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Barolo: King of Italy

Barolo: King of Italy

Nestled in the picturesque Langhe hills of northwest Italy lies one of the world’s greatest wine regions, Barolo. We spent a few days in June touring through this part of the wine world and found some of the most beautiful vineyards we have ever seen.…

El Dorado: Their’s gold in them there wines

El Dorado: Their’s gold in them there wines

Once a booming industry around the turn of the century, El Dorado wine had essentially disappeared following prohibition and the end of the gold rush. Growers re-discovered this region located at the ascent of the foothills in the 1970’s and El Dorado County is once…

Calaveras County Wine and Frog Jumping

Calaveras County Wine and Frog Jumping

Mark Twain made Calaveras County famous in his story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”. You can still find frogs in every shape and size but when it comes to wine, you will be hard pressed to find a toad. Calaveras County is home to over 30 wineries mainly centered near the historic town of Murphys. The town resembles the set of a John Wayne western although we just can’t picture the Duke muscling up to the tasting bar and asking for a lightly oaked chardonnay.

Calaveras County sits south of El Dorado and Amador Counties and is one of the southern most appellations in the Sierra Foothills. Much like the rest of the foothills, we found a certain “terrior” in the wines we liken to a spicy bramble of exotic herb and ripe blackberries, a very compelling combination.

As you pass through the town of Mokelumne Hill on your way to Murphys be sure to stop by the French Hill Winery. The winery expresses itself through small scale production of high-quality wines. They bottle several varietals that are all good but the barbera and chardonnay were especially delicious.

Once you reach Murphys, be prepared for serious wine tasting. Within a few mile radius, you can taste wine from several of Calaveras’ other wineries. For a complete experience, you may want to take advantage of one of Murphys’ several bed and breakfasts, RV parks or local inns. The downtown Alchemy Market and Deli and wine bar makes a great sandwich if the wine tasting sparks your appetite.

Ironstone Vineyard is the largest producer in Calaveras County and the winery itself takes you back in time to the gold era with it’s mining displays, museum and a 400 pound nugget of crystalline gold leaf which is the largest sample ever found in California. They produce a large selection of wines to choose from ranging from robust to delicate. They also offer a great summer concert series including artists from Michael McDonald to Willie Nelson. Check their web site at www.IronStoneVineyards.com for schedules.

Stevenot winery is the oldest of the current wineries in the region beginning production in 1973. While they have a tasting room downtown, the winery is located in a beautiful bowl-shaped canyon two miles down a narrow road next door to Mercer Caverns. It is well worth the short drive.  Veteran winemaker, Chuck Hovey, creates a Tempranillo (the same grape used in the best Spanish Rioja) that will make you say ole! Don’t blame us if after a few glasses you find yourself wanting to run with the bulls in Pamplona. Milliaire Winery, Malvadino Vineyards and Black Sheep Winery all located in downtown Murphys are small, family run operations that produce wonderfully extracted wines without hiding the varietal characteristics of the grapes by over oaking. You can find more information on all the wineries and directions at www.calaveraswines.org.

Ordering Wine: How to Look Cool

Ordering Wine: How to Look Cool

If you’re like most people, you are handed a nice leather-bound restaurant wine list and panic begins to set in as you try to choose what to order. Following a few simple rules can have you ordering wine like a pro and is sure to…

Pulling the Cork from Wine Ratings

Pulling the Cork from Wine Ratings

Whenever you shop for wine, you will find some with “shelf ticklers”, a tag with a numerical rating, given by a prominent wine publication. This number is often accompanied with colorful tasting notes telling you what you can expect when you buy the wine. Retailers…

Wine Faults can Stink

Wine Faults can Stink

The table is set. Your guests have arrived to enjoy the meal you have been preparing for hours and you spent half a day choosing the perfect wines to go with your masterpiece dinner. You lovingly open the bottle and pour the first round into your fine crystal stemware and as you take the first sniff… PHEW! This wine stinks! You have just experienced the world of “wine faults”.

There are several things that can go wrong with the winemaking process that will ruin the wine in the bottle. These faults can be caused from errors in production from such mistakes as choosing the wrong yeast strain, adding too much sulfur dioxide to the grape must or simply poor sanitation practices in the winery. Commercial wineries rarely make these mistakes and doing so would quickly reduce the winery to bankrupt status.

This being said, there are still plenty of things that can still go wrong with wine. Cork taint is by far the most common fault encountered in any wine.

