Catching up on Saintsbury Chard and Pinot

Bill Ward, our local full time wine writer (and am I the only one who sees the beauty in that … newspapers around the country are slashing and burning while trying to figure out how to make a buck in this e-world.  Meanwhile, here in the hinterland, we have a full time wine writer that focuses on local wine issues for consumers!) did a great profile on our friend Dave Graves of Saintsbury.

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Appreciation of detail: Ojai Vineyards

Adam Tolmach in typical contemplative pose

A recent visit to Adam Tolmach and his (two person) staff at Ojai Vineyards revealed one clear truth: for some people the pleasure is in the details and the discussion.  One such person is Adam.

He’s been put in the upper echelon of winemakers by some of the most notable wine writers in the world, but it’s a stature that does not hold Adam to one style or grape.  Constant experimentation is the key, and a good example was having the pleasure of tasting though the blending of Dry Riesling, Viognier, and a bottling of single vineyard Syrah.

As the beakers and sample bottles were brought out, Adam wanted to make sure he didn’t know what was being poured.  His assistants added in ringers, including finished wine from last year, to see if it stood out.  Fiddling, fussing, and gesturing, Adam found some wines with “roots in the flavors” and some that “danced, almost too much” and every once in a while one that sang.  Adding five percent here and ten percent there (including adding Riesling to a rose’ “just to see what happens”), all leading to new discoveries.  The speed was amazing.

“I’m not going to hold onto something just because people expect it” he said, specifically referring to warm climate Syrah.  As of the 2009, he has cut most of his contracts with warm climates (holding onto his monopole, Roll Ranch, because “the style is unlike anything else available”).  Focusing on cool climate Syrah will give him a chance to play with more pepper and brightness in the flavors, along with less alcohol in the final wine.  The topic of Alain Graillot came up and Adam lit up like a firefly “Yes! That’s the style! I find so much to keep coming back to in his wines.”

There is something to be said about a 6000 case total production winery that doesn’t feel married to a particular style of wine.  When the issue of wine-making philosophy came up, Adam said “Precision is key, for then you get honest aromas and flavors.”  Then his teenage sons came home, and his attention to detail quickly shifted to them.

Welcome DeLoach, Bouchard, Lyeth, and Louis Bernard to World Class Wines!

We’re proud to announce World Class Wines has teamed with the legendary wines of Boisset America!

These are dynamic additions to our portfolio, and will help to round out our American and French selections. Bouchard has a stellar reputation as one of the top ‘major’ producers of Burgundy. Louis Bernard brings us value oriented wines from the Southern Rhone Valley. DeLoach has been on a tremendous roll the last couple of years, reducing production levels to 30% of what they were years ago. In other words, less wine and far more quality (they still have many of the best landholdings in the Russian River Valley). And Lyeth needs little to no introduction … in these times of customers looking for value and huge bang for the buck, Lyeth is on the top of everybody’s lists!

We look forward to a long and healthy relationship with our new friends, and we hope you will too. Expolore more information about Boisset at their website.

Place vs. Location … a big 92 point snafu

Hidden Ridge Vineyards, Sonoma

Hidden Ridge Vineyards ... Sonoma

If you think about a ‘place’, it has a name you can attach to it. In wine, Chianti is defined, regulated, laid out.  Likewise for Rutherford, Santa Lucia Highlands, Barossa Valley, etc.  A ‘location’ is simply a spot of land, identifiable by a specific latitude and longitude (and thanks to Google Earth, you can zoom anywhere with perfect accuracy).

160 acres of mountaintop land.  Spring Mountain, to be specific.  52 acres planted to the top Cabernet Sauvignon clones.  Stunning views in a 360 degree panorama.  Your closest neighbors are none other than Paloma (!!!!!) and Pride Vineyards (!!!!!!). And, here’s the kicker, you can only label your wine with the ‘Sonoma’ appelation.

