A true Diamond in the Rough

  Helen and Lee Williams

Helen and Lee Williams

Sometimes we need to be adventurous and try something new.  Recently I had some free time and took Lee Williams up on his offer to visit Golden Star Winery in Little Rock California that he and his wife Helen own and operate.  Driving out to the winery, I passed through many open rural regions with miles of wide open spaces.  Trusting Google maps, I put aside the thought that I was lost.  Then, out in the middle of this endless land, you see a single large metal building surrounded by grape vines.  An oasis if you will.  As I drove up, I was greeted by Lee and Helen as they prepared for their day of pouring wine for their guests.

IMG_1245 E.jpg

Walking into the tasting room, I felt right at home as a "Baby Boomer" with music from the mid 60's to early 70's playing in the background.  Golden Star Vineyard is part of the Antelope Valley of the California High Desert AVA that was established in 2010, covering 665 sq miles North of Los Angeles near Sierra Pelona Valley and Leona Valley AVA's.  The climate is arid with an average rainfall of 4-9 inches. 

Golden Star Vineyard sources grapes from vineyards in Antelope Valley of the California High Desert AVA and Paso Robles.  On the estate, they are growing Tempranillo, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Muscat of Alexandria Symphony (Muscat of Alexandria x Grenache Gris).

IMG_1256 E.jpg

The wines that are being produced by Golden Star are making their mark winning Gold, Silver and Bronze medals for their Zinfandel, Chardonnay and Purple Haze.  I was blown away by the wines being produced.  Golden Star has three very unique Syrah wines that will satisfy anyone's palate. From old world to new world styles.  Wines tasted on this visit include:

  • 2016 Viognier - grapes from Chavez Vineyards Antelope Valley.  Beautiful flavors of green apples with a nice acid balance.

  • 2015 Chardonnay - grapes from Paso Robles.  This Chardonnay is fermented in stainless steel and is very French in design having a bright crispness from the acid and no creamy butter on the palate due to no Maloactic fermentation. 

  • 2013 Tempranillo - grapes from Chavez Vineyards Antelope Valley.

  • 2013 Syrah Americana - grapes from Chavez Vineyards Antelope Valley.  Beautiful blueberries on the nose and palate with a nice acid balance.

  • 2015 Syrah Americana - grapes from Chavez Vineyards Antelope Valley

  • 2013 Syrah Mistral - grapes from Chavez Vineyards Antelope Valley.  Aged in French Oak for 12 months. It is full-bodied, with blueberries, dark fruit, pepper, and finished with well integrated tannin.

  • 2014 Zinfandel - grapes from Paso Robles.

  • 2014 Purple Haze - Jacketed in a beautiful label sporting a tie dyed design, this blend of 70% Zinfandel, 25% Merlot and 5% Malbec is fantastic.  That is evident by the awards that it has won.

Golden Star Vineyard has really opened my eyes to searching outside of the usual wine districts such as Santa Ynez, Paso, etc.  Lee and Helen are terrific host and are proud of their wines as they should be.  If you are a "Baby Boomer" like me, you will feel right at home listening to Jimmy Hendrix playing in the background while you savoring a fine glass of "Purple Haze".

Writing this article, I keep remembering Anton Ego who was a renown food critic in the movie "Ratatouille".  Anton wrote, "In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto: 'Anyone can cook.' But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere."

It is not unusual in wine circles to hear people say that you must go to Napa, or Paso Robles to find really great wines.  But following Anton's comment, great vintners, like great cooks, can be anywhere.  This is true for the Golden Star Winery, as Lee and Helen have done a spectacular job at making wine.  Take the adventure, you will be glad that you did.

https://www.goldenstarvineyards.com/

Cheers,

Rusty Sly

 

 

Is It Really Corked or Is Trichloroanisole (TCA) a Scapegoat?

As an aerospace systems engineer, I deal with a lot of problems and issues.  In this role, it is very important to review all of the details and facts before presenting results to management and customers.  Most of you know my love of natural cork closures for wines.  However,  I have many colleagues and friends that love screw caps as an alternative.  I am not going to write another article on the pros and cons of these two closures as this topic will always present a difference of opinion.  The most important thing is to make sure to review "ALL" of the facts and details when trying to determine the source of TCA that has caused a wine to be truly corked.

General consensus is to always blame the cork as the source of TCA in wines when that musty, wet paper or cardboard smell is noted.  Reality is that the general public cannot detect TCA below 6-8 nanograms/liter.  There is a very small percentage of individuals with a very keen sense of smell and taste that can detect TCA at around 2 nanograms/liter, but these are a select few and are by no means the majority.  TCA in natural cork has been reduced dramatically over the years via new technology and cleaning/sanitizing processes.  Laboratories are now using Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GCMS) to identify trace chemicals,  such as TCA,  to levels as low as 0.5 nanograms/liter.

Cleaning and sanitizing processes have been changed to remove chlorine based products used for the corks and wine processing equipment. The United Cork Council have actively performed laboratory tests over the years on corks for TCA using high-tech calibrated equipment, providing measurable data or metrics and statistics on the effectivity of TCA removal from natural cork.  But why does no one look beyond the cork if a wine is tainted with TCA?  Generally, it is felt that they have found the smoking gun since the bottle used a natural cork and therefore, come to the conclusion that eliminating cork closures will end corked wines.  Many times I feel that people detect chemical abnormalities other than TCA in a wine and immediately say it is corked.  This provides another possibility to inaccurate TCA statistics based on human senses.

What about cases where wineries have been found to be the source of TCA and not a cork enclosure?  Does anyone factor this into the equation?  Four wineries that have suffered from TCA, where corks were not the cause,  were Hanzell,  Chateau Montelana,  Beaulieu Vineyard and Gallo.  If there are four I am sure there are others.  In the case of Hanzell, the winery was shut down for 6 months to find the cause of TCA in their wines.  The source of the TCA was found to be two of the original transfer pipes that were about 50 years old.  These pipes were stained purple stemming from years of use within the winery.  So here is a situation where it doesn't matter what type of closure is used for the bottles, TCA taint is present in the wine itself.  Placing wine from any of these four TCA plagued wineries into corked bottles will inadvertently make the cork closure a scapegoat.  Jumping on the bandwagon becomes an automatic conclusion rather than pursuing additional research to determine the actual root cause of the TCA source.  This lack of true statistics and understanding is one of the prime drivers being used to switch to screw caps and eliminate cork closures.  Now comes this scenario...what if these four wineries used screw caps as opposed to natural cork what would the conclusion be?  Would the wine be looked at as the source or would the wine world now have a new term that the wine was "capped"?

The one thing to remember with issues like TCA is that you need to look at the big picture.  If you are only researching a problem based on what is perceived to be the smoking gun you are masking or possibly covering up the real source of the problem.  If you want to do due diligence the wine must be tested pre and post bottling to validate the true source of the TCA.  Corks are already screened through new processes that have been put into place by the Cork Council at cork producing facilities.  Christian Butzke, PH.D. of the Associate Professor Food Science, Purdue University Stated in his article Cork Taint, " The habit of blaming cork may explain why estimates of TCA contamination based on anecdotal evidence range from 2 percent to 10 percent and above.  But a large and growing amount of hard evidence concludes that the incidence of TCA has dropped precipitously in recent years and is commonly measured at less than 1 percent of wines sealed with real cork."

So whatever you do make sure that you look at the BIG PICTURE and all of the possibilities before drawing a conclusion.   As these aforementioned wineries discovered they in fact were the culprit and not the cork.  Something that I'm sure came as a shock to a lot of people in the wine world as well as the wineries themselves.  In these instances the scapegoat, being the cork, was vindicated however the disagreement on closures in wine will go on for years to come.

Cheers,

Rusty Sly

Carbonic Fermentation

 

Carbonic fermentation is a process that is different from typical fermentation and only used with a few types of wines.  The process involves adding yeast to a juice that has sugar that the yeast consumes producing ethanol (drinking alcohol) and CO2.  Carbonic fermentation creates wines that have fruity aromatics and are lighter in style compared to wines that have gone through the usual fermentation process.  Carbonic fermentation uses the whole grape clusters, including the stems and juice during the fermentation process. 

This process is unique and involves placing whole grape clusters with their stems carefully into a vat forming layers.  I am sure that everyone has picked up a grape cluster and realized how much weight, or force, it has. This force, once the clusters are layered, is being applied to the grapes on the bottom of the vat.  This causes some of the grapes at the bottom to be crushed due to the force exerted by the mass weight of the layers of grapes.  Carbon dioxide is injected into the vat to remove the oxygen.  This allows for fermentation to occur within the grape skin, delaying the activity of the yeast.  The process of fermentation occurring naturally within the grapes is the key difference from normal fermentation.  As the grape ferments within the skin, the internal pressure from carbon dioxide gas production due to fermentation and the weight of the grapes piled into the vat causes the grapes to burst and release their juice. This kind of fermentation process creates ethanol as well as fantastic fruit aromatics.

Carbonic fermentation is used extensively in the Gamay region of France in the making of Gamay Beaujolais which possess very fruity aromatics and light bodied wines.  The inclusion of stems imparts high tannins, however, in the process used in making the quick turnaround wines such as Beaujolais Nouveau in the Beaujolais tannin levels are not as high. 

Pinot Noirs are also not always crushed.  Fermenting with the stems is traditional in the Burgundy wines from France and has increased in 2008 and 2009 vintages.  The stems induce high tannins into the wines, providing complexity and aging benefits.  If the stems are unripe however, a green bell pepper aromatic which notably is due to the extraction of 2-methoxy-3-isopropylpyrazine.  If Pinot Noir grapes are de-stemmed by the vintner, they are maintained uncrushed to allow for a more aromatic wine and is known as a partial carbonic maceration process.  The Burgundians, due to not having de-stemmers, have always included the stems in their vinification process.  Reputable Domaines that still advocate whole clusters are Dujac and Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. Today, many have eliminated whole cluster fermentation or limit it to 10% to 30% of the clusters. New World vineyards that use as much as 100% whole cluster in selected wines are Ambullneo, Freestone Vineyards, Native 9, Tantara, and Windy Oaks among others.

The common denominator between carbonic fermentation or carbonic maceration is the production of high aromatics.  The addition of stems will increase the tannins.  So keep this in mind next time you enjoy this type of wine that has gone through this process and see what your palate detects. 

Cheers,
Rusty Sly

Are Wine Glasses All The Same?

Wine glasses play a very important role with wines.  The importance directly correlates to one's overview of the purpose or situation.  Getting home from work and pouring a glass of wine may not require using a fine crystal glass that is reserved for special events or occasions.  Others may chose to use an everyday drinking glass if they are only in need of finding a container for the wine.  Interpretations of what is the best selection of glass is very personal with many variables.

Wine glasses come in many different styles and from many different sources.  To meet expectations for oenophiles, here are weaknesses that stand out:

  • Too small of a bowl which does not allow you to twirl the wine without spilling.  Twirling, or oxygenating, a wine is the only way to acquire the true elegance or beauty of a wines aromatics or flavor.

