Archive for the ‘Review organic wines’ Category

Benziger Zinfandel and Oonapais

benzMike Benziger has been called a pioneer. He’s probably also been called crazy by the folks who didn’t believe in his experiments in organic farming. But whatever you call him, he’s been instrumental in introducing and developing methods for growing grapes while nurturing and improving the land through his Sustainable, Organic and Biodynamic farming practices.

He and many other Benzigers (a couple dozen, I think) also make wine at their winery in Sonoma County. Snugged up in the hills above the tiny town of Glen Ellen, and just a short hike from Jack London’s historic home and State Park, they’ve planted 85 acres of red and white grapes on the slopes of Sonoma Mountain.mike

This is a relatively warm-climate growing area, which was immediately obvious in the wines we tasted recently during a Twitter Tasting. In case you don’t know what that is…

A Twitter tasting is a very cool way to marry something very traditional with the latest in social media marketing. Here’s how it’s done: a group of wine bloggers (otherwise known as the “online wine community”) were invited to sit around with winemaker Mike Benziger as we tasted and talked about six of his wines. Only he sat in front of a camera in California and we sat in front of our computers in…wherever. He was on-screen and as we tasted, we tweeted questions and comments and he answered back. Very cool and very effective.

So let’s get to Benziger and their wines. I posted a story giving you background on the whole Sustainable/Organic/Biodynamic approach that Benziger Winery uses in all their estate vineyards and with all their contract growers. I think it’s a tremendous goal to grow better fruit and nurture the land for future generations. The question is — does it make better wine?

Mike Benziger thinks so. The wines he chose for us to taste included a Zinfandel, two vintages of their Bordeaux blend “Oonapais,” two vintages of the Bordeaux blend “Obsidian Point,” and their premium blend, “Tribute.” I’ll review three today and pick up the rest tomorrow. Read the rest of this entry »

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A Classic Wins Hands Down: Albert Mann Pinot Blanc 2010

alsaceI have to admit tthat I’m in awe of the fine wines of Alsace. They seem elegant, sophisticated, and delightful to drink… so why isn’t anyone drinking them??

In my corner of the U.S., Alsatian white wines are about as common on local dinner tables as Frogs Legs. By that I mean that many folks have heard of them, but hardly anyone actually consumes them. Let’s try to change that…

First of all, let me explain that Alsace sits on the northern edge of France, but it owes much more to Germany in its winemaking traditions.  Alsace’s wine grape growing region is sandwiched between the Vosges Mountains to the west and the Rhine River to the east, so they’re within spitting distance of Germany’s vineyards. The grapes they grow are similar to Germany and Austria — Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris — and unlike the rest of France, the Alsatians label their wines with the grape name instead of the region.

(Sidebar for those who find wine labels impenetrable: France and most of Europe name a wine for the region it’s from, such as Sancerre, rather than the grape it’s made from, such as Sauvignon Blanc.)mann

So Alsace follows Germany’s wine styles. The area also follows its climate: it’s pretty darn cool up there, but the Vosges Mountains at least protect the vineyards from the worst of the winds and keeps rainfall to a minimum. So despite its cold continental climate, all that sun helps the grapes ripen more than they otherwise would that far north.

But let’s get to the wine. I put Albert Mann Pinot Blanc 2010 in a blind tasting (that means the wine labels are hidden), and expected to smell and taste lots of acid (from the cool temperatures), plenty of minerals (from the soil), and not much more. Boy, did  I fool myself. Read the rest of this entry »

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Like Bacon in a Glass: Predator Old Vine Zinfandel 2009

pigDon’t get me wrong — I like bacon as much as the next guy. I’ll lay a few strips beside my French Toast, hit it with a little bit of maple syrup, and go to town.

But I don’t like pork in my wine.

I come across it occasionally, usually when I’m tasting California Pinot Noir or Syrah. Some people try to downplay it — “Oh, that’s not bacon; it’s just a touch of smoky oak.” But you can’t bullshit me — I know smoked ham when I taste it.

Just like in Predator Old Vine Zinfandel 2009. I was looking forward to tasting this wine, because until recently it had been allocated, sold only to an upscale grocery chain near us. Of course, there’s nothing like  “You can’t have it” to make us want it. It’s one of those tried and true principles of the capitalist economy: “The less you supply, the more we demand.”pred

So let’s skip to the moment of truth. I’d popped the cork and poured the Predator around. The bacon hit me before my nose was in the glass, and I glanced across the table. My husband was recoiling, but the other taster hadn’t reacted. I sniffed again, with the same result. But there was nothing for it but to take the plunge and sip.

What I got was — bacon. Granted, there was some soft berry underneath, but it couldn’t compete with the pig. There was no discernible acid or structure, so it finished soft, but not long. Read the rest of this entry »

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Quiet Power & Elegance: Rex Hill Pinot Noir

rex hill

Sustainable farming: this little ladybug keeps pests away without using chemical pesticides.

I love family-owned wineries. That’s a broad statement, but I’m not afraid to make it. It seems that every sip of their wine speaks to me of   commitment, passion, and a love for wine-making.

Enter Rex Hill, a family-owned winery that’s been crafting wines in Oregon’s Willamette Valley since the “good old days” (read “1982,” when the first owners shoveled out a former pig farm and started planting Pinot Noir). They also started farming “sustainably”, which is a commitment to produce better fruit through organic growing practices and to leave the land in better shape than when they got it.

Organic and sustainable practices may have contributed to the really knock-out Pinot I tasted recently, but Oregon’s wonderful 2008 vintage put it over the top. Rex Hill Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2008 was the product of the “near perfect” 2008 harvest. Warm weather in the final weeks before picking contributed to smaller yields and more intense flavors in the grapes. The result is a fragrant nose of bing cheeries, raspberries and violets, and a rich palate brimming with intense red berry fruit and spice. Most noticeable, though, is the full body, well-integrated tannins and bright acid that balance the opulent fruit.

To me, this Pinot was like Oregon on steroids. I’ve never tasted this kind of elegance and power in a Willamette Pinot at this price. Did I mention it retails for around $26? It’s a steal at that price, and you should rush out and…steal some. (Well, not really, but do go buy some).

I’ll be on the look-out for more good 2008 Oregon Pinot’s, so stay tuned for future reviews. For now, grill up some salmon, pop the cork on a bottle of Rex Hill, and enjoy!

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What’s Hot — Organic Wine

organic wineYou may have seen the organic shelves in your grocery store growing by leaps and bounds, and the same thing has happened with organic wines. Organics are no longer just for aging hippies!

The American certifying bodies make organics and wine  a bit complicated, so you’ll need a short course on the subject.

First, a wine label may read “Made from Organically Grown Grapes.” That means what it seems to mean (no pesticides or artificial fertilizers in the vineyards). This label makes no claims about what may or may not have been used in the winemaking process (such as sulfur compounds). We like Chile’s Natura Winery for good quality organically grown wines at a value price (around $12).  Red Truck’s Green Truck Organically Grown line is a new, reasonably-priced entry from California. Read the rest of this entry »

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