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Wine Grab

April 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Gail and I attended the annual fundraiser for the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture two nights ago. The evening was fun-filled, with behind-the-scenes visits to the museum’s research and storage spaces, a cocktail hour, dinner, a live auction, and much more.

Among the much more was a “wine grab,” in which participants donate a fixed amount of money to the museum, in return for which they get to choose a bottle of wine from a tableful. The bottles have their identities hidden in paper wrapping, lending a lottery-like feel to the enterprise. But every bottle retails for at least the donation amount, so that no one loses. Plus, of course, the museum raises some money.

This year, the wine grab had two tiers, $25 and $50. While I was talking to some of the guests at our table, Gail was off grabbing four $50 bottles. At the end of the evening, we received our bottles (still wrapped) in a wine-carrying tote bag. Once we got home and settled, we did the unveiling.

Here’s what we found.

1. One Burgundy: Morey-Saint-Denis 1er Cru “Mont-Luisants”, 2000, Jean-Paul Magnion.

2. One Washington wine: Leonetti Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006, from the Walla Walla Valley.

3. A Napa Valley wine: Sullivan Vineyards Estate James O’Neil Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008.

4. A second Napa wine: Cakebread Cellars Dancing Bear Ranch 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc.

From what little research we’ve done, it appears that we made out well in terms of cost, though of course the point is to support the museum, cost aside.

As a bonus, we also happened to bid successfully during the auction for two-day wine-tasting tour in the Walla Walla Valley, featuring four winery visits each day. Joining us will be a wine guide, the museum director (a geo-archaeologist, and a good friend), and the director’s husband (a geologist and friend as well). Thus we will learn simultaneously about the region’s wine and geology, returning far wiser.

A successful evening.

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Categories: Museums, Wine

Porter Creek Pinot Noir

April 23, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve been writing about Porter Creek Vineyards since we dropped in during our Healdsburg trip of October 2008. The following March I took note of a NYT wine column by Eric Asimov on California Pinot Noirs that featured Porter Creek as part of a “rebellion”:

From Mendocino and Sonoma through the Santa Cruz Mountains and Arroyo Grande south to the rolling hills of Santa Barbara County, a rebellion is brewing. The dominant style of California pinot noir remains round, ripe and extravagant, with sweet flavors of dark fruit and alcohol levels approaching and sometimes surpassing 15 percent.

But on a recent trip through these leading pinot noir areas I was thrilled to find a small but growing number of producers pulling in the opposite direction.

Last November, we joined Porter Creek’s wine subscription program, which has two options. There’s the Pinot Noir subscription, which provides “a selection of our most current Pinot Noir releases, including limited production single vineyard and reserve bottlings. An example shipment may include 2- Estate PN, 2- Fiona Hill PN, 1-Hillside PN and 1- Reserve PN.” And there’s the Winemaker’s Selection, “a tasting menu of our most current releases. An example shipment may include a bottle each of Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Carignane, Syrah and Zinfandel.” We signed up for the Pinot.

Shipments are sent each November and April, with the result that we had just missed the November selection. Since we didn’t want to wait for months, I called in December and arranged for a version of their winemaker’s selection shipment. This was the subject of a post the day the wines arrived and a follow-up post two weeks later.

Today, our first Pinot Noir subscription arrived, exactly as described in the example: two each of Porter Creek’s less expensive Pinots — the Estate and the Fiona Hill — plus one each of their more expensive Pinots — the Hillside and the Reserve. All are 2009 vintage, as shown in the photo at top. The website has the following descriptions, with wines listed in ascending order of price.

2009 Estate: A classic Russian River Pinot Noir with bright red fruits on the nose, a rich palate and nice mineral notes on the finish. Drink now through 2014 or so.

2009 Pinot Noir – Fiona Hill Vineyard: This meticulously planted, steep hillside vineyard is situated along Westside Road at the entrance of Porter Creek with an ideal southern face. Hard clay top soil with a fractured stone bedrock places continual stress on these Pinot vines, resulting in a very expressive, unique vineyard designate wine. The nose has aromas of wild berries and forest floor, a weighty mid-palate and long silky finish.