  • Painted or stenciled logos on glasses detracts from the visual beauty and brilliance of a wine.  Some events and wineries place stencils on the base of the glass removing the visual distraction of the wine and is much more appealing, however, it does decrease the marketing advantage of high visibility.

  • Thick glasses which are awkward to handle and distort the appearance of the wine.  Compare wine in a crystal verses a regular wine glass.  Taste and visual attributes are definitely enhanced in a crystal glass.

  • Stemless glasses present many issues.  Fingerprints and wine temperature changes due to the lack of a stem, also difficult to hold if you have small hands or when the wine requires a large bowl like a Pinot Noir.

Buying proper wine glasses gets even more complex as there are many different shapes and sizes for every style or varietal of wine made.  There is no correct or proper glass dictated by any official guidelines. Visual perception and appeal are very important with champagne glasses or flutes.  Champagne glasses or flutes are long and slender, providing an aesthetically beautiful view of the fine bubbles ascending to the surface of this beautiful sparkling beverage.  This helps provide a special image of sensuality and romance that Champagne is renowned for.  This would be lost if a newlywed couple at their reception were toasting and the Champagne was in a universal wine glass instead of crystal flutes.  Another example can be seen with a crystal glass filled with a fine Pinot wine that allows you to  see the beautiful red color and brilliance of this noble wine.  These views setup the aesthetic perception of wines that make them so appealing and beautiful.

Does size and shape really matter?  Traditionally wine glasses with larger, broader bowls are used for bold red wines with big bouquets, and narrower wine glasses are used for lighter white wines allowing concentration of the more delicate aromas.  However, within red wines, a Zinfandel and Pinot glass are quite different in size and shape.  The reason is Pinot Noirs are generally very aromatic and given a large surface area will provide an intense bouquet of fruit aromatics.  Zinfandels are less aromatic and therefore, benefit from a narrower glass opening which helps to concentrate the aromatics of the Zinfandel wine, allowing the detection and enjoyment of the fruits and spices that this wine has to offer.

Riedel wine glasses have taken the wine world to another level by designing glassware that enhances the aromas and flavors of specific varietals for both red and white wines. Their glasses provide the perfect conduit to enjoy all of the different wines.  Robert Parker Jr. of the Wine Advocate wrote, “The finest glasses for both technical and hedonistic purposes are those made by Riedel. The effect of these glasses on fine wine is profound. I cannot emphasize enough what a difference they make.”

Then there are the proverbial stemless wine glasses.  Though they break all proper wine etiquette on how to hold a wine glass as well as other issues mentioned earlier, there is actually one good application.  At large parties, it is not uncommon for glasses to get bumped and broken due to the long stem on typical glasses that make them top heavy as well as easy to fall over.  Stemless glasses are not top heavy due to their design, making them more stable.  It is a tossup as it will not change the downfalls of warming up the wine or preventing fingerprints on the glass bowl which will detract from the beauty of the wine.  And most important,  twirling is out of the question.  The benefit is less wine and shattered glass on the travertine or wood floors.

Fill height of wine in a glass is also important.  For red wines, fill the glass one-third to one-half full.  Filling a  wine glass to the curve of the bowl is approximately one-third.  By keeping the wine level low in the glass, twirling is easier, allowing effective twirling to open the wine up.  It also makes it easier to tilt the glass at a 45 degree angle and observe the color and brilliance of the wine. For white wines, the glasses are smaller and narrower, allowing the aromatics to concentrate and intensify.  The fill height for white wines should be one half to two thirds of the glass.  By having a larger volume in a narrower glass with less exposed surface area, decreases the thermal gradient between the air and wine allowing the wine to maintain a cooler temperature over time.

It’s nice to sit down and have a beautiful wine of your choice poured into a glass that allows the wine to strut it’s stuff.  We drink, share and enjoy wines out of passion and love.  For some people it really doesn’t matter what it is served in.  If that's the case, who needs a glass! 

Cheers,

Rusty Sly

Mystic Hills Vineyard

Often we speak about vineyards that when you step through the tasting room doors it feels like you are at home.  At Mystic Hills Vineyard in the Paso Robles area you truly are in the home of the owners, Joel and Judy Cox.  Joel has been highly successful in the movie industry as a film editor for the last 40 years and reaching retirement age, he and his wife Judy decided to step into a family dream and pursue a passion of making wine.  Both love the Paso Robles region and in 2004 Joel and Judy purchased 14 acres in King Ranch in San Miguel.  Neither had experience with growing vines or making wines but that didn't stop them.  Joel being a jack of all trades as well as a perfectionist and with Judy managing the winery and actively taking courses at UC Davis and College of the Canyons on viticulture, they make a perfect team.  Shortly after purchasing the property, they planted Bordeaux varietals which is a style of wine that Joel loves.

To make this team even stronger, Keith Roberts, Wente Vineyards manager for 39 years as a winemaker, saw their vines and realizing how passionate they were about their dream, joined them offering his skills and expertise in making wine.  In 2013 Joel and Judy purchased nine additional acres and rumor has it, they are planning on growing white Bordeaux varietals on this land.  So why is the winery called Mystic Hills?  It was named after the mystique of this land being covered with an early morning blanket of fog.  This natural occurrence led Judy to come up the the name, Mystic Hills, per Joel that's how the vineyard got its named.  It was not named for the movie, Mystic River, another film that Joel worked on, as many think. 

Listening to Joel and Judy, you quickly sense the excitement of their past as well as their present path.  Joel is highly recognized in the film industry having won an Oscar for film editing on the movie "Unforgiven" starring Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman and Richard Harris. Before and since Unforgiven, Joel has edited many films that have involved Clint Eastwood.  His success in the film industry can be seen by his multiple nominations and awards for many highly acclaimed movies.  Judy stays busy being the office manager for Mystic Vineyard, but also helped to co-found a nonprofit organization for woman and children. 

The wines being produced at Mystic Hills Vineyard are based on Bordeaux varietals.  Mystic Hills Vineyard consist of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petite Verdot.  Joel also believes in keeping the wine in oak barrels for three years producing wines that are softer and smoother on the palate. 

Following are the wines available at Mystic Hills:

·         2013 H.E.A.R.T.S. Rose -  this wine is made in honor of the six grandchildren (Heather, Emma, Alexandra, Rachael, Tyler and Savanna).  The rose is made with Cabernet Sauvignon (67%), Merlot (24%) and Cabernet Franc (9%).  Beautiful Rose using Bordeaux varietals. 

·         2012 Cabernet Sauvignon - Cabernet Sauvignon (100%).  This is a perfect Cabernet and drinks like it should cost a lot more.  This is a spectacular inexpensive Cabernet.  Beautiful dark fruits such as plums with firm tannins that are beautifully integrated along with well balanced acidity. 

·         2012 Gran Trio - Cabernet Sauvignon (60%), Cabernet Franc (20%) and Merlot (20%). The palate is greeted by flavors of cherry and cranberry leading up to a nice finish.

·         2012 Unforgiven - Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Merlot (15%), Cabernet Franc (15%), Petite Verdot (15%), Malbec (5%).  Now for the Crème de la Crème, the 2012 Unforgiven.  This is a spectacular wine, whether you call it a Bordeaux, Meritage or Claret, it is downright delicious.  This is a full bodied wine with flavors of dark cherry and dark fruits along with firm yet well integrated silky tannins. 

Medals:

·  2012 Unforgiven -

         2016 New York International Wine Competition - Gold 

         2016 San Diego International Wine Challenge - Platinum 

        2016 Los Angeles International Wine Competition, Best of Class, Gold 

·  2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

        2016 Los Angeles International Wine Competition - Bronze 

·  2012 Gran Trio

       2016 New York International Wine Competition - Bronze 

       2016 San Diego International Wine Challenge - Gold 

       2016 Los Angeles International Wine Competition - Bronze 

·  2014 H.E.A.R.T.S Rose

       2016 New York International Wine Competition - Silver 

       2016 San Diego International Wine Challenge - Silver  

This is quite a display showing that this winery has hit the ground running...  and to think they have only had wines available to the public for "TWO YEARS"!  This is a boutique winery that is truly putting their heart and soul into each bottle.  Does this provide any insight into the future wines from Mystic Hills?  This winery is like getting a tip on the stock market, take advantage and jump on board!  You will be totally surprised at what Joel and Judy are producing.

http://www.mystichillsvineyard.com/

Cheers,

Rusty Sly

Four Brix Winery IN Ventura

Many times we feel that wine tasting involves long trips to places like Santa Ynez, Paso Robles or Napa and often fail to look in our own backyards.  Four Brix is one of those local gems being a part of the Ventura Wine Trail that I have shamefully failed to visit in a long time.  Gary and Karen Stewart have been long-time friends and supporters of Grape of the Night (GOTN).  My last visit to Four Brix was in 2013 with the GOTN group where Gary not only tasted us on their fine wines but also provided an education on wine making.  When you talk with Gary about wines you can always see this glow and excitement reflecting his passion that shows in their wines.

Gary Stewart is the Vintner for Four Brix, which has six owners, Gary and Karen Stewart, Tracy and Jim Noonan, Laura Peter Noonan and Barry Fisher. On this visit to Four Brix, Barry Fisher and Tracy Noonan were our host and hostess for the afternoon as Gary and Karen were pouring at an event.

Gary's education in wine making and operating a successful winery was through mentoring and wine courses from UC Davis, which has one of the best wine education curricula in the country.  Through the years of trials and tribulations, Four Brix wines have gone from very good to absolutely spectacular.  The wines that I tasted on this visit were awesome.  During my last visit to Four Brix, Gary said that he started out making wine in his garage with another couple. They purchased inexpensive grapes at $200/ton thinking that the end product was the result of the wine making process and not the grapes used for the wine.  After receiving advice from successful wineries on wine quality and its correlation to good grapes, he learned a new philosophy, GOOD GRAPES=GOOD WINE.  With this advice, they purchased better grapes at $1000/ton and the results have proven to be astonishing. This practice is now used extensively and can be seen in his wines today.

Gary later acquired mentoring from Ryan Horn of Justin Winery in Paso Robles which further increased his skills and understanding on making high-quality wines.  In 2007 Gary began importing equipment from France and Portugal for his winery.  Gary worked with Ryan and made many trips with him to Italy and Spain increasing his knowledge and skills in old world wine making.  The winery's name, Four Brix, was created, according to Barry, as a tribute to the four wine regions of the world where the beauty, culture, and the manner in which blended wines fit into everyday life: France, Italy, Spain and our home, California.  Brix refers to the amount of sugar in the grape juice.

 

  Barry Fisher  &  Tracy Noonan

Barry Fisher & Tracy Noonan

The tasting flight that was being poured on this visit was spectacular.  Barry and Tracy explained each wine from terroir to the subtle nuances giving you a good overview of each wine.  Four Brix is best known for their blends which are based on "ALL" six owners reviewing the color, smell and taste and reaching a unanimous agreement on which blend ratio will be used in the released product. If one owner disagrees, it is not used.  

The tasting Flight consisted of:

  • 2014 Cani Amante Riesling - This Reisling is unique with bright citrus flavors of grapefruit/lemon that is well balanced and finishes dry on the palate.

