French Champagne


Here is a wine that says romance or special occasion.  We do not see people at wine parties lining up bottles of Champagne for all to savor throughout an evening at parties.  However, it is quite often served at the beginning of a dinner party along with delicate appetizers to enhance everyone’s palate and prepare everyone for an evening.  So what makes this wine so unique?

Champagne is a wine produced in the Champagne region of France. Now we get into the unique ownership of the name “Champagne”.  I was asked by many GOTN folks the details about the wines that they needed to bring to GOTN.  Were they only supposed to be from Champagne, France or could they be sparkling wines from California, Italy, etc.  It is true that only sparkling wines made in Champagne, France can label their bottles as such.  But there is one exception to this rule. The United States can use the title “Champagne” if they were using it prior to 2006 and they include the actual origin of the wine on the label.  All other wines of this type must be labeled as sparkling wines. Sparkling wines from other European countries are sold under names such as:

  • Prosecco (Italy)

  • Cava (Spain)

  • Sekt (Germany and Austria)

  • Spumante or Asti Spumante (Italy)

There are 3 grape varietals used in Champagne.  They are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.  Champagne comes in various colors based on exposure time of the wine to the skins of the grapes.

So what makes Champagne so unique?  How do they create such fine bubbles that Champagne is known for?  The questions go on and on about this wine.  The production of fine bubbles is the results of 2ndary fermentation, which occurs in the bottle. This process can be seen in many beers that are bottle carbonated or conditioned such as Belgian ales.  The result of this process is very fine bubbles, whether it is a beer or Champagne.  The process involves bottling the wine followed by the addition of a few grains of yeast such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae and a small amount of sugar to the bottle.  This process is referred to as methodetraditionnelle or traditional method.

Once the yeast finish consuming the sugar they die and settle to the bottom of the bottle.  It would not be very elegant if you poured the Champagne and had yeast floating in your crystal champagne glass.  This would definitely change the mood of the evening.  With beer there is a simple cure to keep the yeast out of the glass.  I generally let my Belgian ales sit vertically for about 15-20 minutes, followed by carefully pouring the beer into a glass.  Watching the level of the beer, I stop just before the end, leaving a little of the beer with the yeast in the bottom of the bottle.

Dead Yeast  & Sediment

Dead Yeast  & Sediment

Champagne remedies this problem by removing the dead yeast through a process known as disgorgement.  This process involves shaking the bottle and placing them neck down allowing the yeast to settle into it.  The neck is then placed into a cold bath at -25 degrees Celsius, freezing the liquid in the neck trapping the yeast in a frozen lump.  The cap is then removed and the pressure within the bottles forces the frozen lump from the bottle.  The wine lost during this process is then  replaced along with sugar if required.  The amount of sugar added adjusts the sweetness of the wine depending on the type of Champagne being produced.  This addition of sugar is known as dosage.  Below are what one can expect to see on the label of a Champagne bottle and what it means.

  •  Brut – Dry Champagne, up to 12g sugar/ liter.

  •  Extra Dry, Extra Sec, Extra Seco – Contain between 12g and 17g sugar/ liter.

  • Dry, Sec, Seco – Seco contain between 17g and 32g sugar/ liter.

  • Demi-Sec, Demi-Seco – Demi-Sec contains between 32g and 50g sugar / liter.

  • Doux, Sweet, Dulce – The sweetest of Champagnes, contain 50g sugar / per liter.

Now that we have an understanding of the complexity of this elegant wine, let’s review the samples brought by the group at GOTN.

  • Mailly Grand Cru Brut Reserve (France)

  • Bernard Remy Carte Blanche (France)

  • Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Reserve (France)

Fantastic line-up of unique Champagnes were provided by all attendees.  Every bottle that was opened had such interesting characters that the applications for food and events are limitless.  Serve the Brut styles for that evening kickoff or serve the sweeter styles with a desert.  So next time you have a party or a special moment, don’t forget to pick up a bottle of Champagne.  It will set the mood for the evening

Thanks again for everyone’s participation.  And special thanks to Tanya for providing such a great place as Wine 661 to hold our GOTN meetings.


