Category Archives: Cool Climate Wine

Complex wine made from fruit grown in cooler climate vineyards.

Vintage 2014 Event – A Wine and Film Pairing

VINTAGE 2014

Link:  http://vintage2014.com/

Location: The Mod – Phoenix, AZ

Event Date: Sunday, November 9, 2014

This event was underwritten by the Santa Barbara County, California producers Buttonwood Farms, Clos Pepe, Byron, Carr, Bien Nacido Vineyards and Riverbench Wineries with the film portion produced by Wil Fernandez. The cinematography was beautiful and the pieces were well edited and offered the background for these wineries from bud-break leading up to the 2014 Harvest. The story was told through the eyes of the Winemakers, Vineyard Managers, Winery Managers and Owners. Wines from several of the wineries covered in the film were tasted at the showing.

Wil captured visually the story I have been trying to tell for some time now… (see recent post: https://coolclimatewine.wordpress.com/2014/11/07/terroir-controversy/).

Estate wineries are very aware of Terroir influences and the winemakers tend to be connected closely to each individual growing season and vintage. This connection is most often just the simple enjoyment of working in and among the vineyards. These people are down-to-earth and talk of their passion for the horticulture and viticulture associated with nurturing the vines. It is the marketing hype and food service functions that add the high-brow approach to the wine experience. If you enjoy the culture of wine, I would highly recommend attending one of these events to visually capture the winegrowing experience! If you contact Wil, I am sure he can provide information regarding future showings.

You can reach the film maker Wil at: me@wilfernandez.com.

FLIGHT 1 – WHITE WINES (2 NOTES)

 Nice SB and Chard. This area makes some of the best quality value whites in CA.
  • 2012 Buttonwood Sauvignon Blanc

    USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley

    93% Sauv Blanc and 7% Semillon. The Semillon is fermented in S.S. and then barrel-aged. The Sauv Blanc is fermented and aged in S.S. Aged on the lees according to winery manager in attendance.

    Typical better quality California SB. Grass and citrus on the nose. Solid acidity would contribute to a great pairing with seafood, or salad. The palate is full of lemon and grapefruit, with a touch of butter on the finish. Crisp texture, but with a slightly bigger mouth-feel from the lees.

  • 2013 Riverbench Vineyard & Winery Chardonnay Bedrock Riverbench Vineyard

    USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley

    100% S.S. and aged on the lees according to winery manager in attendance.

    Strong lemon on the nose. Palate of lemon curd with a noticeable finish of banana. Interesting salinity from beginning to end. Strong acidity. The lees soften the crisp mouth-feel somewhat. Good complexity here, if that is your style. I enjoyed this wine.

FLIGHT 2 – PINOT NOIR (2 NOTES)

Disappointed with the Pinot showing here. These producers either were not tasting their better products, or have not jumped onboard with the idea of Terroir influenced wines.

  • 2012 Byron Pinot Noir

    USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County

    Brown butter and butterscotch on the nose. Light, watery soft texture. Very simple on the attack. Palate is mostly black, with some red cherry, and butterscotch, but is very subtle and barely fruit forward. Mid-palate has some dark chocolate with virtually no finish. Overly manipulated Pinot Noir, that fortunately has been made not to overwhelm. Difficult to get past the heavy toasted oak.

  • 2010 Bien Nacido Vineyards Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley

    USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley

    Bright red cherry on the nose. Initially peppery on the palate, with a sweet red cherry mid-palate and virtually no finish. With all the sweet red cherry, this wine could have been better focusing on a crisp, fresh quality. Drinkable, but doesn’t quite come together.

FLIGHT 3 – RED WINE (2 NOTES)

Carr makes a few of the better vineyard designate Syrahs in Santa Barbara County, but this one didn’t have the mojo. The Cab Franc… now, that was some great stuff and a good value too!

  • 2012 Carr Vineyards & Winery Syrah

    USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County

    Weak nose. The palate is fruit-forward with boysenberry, red cherry and sweet raspberry with a buttery finish. Medium-high acidity. Watery mouth-feel. Medium tannins. Very simple profile. Carr produces some wonderful single vineyard Syrahs, but this missed the mark.

  • 2011 Carr Vineyards & Winery Cabernet Franc Camp Four Vineyard

    USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley

    Nothing like a wine with a floral nose… Nose full of violets, red plum and black pepper. Silky soft mouth-feel. Medium tannins and medium-high acidity. Palate of plum, blackberry and spice with a medium-long dark chocolate finish. Carr makes very enjoyable, reasonably priced, drink-now Cabernet Franc. Enjoy!

