Wine

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.

Everyone Drinks Pink and Five More Things the French Taught me About Wine by Alison Crowe

I recently returned from a business (Ok, and pleasure) trip to France. I am a winemaker based in Napa and was there to attend the 2013 SITEVI Agricultural Conference in Montpellier and then, since I was in the South of France already, of course took a few extra days for a little post-conference R&R. Over the course of about a week, my travels took me from Montpellier, to Cannes, to Grasse, then northwest over the Route de Napoléon and down finally into Avignon.

I make wine, I blog about wine and am thoroughly steeped in the subject just about every day of my life. I expected this trip to be no different and was understandably looking forward to sampling French cuvées and experiencing some local flavor. As I traveled, dined and sipped, a few truths and truisms about how the French enjoy wine started to become evident. Though I’ve been making wine since I was a college student, I was pleasantly reminded that, especially when travelling to new places, we can always learn something new. Below are a few lessons the French taught me (or re-taught me) about wine.

Like fine perfume, wine is an everyday pleasure in France

Like fine perfume, wine is an everyday pleasure in France

1. Wine is truly an everyday luxury
As a winemaker, I am passionate about all things aromatic and one of my hobbies is researching and collecting perfume. The South of France is known for its fragrance industry, which is centered around a cluster of factories and fields in the lushly terraced hillsides of Grasse, near Cannes and the Riviera. Everything seems to smell good in France and everyone seems to care about smelling good. Of course I expected our B&B in Grasse, the Moulin Ste. Anne, to have fine soaps and bath products on hand. What I didn’t expect was the selection at the local chain grocery store. Even laundry soap came in lavender, rose and violet scents! Fine fragrance is a luxury the French seek to enfold into their lives and routines, in little aromatic bursts, throughout their day. So it is with wine. Wine is something enjoyed at lunch, during the post-work and pre-dinner apéritif hour, and bien sur, with dinner itself. Wine is never something viewed as only “for a special occasion,” it is viewed as part of the meal and part of living itself. The French believe that today is a special enough day to celebrate with the added pleasure of a little bit of wine. So get that fancy bottle out of the cellar, already!

A little bit of food, even just a casual paté and baguette, makes wine even more pleasurable

A little bit of food, even just a casual paté and baguette, makes wine even more pleasurable

2. Always with food
Because wine is so enmeshed in French mealtime rituals, it is rare to see wine consumed without some kind of food. Even if you go into a “wine bar” or café and order a glass at a little table, it’s common to also be served gratis (or to be charged a small amount for) a small dish of olives or little toasts smeared with anchovies. Having some food with one’s drink slows the absorption of alcohol into the system, something that certainly helps during those long Sunday lunches and keeps the witty conversation and famous French joie de vivre alive while not getting too lively. Just as it’s believed food always improves with wine, so it is held that wine also improves with a bit of food. Sitting in Montpellier’s Place de la Comédie nibbling on local olives and drinking a rosé from about ten miles out of town, I certainly had to agree.

Just as good food enhances wine, so does good company

Just as good food enhances wine, so does good company

3. Always with others
Because I was always with family or friends, I was lucky to never have to drink alone in France. Then I noticed that practically no one that I saw had a drink in their hand unless they also had someone to chat with. I polled some of my French-born friends on the topic and they affirmed that for them, cracking a bottle, even as l’apéro after work, was only as enjoyable as the people they were with. It was the experience that mattered, not the booze. In fact, they wanted someone else there to discuss the wine with, and hopefully a nosh to enjoy it with (see above). Perhaps it may have been because I was in Provence where, after all, the natives are known for being gregarious and prone to (according to certain British travel memoirists) wild hand gestures and hours-long discussions about what to fix for the next grand meal. Though I realize I risk sounding like a Peter Mayle novel, with tales of garrulous Gauloise-chewing, petanque-playing, pastis drinkers (they do exist!), this is one cultural cliché that does appear to be true.

A chilled bottle of rosé, waiting in the ice bucket, at Café Rendez-Vous, Place aux Aires, Grasse

A chilled bottle of rosé, waiting in the ice bucket, at Café Rendez-Vous, Place aux Aires, Grasse

4. Everybody drinks pink
Again, this may be because I was in the South of France, home to Bandol and Tavel, but where I was in France, everyone drinks pink (though based on my previous trip to Paris, I suspect it’s a country-wide phenomenon). Even in the depths of winter. Even with “the guys”. And the great thing is that pink wine goes with just about any food or occasion. Dry, tart and aromatic, a good rosé is the perfect aperitif with nuts or even potato chips. It’s got enough guts to stand up to everything from traditional fare like rabbit braised in white wine or even more-assertive cuisine like grilled lamb or ratatouille. What’s even better about pink wine? It’s usually on the inexpensive side so enjoying a bottle (or three), with your friends and with your food is a little easier to swallow.