Rusty Sly



As we begin to prepare for the family gathering and festivities of Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, many of us reminisce of the era where we went to the market or the liquor store to select the perfect wine.  The wine selected for the occasion in the days of old was predominantly Gewürztraminer.  Today one has difficulty finding this wine as the holiday dinners have made way for greater latitude of wines that are being selected and enjoyed, including sparkling, whites and reds 

Gewürztraminer is a varietal that is very easy to recognize with its dominant and robust, aromatic scent and beautiful flavor that makes it a crowd pleaser.  Gewürztraminer in German means "Spice or perfumed Traminer" and was originally from the Alsace region of France. This grape variety is a mutation of the Savagnin Blanc, also named Traminer, in South Tyrol in northern Italy.  The history of the Traminer grape family is complicated.  In ancient times, this green-skinned grape got its name from the village of Tramin which is a German speaking commune located in the heart of Alto Adige.  Tramin is symbolized with the Gothic Parish church signified by an 86 meter tower.  This masonry tower is the highest free standing in all of South Tyrol. Tramin is rich in tradition and the farmers share a common philosophical viewpoint of hard work and creativity to produce spectacular Gewürztraminer wines from this unique terroir.

The origin was finally discovered by Pierre Galet, a famous ampelographer who felt that the Traminer grape was identical to the Savagnin Blanc (not Sauvignon Blanc) which is used to produce Vin Jaune in Jura France.  Though similar in many characteristics, the Traminer grapes lacked any type of scent. This was a puzzle until it was discovered that Traminer vines mutate. One such mutation centuries ago occurred near Tramin/Termeno producing a grape that had a pinkish brown, spotted-skinned berry with a pinkish pulp that was very aromatic.  This type of situation also occurs with Pinot Noirs.  That is why there are so many Pinot Noir clones that create infinite flavor profiles.

The Germans and French explored many different names for this Traminer grape until finally, in 20th century, the Alsatians named the vine Gewürztraminer and in 1973, it was officially sanctioned.  Alsace has achieved the most success with Gewürztraminer. Although it makes up 20% of the vines there, second only to Riesling at 23%, some producers give Gewürztraminer less priority than other varieties and make accordingly dull wines.  This may be why the popularity that existed 20-30 years ago has decreased.  A few wineries, such as Leon Beyer, Schlumberger, and Zind-Humbrecht still take great pride and produce fantastic Gewürztraminers.

Gewürztraminer vines are a challenge as they bud early and are susceptible to damage from frost.  Gewurztraminer also has weak defenses against viral vine infections.  Even healthy vines are not very productive, as they produce small clusters, and growers often over-crop, producing dilute, lightweight wine. Thick berries with tough skins, do attain high sugar levels which in turn produce high alcohol levels.  These Gewurztraminers can also produce very dry wines.  Monitoring and precise harvesting are crucial with this grape.  Early picking retains acid, but without long "hang time" distinctive varietal aromatic character is lost. Warm climates where ripening is too fast also creates difficulties in producing a good wine.  Work is being done at Colmar viticultural station in Alsace and at Geisenheim in Germany to develop new  clones that will ripen later, produce larger fruit clusters, with more consistent and greater production levels.

 Gewurztraminer wines are highly perfumed and fragrant along with being full bodied.  The combination of the strong, perfumed scent, exotic lychee-nut flavor and heavy, thick mouth feel can be overwhelming to many palates. Gewurztraminer can also be made into excellent dessert wine.

Though we had a small group at GOTN, we had some outstanding examples from France and California. 

