Author: Colleen

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.…

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…

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 impress your dinner companions.

If the restaurant has a sommelier (Soh-mell-yay), the proper name for a wine steward, ask them to guide you through choosing an appropriate wine for your meal. A good sommelier will know which wines on their list pair well with their menu items. If not, ask the waiter what they recommend. Even if the extent of their knowledge is that they have white and red wine, they should know what is popular. If this fails, you may wish to look somewhere in the middle of the wine list price range and select a variety that you like. If you’re still confused, a safe bet is cabernet sauvignon or merlot for a hearty red and chardonnay for a white.

Tell the waiter with a confident tone, “I think we’ll have a bottle of the Chateau Medium Priced”.

Now that you have ordered the wine the real fun begins. You are ready to show the waiter and your guests that you know wine! When the waiter brings you the bottle he/she should hold it for you to inspect the label. Make sure that it is the wine you ordered.

The waiter will then open the bottle and may hand you the cork. Many people think this is the point you should smell the cork. They are wrong! The only thing a cork smells like is cork and will not give you a clue to what is in the bottle. Set the cork on the table and forget it.

Let the waiter pour you a small sample that you should hold at a 45-degree angle and inspect the wine for clarity. Ponder the wine for several seconds while looking intently at the wine against the tablecloth. Even if you don’t know what you’re looking at, it will impress everyone!

Next, swirl the glass for about three seconds and take a really good sniff of the wine. If the wine smells “fruity” you can taste the wine and nod for the waiter to pour it for the table. If the wine smells of moldy hay or wet cardboard, send it back. The wine has what is known as cork taint and even the best wines can be affected. Cork taint affects approximately three percent of all wines and is a valid reason for asking for another bottle. Most restaurants will gladly exchange the bottle since they can always send it back to the distributor.

You now have the basic tools you need to stand up to any waiter and show the world that you will not be intimidated by a 40-pound wine list.

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…

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…

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…

A New Year, a New Wine

A New Year, a New Wine

Happy New Year! New technology has made it possible for even the smallest winery to eliminate much of the guesswork of wine making and the results show in the finished product. The downside to technology is that many wines are loosing some of their varietal…

Oregon Pinot: Oh Yes

Oregon Pinot: Oh Yes

Oregon has made a name for itself for its world class wine. Oregon produces some of the best pinot noir and pinot gris in the world and has become one of the standards that the pinot pair is judged by. Situated close to the same latitudinal lines and sharing similar climate to Burgundy, France, its no accident that Oregon wines exemplify the best the finicky and difficult pinot noir has to offer.

There is no shortage of wine varieties being grown in Oregon but for now it’s the pinot that tops our list of the best the state has to offer. Both pinot noir and pinot gris beg to be paired with food. Pinot noir, loaded with aromas and tastes of cherry, raspberry and a touch of mineral and leather would be great with a roasted rosemary and garlic chicken.  Pinot Gris, with its delicate stone fruit, pear, and nutty fragrance is a perfect accompaniment to Salmon served with a sweet and sour onion confit. Both wines offer the wine drinker pleasure from the first sniff to the last taste.

A winery that demonstrates this relationship between food and wine is the King Estate Winery located just 40 miles south of Eugene. The estate, which sits atop a hillside surrounded by beautifully tended vineyards, reminds us of a European chateau. Pinot is king in Oregon and the King Estate winery is the leader for great wines that will not make your wallet thinner than a Hollywood actress. Their wines are widely available. They have a comprehensive culinary program and a staff that is always looking for great new food matches to pair with their wines. They publish both a pinot noir and a pinot gris cookbook with fantastic recipes that bring out the best characteristics of each varietal. 

King Estate Winery was founded by the King family in 1979. They started with a vision of making the best wine possible and spared no expense in making this happen.

King Estate has been practicing organic farming practices since their beginning and is one of the largest organically farmed wineries in the country. It has now become fashionable to be “organic” and the King Estate planned ahead and built a world class composting program that converts all the waste from the winemaking process into fertile mulch that is spread over the vineyards eliminating the need for chemical fertilizers.

Loraine nursery, owned by the King Estate and located at the winery grows and develops vineyard stock not only for themselves but also for vineyard owners around the country looking to match the quality of Oregon’s best.

Oregon is a wine lover’s paradise with the only sadness created by the fact that most wineries are small and their availability is scarce outside the region and the wines can be a bit pricey. The state has been blessed with several great vintages between 1998-2002 and so far 2003 is looking very good.

Zinfandel: More Than You Think

Zinfandel: More Than You Think

Many Americans know zinfandel as a blush colored slightly sweet wine that is easy to drink and appeals to many young wine drinkers. The story of zinfandel goes much deeper and has a rich history as one of this country’s most important wine grapes. Zinfandel…