Archive for the ‘Review white wine’ Category

The Wine Lady: Great Wine With Take-out Food

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Variety is the Spice of…Wine: Kenneth Volk Vineyards

ken vThe wine business is so glamorous … like when Ken Volk first started out, making wine in a neighbor’s garbage can and crushing grapes with a baseball bat. Wow, that sounds kinda crazy, but it shows determination, ingenuity, and a non-conforming personality.

But it turned out all right. Ken Volk ended up building Wild Horse Cellars into a 160,00o case winery and then selling it for what we hope were big bucks to the liquor conglomerate Jim Beam.

I remember meeting Ken back in the Wild Horse days. We were wine distributors at the time and he spent the best part of an afternoon with us, talking and tasting what seemed like dozens of varieties. Heck, there probably were dozens of labels: while he was best known for his Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Ken just never held with the common wisdom that you should concentrate your resources and energy on a few “fighting varietals” (you know, Cab, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir). Instead, he experimented with practically every grape he could find, usually with very good results.

And he hasn’t changed a bit. He launched Kenneth Volk Vineyards in  2004 when he purchased a run-down winery facility in the Santa Maria Valley that had been the original Byron winery. After a year of “fix-up,” he started making wine from his estate Chardonnay grapes and fruit sourced from some of the best vineyards in Santa Barbara County.

He’s still known for his Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but he’s up to his old tricks and produces several bottlings from what he calls “heirloom varieties.” These are grapes that are rarely seen on California labels, but can make good or great wines. And he’s right — I tried a few and was amazed with his results. Read the rest of this entry »

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Line Shack: Roussanne Meets Juicy Fruit


The winery really has a line shack.

I didn’t expect to like this wine.

Even though I didn’t have a lot to go on, since I’d only tasted enough Roussannes to count on the fingers of one hand, I had decided I probably wouldn’t like it.

But I had a bottle of Lineshack Roussanne with me while doing a segment on WFMJ-TV. I hadn’t even uncorked it yet when someone pulled a tray of freshly baked crab cakes out of the studio oven. Did I mention I love crab cakes?

So in a second I decided to trade my Roussanne for a taste of the crab cakes. I ran to the test kitchen for the “Let’s all taste today’s recipe on the air” segment, uncorked the Lineshack and poured it around. And guess what happened? They started raving more about the Roussanne than about the crab cakes! Even me!bottle

So enough preamble. Let’s talk about this white grape that’s not exactly a household name to U.S. wine drinkers.

Roussanne and its BFF Marsanne come from the Rhone River Valley region in southern France. They’ve been adopted relatively recent by California’s Rhone Rangers, who are winemakers with a passion for growing Rhone varietals. The character of a Roussanne-based wine varies with the climate in which it’s grown; cooler climate Roussanne is more delicate and crisp, while warm-climate areas (such as California’s Central Coast) produce a richer, more full-bodied wine.

I guess that explains it: I’d only tasted the floral, lean, acidic style of Roussanne, instead of Lineshack Roussanne San Antonio Valley 2008. The fruit for this wine is grown in a high mountain valley at the southern end of the Santa Lucia Mountain Range, adjacent to the West Side of Paso Robles. I’ve spent some time in Paso (this is gonna be another Napa someday, so go see it now) and I remember those hot summer days. It could be pushing 95 degrees, until someone flipped a switch around 4:00 in the afternoon and cool breezes started rushing up the Templeton Gap from the Pacific. By nightfall, you had your jacket on.

I was surprised by Lineshack Roussanne’s rich, lush fruit. See, I hadn’t even stopped to do all the swirling and sniffing stuff — I just tossed it back. So my first sip shocked me with its bright burst of sweet tropical fruit, just like Juicy Fruit gum, right in the mid-palate. The finish was crisp but not tart, and very clean. “Wow!” was all I could say. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Wine Lady:Mer Soleil Great Chardonnay

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Green and Gruner: Austria’s White Wine

alpsWine from Austria? Really?

You mean that country with all the mountains?

The country where the Von Trapp family fled over the Alps after singing their little hearts out in “The Sound of Music?”

Yes, we’re talking wine from Austria — very good wine, actually.