  • 2014 Hursch - Anderson Valley, California

               Nose:  Sweet, floral, musty/petrol, sandalwood, orange, grapefruit & lychee

               Palate:  Citrus finish, dried grapefruit peel, nutty

  • Charles Sparr (since 1634) - Alsace, France

                Nose:  Subtle perfume rose petals (very light)

                Palate:  Sweet, light tropical fruits, creamy, pear & nice acid balance

  • 2014 Emile Beyer (since 1580) - Alsace, France

               Nose:  Clean, subtle sweetness

               Palate:  Sweet, petrol, creamy, peach, apricot & stone fruit

  • 2011 Vi De Gel Vino Dulce De Gewurztraminer - Gramona, Spain

               Nose:  Flowers

               Palate:  Tangerines, tropical syrup, Meyer lemon, subtle grapefruit and light petrol and medium finish

Though Gewurztraminer has lost some of its popularity, GOTN discovered that there was a uniqueness in the wines that we sampled.  The beautiful aromatics and the wide range of creativity on the palate were extraordinary.  Be adventurous and give Gewurztraminer a chance whether it is a typical Alsatian from France or a late harvest dessert wine from California or Spain, I am sure that you will be surprised.

Thanks again to Wine 661 and our owner/sponsor Tanya Green for hosting our monthly advent.  In closing, Appellation America provides an overview of Gewurztraminer by saying, "You are an exotic sorceress - a gypsy no less - with red skin and a spicy attitude to match. Your forward nature keeps us intoxicated. You are best known for your ethereal Alsatian seances, but you cast your spell everywhere you travel. A fortune teller of the vine, you offer sweet perfumed visions that have surprisingly dry and bitter finishes. "


Rusty Sly

Zinfandel Wines - The Spice of Life

Red Zinfandel is an “American Classic” wine.  Until recently, Zinfandel was marked as a "mystery grape" in California as the origin was unknown.  Through recent Ampelography studies, it has been discovered that the Zinfandel grape is genetically identical to Italy's Primativo and to an ancient Croatian variety known as Crjenak Kastelanski.  The Zinfandel grape's actual origin is in Italy but is now primarily grown in California. Zinfandel grows best in cool, coastal locations which California has a lot of.  Differences in vine vigor and grape cluster size tend to separate the Croatian and Italian vines as both have the Zinfandel flavor profile but are greatly affected by cultivation, terroir and the winemaking process.  This has led Zinfandel in America to develop its own independent history based on its particular flavor profile, name, history, and style.  It is believed that the California Zinfandel probably originated in Croatia.  On wine labels, U.S. regulations require that Zinfandel and Primitivo be identified separately.

The effects of terroir are tremendous with this varietal.  I purchased a six bottle case from Turley Vineyards that were of the same vineyard, same vintage but from different blocks of the Pesenti Vineyard.  Turley is highly known in the wine industry for their expertise with this varietal.  The blocks varied, based on location such as hill tops, valley, sun exposure, soil, etc.  A tasting was arranged with a group of my wine aficionados to analyze these Zinfandels.  Each bottle displayed varying characteristics in profile on the palate and nose.

Poster by Chuck & Heidi Wiedeman

Poster by Chuck & Heidi Wiedeman

Historians believe that in the 1820s a nursery owner brought Zinfandel cuttings from Croatia to the United States from an Austrian collection.  The Zinfandel name is truly American as the earliest and only documented use of the name is in America where a Boston nursery owner advertised Zinfandel for sale in 1832.

Based on historical records, Zinfandel vines were introduced to California during the Gold Rush era somewhere between 1852 and 1857.  With the affinity of Zinfandels to California, it became widely planted and thrived on the state’s climate and soil.  Today, Zinfandel is the third-leading wine grape varietal in California.  It grows so well in California that it is grown in 45 of California's 58 counties. 