  • 2011 Temptress (85% Tempranillo, 12% Grenache and 3% Mourvedre) - The grapes are from Paso Robles and the wine presents fine notes of cherry in the aromatics and on the palate. 

  • 2011 Petite Shirah (Golden Hawk Vineyard, Sonoma County) - This is a classic Petite Shirah.  It is dark inky purple in color with a gamey nose and on the palate you get beautiful dark fruits that are supported by firm tannins. This is a beautiful wine.

  • 2013 Scosso (64% Sangiovese, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot) The grapes are from Paso Robles.  As you twirl the glass you will see beautiful legs streaming down the side of the glass.  The aromatics and palate present you with boysenberries.  This wine is very popular and rightfully so.

  • 2013 Cani Amante Block 4 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot) Four Brix hit it out of the ballpark with this Meritage. This wine was field blended which means the exact percentage, or ratio, of each varietal is unknown. It is dependent on the number of grapevines for each varietal as all of the grapes are harvested and processed at the same time. This wine is spectacular, offering dark fruits on the nose and palate, such as boysenberry and blueberry, along with notes of mocha. Wine Enthusiasts ranked this wine 90 points. FANTASTIC WINE!

  • 2012 Meritage (Merlot 64%, Cabernet Franc 30% and Cabernet Sauvignon 6%) This wine displays old world characteristics on the nose.  Cabernet Franc has a dominant influence with plums and dark cherries being displayed.

Four Brix is continuing to grow and expand and is now leasing Cani Amante Ojai Valley Vineyard.  This 38-acre vineyard is owned by Debbie and Ed Guerra but Four Brix has total control of care and production of the grapes and wine. I believe this will open up many new avenues in wines as this land grows Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot for Bordeaux blends, but the majority of the vineyard has Italian red varietals such as Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Barbara.  

 

Besides spoiling everyone with their beautiful wines, you can also buy appetizers or lunch, which can be accompanied by a glass or bottle.  The pizzas are yours to create from sauces to ingredients.  We had two different gourmet style pizzas and they were both phenomenal.    

It is quite evident that Four Brix is on track to becoming (if not already) a highly recognized winery.  Four Brix is already gaining professional recognition for their wines as noted by ratings from Wine Spectator, 89 points for their 2010 Scosso and now 90 points for their 2013 Cani Amante Block 4.  They have a large group of dedicated followers including their club known as, "The Brix Heads".  I hope that this article entices you to visit them as they are definitely worth the trip.  The ambiance and comfort make you feel like a family member and good friend as soon as you walk through their door.  Four Brix is about blends at the moment, but who knows, that may change with the addition of Cani Amante Vineyard.  They already have a Riesling and Petite Shirah available as a single varietal.  They are definitely, “Not just another brix in the wall.”  They want to explore and push the limits of winemaking and production through creative blending and winemaking practices.  Visit them, you will not be disappointed and tell them Rusty sent you.

 https://fourbrixwine.com/

Cheers,

Rusty Sly

Wine Is the Most Civilized Thing in the World

Ernest Hemmingway in a book called Death in the Afternoon wrote, “Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”

This quote provides an exemplementry overview of  wine from vine to its role and use in society.  Though Hemmingway's quote was from a novel on bull fights, it really provides a detailed overview of wine over the ages.  Wine has been around for centuries and is well documented in many historical books.  Wine of old was a part of daily life and continues today in many countries such as France, Italy, etc being a mainstay at most meals.  Modern day wines have definitely improved and become more enjoyable by many different types of wine drinkers.  The civilization of wines has been developed over the centuries by people, terroir and dedication of those growing the grapes and producing the wines.

The quality of wine from the days of the Romans where the grapes were crushed and fermented in clay pots known as amphoras which were buried into the ground for temperature control to today's state of the art digitally/computer controlled fermenters.  Some modern day wineries continue to use clay pots, but with a more modern approach, offering a unique wine to the consumer.

In an article, "Winemakers Give Clay a Close Look", Andrew Adams says, "Winemakers at several different wineries are reporting that they’re impressed with early results from fermenting and storing wine in clay vessels. In another example of how what’s old in winemaking often becomes new again, imported amphoras and clay vessels produced in the United States are finding a place in cellars. Those who have used clay say it imparts unique flavors and aromas to the wine while also giving it a different texture."  Also as stated by Hemmingway, " one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing."  The winemakers that are using clay amphoras have found a unique benefit that is enjoyed by some wine drinkers.  Republic of South Georgia has continued with this process over the ages and produce some spectacular wines.

The drive for perfection is the result of variation in people's palates.  If not for this, we would all drink Thunderbird and call it a great wine.  Perfection requires Sommeliers, wine judges, wine makers and consumers to provide the inputs to allow continued development of wines into the "greatest perfection" alluded to by Hemmingway.  Variety of selections is also a benefit as we all have varied palates and enjoy different sensory stimulation from the wines we drink.  Varietal, acidity, fruit weight, complexity, and even alcohol content are considerations by various individuals.  Wine offers so much variety for one to enjoy.  Opening your eyes and stepping out of one's comfort zone will quickly validate that there is a whole new universe to be discovered.

As with many things in society, the perfection of wines has fallen under control to maintain the quality and how they are produced.  Many countries have modeled the controls on wine after the French appellation d'orgine controlee (AOC).  Some examples are Italy's Demominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DGOC) or Spains Denominacion de Origen, etc.  The United States has the American Viticultural Area (AVA) where wines are required to contain 85% of the grapes grown in the AVA.

Wines role in the various social circles is also diverse.  For some, it is just drinking for effect which really does not require a high point rating or cost a lot of money.  For others, it is a fantastic addition to a great meal or a special evening.  Finally, there are those that follow and collect wines that are so special and are willing to spend a lot of money to acquire some.  Some will twirl a glass and study the nuances over 1-2 hours analyzing the beautiful color, aromatics and taste as the wine absorbs oxygen releasing all of its beauty.  The statement by Hemmingway is extremely valid and can be seen over the course of history.  Cherish the gifts of this fantastic product that has remained constant yet has changed over time.

Cheers,

Rusty Sly

The Social Syrah

Syrah, or Shiraz, wines are a favorite of many red wine connoisseurs.   I often place Syrah and Merlot into what I call 'social wines' as neither have idiosyncrasies that will challenge or offend the drinker whether they are casual or Sommeliers. 

The grape varietal that is known as Syrah in France and Shiraz in Australia, but in the United States either name is applied depending on the style of the winery.  Originally, the Syrah grape was thought to have its origin in Persia.  The grape was called Shiraz after the name of the city it was believed to have originated from.  DNA and ampelographic (field of botany that studies the identification and classification of grapevines) findings however, do not support Persia as the origin.  To date, the evidence supports that Syrah grapes originated in Northern France.  Syrah is the offspring of two grapes from Southeastern France known as Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche.  The Syrah grape should not be confused with the Petit Syrah grape (Durif), which is a cross of peloursin and true Syrah.  The name Petite Syrah is very misleading since these wines are big, bold, deeply colored and tannic unlike Syrah wines.

Syrah is famous as being the primary grape in the Northern Rhone region of France and is associated with classic wines such as Hermitage, Cornas and Cote-Rotie.  The Syrah grape is believed to have been brought to France during the Crusades by Guy De’Sterimberg.  He lived as a hermit in his winery on a hill in the Rhone River Valley known as Hermitage.  The name Hermitage means chapel and is so named for a single chapel on this hill.  Hermitage is only one hill that is 300 acres in size where the soil is granite based.  One of my favorite vineyards is M. Chapoutier which occupies 175 of the 300 acres on this hill.  Chapoutier wines are unique as they were the first wine producer to put Braille on their labels.  Michael Chapoutier derived the idea when a singer friend, Gilbert Montagne, who was blind, commented on TV that he would need to have someone identify the wines in a store.  This was also a tribute to a family member of Chapoutier's, Maurice de La Sizeranne, who founded and was the president of the French Association for the Blind.

The Syrah grape was introduced to Australia in 1832 by James Bushby who brought in vines of several varieties from Europe. In the beginning, Australia used the Syrah grape for blending.  Later it was finally bottled as a single varietal and called Shiraz.  The late blooming nature of the Syrah grape suited the warmer growing conditions that are found in Australia.

Syrah grapes were introduced into California in the 1970s by a group of viticulturists known as the Rhone Rangers.  Washington has also been successfully planting Syrah grapes.  The climate and terroir are similar to that found in France thus providing some similarities in the wines. 

One of the key items is that the wines from the warmer climates, like Australia, were sweeter and riper with a fruit forward profile on the palate whereas the wines from cooler climates, like the Rhone Valley of France, displayed more pepper and spice aromas in their flavor profile and were dryer on the palate.  Climates play a huge role with this varietal as warmer climates result in high sugar and low acid where cooler climates result in low sugar and high acid. When grapes are grown in warm climates, the residual sugars are higher than those in cooler regions.  By having so much sugar available for the yeast to consume during fermentation the wines in regions like Australia can not only achieve high alcohol content but also maintain a substantial level of sweetness.  As an example, wines from Australia have an alcohol content of 16% while still maintaining a high level of sweetness whereas wines from France have alcohol contents of 13-14% and are dryer on the palate. 

 Sarah & Sparky Marquis

Sarah & Sparky Marquis

Alcohol content of wines always seems to be an area of discussion in wine circles.  Syrah wines from the US were in-between France and Australia when it came to alcohol content and sweetness.  Does this mean that it would be safe to say that the temperatures the grapes are grown is directly proportional to the alcohol content and sweetness of the wine?  Not necessarily, remember that other factors come into play such as when a winery decides to pick the grapes (ripeness) as well as when they decide to stop the fermentation process. The key thing is how much sugar is available in the grape at harvest.

Here is an overview as quoted from Appellation America on the Syrah grape that will help you to remember the characteristics and roles of Syrah in the wine world, “During the Roman occupation of Gaul you rose to fame as a captive vine turned gladiator. Your legend grew in the spartan competition of Northern Rhône amphitheaters. But little did the Romans know; you had more than just brute tannic power. Behind your fiery, spicy attitude there was the soul of a great leader. You outlasted the Romans and eventually ruled the Rhone Valley from the hill of Hermitage. But your greatest victory was to come in the New World, as emperor of the masses ‘Down Under’. Never one to rest on past laurels, you have set your sights on America. It is only a matter of time before you conquer this continent, leading the charge of an imposing legion known as the “Rhone Rangers.”