There have been wine grapes grown in Austria for centuries — every European countryman (and woman) has always enjoyed wine every day, and most of it is made locally, even in chilly Austria. While the western half of the country is filled with the soaring Alps, the eastern half  produces wine grapes that until relatively recently — i.e. 10 or 15 years ago — were mostly shipped to Germany. They were blended with German grapes to make less-than-top-notch country wines.

But 10 or 15 years ago some Austrian said, “Hey, wait a minute. Why don’t we bottle and sell our own wine. And if we’re going to put our own label on it, let’s make it good.” And that’s what they eyes

The grape they’ve poured their resources into, and that’s become Austria’s signature grape, is Gruner Veltliner. This white grape thrives in Austria’s cool continental climate. The mild summer weather produces good acid in the grapes, creating a crisp, aromatic white wine.

At a blind tasting recently we tasted Green Eyes Gruner Veltliner 2009, which seems to be designed with the American market in mind: the label is anything but traditional. But the wine is good.

The nose offers snappy pear, citrus and a slight floral aroma, with a pale straw-yellow color. The palate is crisp, but not so acidic it turns your mouth inside out (like I’ve known New Zealand whites to do). I tasted more citrus and pear, with some flinty minerality. It’s not heavy on the palate, and the overall balance between fruit and acid was good.

This kind of white should be drunk young, and very well chilled. If we ever get any warm weather (we’re working on a string of 35-degree-fahrenheit days), Green Eyes will make a great summer refresher.

You won’t find Gruner Veltliner everywhere just yet, but its star is on the rise. The U.S. wine market has discovered it, so look for it to start appearing in wine shops and the wine aisle of up-scale food stores. You should check it out — I think it’s a new experience you’ll enjoy. Cheers!

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The Food and Wine Lifestyle: Have We Become Wine-ies As Well As Food-ies?

chefI just read a story on the San Francisco Chronicle’s website that’s definitely worthy of notice: “Ooh la la! Report Shows US Wine Sales Top France.” It read, in part:

“For the first time ever, overall U.S. wine sales have topped the wine-loving French.”

I think that’s amazing. I wondered, “How did this happen?” The article shed some light on that:

Why now? Part of the story is that as U.S. per capita consumption has risen, French consumption has fallen. In fact, U.S. wine consumption continued to grow during the recession, though many consumers switched to cheaper wines.”

Very interesting. Americans seem to have adopted a wine-drinking lifestyle, and I think I know why.

We’ve become a nation of Foodies. We shop differently, cook differently, and eat very differently than our parents ever did. Our mothers made recipes clipped out of Better Homes & Gardens Magazine. Every main course included a can of soup (usually Cream of Mushroom), and every dessert had a tub of Dream Whip somewhere in the list of ingredients.

Us Baby Boomers and our kids (X Gen, Y Gen or whatever), are fluent in Food-Speak. Every kitchen now includes:

- Four different kinds of oil (Extra Virgin Olive, Peanut, Grape Seed and good old Vegetable Oil for when we’re slummin’ it);

- Four different kinds of vinegar (Balsamic, Rice Wine, Sherry or Champagne, and White Vinegar for cleaning the windows);

- About $10,000 worth of amazing kitchen accessories including four sizes of Saute pans, a Crepe pan, an Asparagus Steamer, and a Panini Maker;

- No less than 42 cookbooks written by Celebrity Chefs (who’ve become America’s new royalty); and

- A bunch of recipes downloaded and printed from

This phenomenon was recorded and explained brilliantly by David Kamp in a book called “The United States of Arugula.” I highly recommend it. But apart from the sociological significance of our new eating habits, what does this have to do with U.S. wine consumption?

I’m sure it’s obvious: good food needs good wine to elevate it to a great meal. Everyone who’s obsessed with making great food is obsessed with drinking good wine along with it. So we’ve started:

- Reading wine reviews and wine blogs (I hope);

- Learning the difference between Burgundy from France and burgundy in the gallon jug at the grocery store;

- Starting a small (or large) collection of better wines; and

- Discovering which food pairs best with which wine.

