The Move To Napa: Chatting with Elizabeth Smith

(Just a heads-up: It’s true that you can take the girl out of the South, but not take the South out of the girl!)

Love and wine for all!
Beth

What I know after four weeks in Napa

Domaine Chandon

Domaine Chandon

Part of me feels like I should apologize to you, my readers, for my absence from writing. The other part of me is still trying to realize that my life in Napa is real! I still can’t believe I live here. I am also still adapting to a new time zone and a new life and work schedule, and find myself with very little time to myself. If don’t write as frequently, it’s because I am taking in more of life than I have in a very long time. Oh, and I am taking the Wine & Spirit Education Trust Level 3 Advanced course by home study, which means that weeknight evenings, I am completing required readings and viewing WebEx videos of the live classes.

My first micro winery, Luna Sei

My first micro winery, Luna Sei

For those that may have been concerned, Einstein, my cat, made the trip with flying colors and seems to be happy because he knows that I am happy. I did decide at the last minute to give him a veterinarian-prescribed sedative for the big travel day, and I am glad I did.

Wine blending at Passaggio Wines

Wine blending at Passaggio Wines

Everyone I have encountered here has been so nice to me, genuinely nice. I’ve been asked a few times where I am from when I speak and my Southern accent reveals itself, but the conversation that ensues is always warm and friendly.

ZuZu Paella and Flora Springs Trilogy

ZuZu Paella and Flora Springs Trilogy

Napa Valley is gorgeous, in spite of the drought we’ve experienced. I find myself still amazed as I drive Silverado Trail to and from work, winery after winery, seeing some of the most famous vineyards and AVAs in the world. You might say I am star struck.

Anderson's Conn Valley Vineyards

Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards

While I still love travel, I no longer feel the urge to go somewhere far away most weekends. In fact, I am exploring the area in which I live, with recent winery visits to Chimney Rock, Domaine Chandon, Flora Springs, Luna Sei, and Passaggio Wines at Dogpatch WineWorks in San Francisco, just to name a few. I am cocooning more, enjoying my small apartment and Einstein, as well as get-togethers with new friends. Maybe finally I have found a community with which I can connect.

Flora Springs Chardonnay

Flora Springs Chardonnay

Winery work is not for the weary. I’ve found myself feeling my way through the caves to pull wine, cleaning out a storage shed, and packing and carrying heavy UPS wine shipments. However, my winery role has mostly set hours. For me, those hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. I have never had a job that ends when one goes home. I was a graduate teaching assistant for two years, a college professor for 24 years, and then an independent contractor for multiple businesses last year. For 27 years, I’ve felt like I was working 24/7. I love that I am no longer giving all of my life to my career. We all need time for ourselves, our friends and family, our pets, and our interests to keep from burning out.

Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock

Everything that happened in 2012 must have occurred to allow me to reach this destiny. I had my first wine moment in 2008 when I tasted the 2005 Anderson’s Conn Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley. Was that a precursor of things to come? I’m not sure, but now I feel like I am finally home. For better or for worse, and in my heart at this moment, I am in Napa to stay.

Ready to get your Zin on?

Zinfandel Experience Banner (zinfandel.org)

Zinfandel Experience Banner (zinfandel.org)

My new job in Napa starts January 20 and later that week, January 23-25, wouldn’t you know it? There’s the Zinfandel Advocates & Producers’ (ZAP) All New Zinfandel Experience in San Francisco calling my name! Those that know me know I had my first Zinfandel moment in 2009 at Trentadue Winery and I love a good Zin. Unfortunately I can’t attend all of the events, but guess what? You can! Below is the schedule of events for both the Four Seasons Hotel and Presidio locations. Tickets are available at this link.

Thursday, January 23, 6:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Epicuria Food & Zinfandel Pairings
This kick-off event with winemakers and chefs includes dishes paired with 30 different Zinfandels. Can you say yummy?
LOCATION: Presidio Golden Gate Club, 135 Fisher Loop, San Francisco, CA 94129

Friday, January 24, 10:30 AM – 1:00 PM
Flights! Forums of Flavors
ZAP has partnered with the Historic Vineyard Society to offer wines from exceptional old Zinfandel vineyards in this professional tasting seminar which focuses on highly-allocated, limited production Zinfandels.
LOCATION: Four Seasons Hotel, 757 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94103

Friday, January 24, 5:30 PM – 10:00 PM
Evening with the Winemakers – Fabulous Forties, A Benefit with Taste
This forties-themed gala includes a reception with 18 top Zinfandel winemakers followed by a dinner created by Mark Richardson, Executive Chef of Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco. The wines at this dinner will not be poured at other Zinfandel Experience events. You will also have the opportunity to bid on wine, art, travel, and culinary experiences, with the proceeds benefitting ZAP programming, education, and Heritage Projects.
LOCATION: Four Seasons Hotel, 757 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94103