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Filed under Cool Climate Wine, Santa Barbara County, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

2009 Baldacci Family Vineyards Syrah Allwin

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Baldacci Family Vineyards Syrah Allwin

California, Napa Valley, Carneros

Wine Tasting Note:

A beautiful aged Syrah. Dinrk now… this is smack in the middle of its drinking window. The nose is full of rich plum and blackberry fruit with a woody, creme brulee note. On pop and pour all you get is cashmere in the mouth. What wonderful texture! The wine is initially closed. After a 30 min. decant – the plum and blackberry becomes persistent and in front. The mid-palate is full of oak, rich brown butter and spicy clove with a medium-long dark chocolate finish. The tannins are partially resolved and medium. The acidity is medium-high producing a nice backbone. The alcohol is well integrated. An extremely balanced wine! The richness and smooth texture of this wine will only pair well with the richest foods. Falls a little flat on the finish, but I can forgive… On its own, it is an after-dinner crowd-pleaser that your guests will likely not forget. A cool-climate Carneros Syrah lives up to its potential again!

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Filed under Carneros, Cool Climate Wine, Napa Valley, Syrah/Shiraz, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

2007 Carr Paredon Syrah

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Carr Paredon Syrah

California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County, Santa Barbara

Wine Tasting Note:

The fruit originated from an estate vineyard south of Santa Barbara (city). One of the few ocean-facing vineyards in the area. Copious amount of fruit on the nose and palate for such a cool, foggy location. I will track future vintages… as the vines age this will become one of the better syrah producing sites on the Central Coast. – Fruit forward nose of thick plum, blackberry and eucalyptus. Fruit forward palate of plum, blackberry and milk chocolate. The mid-palate transitions to loads of sweet vanilla, with a medium-long finish of bitter chocolate. Medium-high acidity and high tannins. The tannins have the good grace to wait and present on the finish. Wonderful thick texture and mouth-feel. Missing some savory aspects of Northern Rhones, but all in all… a nice new world cool-climate syrah. Almost like a black-fruit zin… but more texture. This will improve with some time in the cellar. I enjoyed the wine today, but give it 3-4 more years for the fruit to subside and the tannins to soften and this should become a superior, balanced wine.

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Filed under Cool Climate Wine, Santa Barbara County, Syrah/Shiraz, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

California Clear Lake AVA – Up and Coming Cool-Climate Region

Tasting the Wines

I have recently tasted a few wines from this region: Ceago Merlot and Chacewater Malbec. While not yet having reached the status of other cool-climate growing regions such as Mendocino Ridge,  or Santa Barbara AVA’s, I was quite impressed with the improvement in the wines since my last taste through this area. Better structure and balance than in the past and the wines seem to be finding the cool-climate complexity that I have come to really appreciate.

The Future of Clear Lake AVA Wines

For a continental climate, the area has an extreme moderating factor – the largest freshwater lake in California in its midst. The climate is much cooler than the nearby North Napa Valley area, due to its elevation. The growing season seems to drop just cool enough to add character and acidity, but stays warm enough during the day to allow ripening of red varieties such as: cab sauv, merlot, syrah, petit sirah and malbec. It is time for me to visit the wine trail in this area again and talk with the winemakers. At prices in the $15-$30 range, the QPR (quality to price ratio) of these wines is good… but my hope is, the quality will continue to improve and I will have another area seriously contending for my wine dollars.

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Sassicaia vs. Ornellaia Smackdown – The Battle of the Super Tuscans

In a recent trip to Italy, my wife and I stopped into Enoteca Tognoni and tasted all wines on tap.

In general for the price point, the wines tasted were disappointing, with a notable exception. All the wines were very much French Bordeaux in style, but missing the finesse of the fine wine making tradition in France. One of the exceptions was Tenuta San Guido. Sassicaia was a truly an amazing wine and far beyond the other wine there. We also tasted Le Macchiole, Ca’Marcanda, Sapaio, Guado al Tasso and Grattamacco, but the Sassicaia and Ornellaia were clearly above the others. Tasting notes below:

2009 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 95 Points

Italy, Tuscany, Bolgheri

Tasted with a plate of prosciutto, cheese, olive oil and bread. Started just like a typical Super Tuscan… light texture, subdued alcohol, red and black cherry fruit with a dark chocolate finish… then, as you ponder what’s in the glass, the realization hits you. This wine is so well made, nothing is out of place and the entire experience is just right. All parts of the wine show themselves without overpowering. The texture is light, but silky and coats the mouth. There were strong tannins and acidity for a good backbone, but it did not prevent the wine from coming together. This wine presented a beautifully balanced, structured and harmonious profile.