The majority of the grapes are used for making the ever so popular White Zinfandel wines.  This is the result of many people looking for a sweeter more approachable wine.  Let's face it, we all were purchasing this wine in our early years.  It was far less expensive than most of the wines.  There are, however, many red Zinfandel connoisseurs which is why there are more than 4800 California red Zinfandel wines produced.  As a note, the red Zinfandel grape is also used to make white Zinfandel wine.  The difference is that the skins are removed and not used in making white Zinfandel. It is the skin that provides the deep red color as well as the robust flavor and tannins with a fruit profile from the grape. White Zinfandels outsell red Zinfandels by as much as six times in the United States.

The color of a Zinfandel wine is deep red, bordering on black. Characteristic flavor of Zinfandel on the palate is spice and pepper along with a fruity flavor which varies.  The flavors of berries or dark cherries are often noted on the palate.  Zinfandel grapes have a high sugar content which produces alcohol contents that exceed 15 percent.

The taste of the red Zinfandel is influenced by the ripeness of the grapes from which it is produced.  Red berry fruits like raspberries and dark cherries are predominate in cooler areas, whereas blackberries, anise, and pepper notes are more common in wines made in warmer areas. Wines from extremely hot regions, such as Temecula, tend to display a raisin/prune profile.  “Katrina”, a Zinfandel from Briar Rose Winery, was an exception when I tasted it many years ago.  It had the expected peppery dark berry flavor profile without the typical raisin or prune flavors found in many of the Zinfandels from this region.  

Serving temperature for a red Zinfandel should be around 65 degrees from a narrow-mouthed glass to get the full effect of the wine.  Most people like to drink Zinfandels young – within a year or two, but there are also quite a few Zinfandels that age well. There is a big change in Zinfandels when aged as the flavors become far more mellow. It is your choice if your palate favors the taste of a young Zinfandel over an old one!

GOTN Zinfandel provided many interesting examples of this beautiful varietal.  Here was the lineup:

  • 2006 Caymus Vineyards Rutherford (Napa)

    • Nose:  Medium dark red berries

    • Palate:  Med dark red berries and white pepper

  • 2012 Pulchella Wines - City Slicker Paso Robles

    • Blend of 68% Zinfandel & 32% Petite Shirah

    • Nose:  Gamey, white pepper, faint dark berries & raisins

    • Palate:  Medium - deep dark berries, white pepper & raisin

  • 2014 Predator Old Vine Zin - Lodi

    • Nose:  Smokey caramel, red fruits & sweet

    • Palate:  Smokey, red fruit & sweet

  • 2014 Oak Ridge Ancient Vine - Lodi

    • Nose:  Lighter caramel & red fruit

    • Palate:  Soft spices on the finish & muddled red fruit

  • 2014 Turley Dusi Vineyard - Paso Robles

    • Nose:  Medium - dark fruit & medium white pepper

    • Palate:  Deep dark fruit with a long finish

Grape of the Night Zinfandel was a huge success.  It captured everyone's attention as we explored the diversity of what was termed the "mystery grape".  It indeed wears many hats when it comes to aromatics and flavor.  Thank you, Tanya, for sponsoring our group at Wine 661.  It was a fantastic evening where everyone added a little spice to their evening.  In closing, I would like to share Appellation America's philosophical view of this beautiful wine called Zinfandel, "Zinfandel…You’re a master of disguise. Who is that masked man known as ZIN? You hide behind a mask of contradictory styles. Are you the soft, sweet hombre oft seen in the Central Valley, disguised in a vibrant pink cape? Or perhaps you are the fire-breathing rogue of the Sierra Foothills, a spicy-natured, tannic beast. How will you appear next?…and where! Always willing to change your facade to suit the environment, your true nature seems to be adaptability, itself. You are a legend in California; friend of the poor pisano, and delight to the pompous patron. Truth is, you’re no robber at all…you give to all!"


Rusty Sly

GOTN Explore French Chateauneuf-du-Pape Wines

Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines from France are definitely "Old World" having survived many world events since the 1300's.  It has survived World War I, Prohibition and even Phylloxera.  Phylloxera, which is a microscopic louse or aphid, that originated in the United States devastated the Southern Rhone region to a point of almost total destruction.

