Due Regazze Vineyards (JPB's Vines in Cameron Park, CA)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

New California Wine Rule: DO NOT Forget about Paso Robles

My mom and dad had just returned from visiting friends who happen to live in the Paso Robles Wine Appellation. They were kind enough to bring back a few bottles for me to try. Like any child who receives a gift from his parents, I was elated and the first bottle was opened about 30 seconds after ripping apart the box. I'm here to tell you it was sensational! And so was the second one, AND the one after that. What I find almost comical is I know very little about Paso Robles wine country. What I do know is that there are 12 designated wine appellations in California (known as American Viticulture Areas or AVAs) and I have visited 10 of them. Somehow, I managed to bypass the Paso Robles region, only the 3rd largest and fastest growing AVA in California! It’s like visiting San Francisco 10 times and not seeing the Golden Gate Bridge!

Anyway,I've spent the month learning about Paso Robles Wine Country and I have gone out and purchased a few additional bottles from the area. I could write a 50 page review, but instead I'll leave you with www.pasowine.com for those who want the history and additional insight of Paso Robles. In my opinion, the two main points are this: First, the wines seem more affordable than Napa Labels of similar quality. This definitely appeals to me. Secondly, it appears the winemakers are more adventurous in their quest to make good tasting wine(very similar to the early 70's winemakers of Napa Valley). Below are my tasting notes on what were more than just "sampled". A big thanks goes to mom and dad for not just the fantastic wine, but broadening my horizons of California wine. I can assure all of you, I will be visiting Paso Robles very soon.

-Linne Calodo 2007 Slacker: Rhone Style blend with 68% Syrah 16% Mourvedre 16% Grenache grapes with a 15.4% alcohol content. While wine maker Matt Trevisan is recognized by Robert Parker and others as an up and coming star, I wasn't thrilled with the Slacker. It offered great color and structural balance but I detected a sweet port-like finish which didn't appeal to me. To be fair, I didn't let this wine open up as long as I should have but at $45 bucks a bottle, I deserve to be impressed upon opening it. although several wine web sites show this as sold out, there were a few offering it as low as $39 a bottle.

-Villicana 2007 Estate Syrah: Another Rhone style blend(80% Syrah 10% Grenache 10% Mourvdre) hand crafted by owner Alex Villicana. Again another rich full bodied wine similar to the Slacker but offered the spicy characteristic I expect from California Syrah. This small family operation made only 333 cases of this vintage and can be purchased through their website. I did notice a few websites where it was offered in the mid-$20's.I did like this wine and given the price point, I'd say its fair value.

-Adelaida 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon: Let me make this easy for you-GO OUT AND BUY THIS WINE. This reminded me of the Howell Mountain wines tasted a few months ago. Full bodied, berry and chocolate flavors with the right amount of tannins make this wine perfect for a big, fat rib eye steak or rack of lamb. Its true richness was shown after about ½ hour. And 5 minutes later, the bottle was empty. This wine is a steal in the low $30's. Don’t get confused with Adelaida’s other higher end cabs which sell for double. I’m sure they are equally as delicious, but this is true value.

-L’Aventure- 2004 Optimus: To be fair, I’ve had this one in the cellar for a while and the 2006 through 2008 vintage will be the most readily available. I remember buying this a few years back and thinking it needed time to age and I was right. This wine has great structure and balance with plenty of intense fruit flavors that light up your palate upon the first sip. Owner and winemaker Stephan Asseo displays his French background at L’Aventure as this blend (57% Syrah 35% Cabernet Sauvignon 8% Petite Verdot) reminds me of a typical Bordeaux blend. The website sells the 2008 for $45 a bottle but you might want to try Apex Beverage Company out of Raleigh NC. For a better price (877-367-9414 and ask for Jake). If you buy the 2008, I’d let it sit a year.

-Robert Hall-2007 Syrah: This wine did not pack the punch the two other reviewed Rhone Style blends offered but at a price of $18 a bottle (I picked it up at the local grocery store for $15) it’s well worth the purchase. This deep red colored syrah offers aromas of black cherry and plum with a hint of spice as well. This wine needs to open up a bit and I found it much more enjoyable after 30 minutes of air. For what its worth, Wine Enthusiast gave this wine 90 points and it has received several other accolades as well.

-Norman Vineyards 2004 Conquest Cabernet Sauvignon: Another stellar Cab blend (82% cab 10% Malbec 5% Merlot 3% cab Franc) put out by this family owned winery that has been growing grapes in Paso Robles for over 30 years. This wine has similar characteristics of the Adelaida Cab but, didn’t quite offer the same boldness and structure. I can’t say it wasn’t as good; just different. If you prefer Cabernet’s that don’t stand up and punch you in the mouth, then you would favor the Norman over Adelaida. Priced at $20 a bottle, this wine is a great value.

