Provence. Cassis and Bandol. Chapter 1

You may be familiar with Bordeaux, Champagne and Burgundy but, have you heard of Cassis?  Not many people know that Cassis was the first Appellation D’Origine Contrôlée in France.  So, it is only fair that we begin our adventure in Provence, in Cassis.  We stayed in a cute farm-house surrounded by vineyands, in the valley between the Medieval towns of Le Castellet and La Cadiere d’ Azure.  Our friends, Kim and Todd found the house on VRBO.  It is in the heart of Bandol and the perfect location for our base of operation.

Le Castellet

Le Castellet

 

 

 

Cassis Harbor

Cassis Harbor

 

 

Cassis is located on the French Riviera.  It has some nice beaches and it  is  surrounded by cliffs known as the Calanques.  The Calanques provide spectacular views of private beaches only accessible by boat.

Calanques

Calanques

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wines of Cassis

The red and rosé wines are Grenache based blends, with Syrah and Cinsault.  The white wines are a blend of Ugni Blanc, Clairette, Marsanne and Rollé.

Domaine du Bagnol.  White wine: Marsanne, Clairette and Ugni Blanc, aged in stainless steel.  This one reminded me of a Sauvignon Blanc from Cuvasion, Napa Valley.  The rosé is 48% Grenache, 34% Mourvedra and 18% Cinsault.  Domaine Bangol produces 100,000 bottles per year.  Our next stop was Domaine du Paternel.

Domaine du Paternel produces approximately 450,000 bottles per year.  They produce a GSM + Cinsault and Rollé aged in stainless steel.  Their Blanc de blanc is a blend of Clairette, Marsanne, and Ugni Blanc.  Their red is a blend of Grenache and Mourvedra aged for one year in oak.  Our final stop of the day was at Le Moulin de la Roque.

Moulin de la Roque was established in 1950 and it is located in the AOC of Bandol.  They produce 1.3 million bottles per year.  They are a co-op of different vineyard owners.  They bottle under five different labels to showcase their five different terriors.   In the Bandol AOC, the red and rosé wines has to be a minimum of 50% Mourvedra.  The Blanc is made of Ugni Blanc and Clairette.  The rosé is Mourvedra, Grenache and Cinsault.  The red is 90% Mourvedra, 10% Carignan.  They have a second blend of 95% Mourvedra and 5% Carignan.  I found the Mourvedra in this region to have a lot of minerality , lite fruit hints and tannins from the mid pallet to a short finish.  Our host was Tim, was kind enough to give us a tour of their facility.

Moulin de la Roque

Moulin de la Roque

We ended the day with fine dining at a Michelin Star restaurant Todd found.  Le Goguette is located in the Medieval town of Le Castellet.  Dinner was superb.  Wine with dinner was Domaine Richaud ,Cairanne 2015.  A well balanced blend of Claret, Bourboulenc, Roussane, Vigonier and Marsanne.  The red was from La Sagesse.  A blend of 95% Grenache and 5% Syrah.  I highly recommend Le Goguette and Domaine Richaud’s Cairanne 2015.  Perfect paring.

Carrot puree with lemon vinegar. Artichoke with mushroom and carrot puree. Fras Gras with strawberries and basil. poisson of snapper. Chocolate cake with ginger ice cream.

Carrot puree with lemon vinegar. Artichoke with mushroom and carrot puree. Fras Gras with strawberries and basil. poisson of snapper. Chocolate cake with ginger ice cream.

Au Revoir for now.

Silverado Trail Challenge 2017

Last year I had high hopes of visiting half of the wineries  on the Silverado Trail in Napa Valley.  Unfortunately, that lofty  goal was not realized….not even close. But, 2017 is a new year and an early start. The rest of the our group had prior plans and could not start the wine adventure just yet.  I am sure they will join me on the next excursion. So, I grabbed a couple of friends that never say no, we all need friends like that. And we headed up to Napa Valley.  Our first stop was Judd’s Hill.

