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Thanksgiving with Smith-Madrone, And a Few More Delights

December 9, 2018 4 comments

Holidays are all about pleasure. The pleasure of the company. The pleasure of food. The pleasure of wine. As the very least, they should be.

Let me tell you about the pleasures of my recent Thanksgiving – in one picture:

Turkey with Smith-Madrone wines

If this would be an Instagram, I could end my post here, but in this blog, I can add a few words, right?

Let’s talk about the wine first. Everyone has their ideas as what is the best Thanksgiving wine. Some talk about how difficult it is to pair any wine with the Thanksgiving table, due to the large variety of dishes and often prevalent sweet flavors (this is not universal, of course). I have a very simplistic view of the wine and food pairing – give me tasty food and good wine, and if they don’t work together – no problems, I’m happy to consume them one by one. Difficult or not, pairing is not the focal point of my Thanksgiving wine selection. I really have only one strong preference for the Thanksgiving wines – they should be all American. Thanksgiving we celebrate here in the USA is all about this country, and so the wine should match that. And thinking about American wines, you understand how easy it is nowadays to have all-American wine experience.

How many of you heard of Napa Valley? Okay, I see that look, this was a stupid question, I know. But let me go on. How many of you heard of Spring Mountain District? Okay, I see your facial expression changing to say “hmmm, I’m not so sure”. And the last question – how many of you heard of Smith-Madrone? Okay, don’t feel too bad, at the end of the day it is one of the about 400 wineries located in the Napa Valley, so of course, one can’t know all of them. But – this is why I’m talking about it – this is the winery you might want to get better acquainted with.

Smith-Madrone is one of the oldest wineries in Napa Valley, started by brothers Stuart and Charles Smith in 1971. Smith-Madrone property is about 200 acres, with some parts of the vineyards planted more than 100 years ago, all located near the top of the Spring Mountain in Napa Valley. The name Smith-Madrone combines the family name with the name of the evergreen Madrone trees, prominently growing at the property. Well, instead of me trying to regurgitate the past and present of the Smith-Madrone winery, let me direct you to this article – it is a good story, well worth a few minutes of your time.

Smith-Madrone wines

When was the last time you had Napa Valley Riesling? If you answered “never”, it could’ve been my answer too – until I discovered this Smith-Madrone Riesling. Riesling is simply not a common grape for the Napa Valley, but Smith-Madrone produces the absolutely beautiful rendition of the famous grape. It might be due to the mountain fruit – all the Smith-Madrone vineyards located at the altitude of 1300 to 2000 feet, with slopes reaching 34%. Sustainable dry farming and winemaking practices also play a role, but one way or the other, the 2015 Smith-Madrone Riesling Spring Mountain District Napa Valley (12.9% ABV, $32) was just delicious. varietally correct both on the nose (honeysuckle, a touch of tropical fruit, lemon, apples) and the palate, which was beautifully balanced with golden delicious apples, a touch of honey and acidity. To make me ultra-happy, the Riesling is sported a distant hint of petrol, which is my pet peeve.

2015 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay Spring Mountain District Napa Valley (14.4% ABV, $40, 10 months in French oak) was equally beautiful. Again, the wines of that styling I call in my book “classic”. A touch of vanilla and apples on the nose, a distant hint of butter, continuing with the same vanilla and white apples on the palate. Clean acidity, noticeable minerally undertones, restrained, balanced – a very classic example of “how to do chardonnay right”.

With the risk of sounding very boring and repetitive, I have one more classic wine for you – 2014 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District Napa Valley (13.9% ABV, $52, 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 7% Merlot, 70% new French oak, 30% one-year-old French oak for 18 months). How classic was this wine? Bordeaux-classic. The mountain fruit was shining, showing great restraint. This was not an exuberant typical Napa Cab – lean, tight, well-structured, with cassis both on the nose and the palate, the wine was very enjoyable now, and it will be equally or more enjoyable in 30 years.