Cheers,
Rusty Sly

Sunstone Winery Santa Ynez

Tracy and I set out on a road trip to Santa Barbara to do a little site seeing and have some lunch.  Having left late, we were met by huge crowds and no parking.  Wanting to enjoy some time away from home, we decided to continue up the coast and go to Solvang.  As we approached Solvang, we saw the sign for Sunstone Winery. Having seen pictures and hearing about their cave, it didn't take much to convince us to stop and see what they had to offer.  Driving up and walking through a vine covered archway, you are greeted by a French style Courtyard and picnic ground where people are sitting around enjoying the outdoors with a glass of wine.  To the right of the vine covered archway is a beautiful tasting room also reflecting the French motif.  Across the courtyard are two large wooden doors on a stone masonry structure that is built into the side of the hill.  This is the location of their barrel aging cave and is frequently used for special events by club members. Walking into the tasting room we were warmly greeted by the staff of Sunstone.  

sunstone_courtyard edited.jpg

As we approached the bar, Jonathan Flores introduced himself and asked if we would like to taste their wines.  Who could refuse.  Sunstone has two different tasting flights from which to select.  They have the "Classic List" and the "Reserve List" to choose from.  Sunstone's primary emphasis is on Rhone and Bordeaux red varietals being their primary focus but they do have a very nice selection of white wines.  Johnathan began to talk about the history and how Sunstone Winery came into to existence.  Fred and Linda Rice purchased 52 acres in the Santa Ynez Valley in 1989.  Linda said, “Our goal was to create a place where wine and food could be enjoyed in a picturesque atmosphere." They have definitely captured this. The Sunstone Winery was opened in 1990 and thet were immediately challenged receiving a delivery of what was suppose to be Merlot grape vines only to discover that they were actually Viognier vines.  To this day they still bottle Viognier.  Fred and Linda's steadfast philosophy is using only organic farming practices and to the highest level.  They are true environmentalist and work hard to maintain these principles at Sunstone.  

As you drive to the tasting room you will see signs that provide directions to the tasting room and The Villa.  The Villa is private and located above Sunstone Winery with a view of the vineyards and Santa Ynez Valley.  Built in 1999 this 8500 square foot Villa consists of materials from various regions of France. These materials consist of architectural remains of buildings from reclamation yards, giving the Villa a very rustic appearance with many items containing a lot of history.  After listening to some of the historical background on Sunstone, Johnathan provided us with a selection of wines that showcased their winery.  

  • NV Brut - 100% Pinot Noir that has a unique brilliance due to it's nice acid level.  The acid balances the mild sweetness along with beautiful flavors of green apples and lemon.

  • 2013 Pinot Noir - The grapes used in this beautiful Pinot are from Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards of Santa Ynez.  Medium bodied with flavors of black raspberries and bing cherries.

  • 2014 Rhapsodie - Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre (GSM).  On the palate you will taste dark fruits such as plums, blackberries and raspberries with a beautiful acid balance.  One of many of our favorites at Sunstone.

  • 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon - This wine provided a beautiful fruit profile on the palate consisting of Blackberries and raspberries in a somewhat fruit forward profile along with beautiful mocha flavors.  

Jonathan provided us with a very unique surprise and poured two Cabernet Francs for us to try.  Cabernet Franc is one of my favorite wines and there was a unique difference between them.

  • 2013 Cabernet Franc - Very subtle and well integrated fruits and acids and perfectly balanced.  This wine reminded me a lot of an "Old World" wine. On the palate you get black cherry and raspberries along with peppery spices.

  • 2014 Cabernet Franc - This wine was more "New World" with bright red fruits such as cherries and again the distinctive peppery spices can be noted on the palate.

It was interesting that not one outshone the other from the people tasting this vertical. It was more defined by the style that each person enjoyed.  Tracy chose the 2014 and I the 2013 as favorites.  It is amazing how environmental conditions between these two years could develop such a unique and different wines.  Both were spectacular.

The star of the day was Sunstone's 2014 EROS, which is a Meritage following a French "Right Bank" Bordeaux" blend.  "Right Bank" Bordeaux wines use a large percentage of Merlot compared to the "Left Bank" which use Cabernet Sauvignon.  This wine is only released on Valentines Day every year.  The label on the EROS bottles is created for Sunstone by a resident artist, James Paul Brown.  The wine, OMG!  This is a beautiful example of a California Meritage that has some definite weight using a blend of 49% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Franc and 11% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Gorgeous red fruit flavors of blackberries and cherries that are beautifully integrated with acid.  On the palate, you get a smooth silkiness that lasts for a fairly long time.  This wine is to die for.

Though I did not see the Estate (private)or the Cave due to maintenance being performed, it was a fantastic adventure talking with Jonathan.  Add Sunstone to your bucket list next time you are in the Santa Ynez Valley or going to Solvang.  Guaranteed you will not be disappointed.  The care and hospitality given to patrons is outstanding.  Not to mention the spectacular wines, architecture and view.

http://www.sunstonewinery.com/

Cheers,

Rusty Sly

What Constitutes a Great Wine?

When you are out shopping for a wine, you will see wines priced from a few dollars to thousands of dollars.  The often asked question is, "can you taste the difference or are they really worth the added costs."  Some people have a dollar limit on what they will spend for a wine while others will pay top dollar for a wine.  The most important detail is to evaluate a wine based on one's own palate.  The proper technique for evaluating a wine is as follows:

  • Evaluate the color and appearance of the wine.

  • Gently swirl your glass to aerate or open up the wine and release the aroma and bouquet from the wine.

  • Take a fair amount of wine into your mouth, allowing all of your taste buds to come into contact with the wine to provide information on flavors, acid levels, etc.

  • Swish the wine around in your mouth and spit the wine out to detect acidity and tannins. 

  • Next, take a small amount of wine into your mouth and swallow to judge the length of time that the flavor lasts in your mouth before disappearing.

  • When tasting wines, avoid perfumes, after shaves, scented lotions, scented candles, etc as they will interfere with the process of smelling and evaluating the wines.

Now that we have established process for evaluating wines, "What is a great wine?"  This proverbial question varies between different types of wine drinkers.  It can be from a wine aficionado providing a recommendation, ratings, price, etc.  Do any of these provide recommendations that are based on our own palates or is it based on the fact that a knowledgeable wine connoisseur had recommended it therefore, it must be a great wine?   

Many years ago, I was asked to select two wines for a gentleman and his wife, of which neither were experienced with wines.  I asked a price range they were willing to spend and to my surprise the response was $200.  My first thought was that he could buy 8-10 bottles of different wines and acquire some appreciation as well as an idea of what they like or dislike.  Since he wanted two good wines, my selection was based on recommending wines that were going to provide a fabulous experience without approaching his $200 budget.  I selected the Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon ($60) and Belle Glos Pinot Noir ($40).  Both of these wines have a fine reputation and both would provide a pleasurable experience.  Did they really need to spend $200?  In my opinion the answer is no.  My take is that they felt the cost of a good wine was at least $100 per bottle.

Cost is one area used to define "Great Wines".  What about ratings?  So here is the dilemma for the wine aficionado:  How do we rate wines?  Do we use the 100 point rating system like Robert Parker (RP), Wine Advocate (WA), Wine Enthusiasts (WE) and Wine Spectator (WS)?  Below is John Vankat's (author of the Pocket Wine List) opinion of the 100 point rating system.

Wine Numbers
Numbers, numbers, numbers.  You see and hear wine numbers everywhere. 
Robert Parker gave this cabernet an 89.  This chardonnay was rated 91 by the Wine Spectator.  Wine Enthusiast said 86 for this zin.
I’ve been thinking about wine numbers ever since the “Chardonnay Challenge” appeared as a Wine Spectator cover story.  The Challenge involved two tasters, one an expert on California and the other on Burgundy.  They compared 20 California and 19 French chardonnays in a blind tasting, using the standard 100-point evaluation scale.
Sure, it was interesting to see which region “won” (it was California, by a nose).  But to me the most interesting result was that the two experts differed greatly in their evaluations of the same wines. Of course the experts sometimes agreed, but only on two of 39 wines — and they were one point apart on just two others. The differences? Well they ranged up to 13 points and averaged 5.1 points.
Five points in wine scoring is enormous.  The difference between 89 and 94 for example would be the difference between good and spectacular sales.  Ask any wine store. It’s BIG. And the differences weren't due to the regional preferences of the two experts.  No, the differences were due to the subjective nature of wine tasting.
So what do we take home from the fact that experts don’t agree? First, unless your genes and your environment have fortuitously provided you with exactly the same tastes as a wine expert, don’t be obsessed with numbers and depend solely on him or her to tell you what to drink.
Second, the common 100-point scale used by many wine periodicals is misleading, especially when the evaluations come from a panel of reviewers.  For example, one of the chardonnays evaluated in Wine Spectator received ratings of 95 and 82 from the two experts.  A tasting panel would average these and give a rating of 89, but note that this value doesn't convey anyone’s perception of the wine.
So should wine drinkers believe that there are real differences between wines rated 1, 2, or even several points apart by a tasting panel?  Obviously not.
But I’m not condemning wine evaluation; we all need advice in selecting from the hundreds of new wines released each week.  What I am condemning is the assumption that there is precision behind the numbers of a 100 point scale.  Can you imagine Siskel & Ebert giving TITANIC 96 thumbs up?  And then giving AS GOOD AS IT GETS 95 thumbs — as though that was a meaningful difference?
No, I’d use the 0-100 numbers only as a general guide.  In fact, I’d convert them to an A-B-C or 1 to 5 stars grading system. At Wine Pocket List, we grade on an A+, A, A-, and B+ scale. Anything lower and what good is a recommendation? But an A- wine at a great price makes it worth a taste.
I’d also ask wine periodicals to give us some help with this. Show people that wine evaluation is not an exact science and replace the inaccurate, deceptive 100-point evaluation scale with a simpler scale that is more likely to express genuine differences.  
Something everyday wine drinkers can understand, and use.  In short, get real.
John Vankat, PhD
Founder
The Wine PocketList

John Vankat brings up a very important point that unless the people judging these wines have your same palate, paying the extra money for a 95 point rated wine may be ridiculous.  I found from personal experience when brewing beer for competition, I had to increase the alcohol and hops to the maximum allowable for the beer in order to gain recognition from the judges and actually win awards.  The beers used in competition are far from what I make for my own personal consumption and enjoyment.  I have never been a hop-head and tend to drink Belgian, English, Scottish and German beers.  

Great wines can also be dependent on a given mood or occasion.  During an East Coast Grape of the Night meeting, a comparison was made between two top Australian Shiraz wines,  Molly Dooker Boxer and R Winery First Class.  I could not say that one was better than the other.  The Molly Dooker Boxer was a thick and heavily extracted fruit bomb that had a long lingering finish.  The R Winery First Class was more subtle, reminding me more of a French style wine,  slightly dry in the finish with well defined flavors on the palate. 

One member of our group stated that the Molly Dooker Boxer would pair well with a large, juicy steak adding that he would be in ecstasy.  Obviously, he favored the Boxer.  After some thought, my opinion was that it would depend on the situation and mood.  I would serve the First Class with a large juicy steak due to its elegance and have the Boxer while sitting in front of the fireplace on a rainy day.  Are either of us right or wrong?  Go back to the article by Vankat:  IT DEPENDS ON YOUR PALATE.  My rating on these two wines were both #1 on their own merits.  The caveat being the criteria that I explained above.  

In conclusion, my recommendations are to always judge a wine based on YOUR PALATE.  Do not let cost or point ratings make your decision on which wines to select.  There are many great wines that are under $20 to drink.  Look at Wine Spectators Top 100 and you will notice a number of wines that are not as expensive as one would think.  Wines are an adventure.  Taste and judge them for yourself.