Judd"s Hill

Judd”s Hill

Judd's Hill

Judd’s Hill

 

Judd’s Hill is by appointment only so, call ahead.  We didn’t know that when we arrived.  We were met by a staff member who politely told us they were by appointment and they did not have an opening until 3 pm.  A current release tasting is $25 and a Reserve tasting is $45.   It was 1 pm when we arrived.  He then offered to pour for us on the patio.  Fortunately for us, there was a break in the weather and it was a beautiful day.  A little chilly but beautiful non the less.  We accepted his kind offer and sat down by an outdoor heater.  His polite kindness and the quality of their wine would earn them a new wine club member.  The first wine he poured was their 2013  Reserve Chardonnay.  I have to admit that I am not a big Chardonnay fan but this one was exceptional.  It was fruit forward and not buttery.  It had aromas of citrus and pear, and was lightly oaken.  At $50 it is an expensive Chardonnay.  The price point reflexes how unique this Chardonnay is.  The next one was their 2009 Meritage.  The Meritage is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cab Franc, Petite Verdot.  Black cherry jam notes on the front, light oak, and a hint of vanilla on the finish.  Also $50.   2012 Syrah.  Well balanced acids and tannin’s with notes of Blackberry, jam and tobacco. $42.

We were treated to an additional tasting of their 2013 ZSM.  If you like a well balanced, complex and layered wine, with dark berry fruit,  and balanced tannins, You will love this one.  It had to come home with me.  $40.   2011 Founder’s Art Reserve Cabernet.  I found it to be a complex and full bodied wines.  Well balanced with notes of dark berry fruit.  $85.  I have to admit, I enjoyed every wine we tasted.  Which is very unusual and a credit to the quality of wine being made at Judd’s Hill.  The price points are in the range of  wines in Napa Valley.  These wines are exceptional and I look forward to another tasting flight.

Regusci Winery

Regusci Winery

 

Next up, Regusci Winery.  Well, you would have thought we would have learned from our experience at Judd’s Hill, to call ahead.  Regusci Winery is also by appointment.  Lucky for us, they were also gracious enough to accommodate us.  The tasting room has a great vib and it was an enjoyable experience tasting there.  The first wine on the list was the 2013 Merlot.  Black berrry and black cherry on the tongue with notes of tobacco and chocolate.  Full bodied and well balanced. $55.  2013 Syrah.  Full bodied, well-balanced with black berry fruit and smooth finish.  $60.  The Elder’s 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon.  Full body,  Black berry fruit with notes of vanilla, typical tannin structure and spice on the finish. $65.  2013 Patriarch. The Patriarch is a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  I experienced aromas of red fruit, charred oak, smoke and coffee.  On the palate you may experience red fruit, leather and vanilla. $90.  Angelo’s  2012 Cabernet Sauvignon.  This is a big full-bodied Cab with bold dark fruit and tannin’s.  $140.  The wines were enjoyable but, the price points were a little more than what I would feel comfortable paying.

Regusci Winery

Regusci Winery

 

All in all, not a bad start for 2017.  Stay tuned for the next stop on the trail.

Salute

 

 

Arizona…Not Forgotten

It’s been a while, ok it was August, since Troya and I visited Arizona. I know, that was my first thought too, AZ in Aug, that’s not very smart. But off we when to Sedona for a little well deserved relaxation and time together. I have been to Phoenix several times and I have to admit that my impression of the state was influenced by what you see in and around Phoenix. I had seen pictures of other parts of the state, most notably Sedona, but in my mind AZ had heat, Saguaro’s and, well, heat. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised on several levels.

First of all driving up to Sedona from PHX airport is a trip I recommend. You get a real feeling of how not all desert is the same and you can definitely tell when you are in different parts of the state. Then, when you get to the Sedona area and see all the red

rock mountains rising up from the desert floor you know right away why this is considered a special, and for many people a spiritual, place. The resort we stayed at, L’Auberge de Sedona , was an incredible place with individual cabins overlooking a brook with running water and surrounded by tree’s and greenery, yes all this in AZ in IMG_20140807_174748726Aug. Can’t find that in California in August. Each cabin had its own deck and outside shower, Troya’s favorite part.  While it was hot, mid to upper 90’s, it never felt uncomfortable or limited us in doing anything (it’s a dry heat, right). Not only did not I expect our resort to be right on the brook, with an outdoor eating and imagelounge right on the banks, but I also did not expect water (outside of needing more while poolside) to play a major theme for the whole trip, from our afternoon picnic and wine sitting on the shores to a slow water river rafting trip with Verde Adventures. They also offer Wine tasting tours. What, you say, wine and rivers in Arizona?

