Wine Tasting Notes, 2013: Chateau Montelena and Summers Estate, Calistoga

Although the Napa Valley has now become synonymous with wine, history shows that this area can sustain a wide array of crops. In the previous century, the Napa Valley was once home to vast orchards of walnuts, prunes, and pears. These crops became especially dominant during the 1920s and 1930s, with Prohibition mitigating the grape-growing industry (because home wine-making remained legal under the Volstead Act, plenty of wine grapes still existed in Napa during Prohibition — the only difference was that the emphasis shifted to lesser-quality grapes that could survive a cross-country trip by rail car).

If we turn back the clock 150 years and revisit the Napa Valley on the heels of the California Gold Rush, the original crop here was actually wheat, planted heavily throughout the mid-1800s, before the first wave of wine production began at the end of the century (the Bale Grist Mill in Calistoga, [… read more …]

Daytripping Mendocino County: Heirloom Apples and Warm-Weather Wines

Philo's Finest: Gravenstein Apples.

Philo’s Finest: Gravenstein Apples.

The end of Labor Day Weekend is a milestone that I anticipate every year. For one thing, it’s the last three-day weekend of the season, which is fine by me, since I don’t have normal weekends off anyway. Unlike most people in America, I derive zero joy from the almighty three-day weekend. Monday holidays make restaurant work extra difficult, as Saturday and Sunday essentially become back-to-back Saturdays (already the most difficult day of the week), and an otherwise benign Monday is subsequently transformed into a Sunday (the second-most difficult day of the week). But that’s just the perspective of a line cook, although I do admit, there’s an inherent satisfaction in pushing out an insane amount of covers over a three-day span, at least every once in a while.

Beyond my own professional gripes, the end of Labor Day also means something more important: [… read more …]

Book Review: “Riesling Renaissance” by Freddy Price

“Coffee’s for closers only.” Anyone who has seen 1992’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” might recall this line from the film’s first act, when Alec Baldwin delivers one of my all-time favorite movie monologues. The scene marks Baldwin’s only appearance in the film — a scant seven minutes — but his abusive tirade establishes the movie’s tone, and it sets up the second act perfectly. In “Glengarry,” Baldwin plays the character of Blake, an über-alpha real estate salesman, and a role that was written specifically for Baldwin by playwright David Mamet (as great as it is, Baldwin’s “Glengarry” monologue was not part of Mamet’s original 1983 stage play). During his brilliant rant, Baldwin espouses the acronym “ABC” — short for “Always be closing” — a hard-boiled sales mantra that he imparts to an ensemble of A-listers, including Jack Lemon, Ed Harris, and Alan Arkin (with Al Pacino and Kevin Spacey rounding [… read more …]

Clash of the 2007s: Kosta Browne, Chasseur, Papapietro Perry, Cobb, Capiaux and Radio-Coteau

With the afterglow of last Tuesday night finally starting to fade, I still need to acknowledge the preamble to the evening, which was a blind tasting of 2007 California Pinot Noir. I had been anticipating this tasting for quite some time, and I had also exhibited tremendous patience in the process: Back in March 2009, I had eagerly purchased Pinot Noir allocations from Kosta Browne and Chasseur, having finally earned a coveted spot on their respective mailing lists (these unclaimed allocations were the function of a sputtering U.S. economy, no doubt). At the time, slipping behind the velvet rope was extremely fortuitous, with California’ s 2007 Pinot Noir vintage earning considerable praise for its exceptional quality. Even in a bad economy, with these 2007s finally hitting the market in 2009, last year was certainly not the time to forfeit any allocations (unless, of course, you were actually facing foreclosure).

[… read more …]

Daytripping Mendocino’s Wine Country: Gowan’s Oak Tree, Anderson Valley

Gowan's Oak Tree, Anderson Valley, Highway 128.