-Terra Robles 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon: This wine is the sleeper pick of all my tastings. I picked this up at my local grocery store for $10 bucks. While it does not have the depth of the other cabs tasted it is a solid triple and is a wine that could be opened every night for dinner or brought to a friend’s house for a barbeque. Since this wine is a fairly young label, it was hard to get additional information on the wine. Turns out this is a second labeling by Robert Hall Wines made to appeal to recession hit consumers. I spoke to Robert Hall’s brand manager Danny Mantle and he said the wines are offered on the Robert Hall website and Terra Robles wines will have their own site shortly. If you do a search for Terra Robles wines, it will direct you to the Robert Hall site. The beauty of this wine is it’s made by the Robert Hall winemaker and the same grapes from the property. This difference is the vines are a little younger than what is used for the Robert Hall brand. Keep an eye on this wine. It could become a cupboard staple in any wine drinkers household.

June 2010

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Taking a Walk on the White Side

Taking a Walk on the White Side……
It’s never easy owning up to something you are not particularly proud of, especially if it goes against every grain of humility in your soul; but I had to do it. I drank a glass of Chardonnay wine…and I actually liked it! It’s not like I was young and going through a college “experimental” phase of my life. It was this year and I knew exactly what I was doing. For those who don’t know my tastes, I’m a typical red wine drinker. In my 500 bottle cellar, there are a grand total of 8 white wines; Two were gifts that were too crappy to re-gift, two were made by my good friend and neighbor Lance, who is a commercial winemaker trapped in a home winemaker’s body, and four are somewhat decent wines I have for unexpected company. That’s it.

I guess I should explain how this happened. Let me preface by saying that I take full responsibility for my actions and I won’t cast blame on anyone but you need to know the catalyst for my actions. My mother was visiting to see my youngest daughter perform as an Oompa Loompa in her school play. If you have school aged children, you know that it is mandatory to tailgate for a school play. I opened a 2008 Chateau St. Michelle Chardonnay for mom and I had my usual. The following day after work, I opened the refrigerator and there was the half empty bottle of Chardonnay just glaring at me; almost as if it was daring me to take a sip. Well nobody was around, so I did. It was crisp, a hint of citrus, actually it was very refreshing. Wait, did I just say this!!??

In my 15 years of serious wine drinking (before that it was only beer and scotch), I can’t even think of really anyone one I hang out with that even considers ordering white wine. Well, there are two exceptions: my cousin Marc in Chicago is one. Marc is retired at the ripe old age of 40 and he could care less about what anybody thinks. In fact, if you took away all the sports franchises in Chicago, Marc wouldn’t care about anything period! The other exception is my former boss Jim O’Brien, aka “The Silver Fox”. Along with being just a great guy to hang around, Silver has this certain statesman like aura about him. Always well dressed and well groomed, Jim was the perfect ambassador for the firm. In fact, Jim could probably be mistaken as the U.S Ambassador to Ireland. On more than one occasion, my business colleagues and I would give Silver Fox grief for ordering a Rombauer Chardonnay while we sat with our giant goblets filled with full bodied Napa Cab. He would merely tilt his glass, smile that smile that an elder always does when they know something you don’t, and sip away. Did the Silver Fox know something I had missed in my wine world? I mean I’m supposed to be well versed on this topic. Well I’ve spent the month researching North American White wines. I actually bought wines at different price points and below are my notes on each of them. Overall I was pleasantly surprised and the likeability factor was higher than I would have expected. But here is the bottom line; instead of only having 8 bottles of white wine in my cellar, I might up it to around 20.

· 2008 Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Chardonnay- Full bodied with a touch of oak influence. I noticed citrus and peach aroma with a hint of vanilla. Alcohol level is moderate at 13.5%. Priced at $15.00 a bottle, this is consistently called one of the best values in the market. Wine Spectator gave this 90 out of a possible 100 points.

· 2008 Bernardus Chardonnay Monterey County- A Central Coast wine that was listed as a “smart buy” in this months Wine Spectator. Priced in the low $20’s there were over 22,000 cases produced so it’s easily accessible. This wine had the classic green apple flavors and just the right amount of toasted oak layered into other fruit flavors.

· 2007 Freestone Chardonnay Sonoma Coast Ovation- This was clearly the best of the three but also the most expensive at over $45. The Freestone has more of a French Burgundy style which shows off less oak yet still offers a delicate richness with the right amount of acidity. Might be a little tougher to find as it has received solid reviews and only 2400 cases were produced. Keep an eye on this biodynamic winery that was started by the Joseph Phelps family in an effort to produce quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

JPB, May 2010