2009 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Superiore Ornellaia 92 Points

Italy, Tuscany, Bolgheri

Tasted with a plate of prosciutto, cheese, olive oil and bread. Again, a typical Super Tuscan… light texture, subdued alcohol, red and black cherry fruit with a dark chocolate finish. Definitely well made, but did not leave you with that “wow” factor. For the same rough price point (approx. $200/btl.), the Sassicaia had bowled me over, whereas the Ornellaia just had me thinking this is “pretty darn good”. Maybe a little too thin in comparison? There was good structure, with strong tannins and acidity here too.

Conclusion

Perhaps the comparison was unfair and it was simply that particular vintage, but the difference seemed to be in the vinification, rather than the quality of the fruit. Of course, it could just be a personal preference, but for me the Sassicaia was not only more accessible young, but showed tremendous bottle aging potential.

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Filed under Bolgheri, Cool Climate Wine, Italian Wine, Super Tuscan Blend, Toscana, Wine Collecting, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes, Wine Travel

The 100 Point Wine Rating Scale has Become…

As wine media has begun reaching the consumer and wine critics are becoming rock stars… You have to ask yourself, just exactly how does this rating system work? On many websites, you will find an attempt at an explanation that reflects how the major critics SEEM to interpret it, but… does anyone really know definitively? There are no hard and fast rules. So hear is a quick look under the hood from the perspective of using the ratings as a method of selecting wines for your cellar.

As you walk through wine websites, you begin to notice there are virtually no ratings under 80, or over 95. I think the worst rating I have ever given a wine is 82. Of course this seems absurd, but regardless, if this is the standard… what do the ratings really mean? If you are the type that needs to make sense of this mess, follow me on my journey.

Criteria for the System

What exactly do the ratings evaluate: drinkability, age-worthiness, structure, balance? How do you compare entirely different styles using the scale: red, white, old-world, new world, sweet, fortified, etc. I am sure you get my drift here. Every critic’s wine notes and evaluation process is based on a different standard, therefore there is no frame of reference for the consumer. So, do the ratings have any real value, or are they just marketing ploys? Well, perhaps the intent is entirely marketing-focused, but I believe I have found ways the ratings can assist me in my wine purchasing decisions:

Assumptions

The majority of wine critics (AND fine wines collectors) have developed an educated palate. This assumption is important and I think largely true. I know for myself, I may not like a wine that others view as enjoyable, but that does not mean I cannot appreciate its quality. If the winemaker has produced a quality wine in its structure, balance and extracted flavors/aromas… I will not give it a poor score, even when I do not care for the wine personally. Again, I think this to be largely the case with the most (but not all) professional/semi-professional critics. the breaking point here for me is at 90. If the wine is rated 90, or over from several sources, odds are – it is a quality wine… but that does not guarantee that YOU will enjoy it. It is simply a place to start weeding out bottles not worth the investment. In my case, I know, I am missing many wines I might enjoy in the 85-89 range, but I try to visit wineries to sample what I can of those.

Callibrating Your Palate

Calibrate a particular critic’s palate to yours. Take a few minutes to taste wine and compare your impressions to the critics ratings and find one that generally matches your impressions. In my case, of the major critics, I think Stephen Tanzer is the closest to my palate. It is worth the time to find your match. I place a little more weight on an evaluation, when ST writes the note. Again that is just me personally.

Should the System be Changed?

I have read and many have explained to me that winemaking technology has improved tremendously over the last two decades and therefore there truly is no more “bad” wine… which is the reason why ratings do not drop below 80 any longer. I am willing to accept that, but if that is the case, then we MUST move to another system. I also believe a criteria for a new ratings system needs to be established. When I choose to purchase wines I have not tasted, here is my criteria:

  • Structure and balance: acidity, tannins, all the parts work together? Fuller, rounder wine with a mid-palate?
  • Fruit: fruit-forward, or not
  • Texture: wine coats your mouth, or crisp and clean
  • Terroir: the wine includes an expression of the local terroir?
  • Finish: flavors linger?

IMHO, if we rated each of these categories 1-10, that would provide a useful wine rating and evaluation!

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Filed under Cool Climate Wine, Restaurant, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Wine Travel

When is Winemaking Art?

OK, for you collectors that have a large cellar that you cherish, this is for you…

Age-Worthy Wines

I am often surprised by critic’s characterizations of wines that will age well. I see five years, ten years, thrown out there all the time, without a clear justification. I want to know WHY a wine deserves to be called “AGE-WORTHY”. No, there is no mystery to the educated palate that is inscrutable to the rest of the world (unlike what some critics would like you to believe). I think most who have already been introduced to wine and lay down at least a few bottles know that red wines without acidity and tannins, do not handle bottle aging well. What I almost never hear is a discussion of balance and structure. This is what defines age-worthy wines. Tasting notes for wines the industry typically views as age-worthy should focus on this aspect. I have not experienced many wines that magically “come together” in the bottle. When some element is missing, or one aspect overshadows the rest, more time in the bottle will just make what was suspect in the first place, a more subdued version of the same mess.