Although Mendocino County remains one of my favorite wine-tasting regions in all of California, I need to point out that Highway 128 offers much more than wine, and that the almighty grape is not the only show in town. The Anderson Valley excels in apple production, in particular, although the beginning of apple season still remains about two weeks away (yes, most current supermarket apples are actually from last year’s crop, just out of cold storage). Anyhow, when it comes to tasting the best of the best, the Anderson Valley is a West Coast apple mecca, and Gowan’s Oak Tree is one of the main apple epicenters in the area (along with the Philo Apple Farm, just a small stretch to the north, on the same side of the highway). Believe it or not, Gowan’s will offer about 65 different apples [… read more …]

Daytripping Mendocino Wine Country's Anderson Valley: Toulouse, Navarro and Roederer

The welcoming sign for Toulouse Vineyards, Anderson Valley.

The welcoming sign for Toulouse Vineyards, Anderson Valley.

I’d spent most of the spring stockpiling some quality Napa Cabernets, taking advantage of the lauded 2007 vintage. But while these big reds gain some age and finesse, I needed a mixed case of white wine and sparkling wine to provide some relief from the summer heat. I suspect that the weather here in the Napa Valley could become very serious in the near future, and while most of June has been relatively cool by Napa standards, the end of the month did deliver a more realistic taste of summer, and July temperatures may soar. I certainly didn’t want to be caught drinking the few Chardonnays that I keep on hand. I rarely turn to Chardonnay as it is. Instead, I was looking for some crisp, fruit-forward wines at reasonable prices: Wines that were killer for quaffing, but that didn’t [… read more …]

Day Tripping the North Coast: Mendocino and Sonoma in Photos

Vineyard in repose, Mendocino County.

You can say what you want about Napa. I happen to live there. But for me, Mendocino County is Northern California’s true paradise. I spent the better part of the day in the Anderson Valley today, driving past dozens of miles of vineyards that have all slipped into fall colors. All of Mendocino County looked like the photo above, at least along the winding curves of Highway 128. Outside of wine country, the landscape is dominated by moss, ferns, redwoods and oaks. In the winter, every shade of green is on display.

• • •

Late-harvest Zin…

…or a fruitless vintage?

I noticed one vineyard, located just inside the eastern edge of Sonoma County, that still had its grapes. It looked like a Zinfandel vineyard, and I wondered if it was designated for a late harvest, or if the [… read more …]

Wine Tasting Notes, 2008: Toulouse Vineyards, Mendocino

toulouse

A road trip to Mendocino this week provided an easy to excuse to visit Toulouse Vineyards, which has quickly become my favorite winery in the area. Luckily for me, I happened to catch Toulouse at a great time — just a few days before a new vintage was slated to be released (although these wines were still available for tasting and purchase). I had last visited Toulouse in late March, and I found their wines to be the model of consistency. For me, Toulouse captured the very soul of winemaking: small, artisanal, exquisite. Even their rosé was delicious.

Vern Boltz makes the wine over at Toulouse, and he also puts the labels on the bottles, which happened to be his enterprise during my most recent visit. The winery — even by the quaint standards of Mendocino — is a boutique operation, so the case production [… read more …]

Book Review: “Matt Kramer’s New California Wine”

mattkramer

A longtime contributor to Wine Spectator magazine, Matt Kramer represents the contingent of wine drinkers who eschews overly-alcoholic wines in favor of those with subtlety and nuance. Among wine critics, Kramer seems to be in the minority in this aspect, but those of us who share his tastes can take umbrage in the fact that Kramer is an outstanding, knowledgeable wine journalist. His book “Matt Kramer’s New California Wine” underscores this notion, and is an indispensible guide to the dizzying California wine landscape.

Kramer begins his book with a thoughtful introduction to California’s short history of serious wine production, including an insightful essay about the ever-changing approach of grape growing and winemaking. With origins rooted in the effort to maximize vineyard yield, California has slowly shed its farmer’s mentality and has begun to place quality ahead of quantity. Kramer touches upon the early contributions of UC Davis professors Amerine [… read more …]