The vines were introduced and planted in the Southern Rhone Valley by ancient Romans.  In 1157 Bishop Geoffrey of Avignon owned a few vineyards in Chateauneuf Calcenier. In 1308 Pope Clement V planted the original vines and his successor, after his death, was Pope John XXII, who took over the task of managing the vineyards. Chateauneuf wines were known as the "The wine of the Pope".  Pope Clement V loved his wine and spent time in a winery in Bordeaux called Chateau Pape Clement in Pessac Leognan.  He was heavily involved in improving their wine processes.

Due to issues between the French Crown and the Papacy, the Popes left Avignon and returned to the Vatican.  Being that the wineries were a church business, the bishops were delegated to take over the wine production responsibilities.  Eight different Popes served in Avignon while the Papacy remained in Chateauneuf-du-Pape until 1378. The name Chateauneuf-du-Pape means "The Pope's New Castle" was due to the transition of the Pope to Avignon.

In 1924, the official boundaries for Chateauneuf-du-Pape were established and in 1936, the INAO, Institut National des Appellations d’Origine officially created the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation.

Grenache is the primary grape of Southern Rhone along with Syrah, Mouvedre and several other varietals.  The INO allows 13 varietals (both red and white) in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and they are Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mouvedre, Cinsault, Muscardin, Vaccarese, Picpoul, Terret Noir, Rousanne, Grenache Blanc, Clarette, Bourboulenc and Picardin.  There are only a couple of wineries in France that use all 13 varietals.  The most famous is Chateau de Beaucastel, which has a sister winery in Paso Robles called Tablas Creek.  It is very interesting that the French winery some years uses all 13 and possesses the unique "Old World" aromatics and flavors verses Tablas Creek, which does not use all 13 and is a little more "New World" using old traditions but presenting a more fruit forward approach.

Older bottles of Chateau Beaucastel wine were known to be heavily affected by Brettanomyces which is a  yeast found on the skins, old oak barrels, etc. But the more recent vintages have not reflected this barnyard aromatic according to David Cobbold  (French wine writer).  The samples at GOTN did show signs of Brettanomyces, but at very low levels.  To some wine connoisseurs, this is a plus but to others it is a complete turn off. 

The wines that were sampled at GOTN were:

  • 2009 Le Jas des Papes -70% Syrah and 30% Grenache Noir

    • Nose:  "Old World" with a slight barnyard, toasty

    • Palate: Smokey red fruit and licorice

  • 2011 Pierre Rougon - Syrah, Grenache and Mouvedre

    • Nose:  Musty and light barnyard

    • Palate:  Mild red fruits, spice and shoe leather on the finish

  • 2012 Le Fiacre du Pape - Grenache 60%, Mouvedre 15%, Cinsauly 15% and Syrah 10%

    • Nose: Mild fruit and sweet

    • Palate:  Red fruit and light smoke

  • 2014 La Solitude Cotes du Rhone - 50% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 15% Cinsault, and 5% Carignan

    • Red berry and smoke

    • Palate:  Red berry, firm tannins, licorice, tobacco leaf and acid

    • Newcomers unable to locate the varietal chosen brought this Southern Rhone wine and commented that this winery has produced Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines also for over 500 years. 

As most people have adapted their palates to a more fruit forward style of wine it was interesting to hear the comments from the group on the intriguing complexity and uniqueness of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines.  Not only as a comparison to the typical fruit forward styles of California, but also between the different wines and regions of Southern Rhone.  Hopefully, the doors will continue to open for all of us in our wine education as we continue to train our palates and minds in the never ending world of wine.

I want to thank Tanya (Proprietor)at Wine 661 for sponsoring our group and to Tina (Wine Steward) for her continuous service and help throughout the evening.