And this brings us to the second big surprise of the trip. I knew that some people were making wine in Arizona but I have to IMG_20140808_140434903admit that I imagined it as roadside swill with little character. With the smile that comes with humble pie I can say that they are doing some truly amazing stuff with their wines. To appreciate AZ wine you will have to put aside your pre-conceived notion of what Arizona is and what it is not. Yes, Phoenix is Phoenix and I will not try to change that perception, but not one is growing grapes in Phoenix and not all of AZ is the valley of the sun. The state actually IMG_20140808_152429759_HDRhas many different climates and soils, all the ingredients for terrior. And while wine has been made in the state for many years at this time the big production wineries have been slow to take advantage. That means that the wines you do find here are generally smaller production with all the good and bad that comes from that. We spent our “wine tasting” time in the Cottonwood and Jerome area of the Verde Valley Wine Region. We did find some pretty bad wine, but IMG_20140808_153428243_HDRwe also found some really amazing wine with more flavor, layers and character then I would have ever expected. Caduceus Cellars really stood out with some amazing Rosé and one of the best Sangiovese’s  I have tasted. The highlight of the day was spending time at Passion Cellars IMG_20140808_161608651_HDRand getting to meet Cody Burkett, aka The Wine Monk. Passionate and entertaining, he was able to give a very concise overview on the history and business of Arizona wine. It’s a budding industry there but do not be surprised if they start making some noise and giving Cali a run.

#WBC14 in the rear view mirror

IMG_20140711_110805016Well the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Barbara is behind us and here are my thoughts on the conference itself and the region we got to visit. I would not call myself a conference veteran but Troya and I did go to the 2013 WBC so I knew what to expect. This was Brax and Hills first time though so I will be interested to hear their thoughts. The concept is to bring like-minded people, wine bloggers in this case, together in a wine-producing region to network with each other, network with the wineries in the area and learn about their chosen craft or hobby in a way that otherwise would not be possible. Oh, and we get to drink a lot of wine too.

This year’s visiting country was Portugal. I have been intrigued by this area of the world for a while now so I was excited to taste some of their wines, both with food and in a traditional tasting setting. I was very impressed with the wines themselves and how they paired with a number of foods. While they have a long history of wine making they are just recently being recognized by the wine drinking world. Last year Uruguay was the featured country and we were equally impressed. Now I have another on my “must visit” list.

Maybe it was just because it was my first time but last year I was a little more impressed IMG_20140711_173430069_HDRwith the break-out sessions. Some of the themes were similar and all of the information was relevant but I thought last year the information was just a little more directed to the world of blogging. We did have a writing critique break-out (sorry if no one notices any improvement here) and while the information was very valuable with regard to writing in general, and writing to an audience, writing a blog is a very different style then print or formal publications so not all of their advice and recommendations were transferable.  It’s a little like having a ballet professional judge a hip hop contest. We did get to taste some great wine, not just from Santa Barbara County and Portugal but also from Greece, Chile, Italy and France. Yeh, I know, tough job huh. Unfortunately, unlike last year when they did a great job of show-casing the beauty of the BC area, this time it felt like we spent a lot of time in tents.

IMG_20140711_173327859We have wanted to get down to the Santa Barbara area to do some tasting for a while now buts it’s just so hard to drive past Paso without stopping. This was a good excuse to get to know the region and its people. Santa Barbara County has 5 official AVA’s and have over 200 wineries. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah are the big players here but they grow more than 50 varietals. We got to view a press release for a podcast done by Vintage 2014 called “dirt don’t lie” that follows the regions growers and wine through the 2014 season. Very well done and more informative than I could ever be so if you want the real low down on the area it is available on iTunes. Bottom line is this seems like a rather close knit group of wine makers that do a great job on their own but also collaborate a lot to produce some very distinctive and pleasing wine. I was able to enjoy several very good wines produced here but for me the wine maker that stood out was Blair Fox. He is the wine maker for Fess Parker but also has his own label. He was pouring a Syrah at one of our events that made me walk away from the crowd so I could enjoy it alone. That good.  I am looking forward to a return trip to the region and will especially look into more of the Syrah’s since I was not able to taste very many on this trip.