2009 Pinot Noir – Reserve: Our 2009 reserve is a special selection originating from the steepest parts of the Fiona Hill Vineyard. It was vinified with one third whole cluster fermention and 40% new French oak barrels. The result is bolder, broader-shouldered wine with serious aging potential.

2009 Pinot Noir – Hillside Vineyard: Among the oldest Pinot Noir plantings in the Russian River Valley, this vineyard produces a wine that demonstrates the multi-layered complexity achieved only with old vines and very low yields. Shows an incredible range of fruit and a density, leading toward age worthiness. Planted in 1974 and yields just 1 to 1.5 tons per acre.

Curious as we are, I suppose the last two will repay patience. I’ll let you know what we think in a few years.

Categories: Wine

Our Latest Wines

March 15, 2012 2 comments

Our new wines from Stryker Sonoma

In early October, 2008, I briefly mentioned our visit to Stryker Sonoma Winery in Geyserville, California. A year later, I wrote about one of the wines we bought during that trip. Our favorite of the wines we bought during our stay in Healdsburg was Stryker’s 2003 E1K, which is still listed at their website but no longer available. The page explains: “This Bordeaux-style wine represents our signature release. The concept behind this program is to showcase the incredible character of Sonoma County’s mountain grown grapes. All of the fruit used in this blend is sourced from vineyards located at elevations of one thousand feet or higher, hence the nickname ‘E 1 K.'”

A year ago, realizing it wasn’t going to last long, we ordered a few bottles of E1K. They’re gone now, and we continue to be impressed, so we recently joined the Stryker wine club. Two weeks ago, they alerted us that the March wine shipment would go out soon and offered us the opportunity to add to the order at the club 20% discount. We did just that, selecting three pairs of red wine to add to the three pairs they were offering. Yesterday the shipment — pictured above — arrived. Here are the details.

The club offering consisted of 2 bottles each of the following:

2008 Cabernet Franc, Monte Rosso Vineyard, Sonoma County
2009 Petit Verdot, Estate Vineyard, Alexander Valley
2009 Tannat, Estate Vineyard, Alexander Valley

To this, we added 2 bottles each of:

2007 Cabernet Franc, Monte Rosso Vineyard
2007 Petite Sirah, Alexander Valley
2005 Jen’s Red, Sonoma County

We have some tasting to do. I think we’ll take our time, but maybe we can get started this weekend.

Stryker Sonoma Winery

Categories: Wine

Porter Creek Carignane

January 2, 2012 Leave a comment

[From Porter Creek Vineyards’ website]

We’ve been eating out a lot lately, but not last night. To open the year, Gail made a great turkey pot pie for her, Joel, and me. To accompany it, I selected a bottle of Porter Creek’s 2009 Carignane.

You’ll recall that we visited Porter Creek during our trip to Healdsburg three years ago. I wrote about it at the time, featuring Porter Creek again a few months later and once again last month.

Last month’s post stemmed from our having signed up in November for their Pinot Noir subscription program. I called last month to ask if we had missed the November shipment, which we had, and agreed when the fellow from Porter Creek proposed sending in its place a set of six bottles that one would get as part of their winemaker’s selection subscription. A week later, we received a bottle each of Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Carignane, Syrah and Zinfandel.

Which brings us to last night, when I brought up the Carignane. Here is its description at the Porter Creek website:

2009 Carignane – Old Vines

ALEXANDER VALLEY

The depth of character that comes from these very old vines lends to a wine that more than amply stands on its own. Like previous vintages this wine shows dark ripe fruits on the nose and soft tannins, but with more concentration due to the extremely low yield of one ton per acre.

While waiting for Gail to finish dinner preparation, I did a search on Porter Creek Carignane and came upon an October 2009 article by NYT wine writer Eric Asimov on the carignane (or carignan) grape. “To call the carignan grape much maligned,” Asimov begins, “doesn’t begin to capture the contempt many people in the wine trade have for this poor grape.” He continues:

And for what? For centuries of overcropping? For being planted in the wrong places? For making thin, astringent, acidic wines that can vary from inconsequential to brutal? That’s supposed to be the grape’s fault?