We found this bottle of Rose for 7.50€ at Chateau Bas, just east of Avignon.  A great bargain from a lesser-known region and a fabulous bottle of wine.

We found this bottle of Rose for 7.50€ at Chateau Bas, just east of Avignon. A great bargain from a lesser-known region and a fabulous bottle of wine.

5. Expensive doesn’t equal “great”
Or in some cases, expensive doesn’t even equal “good.” During the SITEVI conference one of the most interesting things I did was take a field trip out to a winery (or I suppose we should say “château”). With our guide the group of about 20 of us went through a tour and tasting of the château’s offerings, which included some lovely Rhône varietal blends and single-vineyard wines, both reds and whites. Interestingly, the best wine of the bunch (and not just according to me, but also to the wine writer for an unnamed French publication and other journalists on the trip) was the also the least expensive and billed as their “everyday” blend. I found this to be true not everywhere, of course, but enough times to make me sit up and take notice, and begin to actively seek out what I might call “bargain wine”. It became a bit of a game to see how good cheap wine could actually be, and I found that in fact in France, cheap doesn’t equal bad most of the time. In fact, cheap can mean great! Of course there are lots of reasons why wine is cheaper in France relative to the U.S. government subsidies and low taxes compared to just about everywhere else in the world sure help make wine affordable for your average citoyen. We found plenty of good bottles of wine for 5€ at many supermarkets, and many great wines for 10€.

No need to slavishly follow vintage charts or scores- taste, try and discover the hidden treasures!

No need to slavishly follow vintage charts or scores- taste, try and discover the hidden treasures!

6. Keep an open mind
France is absolutely a place where it pays to taste around and keep an open mind. No need to be dependent on fancy château names, vaunted histories, or a slave to magazine scores. There are many (affordable!) treasures waiting to be found, even in the U.S. where import duties and taxes somewhat up the price per bottle.

All in all, it was a wonderful, memorable trip. Of course it was great to have a little time off. Spending a winter’s week in the South of France is pretty tough to beat. I returned home energized and ready to apply the above wine lessons to my own winemaking and wine enjoying life here in Napa. Vive la France and the French way to approach wine, wherever you live!

Alison Crowe is the winemaker at Garnet Vineyards, based in Napa, and blogs at www.garnetvineyards.com. This guest blog post (and trip!) would not have been possible without the invitation from Elizabeth Smith at travelingwinechick.com, the opportunity from the SITEVI conference organizers, and their publicist, Philippe Bazin. Many thanks to travel agent extraordinaire Patricia Daury of Premier Vacations. Merci beaucoup!

Twelve Wines of Christmas and Beyond

The Patio at Pulenta Estate, Mendoza, Argentina

The Patio at Pulenta Estate, Mendoza, Argentina

My blog is a mélange of wine and travel experiences, but sometimes we just need some wine recommendations for upcoming holidays like Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, or for everyday consumption. Below are some of the most current wines I have tasted this year, along with some of my favorites from throughout 2013, reviewed for my blog and Plum Deluxe. I hope you find something you enjoy!

Charles Gardet Brut Tradition Champagne, France, $53.00 (tasted at a wine dinner, originally published here)
For December’s holiday celebrations, such as Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve, Charles Gardet Brut Tradition Champagne ($53) is the perfect choice. The wine is comprised of 45% Pinot Noir, 10% Chardonnay, and 45% Pinot Meunier grapes. The predominantly red grape blend yields a creamy, rich mouthfeel, with good acidity and flavors of stone fruits, hazelnut, and toasted bread.

2012 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay, Carneros

2012 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay, Carneros

2012 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa Valley, California, $34.75 (sample provided by Jarvis Communications)
If you enjoy a balance of fruit and oak from grapes fermented nine months in a mix of new, once, and twice-filled French oak, this Chardonnay is for you. It has a rich, buttery mouthfeel, with good acidity and aromas and flavors of butterscotch, stone fruits, tropical fruits, tree fruits and toast.

