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Wine Tasting

Wine of the Week: 2011 Dragonette Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, Vogelzang Vineyard, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, CA

The Santa Barbara area is known best for its pinot noir (thanks “Sideways”) and Dragonette Cellars is no exception. The formerly Lompoc based winery with one of the more handsome Los Olivos tasting rooms you’ll find frequently hits the headlines for its pinot noir.

Dragonette’s 2011 Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir was indeed a stellar representation of the differences between Central Coast pinot noir compared to Oregon and the Sonoma Coast. Down south, you’ll find much more in the way of dramatic and sharp tannins, stone fruits, spice, and dried herbs, compared to the plush structure and berry mixed with earth palate elements of the Pacific Northwest.

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Even better is the unique 2011 “Black Label” Pinot Noir from a quartet of Santa Rita Hills vineyards. The very cool growing season for this vintage yielded a much lighter, almost blush colored wine that not surprisingly had many more of the berry notes and tenderness of an Oregon version.

Except driving through the rolling golden hills of California, you know you’re not in the Willamette Valley. (more…)


The Ten Winning Wines From WBC 13

Earlier this week we examined the lessons brought home from last weekend’s 2013 International Wine Bloggers’ Conference in Penticton, B.C., Canada.

As with any conference, the talks and networking are of utmost importance. But, nobody leaves Cannes without watching a film or the Superhero Conference without collecting some new comic books.

This is a wine conference as much as it’s a conference for writing about wine. You can’t write about the wine without…sampling the vino of course.

Voilà, from among hundreds of tastes spanning across Canada to Uruguay and Argentina to California and Oregon to the far reaches of Greece, here are the ten winning wines from WBC 13. Some were sampled at formal meals and tastings. Others were brought out by the winemakers themselves at after-parties. Either way, you’ll notice the list has five whites and five reds. That’s not on purpose. It just happened to be a very balanced roster of wines. You’ll also notice no straight-forward chardonnay (I only sampled a few over the weekend and they never moved me) and shockingly, no ice wine (in Canada!).

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It’s a great list from a very special wine- filled conference. Cheers! (more…)


Lessons Learned From The 2013 International Wine Bloggers Conference in Penticton, B.C., Canada

It was a whirlwind weekend full of connecting, writing, talks, stand up paddleboarding and most of all, hour after hour of tasting for wine bloggers and winery representatives who descended upon Penticton, British Columbia, Canada. This was the fifth edition of the International Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC) and the first for yours truly.

Amidst the splendor of what must absolutely be one of the world’s most underrated wine tourism treasures, the Okanagan Valley, and its various lakes, an emerging wine region emerged to the global wine writing community. Who knew that Canada produced wines that don’t taste like sugar (or maple)? Well, a small part of the wine community did and bravo to them for choosing this formidable site as hosts. Next year’s conference is much more on the beaten path in “Sideways” country, also known as Buellton, California (Santa Barbara County).

Okanagan Valley from See Ya Later Ranch. Stunning.

Okanagan Valley from See Ya Later Ranch. Stunning.

With some 250 participants, plus numerous winery representatives, this was a real success in more than just trending on Twitter (not sure why this was a goal, but it was, and they succeeded in it).

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Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the real details from the WBC: the ten wines that really struck me as vital for everyone to know about. In the mean time, here are the crucial lessons I took back with me south of the border from WBC 13. Perhaps they might be worthwhile for you to learn as well! (more…)


Liquid Farm, 2011 “Golden Slope” Chardonnay, Santa Rita Hills, CA

Poor California chardonnay has been taking a beating in recent years, sometimes deservedly so, and sometimes unfairly. If you open a bottle of chardonnay from the Golden State, you tense up and fear for the butter bomb worst. Headaches are not far ahead, as is a complete palate destroyer. You expect more butter than in a top tier Parisian croissant, mingling with absurd amounts of oak in a completely unbalanced proportion. Forget about pairing with food. These chardonnays often can’t even pair with water.

Let us not forget however that not all California chardonnay is like this. A few sips of any of the formidable chardonnays from Liquid Farm, one of the Central Coast’s young chardonnay (and rosé) voices, and you’ll be a fervent believer in no time.

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Just by the winery name you can tell that Liquid Farm means business. There’s no pastoral label evoking the rolling hills and happy cows of California. This is about the wine and good times celebrating the beauty of gorgeous grape liquid.

The current vintage of Liquid Farms’ “Golden Slope” Chardonnay is truly a golden benchmark of chardonnay production for the Golden State. You can guess which color medal it would win in the Wine Olympics. (more…)


“Wine” of the Week: Maui Blanc Gold, Maui’s Winery, Ulupalakua, Maui, HI

Proof that wine does indeed grow in all 50 states, the lone winery on Maui produces some very noteworthy wines from myriad fruits. Conveniently known as Maui’s Winery (there are also wineries on The Big Island and O’ahu), the winery itself is not so convenient for visitors. Maui’s Winery is easily a half day trip, at least an hour from Kahului, way high up in the upcountry beyond Kula. It feels like the top of the world there, or at least the island. No, there are no roads that lead from Wailea up the hill to the winery, as convenient as that would be (“Only Oprah” is allowed to use those back roads I was told at the tasting room).