If you haven’t guessed, I’m feeling a bit of sympathy for the carignan grape. Of course, I have to agree with all of the harsh assessments. While carignan has indeed been much maligned, the more important point is that carignan has been much abused. It’s been grown and treated in such a way as to insure that it would make contemptible wines.

But this doesn’t have to be the case at all.

Asimov proceeds to give “examples of charming wines made with carignan” from France and from California, then mentions “a few California wineries [that] also make a carignan. Porter Creek Vineyards makes a delicious version.”

That was encouraging. He concludes:

The point is that while carignan makes up more than its share of sneer-worthy wines, it also can make wines of great charm and flavor. All you have to do, as Joel Peterson told me, is plant them in the right soil, in the proper climate with good exposure to the sun, keep the yields down, and then wait 80 years for the vines to become old!

I read some of this to Gail and Joel as we commenced to eat dinner. Maybe doing so introduced a bias, so that I should have waited until we were done. But bias or not, we couldn’t have been happier. The Porter Creek Carignane was a superb accompaniment to the meal.

The Carignane happens to be Porter Creek’s cheapest red. It’s listed at $24 a bottle. We would get a 15% discount as subscribers, though we’d also have to pay shipping. Perhaps we should put in an order.

Categories: Wine

Porter Creek Vineyards

December 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Today we received a shipment of six wines from Porter Creek Vineyards in Healdsburg, Califoirnia. You may recall that we took a trip to Healdsburg in October 2008, staying in the intimate Hotel Les Mars, dining on our final evening at their extraordinary restaurant Cyrus, and devoting a day each to the Dry Creek, Russian River, and Alexander valleys. On Russian River day (described here in the third week of Ron’s View’s existence), we started and ended with winery visits, adding a drive to the ocean and lunch in Jenner in between.

Our first stop was Porter Creek. Les Mars has a wine expert who hosts tastings in a room just off the lobby before dinner each day. The previous evening, when we told him of our Russian River plans, he recommended a stop there. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

our hotel’s wine expert, Ron, explained last night, this is a low key place, with some pretty laid back people doing the wine pouring in a simple building. We parked just off the road in a small gravel lot, just past which was a house with a dog, and beyond that was a wooden shed, where our wine pourer awaited us, as did two more dogs, one young and destined to be big, the other immense. We had a great time there, trying several wines, listening to his explanation of the joy of smelling wine, and hearing his views on life and vineyards in general. They have a small amount of land just outside with Pinot Noir grapes, and he offered us three Pinot Noirs made from them. The difference in the three, he explained, is that the grapes for the reserve came from the vines on the upper part of the slope, the grapes for the cheapest Pinot were from the middle, and the grapes for the final bottle were from the bottom. (The final wine is generally only made available to restaurants, but for a short time each year regular people like us can taste and buy it. On the wall was a list of New York restaurants that have bought the wine.)

In March 2009, I wrote about Porter Creek again, prompted by an Eric Asimov article in the NYT on California Pinot Noirs in which he said:

For me, wine’s place is with food, and that’s why I had begun to despair of so many California pinot noirs. Their power and sense of sweetness were overwhelming at the table. But it turns out that more than a few California producers share my feeling, like Ehren Jordan of Failla and Thomas Brown of Rivers-Marie, Joe Davis of Arcadian and Alex Davis of Porter Creek. Almost to a person, they make no secret of being inspired by the wines of Burgundy.

Asimov quotes Alex Davis later in the article, as you can see in my 2009 post or the article itself.

We long ago drank the wine we bought on our visit to Porter Creek. Last month, I decided that Gail’s birthday provided a perfect opportunity to buy more. I went to the website and found that I could fax in a form to subscribe to their wine program. They have two options, under each of which you get six bottles of wine each April and another six each November.