It’s amazing — we’re becoming almost European! Next thing you know we’ll all be “living to eat,” not “eating to live.” And that’s a wonderful situation for everyone — except the guys who make that Cream of Mushroom soup… Cheers!

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To Oak or Not To Oak… A Chardonnay Wine Review


Montes modern facility in Chile

“I love this warmth and richness.”

“I hate this heavy oak.”

Or how about…

“I love this snappy grapefruit.”

“I hate how this acid turns my mouth inside out.”

Both these examples of diametrically opposed taste buds are classic examples of why we can’t all enjoy the same white wines. Oak is oak, acid is acid, and never the twain shall meet. And these are not made up comments: they are actual conversations between me and my husband while tasting white wine.

“A-Ha!” you say. Does this indicate irreparable marital discord? I don’t think so. I hope not.

But what it comes down to is this: white wines represent a very wide array of styles and winemaking techniques, from super-dry, flinty and acidic wines such as New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Austrian Gruner Veltliner, to oaky, soft, even flabby Chardonnays (classic California style). In my vast (or pretty vast) experience of conducting and participating in wine tastings, people’s palates go either one way or the other: they either love New Zealand whites or they hate them, and they either love oak-y Chards or hate them.

But let’s make a big wine wish: What if we could find a white that would bridge the gap; that would be like the Nobel Peace Prize of the wine world and unite the warring factions? Read the rest of this entry »

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Balanced and Delicious: Pierano Estate Chardonnay


A lot of wine comes out of Lodi, California. And a lot of it doesn’t appeal to me.

But Pierano Estate Vineyards makes some fine Lodi wines. And they’ve been at it for a long time.

Pierano’s colorful history dates back to the Gold Rush days, when Giacomo Pierano got off the boat from Italy and set out to find gold. What he found instead were a lot of gold miners in need of everything from pick-axes to potatoes. He opened a Mercantile in one of Lodi’s mining camps and made good money supplying the other newcomers’ needs.

When he returned to Italy a few years later to fetch his bride, he took cuttings  of some Italian Zinfandel vines from his family’s vineyards. These he planted on his new land in Lodi, tending the vineyards and selling grapes while his wife worked the store.pierano 2

Let’s skip to the next generation, who were at the helm of Pierano Estate Vineyards when Prohibition was declared. Many wineries went bust during those 13 years, but Pierano actually profited. Because Zinfandel grapes were their only crop, and Zin had not yet been recognized by the government as “wine” grapes, they were able to make good money bootlegging their grapes to Italian home winemakers in New York and Canada. Good thinking!

Pierano is now run by the fourth generation, who have been making and selling their own wine for almost 20 years. They use many of great-grandfather Giacomo’s methods, such as head pruning their old vine Zinfandel and hand picking their grapes, but have expanded to many more varietals.

Let me back up now and explain my opening statement, that I don’t like many Lodi wines. The climate in this region, which sits at the base of the Sierra Nevada foothills, is quite warm. Many of the wines I’ve tasted from Lodi have flavors that are over-ripe, cooked, and raisin-y. Read the rest of this entry »

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Meet the “New” California Chardonnay: Midnight Cellars 2008

midnightBack in the day, we all loved chewing on a log. Or at least it seemed like it, because the California Chardonnay we drank was so full of oak that you thought you were chomping on a 2 x 4.

Not that that was a bad thing…

For years, American Chardonnay was aged in young American oak barrels, and put through 100% malolactic fermentation, which was a secondary fermentation that resulted in the crisp malic acids (like the acid in green apples) being converted to lactic acid (like the acid in milk). The result was a “buttery” mouthfeel, and combined with 100% oak barrel aging, it produced a Chardonnay that was so rich and heavy it tasted like you were drinking butter on toast.

So fast forward to 2010, when imported and domestic Pinot Grigio has begun to steal some of Chardonnay’s market share. The savvy marketers at the big wine conglomerates noticed the trend (they don’t miss a trick) and postulated that Americans might be getting tired of traditional California Chardonnay.

And I believe they were. I could see it in my customers when they said, “You know, I think I’ll try something different from my usual Chardonnay.” And winemakers saw it too. Or maybe they also got tired of over-oaked whites. Read the rest of this entry »

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Kick-Ass White Wines

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