 Cheers,

 Rusty Sly

It's Not What It's All Corked Up To Be

Recently, two colleagues provided me with inspiration to revitalize an article I wrote some years ago.  One joint consensus is that a bottle of wine is a living, breathing biosphere.  Since all living things need oxygen, a very small amount of oxygen is required for wines to survive and develop over time whether it’s one year or decades.  Too much oxygen will oxidize wine destroying a wines vibrant color, aromatics and taste.  A wines survivability is largely dependent on the presence of sulfur dioxide, which neutralizes the effects of oxygen.

Corks are an important part in the development of wines that are being cellared allowing the wine to reach a point where the flavors are in harmony between the fruits and acids.  This unique complexity is the Holy Grail to wine connoisseurs.  Cork is a very dense material that is made of many tiny cells which contain air.  Richard Grant Peterson, PhD wrote,” Remarkably, each cork cell is tetrakaidecahedral (14 sided).  The math majors among us realize that it takes 14 sided bodies to exactly fill a space with uniform bodies of minimal surface dimensions and without interstices.” His belief is that a cork is a perfect seal thus preventing a cork from breathing.  One piece of evidence used to support this position is Champagne.  Champagne maintains a constant positive pressure, preventing the carbon dioxide gas that makes it bubbly from diffusing, or passing through, the cork and becoming flat.  Even aged Champagnes with many years in the cellar maintain the distinct carbonation that they are known for.  However, the one flaw with this view is related to the size of the molecules involved.  Carbon dioxide has 1 carbon atom attached to 2 oxygen atoms and is much larger than oxygen (O2) which only has 2 oxygen atoms. Though Dr. Peterson states that the 14 sided cells of cork have minimum surface interstices, does the cork have the ability to filter gasses from diffusion and infusion?  Simply stated, does cork filter molecules of a certain size?

Another piece of evidence that supports oxygen is present in wine can be assessed by the amount of sulfur dioxide that is present. Shown by tests and documented in various literature that normal wines after bottling typically have a loss of 5-6ppm of sulfur dioxide.  Remember that the cause for sulfur dioxide loss is through direct contact and reaction with oxygen.  Sulfur dioxide is the chemical that helps preserve wines and protect them from oxidation.  Experiments have been run through careful processing, verifying that oxygen was completely removed from a wine when bottled, yet the results still showed a 5-6ppm sulfur dioxide drop found in numerous wineries. So where did the so called nonexistent oxygen come from to cause the sulfur dioxide to drop?

If cork is such a good seal that gas cannot pass through it, why do old wines that are properly maintained in cellars decrease in volume with age?  One possibility is that water and ethanol, like oxygen, are also small molecules. Another challenge to cork permeability of wine was shown years ago when lead was used as wine foils over the cork. Testing the wines, it was discovered that traces of lead was being found in the wine.  Where did the wine come from to cause the lead cover to corrode? Did the wine leak directly through the cork or around the sides (poor seal)? All of these facts show that cork is not a hermetic seal (100%).

Maybe saying that a cork breathes is a misnomer and should rather be referred to as transfer.  Saying that a cork breathes implies there is a vacuum in the bottle. The transfer of oxygen from the cork or cork/glass interfaces would be a very slow process as oxygen would need to migrate to the wet surfaces of the cork and diffuse into the wine.  However, the dilemma is the sealing properties of the cork and how oxygen gets to the wine.  The sulfur dioxide test showed that oxygen does indeed get into the wine providing evidence that the minor exchange could be the reason for allowing wines to age to splendor through a very slow process.

Evidence of gas transfer/breathing in cork is further reinforced with plastic corks that are raised or protruding from wine bottles.  Obviously, cork is not an absolute barrier where plastic synthetic closures are.  Is the cork working like a selective filter allowing gas molecules of only a certain size to penetrate and not others?  Champagne appears to provide evidence that this is occurring by maintaining carbonation and developing with age which requires oxygen.

Another piece of evidence that oxygen is finding its way into wines using cork was recently discovered where some screw capped wines have been found to contain trace amounts of hydrogen sulfide.  Hydrogen sulfide gives the odor of rotten eggs and has been one of the negative drawbacks noted with screw caps.  Detection of hydrogen sulfide in bottles using cork closures becomes undetectable almost immediately after the bottle is opened and oxygen is introduced.  This is not the case with screw capped wine, where hydrogen sulfide has been found more frequently and can remain after the bottle has been opened.  Hydrogen sulfide plus oxygen reacts producing sulfur dioxide and water, which, has no negative impacts to the wine.  This process does not happen since screw caps prevent oxygen from reaching the wine.  If cork is impermeable, why does cork not show signs of hydrogen sulfide like screw caps?  The amount of hydrogen sulfide noted in screw caps is very small and will probably not be noticeable by the average consumer.  

Looking at the evidence it is hard to dispute that gas exchange is occurring with cork closures and it is also being filtered to some molecular size, otherwise, oxygen exchange would not occur.  It can also be noted that corks are not hermetic, or 100% seals.  The Cork Council and industry have mitigated a lot of the concerns of Trichloroanisole (TCA) which has plagued the wine industry.  Cork is not the only source of TCA in wine, but is the most common source.  The beauty of development of fine wines such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo, Brunello, etc over decades of time will be lost with the new screw caps.  Maybe this is why we are not seeing a French Chateau Lafitte Rothschild or Chateau Figeac Bordeaux getting on the bandwagon to use screw caps.  Even Domaine Laroche went back to cork after seeing the impacts on development and loss of complexity in his wines.  Generally, you see very few old world wine producers using screw caps.  This is a very controversial topic with many variables.  The economics of small wineries needing 100% effectivity on quality and to remove the risk of TCA or other cork related impacts is very crucial.  For such situations where the wines are not meant to be aged for 10 years plus, this is a perfect answer.  Development has continued with screw caps and let’s face it, we have the technology to do anything.  But for wine collectors maybe it's a “Tradition” you just don’t screw with.

Cheers,

Rusty Sly

Kaena Winery

                                                     Chloe Yost & Mikael Sigouin

                                                   Chloe Yost & Mikael Sigouin

Producing fantastic wines is an art that is no different than painting a picture onto a canvas with oil paints.  With wine making, the canvas is what your nose senses, the palate taste and the visual beauty once poured into a fine crystal glass. What makes these two artists synonymous with each other is their passion to produce beautiful works of art. 

One such winery is Kaena in the Santa Ynez Valley, where artist, Mikael Sigouin skillfully produces wines for his followers.  Mikael is highly recognized for his artistic ability with a Rhone varietal known as Grenache.  In 2006, Wine Spectator ranked him as one of the top 10 new Rhone producers.  His Grenache wines are so highly rated that he is referred to as "The Grenache King".  The grapes that he selects for his works of art are primarily from the Tierra Alta and Larner Vineyard in the Ballard Canyon AVA.  

Though Mikael carries the crown as the king of Grenache, he has expanded his artwork to include Sauvignon Blanc and a spectacular Grenache Blanc.

The Grenache Blanc presents you with fine flavors of stone fruits, a nice body and perfectly balanced acidity.  This wine was in stainless steel for 2 months, followed by 6 months in neutral French oak.  What a masterpiece.

One major surprise for me was a 2015 Rose that Mikael gave me a barrel taste of.  The primary grape in this Rose is Grenache Noir with Grenache Blanc and just a touch of Syrah and Grenache Gris.  Looking at this wine in the glass you will immediately notice a very light tinge of red color.  This is a key indication that this wine is not heavily extracted like many California Rose.  Tasting this wine you get the subtle nuances of Grenache in beautiful harmony with the acids, providing a balanced and unique complexity.  What a showpiece.  Sipping this wine, I had visions that I was enjoying a Rose from Provence France. Fantastic wine.

Now the Grand Finale as if there really is one.  Mikael produced a 2011 Hapa Reserve that is off the charts.  This wine contains 50% Syrah, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Grenache.  Aged in new French oak barrels, this wine offers beautiful notes of mocha and chocolate along with dark fruits such as plum and dark cherries.  This wine just coats your palate with an exceptionally long finish providing tremendous depth.

Mikael is gaining high accolades for his wines.  His goal is to showcase the Grenache varietal from the Sana Ynez Valley.  Tasting his Grenache over the years, it is extremely impressive on his accomplishments, quality and the beauty of his work.  It is difficult to think that it could get much better.

His background of being half Hawaiian with a strong influences from his Grandmother are his inspirations.  He attributes many of his skills in wine making to her.  His Grandmother called him "Ka'ena'ai" which means "potential for greatness".  It is easy to see that she knew he had potential and we wine drinkers receive the gift of his greatness in every bottle of Mikael's wines.

Cheers,

Rusty Sly

http://www.kaenawine.com/

Liquid Gold

Mead.jpg

Many of us are familiar with beer and wine, but there is another enjoyable drink that people are not familiar with and that is meads. The immediate response that I generally get is, “what is mead?” Mead is basically fermented honey and is often called honey wine.

Mead dates back more than 8,000 years with the oldest known meads created on the Island of Crete. Wine had not yet evolved. Mead was the drink of the Age of Gold, and the word for drunk in classical Greek was “honey-intoxicated.” Mead is also thought to have been around before the creation of beer. The Romans called mead “ambrosia” and believed that this drink was a gift from the gods, hence the term, “Nectar of the Gods.”

Mead has been produced and enjoyed by Celtic nations for centuries. Ireland has had a long-standing love affair with Mead. In Celtic cultures, Mead was believed to enhance virility and fertility. The term “honeymoon” is believed to have been derived from the Irish tradition of newlyweds drinking honey wine every day for one full moon (a month) after their weddings. Mead was also believed to be an aphrodisiac as well as increase the chances for a woman to conceive boys. The traditional mead toast to thenewlyweds as a fair tribute to times and well wishes of both old and new is still practiced.

The interesting thing about meads is that there are many styles from which to choose from. Meads are made and sold based on honey source or blossom varietal  and sweetness level. Meads can range from cloyingly sweet to bone dry. Most meads are produced un-carbonated, but there are some carbonated versions. The alcohol content is about the same as most wines ranging from 9-12% ABV. Some meads are made with additional ingredients producing styles outside of the typical meads that are only made with honey, water and yeast. Selecting a mead that satisfies your palate is no different than choosing a wine style. There are many to choose from. Below is a list of different styles of mead:

• Braggot – mead 50% beer & 50% mead.

• Cyser – mead to which apple juice is added (making cyser part cider).

• Hippocras – a spiced pyment (a mead made with grape juice and spices).

• Melomel – mead to which fruit juices other than apple or grape are added.

• Metheglin – mead to which herbs and spices such as cloves, cinnamon, etc. are added.

• Morat – mead to which mulberries are added.

• Pyment – mead to which grape juice is added.

A simple mead made with honey, water and yeast often resemble a Riesling wine in both aroma and taste. As with Riesling wines, they can be sweet, dry or somewhere in between. The key ingredient for a mead is the choice of honey. Pure varietal, or “single-source” honey is the most highly prized as they offer a unique complexity on the palate. Varietal honeys are defined as those that are derived primarily from a single blossom, such as Fireweed, Tupelo or Orange Blossom.