Winemaker’s Selection Subscription
A tasting menu of our most current releases. An example shipment may include a bottle each of Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Carignane, Syrah and Zinfandel.

Pinot Noir Subscription
Shipment includes a selection of our most current Pinot Noir releases, including limited production single vineyard and reserve bottlings. An example shipment may include 2- Estate PN, 2- Fiona Hill PN, 1-Hillside PN and 1- Reserve PN.

Part of subscribing is that you get a 15% discount as a single subscriber and 20% as a double subscriber, with the discount applying to additional purchases as well.

I chose the Pinot subscription, sent the form, and awaited our November shipment. Alas, it never came. Gail was feeling that she hadn’t gotten a proper birthday present, so a week ago I called to ask if they had received our fax, and if we were too late for that November shipment. The answers were yes and yes. But Jonathan, whom I spoke to, said they could send a representative sample, with the subscription discount. Not a Pinot shipment, but a selection. I said sure.

What came today is exactly as advertised under the selection subscription: a “Fiona Hill Vineyard” Pinot Noir, an “Old Vines” Carignane, a “Timbervine Ranch” Syrah, a “Old Vine” Zinfandel, a George’s Hill Chardonnay, and a Timbervine Ranch Viognier. All are 2009 vintages, the current releases. The Carignane is from Mendocino County; the Zinfandel is listed as being from Sonoma County, the others more specifically from the Russian River Valley.

For dinner tonight, we took out pizzas from The Independent Pizzeria just down the street in Madison Park. It’s one of the many high-end pizza places that have opened in recent years in Seattle. Despite its proximity, we have eaten there only once. Their pizzas are small, thin-crusted, simple, and good. We ordered three: the Twin Peaks (tomato, fontina, crimini, sage), the Pepperoni (tomato, mozzarella, fiore di latte, pepperoni), and the Stevedore (tomato, provolone, Genoa salami of Applegate Farms, red onion, Mama Lil’s peppers). We added a mixed salad to complete the order, waited a half hour, drove down to pick it up, came home, and sat down to dinner.

With six bottles of Porter Creek on the counter, of course we had one. Gail selected the Syrah, which Porter Creek describes as follows:

Shows green olives and bacon on the nose structure and concentration. Co-fermented with 5% Viognier, which rounds out the mouth feel and adds an extra dimension to aromatics. A dramatic wine coming from a very steep hillside vineyard growing in a cooler region of Sonoma County.

I don’t know about the green olives and bacon. I do know that Gail chose well. With Joel home from North Carolina, the three of us had a superb meal, the wine being the best part.

We have more to look forward to. I’m guessing we’ll be putting in another Porter Creek order before the April Pinot shipment arrives.

Categories: Wine

Wine and WSJ

September 25, 2011 Leave a comment

[F. Martin Ramin for The Wall Street Journal]

I don’t know much about wine. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy reading the Saturday wine columns in the Wall Street Journal. I considered it a major calamity when the wife-and-husband team of Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher were dropped without explanation at the end of 2009, but I’ve since grown accustomed to their alternating replacements, Lettie Teague and Jay McInerney.

Soon I will be taking my leave of them. They’re not going anywhere; I am. I have decided to stop taking the WSJ once my current one-year commitment comes to an end.

Why? Rupert Murdoch. Need I say more? I can’t stomach contributing to his enterprise. Yes, I know. That means I should also stop watching any and all shows on FOX television. And avoid all other Murdoch-based intrusions on my life. Maybe I will. One step at a time. And the first step is, no more WSJ.

It’s not like I read all that much in the WSJ anyway. I try to remember to look at the daily book reviews. Once a week, this is a problem, since the book review occupies the same page as some of the op-ed contributions, and that one day a week I need to avoid letting my eyes fall on the column by, well, I dare not say his name. That man of evil who is an anagram of Vorr Lake. Not that there is a Vorr Lake, but that’s the best anagram I could come up with. Maybe you can do better.