So that was my main wine story on the Thanksgiving day. The rest was about the food – starting the smoker as 9 am in the 21°F weather (about -6°C), and then watching the turkey slowly getting to the right temperature. The silver lining of that cold weather was the fact that instead of 4-4.5 hours in the smoker, it took about 6 hours to get that big bird to the right doneness – and slower cooking results in more tender and more flavorful meat. A glass of Smith-Madrone Riesling was adding to the cooking enjoyment.

After celebrating Thanksgiving at our house, we went to see our close friends in Boston. What I love about that house is that there are always a few of the older wine bottles laying somewhere on the shelf. You never know what you will find in the older bottle, but that is what makes it fun, isn’t it?

The first bottle I opened was 2007 Tishbi Cabernet-Petite Sirah Shomron Israel (12% ABV, 70%  Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Petite Sirah). Judging by the pronounced brickish, almost orange, color, my first thought was “this probably fully turned”. And it was not! Complex nose of dried fruit and herbs was supported by plums and prunes forward, but balanced palate. Good amount of acidity, tertiary aromas – this was a very enjoyable glass of wine. Only one glass, I have to say – by the time I wanted the second, the wine was gone.

Without much thinking, I pulled another wine, realizing later that I opened another wine from the same vintage – 2007 Marani Kondoli Vineyards Saperavi-Merlot Kakheti Georgia (13.5% ABV). This wine couldn’t be more different from the previous 2007 – dark garnet color, not a sign of any aging, tight, fresh, blackberries and blueberries on the nose and the palate, firm, fresh and young. I’m really curious about how much longer this wine could’ve last.

One last wine to mention – 2010 Massandra White Muscat Crimea Ukraine (16% ABV). Massandra winery roots go back to the old Tsar’s Russia in late 1800, but their cellars hold wines from the 18th century (if you are not familiar with Massandra wines, here is an article by Jancis Robinson). Massandra is best known for sweet fortified Muscat wines, like the one we tasted. To me, this 2010 was most reminiscent of a Sherry, and not necessarily an ultra-balanced one. But then the same Jancis Robinson’s article says that Massandra wines require 45-60 for the full maturity, so I guess the wine tasted within the expectations…

Spring Mountain District in Napa Valley, Israel, Georgia, and Ukraine – not a bad wine play for the holiday, what do you say?

Here you go, my friends. I will leave you with some beautiful wines to look for. And how was your Thanksgiving, if you still remember it? Cheers!

Daily Glass: Farmhouse Wines – The Wines You Knew California Can Produce

October 22, 2018 7 comments

Memories are often unpredictable and illogical when you try to understand by what rhyme of reason a certain event, situation or circumstances get remembered. Sometimes, I can remember tiny and totally irrelevant details, I guess in lieu of something really important. Moving along.

California had been the major wine superpower for more than 40 years (if we would count starting from the 1976 Judgement of Paris events), so I’m sure many of you are puzzled about the title. California wines are unquestionably amazing, no matter which of more than 4600 wineries would produce them. California wines come in a tremendous range of styles and grape varieties, producing delicious wines from the grapes you wouldn’t even think are growing in California (Palomino, Corvina, Nebbiolo, Tinta Cão anyone?), and have a cult following, with wine lovers casually waiting for 8-10 years on the waiting list for the mailing list. Yes, California is well known for its incredible wines.

What California is not known for today is inexpensive wines. If you are willing to spend at least $20 per bottle, or better yet, you are willing to spend at least 5 times that or just add a zero to that number, that is an easy game. Almost an easy game, I should say, as you would also need to wait for at least 5 or 10 years to fully enjoy that $200 bottle. However, naming a California wine under $12 (somehow I think $12 is a good number for anyone looking for a good value wine for any night, not just for a Tuesday night), which consistently delivers, is not an easy task. My mind can’t go much past Bogle Petite Sirah, which is consistently good and usually priced in $9.99 – $11.99 range – but I’m failing to readily name another California wine in the same value category.