2011 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel, Napa Valley

2011 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel, Napa Valley

2011 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel, Napa Valley, California, $36.95 (sample provided by Jarvis Communications)
Zinfandel lovers, this one is for you! This Zinfandel spends 18 months in 35% new oak, 65% once and twice-filled French oak. The aromas are complicated and enticing: berries, pepper, and spices, while the flavors of baked black cherries and oak are intertwined on the palate.

2010 Garnet Vineyards Pinot Noir, Rodgers Creek Vineyard, Sonoma Coast

2010 Garnet Vineyards Pinot Noir, Rodgers Creek Vineyard, Sonoma Coast

2010 Garnet Vineyards Pinot Noir, Rodgers Creek Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, California, $29.99 (sample provided by the winery)
The grapes for this Pinot Noir come from a cool-climate, low-yield single vineyard on a ridge between Petaluma and Sonoma, where winemaker Alison Crowe and her team control production from vineyard to bottle. This Pinot Noir has a velvety mouthfeel and ample acidity, with concentrated aromas and flavors of rich black cherry, spices, and violets. Garnet Vineyards has made this wine easily available through the amazon.com wine portal.

2011 Gary Farrell Chardonnay and 2010 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

2011 Gary Farrell Chardonnay and 2010 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

2011 Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery Russian River Selection Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, California, $35.00 (sample provided by Folsom + Associates)
Another creamy, decadent Chardonnay thanks to seven months in 40% new French oak and extended time on lees during malolactic fermentation, this wine possesses aromas and flavors of citrus, honey, and stone fruits.

2010 Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery Russian River Selection Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, California, $42.00 (sample provided by Folsom + Associates)
This wine, whose grapes hail from the famous Rochioli and Hallberg vineyards in the Russian River Valley, sees eight months in 40% new French oak. Aromas and flavors include cola, dark berries, spices, tea, and violets, accompanied by nice acidity.

My Union Wine Co. tasting

My Union Wine Co. tasting

2012 Kings Ridge Riesling, Willamette Valley, Oregon, $12.00 (sample provided by Union Wine Company, originally published here)
The Riesling grapes for this wine are sourced from some of Oregon’s oldest vineyards, dating back to 1968. Like the Pinot Gris, the vineyard is located in a cooler area of the Willamette Valley with similar temperature swings. It is aged on lees in 100% stainless steel tanks to give it more texture and weight. When I tasted this wine, it was so reminiscent of the Rieslings I’ve tasted from the Finger Lakes. It had amazing acidity, which I love, along with succulent aromas and flavors of peach and tart green apple.

2012 Passaggio New Generation Pinot Grigio

2012 Passaggio New Generation Pinot Grigio

2012 Passaggio Wines New Generation Pinot Grigio, California, $19.00 (sample provided by the winery, originally published here)
This wine is sunshine in a glass, a gorgeous pale straw color, with very inviting floral and fruit aromas. On the palate, there’s a veritable burst of sweet, ripe melon, peaches, pears, and tropical fruits. I paired this wine with a combination veggie and meat pizza as sort of experiment, instead of going with an Italian red or Pinot Noir, and it worked perfectly. There was enough acidity to complement that of the tomato-based sauce and veggies, while the sweet fruit flavors were enhanced by the salty meats, such as pepperoni and sausage.

Schramsburg Mirabelle Brut Rosé NV, North Coast, California

Schramsburg Mirabelle Brut Rosé NV, North Coast, California

Schramsberg Vineyards Mirabelle Brut Rosé NV, North Coast, California, $25.00 (purchased for myself, originally published here)
This sparkling rosé is made of a blend of 51% Pinot Noir and 49% Chardonnay grapes from vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Marin counties. It is made in the méthode champenoise like wines from the Champagne AOC of France. It has floral, spicy, and yeasty aromas. On the palate, it has great acidity and a creamy mouthfeel, with flavors of apple, cherry, and citrus.

2012 Silkbush Mountain Vineyards Viognier and 2009 Lion's Drift Pinotage

2012 Silkbush Mountain Vineyards Viognier and 2009 Lion’s Drift Pinotage

2009 Lion’s Drift Pinotage, Silkbush Mountain Vineyards, South Africa, $16.99 (sample provided by the winery)
I haven’t tasted many examples of Pinotage, which is a hybrid of Pinot Noir and Hermitage, but it seems that one either loves it or doesn’t. However, in this case, there’s a lot to love. This wine has aromas and flavors of dark and red berries, vanilla, spices, and a meaty, smoky quality. The wine is drinking well now, but has the potential to age for 10-20 years.