It’s only convenient if you spent the morning exploring the volcano Hale’akala, but well worth the drive for more than just the novelty of drinking wine from Hawaiian terroir.

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Let’s first understand that these wines aren’t exactly going to be getting 90+ plus points from Wine Spectator. It’s a fine terroir, but there’s a reason humidity isn’t a grape’s best friend. The tropical climate and volcanic soil are excellent for many vegetables and fruits, including pineapples. That doesn’t mean pineapples age elegantly into wine like Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Pineapples do age into admirable wine, though, that is certainly worth at least trying.

For most of the 180,000 yearly visitors to Maui’s Winery, the big question is, “What will pineapple wine taste like?”

The answer is very simple: It tastes like a less sugary, more refined pineapple juice. In many ways, pineapple wine is much more pleasing because of its restrained sweetness compared to regular pineapple juice. Everything is very balanced with a beautiful guava nose leading to a semi-dry wine, teetering between fresh fruit and floral influences. Some mineral notes arrive at the close letting you know this is a thorough, full-frontal wine that is absolutely drinkable. Maybe too drinkable for those of who know how quickly well balanced Mai Tais last. (more…)


Plat du Jour Friday February 1, 2013: Taste of the NFL, What is Confit?, Sri Lankan Cuisine on Staten Island, A Few Oregon Pinot Noir Notes, and Super Bowl Reservations

It’s the eve of Super Bowl Eve in New Orleans. Do you think a few people just might be strolling down Bourbon Street right now? Care to take a guess how long the wait at the bar for a cocktail is presently at Cure? My guess is a good hour to 90 minutes.

The dinner hour is presently ending in New Orleans, unless you’re planning on beignets at Café du Monde for a late dinner/ early breakfast, or whatever a 2 am meal is considered.

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Looking ahead to prime dinner time Saturday night February 2nd, good reservations can still be found on OpenTable for parties of 2. A Mano, Coquette, Lüke (a CBD John Besh spin-off), Ralph’s on the Park, and MiLa all are excellent choices with availability. But, hurry fast. The list is impressive and extensive for those fully booked: Bayona, Cochon, Emeril’s, Herbsaint, Lilette, Pascal’s Manale, August, R’evolution, Sylvain, and Stella!. Not that that is surprising in the least. You can always gamble and try to walk into Galatoire’s…

Then again Sunday night during the Super Bowl, there is even less availability, with nearly all of these restaurants being somewhat formal and not having televisions. Are people not watching the game or are all the chefs closing so they can watch at home or attend the game? I don’t blame them.

If you’re not spending Saturday night February 2nd at Cochon or Bouligny Tavern, then certainly consider attending one of Super Bowl Week’s always special annual events: The Taste of the NFL. (more…)


Wines of the Week: Soter Vineyards, 2011 North Valley Chardonnay and 2007 Napa Valley Proprietary Red, Carlton, Oregon

Hold the glass for a moment. A wine of the week, or actually, two wines of the week, both from Oregon, and neither is a Pinot Noir? How say you?

That’s no slight on one of the Willamette Valley’s finest wineries, Soter Vineyards. I’d gladly rave about and will rave about Tony Soter’s very handsome flight of Pinot Noir.

This is a fascinating tale, however, about how a former California winemaker, turned Oregon winemaker, can teach his old state’s wine architects a thing or two about the direction California’s signature varietals should be heading.

Soter made wines as a consultant for several of the marquee names in the Napa Valley: Niebaum Coppola, Shafer, and Spottswoode to name a few, as well as the wines for his own label founded in 1982, Etude.

Tony and his wife Michelle are both Oregon natives and returned to the Pacific Northwest a decade ago, escaping the constant pressure of the Napa Valley wine culture. The Soters searched for the heart of New World Burgundy terroir, planting Pinot Noir vines on the Mineral Springs Ranch property in 2002, at the edge of Carlton in the Yamhill-Calrton AVA of the Willamette Valley. Mineral Springs is a very mellifluous,  gently sloped, free-flowing landscape, rich with healthy Keasey soil and clay that are perfect with the near constant regional precipitation. At around 400 feet elevation, high winds and severe weather are not a problem, and the vineyard is inland enough to be welcoming to non-coastal grapes, such as Chardonnay.

If the 2010 single-vineyard flagship Mineral Springs Ranch Pinot Noir is any indication, this certainly is the right terroir for exceptional Pinot Noir. (more…)