Rusty Sly

Grape of the Night Returns with Cabs from washington & oregon

Walla Walla Valley, Washington

Walla Walla Valley, Washington

What a way to kickoff the all new GOTN!  We had a nice showing including regulars and even some new members.  The biggest change was the venue and time. GOTN now meets at Wine 661 Wine Shop, owned by Tanya Green, the second Sunday of every month from 3:30-5:30pm.  The consensus was meeting Sunday afternoons would make it easier with work and school and at the end of our first meeting all were in agreement.

The varietal selected for this gathering was Cabernet Sauvignon from either Oregon or Washington.  The largest wine district in Oregon is Willamette Valley, which is in the western part of the state and offers a very cool climate. Primary wine varietals from Oregon are Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. Washington's primary wine region is located in the eastern part of the state where it is a dry high desert environment.  Primary grapes from Washington are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Riesling.  It was no surprise that all of the examples brought to GOTN were from Washington.

Washington's first Cabernet Sauvignon vines were planted in 1825 by the Hudson Bay at Fort Vancouver.  By 1854 hybrids found their way into Puget Sound and finally by 1860 the Walla Walla Valley.  By 1910 Cabernet Sauvignon could be found in many parts of Washington.

Today, Washington has 14 AVA's and over 900 wineries.  The vines of Muscat of Alexandria on Snipes Mountain date back to 1917.  These are true old vines that are still producing.  In 2009 Snipes was the 10th viticulture area to become one of the 14 AVA's.  Though Snipes Mountain only has six wineries in it's AVA, they grow 30 different varietals and supply 25 different wineries with grapes which is pretty impressive.

The wines that were brought and tasted during GOTN were very unique:

Wine List:

  • 2010 L'Ecole No. 41 - Walla Walla

Nose: Wet earth/pavement

Palate: Well structured, firm tannins, chalky and jammy(medium). Notes of dry dark cherry with a tobacco leaf finish

  • 2012 Gramercy Celler Reserve - Walla Walla

Nose: Elegant but not as perfumey as the L'Ecole. Light earthiness with the fruits peeking through

Palate:  Assorted black fruits with a light tobacco leaf finish

  • 2010 Sheridan Vineyards - Yacoma Valley

Nose: Soft red fruits

Palate: Soft red fruits with firm high tannins (mouth puckering)

  • 2013 Sheridan Vineyard L'Orage - Yacoma Valley

Nose: Vanilla

Palate: Well structured and balance with firm tannins.  Blackberries with a long finish

Note: This wine was a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Since this wine contained 75% Cabernet, it can be called a Cabernet legally. Bottom line is that it was a blend and I was the guilty party.

There was another wine from Washington but unfortunately it was corked. What a great night with tasting and studying wines from the cool terroir of Washington State.  

Everyone enjoyed the variety of choices to thank Tanya for opening up her doors and allowing us to meet at Wine 661.  Some came early enjoying a glass of wine, some purchased food, including the cheese and meat plates to enjoy while we ventured through Washington, others took home a bottle of wine at a 25% discount and finally there were those who had paninis for dinner at the end of the tasting.  As you can see a great variety of choices for each person in attendance to choose from.

All in all it was a great time for those in attendance and we are looking forward to doing it all again on September 11, 2016.  Thank you again Tina for being a great wine stewardess and to owner Tanya of Wine 661 for the variety and atmosphere.


Rusty Sly

The All New Grape of the Night

Grape of the Night friends and followers,

Noticing that our attendance has been dropping off over the past year, I have been giving a lot of thought as to the cause and what can be done to change it.  My assessment led to a few items including my inability to support the meetings due to work, but also feedback from various GOTN members.  One big item that I feel was affecting the group was meeting on weeknights which, is hard on people fitting it into their work/school schedules.  Taking into consideration the feedback from GOTN members and my assessment, I am really excited to tell you about a whole new GOTN that I have put together with a new sponsor.  I am hoping this will not only bring the group back together but grow it!

First is a change in venue that will allow us to meet on Sunday providing better opportunities for people that had conflicts during the week.  Thanks to the support of Tanya Green, owner of Wine 661 in Valencia, we will be able to meet from 3:30 - 5:30 PM on the second Sunday of every month starting August 14, 2016.