I look at the sports coverage, the arts and culture coverage. On Fridays, there’s the Friday Journal, a culture section. On Saturdays, another weekly culture section was recently expanded and split in two, resulting in what’s now called Review and Off Duty. I have to say, I will miss them. I think they are extremely well done. I always make it a point to read the contributions of Dan Neil, the automotive columnist and a fine writer. Terry Teachout always has informative pieces on regional theater throughout the US. And then there are Lettie and Jay.

Which brings me to Lettie’s piece yesterday. Off Duty was a special issue devoted to Italy. Accordingly, Lettie wrote about Italian wines:

The wine world is rife with clichés (wines are “made in the vineyard” or “express a terroir”), but the most persistent cliché is that Italian wines go well with food—perhaps better than any other wines in the world. Is it possible that this is one cliché that might actually be true?

There are several reasons why I think it could. First of all, the Italians put the two together quite often, perhaps more often than anyone else. Wine is an important, even inevitable, part of an Italian meal.

Second of all are the wines themselves. An Italian wine has a lot of acidity. Italians love acidity the way Americans love sugar or the way the French love a wine that only they can pronounce properly. Acidity is a critical component in a wine paired with food. It can cut through the fat of a Florentine steak or the richness of a plate of pasta Bolognese. A wine with low acidity becomes tiresome to drink, while a wine with a brisk acidity keeps the palate stimulated. Or as Tuscan producer Giovanni Folonari put it, “Acidity makes you want to eat and drink more.” (Who knew acidity was also an Italian sales tool?)

That’s the start of the article. In the end, after a tasting of 40 or so wines, she recommends five. Regarding the tasting, she explains, “I chose wines from all over the boot—from the Valle d’Aoste, in Italy’s extreme north, to Sicily—and concentrated on examples that had the characteristics that would make them good companions to food. They weren’t necessarily the showiest wines—Barolos and Barbarescos or Super Tuscans (though such wines from the right producers can go well with food, too). Instead, they were the earthier, less exalted (and less expensive) wines—the kind the Italians themselves most commonly drink with meals.”

Follow the link to see what she suggests. There’s a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo for just $11 that I’m thinking we should add to our cellar, since we’re always happy to drink Montepulciano.

Wines aside, you might enjoy the accompanying slide show from around Italy.

Ciao, Lettie. Ciao, WSJ. I wish things could have been different.

Categories: Newspapers, Wine

The Dark Vineyard

September 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Two nights ago, I wrote about the first in Martin Walker’s series of mysteries, Bruno, Chief of Police, which I finished earlier this week. I concluded by noting that “I’ve since had to resist jumping right into The Dark Vineyard, the next volume in the series.”

My resistance didn’t last long. I downloaded it a few minutes later and started reading before I went to bed. I’m a fifth of the way through and eager to get back to it. Bruno is good company, and unlike Bruno, Chief of Police, which spends many pages setting the stage in Bruno’s small town in the Dordogne before a crime takes place, The Dark Vineyard plunges straight into the action. Not that it’s fast-paced. It’s not that sort of book or series. But a crime has taken place, eco-terrorism and genetically modified foods may be relevant, and Bruno once again is making the rounds with his keen eyes, attention to detail, and insight into his neighbors and their lives.

And with his love of wine. I find myself wanting to accompany Bruno on his investigation so I can taste the regional wines he keeps sampling. It’s not difficult to imagine a digital version of the book with links that would allow me, when I read about a wine, to click and order a bottle of it. But who wants to wait for delivery — assuming the wine of the given vintage is available? What I want, and its day will surely come, is a wired and plumbed home in which I can click on the wine in the text, then walk into the kitchen and grab the glass of it from the beverage dispensary. Or perhaps it would be poured in the den or bedroom. (I grew up in a simple time. Why, in my childhood and a good ways into my adulthood, I had to get up and walk right up to the TV to change the channel. I think I could handle walking to the kitchen to get my freshly poured wine.)

Meanwhile, I’ll be studying a full-sized version of the wine map below. (Map hat tip: Andrew Sullivan. See also this interview with the map’s creator, David Gissen.)

Categories: Books, Wine