I opened a bottle of 15 year old mead that my brother-in-law had made and poured it for a couple of friends. Neither had ever been exposed to honey wines and the tasting was blind. Both commented that it was a fine Riesling or white wine. The clarity of the mead and the elegance of the flavor profile was phenomenal. The difference from a Riesling wine was that this mead, like most, had background aromas and flavors of the honey from which it was made. In this case, it was clover from a Canyon Country California honey supplier. I sure wish my brother-in-law would have written down the process and ingredients that he used. I still have one bottle of this gorgeous mead left. The key to making excellent mead is to not destroy the aromatics of the honey during the process of making it. This mead was a fine example of a perfectly made mead.

If you are in the mood for a change, purchase a few different styles of mead and give them a try. You may find that you really enjoy this unique Nectar of the Gods. Being a home brewer, I really enjoy the braggots. The last one that I had was a clover honey mead and an oatmeal stout beer. It was unbelievable, what a combination!

Cheers,

Rusty Sly

Acids in Wines

AcidTasting-620x478.jpg

The topic of acids in wines has been the center of discussion many times in our wine circles. It is important to realize that both good and bad acids exist in the wines that we drink. Let's explore the different acids in wines and their influences on the wines that we drink.

Two common acids in wine are tartaric and malic acids, which vary depending on grape variety and region that they are grown. A good example is looking at the Chardonnay varietal from France verses California. A Chardonnay from Burgundy, France has a lower concentration of malic acid than one from Napa Valley California. Both tartaric and malic acids are nonvolatile, meaning that they do not evaporate or boil off when wine is heated. An example of a Volatile acid in wine is acetic acid which is vinegar. Acetic acid boils off easily when heated, and is a bad or undesirable acid in wine. Volatile acidity is part of the fermentation process and is normal when it is about 0.03-0.06% of the final product. One thing to note is that some old Italian wines have acetic acid that can be detected in the aroma and taste and is acceptable by drinkers of this style. This means that it is a little higher than normal, but if it gets too high it also would not be palatable.

Tartaric and malic acid production occur during grape development and is affected by temperature. Warm climates cause the acids to be removed from the grapes through respiration. This causes the wine from a warmer climate to have lower acid than wines from a cooler environment. Chablis from France have a much higher acidity level than a Chablis from California or Australia which is significantly warmer. One key item to remember is that cooler regions produce less sugar (lower alcohol) and higher acidity. Warmer climates produce higher sugar levels (higher alcohol) and lower acid levels. French wines like the Chablis are blessed with high acidity providing a brilliant and vibrant wine, but can be plagued during seasons where the grapes do not get enough warmth and sunlight to produce sugar levels needed for alcohol production.

In France there are requirements on the minimum allowable alcohol level for their wines. To remedy the problem with seasons producing low sugar contents in the grapes, the French Government allows controlled amounts of sugar to be added to the grape must in a process known as chaptalization. Chaptalization is not allowed in California, but is allowed in Oregon and New York, where cold weather can affect grape sugar levels. Warmer climates like California, where sugar levels and alcohol production is not an issue tend to lack acidity. These areas are permitted to add tartaric acid and other acids to increase the acidity of the wine.

 Malolactic fermentation (MLF) is a wine making process converting malic acid, which has a tart taste to lactic acid which is much softer on the palate. Some white wines undergo MLF and almost all red wines undergo MLF naturally. Some wines such as Chablis require MLF to lower their naturally high acidity. Since some wines have less malic acid than others, the MLF is not as important in these wines as those with higher malic acid levels. For example, a White Burgundy typically contains less malic acid than a Napa Valley Chardonnay. Therefore, when a white burgundy undergoes MLF, very little acidity is lost and the characteristics of the wine is maintained. But a California Chardonnay contains more malic acid so when it changes into lactic acid the acidity changes appreciably. The problem in cool climates is too much acid, whereas the problem in warm climates is too little acid. For consistency the U.S. measures total acidity (TA) of a wine as all the acid is tartaric. This maintains consistency in the measuring of total acidity in a wine. A high TA is 1.0% which would be very tart to most people. A low TA of 0.4% would result in a wine that is flat tasting without any type of vibrancy to it. Low TA wines are also more susceptible to infections and spoiling. As a benchmark, most red table wines have about 0.6% TA and white wines are usually a little higher.

PH is a logarithmic scale used to measure a solution's acidity level. To put this into perspective, a wine with a pH of 3 is 10 times more acidic than a wine with a pH of 4. The thing to remember about pH is that the higher the pH, the lower the acidity, and the lower the pH, the higher the acidity. TA and pH are related, but are different in the measurement of acidity in wine. The pH represents the active acidity of the wine. If too high, say 4.0 or above, the wine becomes susceptible to spoilage. Low pH inhibits spoilage and will preserve the wine. Tartaric acid is sometimes added to fermenting grape juice in California to achieve an acceptable final pH since some acid is lost during the fermentation process.

  PH Scale

PH Scale

Having a higher PH reduces the TA of the wine. For example, a California Chardonnay has a total acidity of 0.58 grams per 100 ml (0.58%) and a pH of 3.4 compared to a TA of 1.10 grams per 100 ml (1.10%) and a pH of 2.91 in a late harvest Johannesburg Riesling with 21% residual sugar. Higher acidity is required in sweeter wines to balance the high sugar content.

 Cheers,

Rusty Sly

2015 Pinot Days of Southern California

On November 21, 2015, the 7th Annual Southern California Pinot Days was held at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles California. As usual, Producer Steve Rigisich and the entire Pinot Days team hit another home run. And for all of us that attended, I think that you will agree that it was an event that will be remembered for a long time or at least until the 2016 Pinot Days. Learning about Pinot Noir wines can be quite challenging. In keeping with my philosophy that to learn about wines, you must experience the wines through education and tasting. Pinot Noir is a varietal that has so many variations that you will never reach the light at the end of the tunnel. They vary based on terroir, region, country, clone and the vintner's artistry. Pinot Days is a spectacular place to school yourself on this wine varietal. Pinot Days allows you to sample and discover the many facets of Pinot Noirs from 70+ vintners. Adding to this, the ambiance of the beautiful venue at the Skirball Center and you are in for a very special day. The diversity of this wine can only be recognized at an event like Pinot Days allowing you to truly enjoy and appreciate what this grape varietal has to offer. One exciting and unique characteristic of this wine that you will discover is that it has something to offer everyone from the big Cabernet Sauvignon drinkers to those that enjoy the lighter more elegant style of wines designed in the impeccably beautiful Burgundian style. Flavors from various Pinots poured at this event included the typical cherry (light and dark), cranberry and strawberry along with subtle spice notes and other unique flavors. The list of vintners at this year's Pinot Days included:

Amalie Robert Estate, Ancien Wines, Ancient Oak Cellars, August West Wine, Bannister Wines, Belle Glos Wines, Benevento Wines, Bernardus Vineyards and Winery, Buena Vista Winery, Cellars 33, Chenoweth Wines, Conarium Wines, Cornerstone Cellars Oregon, Crafted Gluten Free, CRU WINE COMPANY, Davis Family Vineyards, DeLoach Vineyards, Dolin, Domaine Anderson, DOMAINE DELLA, Donum, Farm Fresh To You (Los Angeles), Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard, Foley Family Wines, Foursight Wines, Foxen Vineyard, Furthermore Pinot Noir, gainey vineyard, Golden State Container, Gros Ventre, Cellars, Hahn Estate, Hotel Angeleno, Inman Family Wines, J Vineyards & Winery, J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, J. Wilkes, Keller Estate, Ken Brown Wines, Kenneth Volk Vineyards, Kerrygold Cheese, Kessler-Haak Wines, KRAVE Jerky, Loring Wine Company, LunaOlivo, MacMurray Estate Vineyards, MacPhail Family, Wines, Maldonado Family Vineyards, Meiomi, Monterey Chocolate Company, Morgan Winery, Navarro Vineyards, New Zealand Winegrowers, Pali Wine Company, Panthea Winery & Vineyard, Papapietro Perry Winery, Philo Ridge Vineyards, Prim Family Vineyard, Ram's Gate Winery, Robert John Russo Gallery Romililly Wines, Siduri Wines, Sojourn Cellars, Sokol Blosser Winery, Spell Estate, Stoller Family Estate, Wine House, Thomas Fogarty Winery, Trombetta Family Wines, Vinemark Cellars, Waits-Mast Family Cellars, Westwood Estate Wine, Wrath, and Yelp

Walking through the event sampling wines you will also discover a nice display of cheese, salami and bread at various locations. The cheeses included a few different types of hard to creamy allowing you a nice selection for recovery of your palate. The appetizers were great and provided a little break from the number of wines on the floor.

What's really touching was seeing how many small production vintners were present. These wineries produce a very limited number of cases and it puts a large dent in their overall profits pouring for such a large event. These people are producing their wines from the heart and they want to reach out and provide you with an opportunity to sample and see what their families have worked so hard to produce. One of the vintners that I spoke to said that they were farmers and that they grow a few Pinot grapes on the side. What a passion. Pinot Noir is one of the most difficult varietals that you could select to grow on the side and then to produce wines of such quality to showcase it is phenomenal. My heart goes out to these producers. These small producers like David in David and Goliath, show the quality of their product, side by side with the Goliath's or high production wineries at the show. One thing that I have always noticed though is that small or large, all of these wineries and vintners are like one big happy family. The friendships and camaraderie amongst these Pinot Noir folks is awesome. These small production wineries were terrific and though I was not familiar with many of them, I found that many times the wines were top-notch.

What a fantastic event. Just to give you a look at the magnitude of this spectacular event, go to the Gallery in Sly's State of Wine and look at the posted pictures from the 2015 Pinot Days. Thank you to all the vintners, trades and general public that attended to make such an event as this a success. And special thanks to Steve Rigisich and the Pinot Days team for such a fantastic event. Wine connoisseurs are one big family, let’s support them and I will see you at the next Pinot Days.

Cheers,

Rusty Sly

The Importance of Sulfur in Wine

When we sit down with friends or family and pop the cork on that special bottle of wine we immediately capture the aromas of various fruits. As we pour the wine into a glass and swirl it, our noses begin to perceive other unique aromatics such as various fruits, mocha, wood, saddle, smoke, etc, etc, etc. Next we taste it and again, we get a little tingle on the tongue and a puckering affect on the side of the mouth along with various fruits and flavors. It may be dry or sweet. All of these characteristics are the results of chemistry.

To preserve and maintain the flavor, aromatics and color of wine relies on a chemical known as Sulfur Dioxide (SO2). SO2 was discovered and used in wine production back in the days of the Romans. In 1487 the Prussian Royal decree officially allowed the use of SO2 in wines to help preserve them during storage and transport. The method of introducing the SO2 to the wine in these early times was the same as used by the Romans hundreds of years earlier. They would burn sulfur candles inside of the barrels before adding the wine. Once the wine was added, the chemical reaction of the sulfur and wine formed SO2 which prevented the wine from spoiling.