Art in Wine

So, where does art fit into this picture? When a winemaker can coax a balance of acidity/tannins/alcohol/aromas-flavors/textures from a variable fruit crop, year after year. Any winery can make a fruit bomb, an easy drinker, or leverage an appelation’s fame – like Rutherford’s dusty tannins… but winemaking talent and the quality it produces is most often evident in balance, structure and harmony. It is like Vivaldi writing for a string quartet, the greater understanding of how the parts join to comprise the whole.

So, shouldn’t the industry be helping you to recognize these balanced, structured wines that you can still pop now if you must? I am at a loss to understand why there is so little mention of this topic in the majority of professional critics’ tasting notes. Having developed an appreciation for the issue, the only wines that truly send a shiver down my spine are these perfectly balanced young gems. I have almost a reverence for the talent required to produce a red wine that, while accessible young, still has tremendous aging potential. If you need an example, the 2009 Sassicaia I tasted recently struck me as such a wine. Perhaps you can help engage the industry in this discussion? It feels lonely out there on this topic…

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Filed under Cool Climate Wine, Restaurant, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Wine Travel

Restaurant Wine Service and Profitability

Formula for a Successful Restaurant

So many restaurant owners ignore the potential of their beverage service. Yes, it requires an investment, but I have run the numbers many times… and it is just too difficult to hit the necessary gross profit margin without at least a 30% revenue and 40% profit contribution from beverage. Business plans become tortured, when based on food alone. I don’t care how good the product is. U.S. business statistics show, only one out of seven new restaurant start-ups last past the first five years.

Attitude and Passion

To run a beverage program at a fine dining restaurant requires an infectious passion and an ability to be a wine ambassador to draw your clientele into wine culture to succeed. The fine dining experience is all about superior service, telling stories and relating to the customer, all with an eye on education – not only regarding wine/beer/spirits, but also appropriate food pairings too. This seems to overwhelm many owners, but the result is worth the effort and may even be the key to long-term survival.

Business Planning in the Restaurant Trade

So often businesses lose sight of the financial viability of their annual budget and business plan (if they have one). I think, especially so in the restaurant trade. As a business owner, the tendency is to focus on a comfort zone and day-to-day operations, while overlooking whether the right plan is in place to achieve success. Having owned businesses and managed organizations in the past, even those with highly motivated employees, it is easy to lose track of the need for financial planning, marketing and experimenting with ways to enhance customer loyalty. Beverage is one of those keys to success.

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Filed under Cool Climate Wine, Restaurant, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting

Open Letter to Sommeliers

I see posts all over the internet from Sommeliers talking about their passion for wine and customer service and the challenge of being an ambassador to the industry…

Sommeliers Must Bring Business Management to the Table

There is a key point being missed. A Somm is also a beverage manager. He/she should be a businessperson first and foremost. The job for the owner is to build a beverage program that attracts clientele and contributes it’s share to the profitability of the restaurant/shop. Yes, Somm’s are passionate, wine-loving people… but without a business focus, they are not the invaluable asset they should be. Besides exceptional beverage service, they must be able to manage a budget, negotiate procurement agreements, practice good cellar management, devise effective pricing programs, train wait-staff, etc… exceptional people skills are very important, but a business focus is what will make a career successful.

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Filed under Cool Climate Wine, Restaurant, Sommelier, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Wine Travel

Value Wines in California

What represents value in wine?

Quality vs. price, or drinkability vs. price? I choose the former, rather than the latter. Structure, acidity, tannins, texture are all important components of an enjoyable, rather than boring wine.

Hidden Gems

Cab Sauv Daily Drinker

Geyser Peak Walking Tree Vineyard

Street price – $15-$20/btl.

Syrah Daily Drinker

Andrew Murray (all releases)

Club pricing – $20-$30/btl.

Zinfandel Daily Drinker

Peachy Canyon Westside Vineyard

Street price – $15-$20/btl.

Pinot Noir Daily Drinker

Meiomi Belle Glos

Street price – $15-20/btl. (killed me not to pick an Oregon pinot here)

Premium Merlot

Paloma. Definitely the BEST U.S. made merlot being produced today.

$60/btl. from the winery a great value

Premium Cabernet Sauvignon

Jordan

Street price – $45-$55/btl.

Premium Old World Style Cabernet Sauvignon

Ladera

Street price – $65-$70/btl.

Premium Pinot Noir

Inman Family OGV

Street price – $35-40/btl.

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Filed under Cool Climate Wine, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Wine Travel