That’s the snafu that Hidden Ridge Vineyards finds themselves in.  We had a great visit with Casidy Ward, proprietor (along with her husband, Lynn) of this cherished property, and she explained that because of the specific location of this vineyard, it falls outside of all designated AVA’s.  Possibly some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon grown, yet it can only be labeled ‘Sonoma’ … and thus, it is worth less on the bulk wine market.  Rather than fight the system and try to get Spring Mountain AVA pushed to the other side of the mountain, they decided to make their own label and show just how special this place is.

[Sidenote: My co-worker Brandt and I were talking about our affinity for wineries that produce only one wine, from one grape, from property that was bought based on potential of quality rather than a gold-standard of place name (There aren’t that many out there). It forces a winery to work harder, for the label of a place will not be there to help sell the wine (how many times has a sales pitch started with ‘This is from Rutherford in Napa Valley…”).]

Hidden Ridge Vineyards received 92 points on both their inaugural release (2003) and the current release (2004).  By any sensible terms, this wine is the equivalent of, or better than, almost all Napa Valley ‘cult wines.’ However, just as the winemakers have to work harder to produce this product (a two mile long dirt road following the spine of Spring Mountain gets you to the vineyards!), we have to also work harder to sell this product.

Take out the idea of place for a moment.  And instead focus on location.  After all, it’s the terrior that is supposed to be sacred, is it not?

Laying out the vineyards at Hidden Ridge

Laying out the vineyards at Hidden Ridge

New York Times jumps on the wine in a box bandwagon

This morning at 9:30 am, Tuesday August 19th, the single most emailed story on the New York Times website was not that Obama has decided a running mate, it was not the war in Iraq, it was not the Olympics.  Here’s the true measure of the popularity of wine in today’s culture: it was about boxed wines.

A full third of all wine sold in Italy today is packed in Tetra-Pak.  The boxed wine selection in most stores is about five times the size it was three years ago (with several prominent large brands taking up less and less space, I might add).  It’s all about finding better, but not best, juice in boxes for the sake of convenience and environmental karma (plus value, of course).

(Sidenote: I still think that if a prominent Napa Valley Cabernet producer, somebody with a stellar reputation, released a TINY amount of their wine in box format — imagine paying $300 for a 3L box! — it would generate enough buzz to be the story of the year.  Talk about free advertising!)

However, the really interesting part is to be found here, in the New York Times comments section.  If you want to keep on the pulse of current public opinions, the newspaper comments section is a good place to find the more aggressive, passionate, and loud voices (that inevitably influence the more passive and quiet ones).

Zinfandel and Ribs: a perfect fourth of July

(photo by Flickr user barron)

Happy Fourth of July to everybody! And in the quest for the ultimate summertime fare, keep in mind the wonderful combination of ribs (beef, short, pork, baby back, St. Louis style, Texas style, doesn’t matter!) and red wine, especially Zinfandel. Particularly good this year are the 2005 Seghesio Old Vine, and the 2006 Ridge Geyserville. Both are showing great expression and personality. Absolutely outstanding wines to have with ribs. Below are some great links regarding ribs and wine.

Wine Review Online: Wine with baby back ribs

Daniel in NYC: Short Ribs with Celery Duo recipe

Newswire article: Zinfandel makes a patriotic wine pairing with ribs

And finally, here is my own pork rub formula, guaranteed to increase your enjoyment of ribs. Rub generously on the ribs (or any pork cut) at least three hours before smoking. (A little hint as well: marinate the ribs in Italian salad dressing overnight before smoking them!)

We call this the ‘family rub’ because everybody in my household loves it. All quantities are in parts to make it easy to make as little or as much as you want.

3 parts Kosher salt
4 parts granulated garlic
1 part granulated onion
4 parts Spanish paprika
1 part fresh ground black pepper
2 parts raw cane sugar (don’t use regular brown sugar – too much water content)
1/2 part dried oregano
1/2 part rubbed sage

The mix can be stored in a tight jar, in the dark, for up to four months.

Northern California wildfires

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat has done an excellent job keeping people up to the minute on the wildfires of Northern California. As of now, we have not heard of any damage to wineries or vineyards, but that could change with a moment’s notice.

You can go here for a current, up to the minute, constantly updated Google Map on the wildfires. Click on any of the fires listed on the left hand side for full details.