Not all sulfur needs to be added artificially as grape skins naturally create from 6 to 40 parts per million (ppm) of sulfites during fermentation. Wines in the United States can contain up to 350 ppm of sulfites. Organic wines limit the use of sulfites to 100 ppm in all produced wines. Most organic wines contain less than 40 ppm of sulfites. SO2 is added at most stages of the white winemaking process, from crushing through bottling. During red winemaking, it is mandatory to add SO2 following the completion of malolactic fermentation.

Addition of SO2 is accomplished via various methods. Many wineries infuse SO2 gas directly into the wine. Others add sodium bisulfite or potassium metabisulfite as a powder or tablet. Sodium bisulfite or potassium metabisulfite release SO2 gas when added to water or products that contain water.

Now that we understand a little of the chemistry of SO2, let's look at what it means to us the consumer and our wines. The largest benefit to the wine consumer as discovered hundreds of years ago is that it preserves and allows wine to age well beyond a few months. This is accomplished in a couple of ways. First, it is an antimicrobial agent, which prevents the growth of undesirable yeasts and bacteria. Second, it acts as an antioxidant, preserving the wine's fruit integrity and protecting it against browning.

As a antimicrobial agent, it helps prevent the growth of harmful yeast and bacteria in wine. The yeasts that are chosen for wines by the vintners have developed a resistance to SO2 over the years. This allows the vintner to regulate the final product removing faulty flavors by the influence of wild yeasts in the wines.

As an anti-oxidant, SO2 prevents browning and protects the fruit qualities of the wine, SO2 can bond with a molecule called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde smells like a bruised apple or rank sherry. Again, this is caused by a wine undergoing oxidation. When SO2 reacts with acetaldehyde, they bond together producing a molecule that is harmless and odorless. This allows the wine to not show the bad signs of acetaldehyde to the consumer. The bottom line is that SO2 effectively eliminates wines of the ill effects of oxidation.

Although SO2 has huge benefits to wines, there can also be negative effects if too much is added. In white wines, if the sulfur content is too high it will present a sulfur smell much like that of a fresh lit match. The wine will also have a harsh metallic taste on the palate. In young red wines, excessive SO2 bonding with anthocyanins will cause the red color to bleach or lighten. In older red wines, the anthocyanins bond with tannin molecules which prevents the bleaching process of the SO2. As the SO2 concentration declines over time, the color returns. If a sulfur nose is detected in a red wine, this is not the result of excess SO2 but a wine fault caused by the presence of Hydrogen sulphide (H2S). Many of us have smelled that distinct odor of rotten eggs when we get around stagnant water in mud bogs. That is H2S. The mud flats of Bolsa Chica Beach instantly comes to my mind remembering college days when I was doing research there for a Marine Biology course.

If you remember my article on different wine closures, it has been noticed that the Roll On Tamper Evident (ROTE) or Stelvin closures has shown a high incidence of sulfur odor in young white wines. Remember, these closures keep oxygen out and SO2 in the bottle. Without chemical interaction between the two, the sulfur dioxide is at a higher level than what would be found in a bottle with a cork closure where oxygen migrates slowly into the wine reacting with the SO2. This is only a factor in very young white wines (less than a few months in the bottle). As it ages, the chemistry balances out and the smell of sulfur will become undetectable.

I hope that I did not put everyone to sleep with the chemistry. The key things to remember is that chemicals like SO2 are very important to wines. We hear buzz words like oxidized, corked, tannic acid, etc. We never hear about chemicals such as SO2. The fact that this simple chemical is helping our wines to stay fresh, have good color and not be spoiled or damaged over time is phenomenal. The benefits of sulfur dioxide are so great as a preservative that since its discovery, it is used in almost all perishable foods that we buy today.

Cheers,

Rusty Sly

Southern California Pinot Days - November 21st, 2015

The way to learn about wines is through experience which includes knowledge and tasting. When you get into the complexity of a wine like Pinot Noir, it is mandatory.  With possabilities of over 1000 different clones, and being heavily influenced by various terroir (weather, soil, etc) and vintner artistry, Pinot Noir is very unique and offers a lot of variations.  One of the best places to sample, compare and learn about Pinot Noirs is to attend the 7th Annual Pinot Days of Southern California that will be held at the Skirball Center on Nov 21, 2015.  The wineries that will be present range from very small boutique wineries that produce only a few hundred cases to the well established wineries that produce thousands of cases.  These small wineries as with David and Goliath, always amaze me at this event as they are not afraid to step forward and showcase their products next to the well established Pinot Noir producers.  Many will surprise you with how fantastic they are.  These small producers put their heart and soul into their product. But even with this bit of internal competition, there is still a lot of camaraderie among the various vintners at this event.  And why not, the large and small wineries are all members of one big happy family that have a common passion.  To get a feel of the beauty and magnitude of this event review the pictures from the 2013 and 2014 Southern California Pinot Days. 

The diversity in flavors that can be found in Pinot Noir wines has something that will tantalize everyone's palate.  There are the big bold Pinot Noirs that that will coat your entire mouth and make converts out of the Cabernet Sauvignon drinkers to the more elegant and lighter Burgundian style that the romantics will enjoy.  Flavors can range from dark cherries, bright cherries, cranberries, strawberry, etc.  All I can say is that this is a fantastic varietal that provides an ecstasy in aromas and flavors for a multitude of palates.  One opportunity that one gets at Pinot Days is the ability to taste Pinot Noir wine from different vineyards, regions and clones allowing one to compare the various effects on this varietal.  

There will be over 100 examples poured by various vintners.  To date, here is a list of attendees at this year's event:

Ancien Wines, August West Wine, Belle Glos Wines, Benevento Wines, Bucher Vineyard Wines, Chenoweth Wines, Cru Wine Company, Davis Family Vineyards, DeLoach Vineyards, Dolin Family Cellars, Domaine Anderson, Expression Wines, Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard, Foley Family Wines, Foxen Vineyards, Furthermore Pinot Noir, Gainey Vineyards, Inman Family Wines, J Vineyards & Winery, J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, Keller Estate, Ken Brown Wines, Kendric Vineyards, Kessler-Haak Wines, Krave Jerky, Loring Wines, LunaOlivo, MacMurray Estate Vineyards, MacPhail Family Wines, Meiomi, Monterey Chocolate Company, Morgan Winery, Navarro Vineyards, New Zealand Winegrowers, Pali Wine Company, Philo Ridge Vineyards, Prim Family Vineyard, Ram's Gate Winery, Robert John Russo Gallery, Siduri Wines, Sojourn Cellars, Sokol Blosser Winery, Spell Estate, Stoller Family Estate, The Calling, Thomas Fogarty Winery, Vinemark Cellars and Wrath.

In closing, I would like to share a quote from Appellation America on Pinot Noir, " You're beautiful...a goddess...but so exasperating! Loving you is like worshiping an unfaithful temptress! As often as you've disappointed us with your undependable ways, you always seem to draw us back. Your alluring beauty and elegance leave us helpless and forgiving of all your moodiness. So long disdainful of any place outside of your home on the golden slopes of Burgundy, we’ve learned to pacify your temperamental nature with brisk coastal breezes and hillside vistas of the New World. Perhaps now you will grace us with all the charm and beauty that has kept the Burgundians devoted to you for centuries."

I would definitely get tickets to this years 7th Annual Pinot Days of Southern California on Nov 21, 2015.  And to make this opportunity even sweeter the event producer, Steve Rigisich, is offering a 33 % discount for this event to my readers and friends. Just click on the Promo Code tab and type in RSLYSC15. You will be surprised at the fun you will have exploring this beautiful varietal known as Pinot Noir.  Here's to seeing you there.

Cheers,

Rusty Sly

They Call Me Pinot...Pinot Noir

There is so much beauty and fascination in a wine called Pinot Noir that it would take books to be able to write all of the details on this varietal.  Pinot Noir is one of the wines that really reflects the terroir from where it comes.  Regional influences such as soil and climatic conditions all weigh heavily with the creation of this spectacular wine not to mention the long list of clones that have been created through the magic of genetics.  I have been attending Pinot Days of Southern California produced by Steve Rigisich over the past few years where I am fascinated by the diversity of this beautiful varietal. 

Keeping in mind the fact that Pinots are so diverse have you ever wondered how or why there is so much difference in Pinot Noirs with regards to color, body, alcohol, flavor, etc?  Even in California a person can find one that is a beautiful translucent red or it can be a deep dark purple in color.  Tasting these wines from just California definitely show flavors of a soft elegant wine to big bold fruit forward style.  What causes this difference?  Some say that the vintner has added Syrah to enhance the Pinot Noir and achieve the darker color and bolder flavor.  It is true that California only requires by law that 75% of a specific varietal is required to be labeled as a single varietal.  However, this practice was also used in Burgundy pre World War I where Burgundy purchased the bulk of Chateauneuf-du-Pape for blending to increase the strength and alcohol of the Pinot Noir's known as vin de medecine according to Karen MacNeil in her book "The Wine Bible".  One item to note however is that the Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines of this time were much lighter than those produced in France today.  The practice of blending in Burgundy has since died off and there is no evidence to reflect the frequency that the practice was used.

So what about those luscious, dark California Pinot Noirs that so many of us love?  Are they blended with a Rhone varietal such as Syrah or are there other factors that need to be considered?  The topic that some Pinot Noirs are too big and ripe to be 100% pinot has created a lot of discussion and debate in wine circles.  If you research Pinots with additions of other varietals (shown on the label), you will find that most are in the lower price range ($10).  This addition is a way to produce Pinots which are difficult to grow and generally drive a much more expensive cost.  Dr Vinny in Wine Spectator states, "You’re correct that it’s more of a rarity to see Pinot Noir blended in still wines. If anything, I’ve heard of a touch of Syrah or other heavier red wine grapes blended into Pinot Noir to give it more intensity.  But Pinot Noir’s supple texture, sense of place and wonderful balance don’t generally lend themselves to blending, and neither do its relatively high cost and difficulty of cultivation."

This tends to question if producers (small and large) would ever want to utilize such a process with their estate grown Pinot Noirs.  Though one cannot say that it has never been done as it is allowable in both France and California.

Looking deeper into the process of producing fine Pinot Noir, there are other factors that have a heavy influence on creating these big, bold and dark colored Pinots.  One major effect is the length of time the grapes go through different phases of development.  Once the grapes reach a stage called fruit set, the berries have little sugar and are high in organic acids.  The next stage is termed Veraison and is the point where the grapes ripen.  It is at this stage that the chlorophyll in the grape is replaced by anthocyanins (red grapes) and the sugar content increases and the acidity level is lowered.  Typically this stage is 100 days but at many vineyards the time from Veraison to harvest can be 120 days or more. The added time in this stage allows for further anthocyanin development and phenols which definitely increase the darkness of the Pinot being made.  To make it more complex, addition of enzymes such as Color Pro or Color X can be used which assists in the breakdown of the skin which can also lead to a much darker Pinot.

Another factor that influences the depth of color in a Pinot is in the fermentation process.  Pinots that are fermented as whole clusters, where the stems are maintained, produce lighter wines than those fermented using only the berries.