Cline Farmhouse Wines

When I was offered to try two of the Farmhouse wines, I hesitated for a brief moment. As a matter of policy, I never write reviews for the samples I don’t like, and $10.99 bottle of wine from California sounded suspicious. The fact that it was produced by the Cline Cellars, who I respect very much, and that the wines were made using sustainable viticulture, tipped the scale towards accepting the offer.

The very first smell and sip of the Farmhouse Red extorted a “wow” and instantly triggered an obscure memory – absolutely not related to the wine. I don’t exactly know you, my reader at the moment, but it is quite possible you were only learning to walk when one of the big 3 struggling at a time Detroit automakers, Chevrolet, released newly redesigned Chevy Malibu sedan. At that time, back in 1997, Japanese cars really swept clean the mainstream family car category. Chevrolet was so proud to release a competitive car that they came up with the slogan for that new release of Malibu: “The Car You Knew America Could Build“. I have no memories of that car, of course, but the slogan got stuck in my head – and it instantly popped up after the first sip of the Farmhouse wine, remembering that the wine is only priced at the suggested retail of $10.99. This is a lot, a lot of wine for the money – especially the California wine.

There is even better spin to the Farmhouse wines – the wines are produced using sustainable farming methods, a farming discipline called Green String Farming, which is defined as “”natural process agriculture”. It’s about keeping the soil and plants healthy and free from pesticides and artificial chemicals. Overall, it’s about producing the highest quality grapes with the healthiest vines.” Delicious, sustainably farmed, extremely reasonably priced California wine – I’ll just rest my case.

Here are my more detailed tasting notes:

2017 Farmhouse Natural White Wine California (12.5% ABV, $10.99, 41% Palomino, 25% Muscat Canelli, 22% Roussanne, 6% Viognier, 1% Riesling)
Light Rosé gold color
Whitestone fruit, guava, a touch of honey.
Peach, white plum, lemon, touch of minerality, fresh, vibrant, excellent acidity, lots (lots!) of wine for the money. 8-/8

2017 Farmhouse Natural Red Wine California (14% ABV, $10.99, blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Carignane, Mourvèdre, Petit Sirah)
Dark garnet
Dark chocolate, fresh raspberries, sage
Cloves, a tiny bit of cinnamon, pepper, ripe plums, excellent acidity, excellent balance. 8-/8

Two California wines, perfect for every day, easy to drink and afford – what else can you ask for? Cheers!

Come For The Name, Stay For The Wines: Murrieta’s Well in Livermore Valley

June 23, 2017 2 comments

Murrieta's Well Outer boxYour Day Just Got Better” – how fun is it to read something like this? Even if it is written on the cardboard box [ahem, full of wine]? Ahh, sorry. Especially(!) if it is written on the box full of wine!

When I was invited to participate in the Snooth virtual tasting of the wines of Murrieta’s Well, something bothered me in that name. Something very familiar, but I really I couldn’t get a grip as to what it was – until I started working on this post and figured out that Murrieta was referring to Joaquin Murrieta, a Mexican miner turned hero/bandit to avenge his wife in the first half of 19th century. Growing up I remember been moved by a beautiful music and singing in one of the very first rock-opera produced in the former USSR, called “The Star and Death of Joaquin Murrieta” (Звезда и смерть Хоакина Мурьеты). That is what my brain was trying to associate with – but again, this only became obvious after I started working on the post.

Similarly to the Joaquin Murrieta himself, the Murrieta’s Well vineyards go back to the early 1800s. In 1884, Louis Mel purchased the estate, built the winery and planted new vineyards using cuttings brought directly from France, from none less than Chateau d’Yquem and Chateau Margaux. In 1933, he sold the estate to his friend Ernest Wente, and ever since the estate was a part of the Wente properties. Actually, the  winery received name “Murrieta’s Well” only in 1990 when it was revived, and from there on the modern history of Murrieta’s Well started. Rest assured that you can still find very old and still producing vines as part of the Murrieta’s Well vineyards.