The highlight of the weekend was meeting and getting to know a bunch of new people IMG_20140711_175000370and leaning about the latest and greatest in the world of wine. We got to spend a lot of time with Denelle who works for Vital Vessels, a company that produces “eggs” for wine and spirit production. A very cool concept, similar to concrete, but these are ceramic so they breathe a bit better and their shape allows an internal current to keep the product at a constant cool temperature. This process allows the wine to mature with very little interruption and the end result is a very smooth and flavor full wine. The idea of making wine in an “egg” shaped vessel has been around for a long time but has recently revived (what’s old is new again).  If you have not already, I am sure you will come across a winery that is using this process soon (inside tip: Vital Vessels also makes a small-sized egg that is perfect for some viticulture at home). We were also introduced to Wine4.me and Quini, two mobile aps for wine drinkers that might succeed where the some of the others have failed. Wine4.me uses analytics (like the baseball teams) to help identify wine you might like after you enter some data on wines you already know you like and why. It’s meant for those that just want to be told what to get with a certain meal instead of guessing or relying on someone who does not know them at all. Quini is a tasting notes aps that is touch screen based and very user-friendly. You can quickly produce a note on a specific wine and then see what your personal ranking of that wine is. You can also put in your own personal notes if you have something specific to say and also see how others are ranking same wine. All of the information is stored on a cloud so you can access your notes from any web-based device to help you recall a wine or pair a wine with a specific meal. While only available on the iphone platform right, it should be available for droid devices soon. With a few updates they are working on this might be enough of an ap to make me stop thinking about creating my own.

All in all it was a great weekend and a great introduction to the Santa Barbara County wine region. We will definitely be back, even if we do have to pass up on Paso Robles to get there. I am looking forward to tasting more of the wines from the area and specifically tasting more from Blair Fox. Cheers!

Sonoma Getaway

Domaine Carneros

Domaine Carneros

I found a Sonoma getaway on Groupon and booked the date.  With great anticipation,  Hill and I loaded up the Monsters and headed up to Sonoma to experience their wines and hospitality.  We stayed at the dog friendly Best Western Plus Sonoma Valley Inn.  It was an above average room located within walking distance of the town square.  There was a dog park and walking trail right off of 1st St. W., also within walking distance.  You can spend the whole day at the tasting rooms just off the square.  We found one of our favorites from Healdsburg had opened a tasting room of the square.  MacLaren Tasting Lounge has some of the best Syrahs I have tasted.

On the drive up to Sonoma from the bay area our first stop was at Domaine Carneros.  Hill loves the bu20140223_125007bbly and Domaine Carneros was a recommended stop.  I enjoyed the Brut rose. It was fruity, flora with a hint of tangerine on the finish.

We left Domaine Carneros and drove across the street to Cuvaison.  What an unexpected surprise. Our Pour Guild was Pina, Patty, and Paul.  They were awesome. Very attentive, knowledgeable, Personable.  I learned a lot about Cuvaison wines from them and from tasting.  Their 2011 Kite Tail Chardonnay has aromas of citrus, popcorn and butter, with mineral, lite fruit and floral notes on the tongue.  The 2012 Estate Pinot Noir was floral on the nose, with raspberry, strawberry and a little spice on the tongue.  Tannins and acidity balanced remarkably. One of my favorites.  The 2011 Brandlin Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is 85% Cab, 9% Petite Verdot, 6% Cab Franc.  It has good legs, nice black cherr20140223_141017y color and lots of dark fruit on the tongue.  It is well balanced with hints of caramel and toffee. 2011 Estate Syrah has long legs and deep dark color.  It is smokey, peppery with hints of bacon and black cherry and supportive tannins.  2010 Estate Merlot is 86% melot, 14% cab.  Jalapeno pepper on the nose and palate, long legs, dark color.  Smooth and silky.  The Noblesse Desert Wine has a nose of apricot and Meyers lemons.  It is not overly sweet with a lite lemon finish. The price points for Cuvaison are right on. I enjoyed all of their wines and Cuvaison is now on our “To Join” wine club list.

