Archive for the ‘Review Cal-Ital wine’ Category

Lodi Revisited

lodiIf you see a wine label that says “Old Vine Zin” or “OVZ,” chances are pretty good that it’ll also say “Lodi.”

Besides being a small town in Northeast Ohio, Lodi is a wine region in Northern California known primarily for its Zinfandel. The appellation hasn’t traditionally had the cachet of “Napa” or “Russian River,” sitting as it does in the warmer central part of California. Wine geeks associate warm-climate regions with flabby, un-structured wines that may sell well at the grocery store but don’t usually rate a place at the Premium Wine table.

But wait! Lodi has more to offer than the wine geeks allow, as I can testify after tasting through several wines at an online interactive tasting event sponsored by an association of Lodi wine producers. There was surprising variety and a few really excellent bottles that made me rethink my definition of “Lodi wine.”

First, let’s get this climate thing straight. Lodi may sit inland, directly east of San Francisco, but it’s right on the edge of the Sacramento Delta where nightly “Delta breezes” funnel cool ocean air over the vines. The soil is sandy and summers are dry, so growers can control vine vigor and ripening with careful irrigation practices. Read the rest of this entry »

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Meet the Temecula Valley: Wiens wines

vineyardsHave you ever heard of Temecula wines? No? That’s what I thought…

American wine drinkers (at least those who live east of the California state line)  have never heard of the region.

Which is really ironic, because the Temecula Valley lies just a stone’s throw from where the whole California wine thing got started — sometime around 1820.

Wine grapes were first brought to California by Spanish missionaries, who built a string of missions along the California coast to bring Christianity to the heathens. Remember that thing about the swallows coming back to San Juan Capistrano? Well, San Juan Capistrano was the first mission, and it was built a mere 18 miles west of present day Temecula. The good monks grew Mission grapes and made sweet, fortified wine for communion (or whatever…).

So fast-forward to modern-day Southern California. The region is now known for congested freeways and movie stars, but some savvy winemakers have discovered that the Temecula Valley has conditions that are amazingly favorable for high-quality wine grapes. Check this out:

Temecula sits on a plateau at about 1,400 feet elevation, snugged up to a higher mountain range. Mists linger until mid-morning, helping to cool the region. Cold air also gets sucked in from the Pacific Ocean through gaps in the coastal mountains, creating ideal micro-climates for high-quality wine grapes.


The four Wiens brothers, plus mom

Is this ringing a bell? Does this sound like the conditions that make Napa, Sonoma, and Santa Barbara such great regions for wine grapes?

On top of the above, the surrounding mountains create “rivers” of cold air that drift down over Temecula, creating a double cooling effect.

But wait — that’s not all! Because the area is further south than, say, San Francisco, the vineyards are closer to the Equator and receive more radiant heat. So OK, we have that wonderful “warm days, cold nights” thing happening, plus relatively little rainfall during the growing and harvest season. Soils, too, are well drained, producing clean, pure varietal flavors.

So this looks like a recipe for great wine. It makes me wonder why all of us non-Temeculties¬† took so long to discover this little wine region. My excuse is that I hadn’t tasted any of their wines — at least until a few nights ago, when a friend brought over a bottle from Wiens Family Cellars. Not being one to turn down free alcohol, we popped the cork and… enjoyed!

We were drinking Wiens 2008 Tempranillo-Petite Sirah. That’s an unusual (or even unheard-of) blend. Who ever thought to combine this Spanish grape with California’s big, bold, dense, brooding varietal?

But I gotta tell you — someone should have thought of it sooner. My first sip was enough to make me say, “Of course!” It’s a great idea to use the bright fruit and crisp acidity of Tempranillo to tame the often-too-heavy Petite Sirah.

When I poured the Wiens, the color looked very “Petite.” It was opaque and red/pourple, and I geared myself for a big, big wine. The nose, however, showed some bright cherry up front, followed by some heavier caramel and dark berry notes.

The palate was a happy marriage of both grapes. I loved how the acid from the Tempranillo cut the heaviness of the Petite Sirah, and made this a pretty decent food wine. I got more complexity, too, as it sat and breathed, with nice brambly notes, mocha and vanilla creeping in.

Wiens Tempranillo-Petite Sirah is a well-made wine, and it’s fun to drink. It’s kinda pricey at $50 a bottle — I assume that’s one of the unfortunate repercussions of operating a small-production facility in a place like Temecula. But I wish the folks at Wiens the best — they’re doing a good job and helping to put the Temecula Valley on the wine map. I’ll tip my hat to the ghosts of San Juan Capistrano, and say, Cheers!

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Great Cal-Ital from Gold Rush Country: Sobon Estates

minersWhen I think of California’s Gold Rush Country, up there in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, I think of crusty old miners swilling cheap liquor from a jug. I believe they were a hard-drinking lot; not the kind to be enjoying elegant Italian varietals.

So I was knocked out recently when I came across two killer Cal-Itals from Amador County. For those unfamiliar with the term, “Cal-Ital” refers to Italian varietals (Sangiovese, Barbera, or Arneis, for example) planted in California soil. It’s like an “Old World meets New World” kind of thing. Cal-Itals can be hard to find if you don’t live in California, so those of us in the hinterland are thrilled to discover good ones.

I just tasted Sobon Estates Amador County Barbera 2010 and Sobon Estates Amador County Sangiovese 2009. They made me want to play the accordion and¬† sing “When the moon hits-a your eye like-a that big pizza pie…”

Let’s look at the Barbera first. This grape is best known as Barbera d’Alba, produced in the Piedmont region of Northwest Italy. There, it makes a medium-bodied red with low tannins, high acidity and cherry/blackberry flavors. Italian immigrants (maybe some of those gold miners?) brought Barbera to northern California, and the grape thrived in the warm, dry climate. They were so happy that the grapes did a little Tarantella!

Second-generation winemaker Paul Sobon does great things with Barbera. He’s created a wine that expresses California opulence with Italian structure and acidity. When I poured this wine, the deep purple/red, almost opaque color suggested a very extracted wine. The nose was compelling with dark berry fruit, cedar, and maybe a hint of chocolate. On the palate, intense black cherry and blackberry led the way, with some spice and tobacco elbowing their way in. Then came the kicker — the bright acidity that shouted “food wine!!”

You have to explain this concept to many Americans. Those who grew up drinking wine like a cocktail — i.e. without any food to accompany it — aren’t used to the acidity that makes European wines so great with food, and food so great with European wines. You have to force these people to grab a piece of cheese, or anything with a red sauce, and enjoy it alongside their wine. Then they have the OMG moment…

So speaking of OMG moments, let’s go to Paul Sobon’s Amador County Sangiovese. This is the grape that made Chianti famous, and you may know that Chianti is a region in Tuscany, Italy. Chianti’s reds can range from bright and fruity to bold and full-bodied, but they always have good acidity.

I opened Paul’s wine with a plate of Chicken Parmesan, and I had my own OMG moment. This Cal-Ital is more fun and fruity than the Barbera, with a bunch of soft cherry/berry fruit, spice notes and mocha adding complexity. There was a surprising richness and velvety mouth-feel — but then again, I was enjoying this with the kind of food that could tame the classic acidity. The tasting notes revealed that the winemaker added a dollop of Zinfandel and a pinch of Petite Sirah, which added more “Cal” to the Cal-Ital.

All Sobon wines are produced from sustainably farmed grapes, and the winery uses solar generated power, composting, natural pest control and other sustainable practices. That’s good — I like to be able to recommend a wine that’s environmentally friendly, as well as darn good. Cheers!



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