2012 Silkbush Mountain Vineyards Viognier, Breedekloof, Western Cape, South Africa, $16.99 (sample provided by the winery)
The cool mountain climate of the vineyards has allowed for the production of this lovely Viognier. It’s fermented in stainless steel, but spends some time on lees. It has a creamy mouthfeel, with aromas and flavors of honey, melon, stone fruits, and tropical fruits. Ready to drink now, it has the potential to age for up to five years.

2011 Willamette Valley Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir

2011 Willamette Valley Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir

2010 Willamette Valley Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, $30.00 (tasted at Willamette Valley Vineyards)
As a follow-up to the 2013 Wine Tourism Conference in Portland, Oregon, I had the opportunity to participate in a four-course wine dinner at Willamette Valley Vineyards in their new tasting and event space. The winery was founded 30 years ago by Jim Bernau, who was in attendance along with the winemaker, Don Crank III, and Chef Eric Nelson. One of the courses, grilled Anderson Ranch lamb loin, was paired with the estate Pinot Noir. The wine was earthy and meaty, with aromas and flavors of herbs, truffles, red berries, spices, and tea, and paired perfectly with the lamb. It was one of my favorite pairings of the evening.

Horseback riding in the Andes, Mendoza, Argentina

Horseback riding in the Andes, Mendoza, Argentina

As part of my personal commitment to soul searching and finding my path, I plan to take a break from writing to enjoy the holidays and savor life’s deliciousness without note taking and photos. I want to thank everyone who has read my blog this year. It’s been another year of tremendous change and growth. I am eternally grateful for those of you who have continued to follow my both literal and figurative journeys. I wish you a wonderful holiday season filled with wine, food, family, friends, and of course, travel.

Wishing you love and happiness in 2014!
Beth

Zoetic Wines by Kim Vance

Zoetic Wines

Zoetic Wines

After I had been working in the financial industry in Houston, Texas for over 15 years, I realized something was missing. My husband and I had traveled to California’s wine country countless times and we fell in love with the beautiful rolling vineyards, glorious wineries, and fantastic wines, as many people do. But during one trip in January 2008, while meeting with a winemaker and tasting through his wines, I had expressed how excited I was to learn more about the process. He made a suggestion that I try to find a position on a harvest crew to really experience winemaking. Thinking this would never be possible, I dismissed the comment but started pondering the possibilities before we even left the parking lot! Upon returning home to Houston, I started making phone calls. (Mind you it was January and most winemakers are just getting over the long days and stressful months of the previous harvest and do not really want to think about the next harvest just yet.) Regardless, I was diligent in my pursuit to find an intern position and it didn’t take long for that far-off suggestion to become reality. Fewer than eight months later, I was back in California working as a harvest intern for a boutique winery in San Francisco.

Kim Vance processing grapes

Kim Vance processing grapes

The night before my first day on the job, I was asked to ride along on a trip from San Francisco up to the Russian River Valley to pick up our first fruit of the season. I arrived at the winery at 4:30 a.m. and we arrived at the vineyard just as the pick had ended. We loaded up the bins of fruit and returned to the winery to begin processing it. The work was hard and dirty, much different than my desk job back in Houston, but I loved every minute of it! I didn’t return to my home-away-from-home until almost midnight after that first day on the job. I was completely covered with sticky grape juice from head to toe. I remember thinking at that very moment, as I began to clean up so I could crawl into bed, that this was an amazing day and something I wanted to do again and again!

Kim and David Vance

Kim and David Vance

I was enamored by the entire process of that first harvest internship and returned to work as a harvest intern in both 2009 and 2010 in the Russian River and Napa Valleys to work under different winemakers to increase my knowledge and experience. Between harvests, I continued to increase my knowledge by attending night school and assisting in wine tastings and educational classes. Just days after the 2010 harvest, my husband David and I packed up our belongings and made the move from Texas to California to allow me to pursue the dream of producing my own wine, Zoetic Wines, whose name means of or relating to life: living, vital. The last few years have been some of the hardest and most challenging, but I cherish the opportunity to pursue this dream and make it a reality. It has always been my hope that the wine I produce brings joy to people’s lives just as it has brought to mine.

Editor’s Note: Kim and David are producing their wines at Dogpatch WineWorks in San Francisco, California. They currently offer a 2012 Russian River Pinot Noir. For more information about Zoetic Wines, please visit their website, their Facebook page, and their Twitter profile.