We said goodbye to our new friends at Cuvaison and headed to one of favorites, Patz and Hall.  They have just opened a beautiful tasting room in Sonoma.  We were greeted by Ross who made us feel at home and set us up with a bowl of those delicious truffle oil almonds.  We started with the 2011 Hyde Vineyard Carneros.  It has aromas of orange and white flowers and a palate of crisp acidity and minerality. Lite oak and spice on the finish. $58.  2011 Zio Tony Ranch, Russian River Valley Chardonnay has aromas of citrus and green apples.  On the palate it is well balanced with acidity and minerality with a hint of butter and oak on the finish.  $60.

 

Schug Winery

Schug Winery

Day Two

After taking the doggies for a walk, we headed to Schug Winery.  Schug Winery is a 50,000 case producer.  The winemaker, Walter Schug, is a 3rd generation wine maker.  His life story, growing up in Germany and emigrating to the US, is very interesting.  We started with the 2012 Chardonnay Carneros.  It was well balanced with a lite butter finish.  The 2011 Pinot Noir Carneros is their Flagship.  I found it to be fruit forward and lite tannins. Price points for both wines is acceptable. The 2011 Pinot Noir, Carneros ”Schug Estate” was quite nice.  I found it to be smokey, dark fruit notes, well balanced acidity and tannins.  The 2010 Cabernet Franc is 70% Cab Franc, 25% Cab Sav. On the palate it was a little dry with dark berry fruit.  2012 Late Harvest Riesling has aromas of honey suckle and bees wax.  It is sweet but not over the top with notes of apricot and honey. Its also lite on the tongue and not syrupy.  Price point a little high for the smaller size bottle.  The 2010 Rouge De Noirs, Carneros, Sparkling Pinot Noir was a nice surprise.  It reminded me of a bubbly version of the 2011 Pinot Noir Carneros with a little more character.  I enjoyed all their wines and I think it id definitely worth a visit.  Schug also has a self guided tour of the Estate which provides some really nice views.  Gloria Ferrer was our next stop.  Gloria Ferrer has a nice 2010 Brut rose that reminds me of citrus and raspberries.  The 2008 Jose Ferrer Pinot Noir was my favorite.  Its long legs and ruby color hinted of the complexity of the tannins and the flavors of raspberry and cherry.  At $42 a bottle I could not resist.

20140224_131928

We headed back to town to continue tasting on the town square.  We wondered into Walt and it was a great find.  Walt features Chardonnaya and Pinot Noir.  Heaven….  Jerry was great.  I felt like we were old friends hanging out at a barbeque.  The 2012 “Blue Jay” Anderson Valley Pinot Noir is a four vineyard blend.  It has a nice lite color, good legs and blue fruit, black cherry is smooth and easy on the palate.  We did a side by side comparison of the “Blue Jay”, “Hein Family” and “Savoy”.  The “Hein Family” vineyard is located closer to the coast.  It gets less sun and cooler temperatures.  The “Savoy” is mid-valley and has the best qualities of “Hein Family” and “Blue Jay”, which is the furthest from the coast.  “Savoy” was definitely my favorite but out of my price range at $60. I enjoyed all the wines at Walt and are my recommended stop in Sonoma. Jerry suggested we stop by MacLaren Tasting Lounge.  I remembered visiting him when he was pouring at Talty Winery in Healdsburg.  By the time we got to MacLaren, they were closing up but, they were willing to pour for us.  So, they unpacked the bottles and we got to taste some really good syrahs.  We were poured four wines; 2010 Judge Family Vineyard, Bennet Valley, 2010 Drouthy Neebor, Sonoma County, 2009 Drouthy Neebor, Sonoma County and the 2010 Samantha’s Vineyard, Russian River.  My favorite was the 2009 Drouthy Neebor.  It had a big fruity nose and was well balanced.  And, the price points are reasonable.

Sonoma was a really nice wine tasting experience.  Everyone we met was really nice, engaging and more than willing to carry a conversation and joke with us.  Can’t wait to go back.