Wine corks are made from the bark of the cork oak trees prevalent in the forest of Portugal and other European countries. It is believed that when the corks are bleached to give them the light color, we are accustomed to, mold on some of the bark interacts with the bleaching solution creating a chemical called tyrene or trichloroanisole. When tyrene contacts the wine, smells of wet cardboard or moldy hay will overpower any aroma the wine had to offer. While the wine will not necessarily hurt you to drink, don’t! Replace the cork and return it for a new bottle. It is estimated that 2-5% of all wine sealed with a natural cork is affected

Oxidation is a problem that we find far too often in restaurants that sell wine by the glass. Once a wine has been opened there is no way to stop the oxidation process although it can be slowed by the addition of inert gas or vacuum sealing. Our favorite products are Private Preserve gas and the Vacu-Vin system. These will keep the wine fresh for an extra day or so but not forever. Many restaurants don’t like to throw wine away and will pour wine from bottles that have been open for too long. These wines take on a sherry like odor from the production of acetaldehyde and can be quite rotten. If the waiter is not willing to open a new bottle and replace your glass, it is time to change restaurants.

Wine terminology contains many lovely words for off odors found in wine. Horse blanket, wet dog and skunk are odors associated with harmless (but nasty smelling) bacteria introduced somewhere in the winemaking process. This is a problem that affects entire lots of wine so simply getting a new bottle will not usually make a difference.

While every wine fault can be prevented, be choosy and follow the philosophy that life is too short to drink stinky wine!

Nothing Sheepish About Carneros

Nothing Sheepish About Carneros

Twenty years ago, a drive up Highway 12 from I-80 to Sonoma would have offered rolling hills covered with grass and an occasional herd of cattle grazing on a hillside. We have driven this path scores of times visiting family in the Sonoma valley and…

Austria – A New Taste of an Old Wine Region

Austria – A New Taste of an Old Wine Region

If you think that Austria is about Mozart, Strauss, the Sound of Music and Arnold Schwarzenegger you are missing out on one of wines best-kept secrets. Austria produces less than one percent of the worlds wine but most who taste it believe it to be…

You say Syrah, I’ll say Shiraz

You say Syrah, I’ll say Shiraz

While in the mall Christmas shopping, we were struck with a few humorous memories.  Remember the beanbag chairs of the 70’s? Those brightly colored stuffed bags of fluff found in everyone’s family room are back bigger and fluffier than ever. Or how about those cheesy white wines that were labeled so importantly, “California Chablis”, but were sheer shams of a true chardonnay. Its funny how trends come and go and the question of “what’s new” often precedes “what’s good”. Fortunately, one of the recent trends in the wine world is both new and good!

Syrah lovers already know what wine drinkers around the world are discovering, syrah is an easy drinking food friendly variety that is hard not to like. Unlike many popular red varieties such as cabernet sauvignon and merlot, syrah adapts well to many different growing climates expressing itself differently in each region.  Properly cultivated, syrah produces wines ranging from full-blown fruit bombs to elegant and complex wines that each time you raise your glass there is something new to be discovered.

Indigenous to the Rhone Valley of southern France, syrah is one of the noble black varieties of the vitis vinifera family of wine grapes. In the northern Rhone, syrah produces some of the most sought-after wines on the planet. The greatest wines from Cote Rotie and Hermitage are made almost exclusively with syrah and come from select vineyards.  These wines are the benchmark for the variety that others aspire to offering complexity and aging potential not easily reproduced.

Australia is leading the charge for syrah in the new world. Here the grape is known as shiraz as it was once believed that the vines originated in the Persian region around the city of Shiraz. The best Australian shiraz are blends from several regions, vineyards and even vintages selected by the winemaker as the best of the best to be included in top wines such as Penfolds Grange. They offer an assertive wine full of blackberry jam, smoke and vanilla.

California syrah falls somewhere in between France and Australia regarding flavor and aroma profiles due to the many diverse growing climates the state contains. California wine growers are making exciting discoveries with syrah as they find the best locations for the grape to thrive and how to best manage the vineyards for each region. Berries, black fruit, pepper, smoke, vanilla and floral notes are typical in the best California syrah.

The central coast area of Paso Robles is fast becoming California’s syrah hotspot. Here, natural climatic conditions lend themselves to syrah’s success as evening ocean breezes permeate the region replacing the day’s heat helping the grapes to retain their acidity while still ripening fully. Paso Robles syrah is a harmonious, elegant blend of fruit and spice offering the wine lover new pleasures with each sip. Now the fourth most planted variety in the region, syrah is elevating this appellation to new heights in their already great reputation.

Be careful not to spill your wine when you slip into your new beanbag.

Not Seeing the Forest for the Wine

Not Seeing the Forest for the Wine

We recently tasted several California chardonnays and while most were pleasant to drink, some gave us the impression that we were chewing on an oak stump. This may be a desirable thing if you are a beaver; but we found the oak overpowered any fruit…