Many of us that drink Pinot Noirs have seen the many profiles that it can offer, whether it is caused by vineyard, vineyard location, vintner processing, etc, etc, etc.  The possibilities of style, color and flavor are endless in this most prestigious wine that evolved from Burgundy France.  Adding Syrah, or Rhone varietals, would have a drastic impact on the beauty of these wines that the producers are showcasing. 

For further proof of this wine's diversity, attending the Southern California Pinot Days is extremely beneficial. You will see Pinot Noirs ranging from brilliant translucent red to almost black in color along with a wide variety of flavors and profiles that will open your eyes to this beauty.  It is definitely worth the price of admission.  However, if you are unable to attend this event have one of your own to sample and explore the many variations this varietal has to offer in all of the terriors it hales from.

Cheers,

Rusty Sly

It's Just a Glass

Does it really matter if you are drinking wine from a Dixie cup or a crystal wine glass?  Does it matter what size the cup or glass is?  Some people are sold on Riedel crystal glasses where others have no preference.  The question that I pose is, "What is the purpose of the wine glass to you?"  The reason that I ask this is because all of us have different interpretations of what drinking wine is all about. 

I have specific criteria and expectations from a wine glass and here is a list of key turnoffs for me when it comes to wine glasses:

  • Too small of a bowl which creates two issues. First, if you swirl your wine and most of us do, you will end up wearing it.  Second, if you can't swirl you can't help the wine open up and display its beautiful aromas and flavors.

  • Painted or stenciled logos on glasses that festivals, wineries and some wine bars use to tell people where the glass came from.  Logos or stencils detracts from allowing one to view the brilliance and beauty of the wine. I do not mind logos placed on the base of the glass.  This allows advertising a winery or event as well as allowing a person to see the beauty of their product.

  • Glasses that are too thick making them awkward and distorting a wines appearance. I like a wine glass that is light and delicate that can be held comfortably by the stem or base.  Being thin allows one to view the beautiful brilliance of a wine.

  • Glasses without stems which result in finger prints on the glass and difficult to hold the larger red versions for wines like Pinot Noir.  By holding the bowl directly causes the wine to change temperature.

When you make a decision to buy wine glasses you will begin to realize that there are many different shapes and sizes for every style of wine that you drink.  There is no correct or proper glass dictated by official guidelines but perception and visual appeal are very important.  For example, champagne glasses, or flutes, are long and slender allowing one to see the bubbles ascending in this beautiful beverage.  This sets an image of sensuality and romance.  Imagine a newlywed couple at their reception drinking champagne from a universal wine glass verses drinking from champagne flutes.  The image is quite different.  If you have a thin crystal Pinot Noir glass with a fine Pinot wine you can see the beautiful brilliant red color of the wine through the glass.  These views setup the aesthetic perception of wines that make them so appealing and beautiful.

There are also advantages to a specific size and shape of wine glasses for different wines.  Traditionally wine glasses with larger, broader bowls are used for bold red wines with bigger bouquets, and narrower wine glasses are used to concentrate the more delicate aromas of lighter white wines.  However, within the red wines, a Zinfandel glass and a Pinot glass are quite different in size and shape.  Why?  Pinot Noirs are generally aromatic and given a large surface area will provide an intense bouquet of fruits.  Zinfandels are less  aromatic so a narrower glass helps concentrate the aromas of the Zinfandel wine which allows the nose to pick up all the subtle aromas. 

If one looks at Riedel wine glasses, you will notice that they have designed specific glassware to enhance the aromas and flavors of specific varietals for both red and white wines. Robert Parker Jr. of the Wine Advocate wrote, "The finest glasses for both technical and hedonistic purposes are those made by Riedel. The effect of these glasses on fine wine is profound. I cannot emphasize enough what a difference they make."

Then there are the proverbial stemless wine glasses.  I am going to let the wine snob side of me loose for a minute.  In my opinion, wine etiquette 101 is that wine glasses are suppose to be held by the stem or base.  The reason is that you do not want to warm up the glass of wine that was hopefully served around cellar temperature if it was a red and slightly cooler if it was a white.  Next, the finger prints on the glass bowl detracts from allowing the beauty of the wine to show through.  The ultimate question is how does one swirl these stemless glasses?  This is why the stemless glasses lose on all counts in my book.  I have also found that the larger stemless glasses used for such wines as Pinots are uncomfortable and awkward to hold.

Once you have the proper glass for your wine  proper fill height is also critical.  For a red wine you want to fill the glass one third to one half full.  I like to fill red wines to the curve of the wine glass bowl which is about one third.  By not over filling the glass it allows you to swirl and smell the aromas as they rise inside of the glass.  It also allows you to tip the glass at a 45 degree angle, or more, to observe the color and brilliance of a thin layer of the wine against a white surface. For white wines the glasses are smaller and narrower to intensify the aromatics.  The fill height for white wines should be one half to two thirds of the glass.

 

My wife picks on me constantly about my wine etiquette beliefs but it's nice to sit down and have a beautiful wine of your choice poured into a proper glass that allows the wine to strut its stuff.  We drink, share and enjoy wines out of passion and love.  If we are drinking for effect, then it really doesn't matter what it is served in.  Who needs a glass!  For wine connoisseurs, like myself, I do not believe that is the case.

Cheers,

Rusty Sly

Foxen Winery Santa Maria

Foxen 7200

"Shack"

New Foxen Tasting Room.jpg

Foxen 7600 

"New Tasting Room"

Foxen Winery was formed in 1985 by Bill Wathen and Dick Dore.  The winery is named in memory of Dore's great-great grandfather, Benjamin Foxen, who was an English sea captain that came to the Santa Barbara area in the early 1800's.  In 1837 Benjamin purchased Rancho Tinaquaic with a Mexican land grant consisting of 9000 acres which is now a large part of Foxen Canyon. The anchor that is displayed at the winery and on the wine bottles is the trademark of the winery paying homage to the sea captain. When visiting Foxen Winery you have an option of three different wine tasting flights at two different locations or tasting rooms.  The original and oldest tasting room is known as the "Shack" named Foxen 7200. This tasting room offers one wine tasting flight consisting of Bordeaux and Italian styles that are bottled with a new and unique label that says, "foxen 7200".

In 2009 Foxen built a new winery and tasting room just up the road from the "Shack" where they offer two wine tasting flights which focus on Burgundy and Rhone style wines.

Tracy and I stopped at the newest tasting room located at 7600 Foxen Canyon Road after missing and driving past the original "Shack" located at 7200 Foxen Canyon Road.  Yes, they are just a stone throw from each other but even our GPS failed to find the Shack.  Entering the tasting room we were greeted by Jonathan Lynn who explained the three different tastings that are available and proceeded to go into details of the two offered at this site.   

Jonathan started us off with a Chardonnay that I really enjoyed. The profile was between French and American in style by not being overly buttery or oaky with a nice sharp acid crispness.  It is not difficult to see why this wine received a rating of 90-92 points by Wine Spectator and 92 points by Wine Enthusiast. This chardonnay was excellent.  Next was the Rose of Mouvedre which as the Foxen brochure says, "Bandol inspired Rose".  Bandol is located in Southern France where most of the grapes grown are Mouvedre.  Bandol is renown for their rose wines.  Kudos to Foxen.  This rose was light on the palate with beautiful acid balance and a subtle fruit profile of Mouvedre.  If you were blind tasted on this rose you would probably conclude that it was a French rose from Bandol. Foxen also has a Syrah from Tinaquaic Vineyards that displayed a little bit of Old World on the nose with subtle notes of barnyard. But once on the palate you are met with beautiful fruits and spice notes. Foxen's Syrah adds 8% Viognier which produces floral notes and rounds out the mouth feel providing further complexity to this wine. This practice is used in Northern France in Cote Rotie wines where up to 20% (co-fermented) Viognier can be added to the Syrah. 

Now for their Grand Finale, "PINOT NOIR"!  If you love Pinots like my wife does, this is the place to go.  This region produces some of the finest examples you could ever hope for from light delicate Burgundian styles to full bodied heavy weights that the Cabernet Sauvignon drinkers will enjoy. Johnathan provided us with a unique adventure through Santa Maria Valley and Santa Rita Hills where he showcased some fantastic examples that are produced by Foxen.  He was very knowledgeable about the terroir and vinification processes providing details for each wine making this tour informative and fun.  Here is a list of the Pinot Noirs sampled and there were many more available on wine list.

  • 2013 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley

  • 2012 Sebastian Vineyard 

  • 2012 Fe Ciega Vineyard 

  • 2012 Block 43 Bien Nacido Vineyard

  • 2012 Block 8 Bien Nacido Vineyard

After completing our first stop at Foxen we thanked Jonathan and proceeded to their original winery/tasting room the "Shack" to taste Foxen's Bordeaux and Italian style wines.  Entering the old tasting room it is not difficult to see why it is called the "Shack", it definitely shows the age of time and nostalgia of early wineries.  Inside there was an ambiance of cheer as people sampled the wines, talked and laughed.  Listening to the conversations you soon realize that this old tasting room has its share of regulars.  We were greeted by Heather and Mo and asked if we would like to taste the wines. Bellying up to the bar Heather and Mo set out glasses and started us off with a 2013 Sauvignon Blanc.  Being a typical hot California summer day the bright acid crispness with beautiful citrus flavor of this wine was very refreshing.  

Next we sampled the 2012 Pajarito from Happy Camp Santa Barbara. This wine is a Bordeaux/Meritage blend consisting of 45% Petite Verdot (Vogelzang Vineyard) and 55% Merlot (Vogelzang and Grassini Vineyard).  This wine is gorgeous with the powerful rustic flavors of the Petite Verdot that are softened by the added Merlot.  Great example of showing how Petite Verdot, which is generally less than 20% in most French Bordeaux wines, can offer so much and be so good.

Moving down their wine list our hostesses poured a 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon from Vogelzang Vineyard.  This wine uses 10% Merlot which is not uncommon for a Cabernet Sauvignon.  Taste was very good and it is definitely a drink now style of wine.  A very unique wine on their list was their 2012 Range 30 West. Where did they ever come up with a name like 30 West for a wine?  It just so happens that this is the US Geographical Survey designation for the area of Happy Camp that the Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes are sourced from for this wine. Excellent wine with a big and bold profile with a lot of dark fruits in harmony with a good balance of acidity.  

I stated earlier that the shack was for serving Foxen's Bordeaux and Italian wines.  One Italian wine we tried was the 2012 Guillermo Grosso which consists of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Very nice example of an Italian style wine.  Tracy and I both commented that it would highly accent the flavors of pasta or any other such Italian dishes.  This wine is all about food.  Heather and Mo poured a wine at the end of our tasting that I and a close friend of mine share a passion for, Cabernet Franc.  I wish he could have been with us to taste this wonderful version of this unique wine.  One of my many favorites at Foxen.

Foxen Winery was a big surprise for me.  I have had Pinot Noirs from their winery but never knew how dedicated they are at making this very challenging wine.  They have definitely showcased the beauty and diversity of this varietal from the various terroirs of this region.  My hats off to them as all of their wines were excellent and displayed creativity and uniqueness that both Tracy and I enjoyed.  You can bet that we will return.

http://www.foxenvineyard.com/

Cheers,

Rusty Sly