Before we talk about the wines, let me ask you a sidebar question. Let’s say you are visiting Northern California on business and staying somewhere between San Francisco and San Jose. Let’s assume you have a bit of a free time and want to visit a winery. Outside of the city wineries, which can be found today in many places, what do you think would be the closest “wine country” for you to visit? If you said Napa, it is a wrong answer! Yes, you can go to the Santa Cruz mountains and visit Ridge (good choice), but – your best bet will be Livermore Valley! You will find a good number of excellent producers in Livermore Valley, all within 45 minutes ride (not talking about California traffic here, sorry). If you will go, make sure to include Murrieta’s Well and Wente on your short list.

Now, let’s talk about making the day better – I think kind folks at Murrieta’s Well know how this can be done. When you open the box and first thing you see is a written note “Your Day Just Got Better“, whatever the day you had before, it immediately gets better :). Then you see the bottles, packed with meticulous care, and feel even better. Meticulous care obviously goes not only into the packing, but first and foremost, into the wines themselves. Winemaker Robbie Meyer believes in the art of blending, and I can tell you, one of the flagship blends, The Spur, was my favorite wine of the tasting. Robbie Meyer’s philosophy is to harvest and vinify all the grapes separately, and then combine them into the final blend.

Murrieta's Well winesFor what it worth, here are my tasting notes for the wines:

2016 Murrieta’s Well Dry Rosé Livermore Valley (14.1% ABV, $30, 55% Grenache, 45% Counoise)
C: pale pink
N: intense, fresh, strawberries and strawberries leaves,
P: perceived sweetness but perfectly dry, underripe strawberries, nice and round
V: 7+/8-

2015 Murrieta’s Well The Whip Livermore Valley (13.5% ABV, $24, 30% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Semillon, 30% Chardonnay, 7% Viognier, 3% Muscat Canelli)
C: straw pale
N: touch of perfume, tropical white fruit, guava, medium intensity,
P: touch of sweetness, nicely restrained, good acidity in the back, more tropical fruit, good balance
V: 7+

2016 Murrieta’s Well Muscat Canelli Livermore Valley (14.2% ABV, $35, 100% Muscat Canelli, 100 cases produced)
C: light straw
N: perfumy, intense, sweet, intense white fruit
P: grapefruit, grapefruit zest, good acidity, round
V: 7+, excellent summer wine

2014 Murrieta’s Well Small Lot Merlot Livermore Valley (14.1% ABV, $48, 90% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot)
C: Garnet
N: medium plus intensity, touch of sweet cherries and earthiness, mint, touch of cassis, overall very inviting.
P: good earthy fruit, cassis, medium to full body, touch of sweet oak, outstanding overall
V: 8+, excellent, delicious wine

2014 Murrietta’s Well Small Lot Cabernet Franc Livermore Valley (14.1% ABV, $58, 88% Cabernet Franc, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot)
C: dark garnet)
N: touch of vanilla and mint, black and red fruit, medium intensity
P: touch of black currant, vanilla, chewy structure, baking spices, medium to full body.
V: 7+, I like my Cabernet Franc to be a bit leaner, but a very good wine overall.

2014 Murrieta’s Well The Spur Livermore Valley (13.5% ABV, $30, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Petite Sirah, 14% Petit Verdot, 10% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc)
C: dark garnet
N: crunchy raspberries, intense, tobacco, sage
P: round, layered, black currant, silky smooth, touch of sweet tobacco, eucalyptus, fresh acidity, impeccable balance
V: 8+, this wine would make me happy any day

Whether Joaquin Murrieta was an avenger, hero or bandit – it is hard to tell. We don’t even know if he was just a legend. But – the wines named in his honor are real, and you should definitely look for them. Cheers!

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