Saturday, January 25, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Zinfandel Experience Tasting Tracks
You will be able to create your own Zinfandel tasting itinerary selected from three different tracks described below. Each track will offer you the opportunity to interact and taste with winemakers. There will be gourmet food trucks available between sessions and you will be able to purchase wines from the new ZAP General Store. A complimentary shuttle and parking will be provided. Sessions begin at 10:00 AM, 1:00 PM and 4:00 PM.
LOCATION: All programs are held at The Presidio, 50 Moraga Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94129

Sensory Tasting: A fun and interactive foray into flavor.
This walk-around track includes wine and food pairings from 80 Zin-makers.
LOCATION: Herbst at the Presidio, 385 Moraga Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94129

Reserve & Barrel Tasting: A tasting of the new and rare.
This walk-around track includes barrel samples, new vintages, and reserve wines from 44 of America’s top Zin-makers.
LOCATION: Film Center at the Presidio, 39 Mesa Street #107, San Francisco, CA 94129

Terroir Tasting: Expand your regional expertise.
This walk-around track includes Zinfandels from growing regions in California such as Napa, Lodi, Sonoma, Sierra Foothills, and Paso Robles. You will learn the characteristics of each region’s wines and what sets their Zinfandels apart from the others.
LOCATION: Observation Post at the Presidio, 211 Lincoln Boulevard, San Francisco, CA 94129

I will be attending the tasting tracks on Saturday, January 25. Will I see you there?

Cheers!
Beth

#WIML: What’s in my library? The January 2014 Edition.

Yes, this is a travel and wine blog, but as a child I was an avid reader. My mom used to tell me my eyes would go bad from reading late at night in my dimly lit bedroom. I think she was right. I’ve worn glasses since sixth grade. At any rate, I’ve read a few interesting e-books lately, two of which relate to my personal journey to wine country, and I thought I would share my reviews with you in chronological order. My reviews were originally published at amazon.com and all photos are courtesy of amazon.com.

The Exes in My iPod

The Exes in My iPod (amazon.com)

The Exes in My iPod: A Playlist of the Men Who Rocked Me to Wine Country by Lisa Mattson, $3.99 at amazon.com. Reviewed December 6, 2013

I just finished this book and although I am a little older than Harley and have had fewer relationships, I could completely relate to her coming of age relationship challenges coupled with finding herself and following her dreams, all set to music. I found myself in complete admiration of Harley as she grew to love and respect herself more and more after learning something from each relationship. I am on my own journey and haven’t yet found my Devon, but I, too, am headed to wine country soon, so maybe I’ll finally find what I’m missing. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey, the playlist, and the wines of Harley’s life.

The Match

The Match (amazon.com)

The Match by Quent Cordair, $.99 at amazon.com. Reviewed December 23, 2013

I read this short story during a 40-minute flight, so it was a very easy read and it quickly snagged and held my attention. It’s a romantic story involving a couple, a man and a woman, that takes place during dinner at a restaurant. However, it takes an sudden, unexpected turn and the reader finds oneself reliving an event from the past that impacts the relationship and future of the couple. In just a few pages, Cordair reeled me into the couple’s world and their unconventional connection. I highly recommend this short story for a quick escape into romanticism and intrigue.

Where I Want to Be (amazon.com)

Where I Want to Be (amazon.com)

Where I Want to Be (Wine Country Series) by Cortney Roudebush, $3.99 at amazon.com and iTunes. Reviewed January 5, 2014

A friend loaned me this book and I ended up with two Kindle copies, one gifted to me and one purchased by me, so it was a sign to read this book. My friend kept telling me I had to read it because the similarities between the main character, Olivia, and me were so similar. He was right. While this is a book about Napa Valley wine country culture and living, it’s also a book about learning to love yourself and learning to take risks in order to live a passionate, fulfilling life. Like me, Olivia had a passion for wine, but had not yet developed the confidence and self-esteem to pursue her passion until she decided to temporarily move to Napa Valley to take an intensive wine course. The wine course is not the focus of the book, but rather Olivia’s growth as a self-confident woman and wine professional. She steps out of her comfort zone many times and takes great risks to achieve her dreams and become a happier person. I am thankful that my friend recommended this book to me, as I have embarked on the same journey and am moving to Napa Valley in less than a week. If you are someone who has been hesitant about following your passion, then this is the book for you.