To support the venue that is hosting us, and since many of the varietals that GOTN explore require bottles to be brought in for the event, each member is asked to support the venue with the purchase of one of the following:

1.       One food item per member (appetizer, dinner, etc).
2.       One glass of wine per member (pre or post GOTN).
3.       One bottle of wine for GOTN event (if available at venue).
4.       One bottle of wine to take home (all take-home bottles receive a 25%             discount). 

Cheese plates paired with the wines of the night could be fun, or an appetizer or glass of wine before or after GOTN. Below is the food menu at Wine 661:


• Humbolt Fog - Domestic Goat
• Aged Gouda - Netherlands
• Manchego - (Sheep's milk) Spain
• Brie - France
• Maytag Blue Cheese - Iowa

• Prosciutto
• Bresaola
• Sopressata
• Salami Felino (House Salami)
• Salami Tartufo (Black Truffle Oil)

• With melted brie & balsamic glaze

•Brie, Artichoke & Prosciutto.
•Tomato, Basil & Mozzarella.
•Aged white cheddar, brie & truffle oil

I want to thank Tanya for sponsoring GOTN and helping to further wine education in the Santa Clarita Valley.  I hope that everyone will join us as we continue our adventures in wine.  I will give some thought into providing more challenges as well as blind tastings to sharpen everyone's palate.   So don't forget the planned date for our new adventure will be August 14, 2016.  The wine will be Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington or Oregon.  Try to look up a few facts about the wine that you have selected.  Hope to see everyone there.


Rusty Sly

GOTN Explore Nebbiolo Wines

Treiso_near_alba_italy edited.jpg

Nebbiolo wines originated in the northern region of Piedmont Italy. These wines fall under the sanction of the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) for and include Barolo, Barbaresco, Roero, Gattinara and Ghemme. Barolo and Barbaresco contain 100% Nebbiolo in the wine. Both from Northern Piedmont the differences that can be noted in the aromatics and palate, are the result of the soil. Barbaresco is grown in nutrient rich soils producing less tannins than it does in Barolo. Because of the tannin contents, Barolo wines are required to be stored and aged for 3 years before releasing verses the Barbaresco which only requires 2 years of storage. For the Reserva, Barolo and Barbaresco require 5 years and 4 years respectively.

The name Nebbiolo is believed to have been derived from one of two possible sources based on the Italian word nebbia which means fog:

  • The first is that during harvest which takes place in intense fog that is common in the Langhe region in October when the Nebbiolo grapes are picked.

  • Second is that nebbia refers to a milky-white veil that covers the grapes as they age.


Both Barolo and Barbaresco wines posses aromatic's of rose followed by perfume and cherry. On the palate, flavors of cherry can be noted along with high acidity and tannins accompanied by an earthy profile. Both of these wines generally provide a long finish. With the high amounts of tannins and acidity, these wines will cellar easily for a long time providing even more complexity. Many top Barolo and Barbaresco wines can reach the same prices as the French First Growth Bordeaux wines.

The wines brought by the GOTN members allowed us to explore the characteristics described above, along with the different nuances between New and Old World, different vineyards and Barolo vs. Barbaresco. The wines were from both "Old World" and "New World" with vintages ranging from 2004 to 2012. The wines brought included:

  • 2004 Barreri Rovati Riserva Barbaresco - Barbaresco, Italy

  • 2005 Barreri Rovati Barolo Riserva - Langhe, Italy

  • 2009 Azienda Agricola Rossotto Nebbiolo D' Alba - Langhe, Italy

  • 2012 DAOU Nebbiolo - Paso Robles Calif./grapes from Valle de Guadalupe Vineyard Mexico

In closing, Appellation America says this about Nebbiolo, "One must speak softly and with the utmost respect of you, Capo Crimini, our Italian boss of bosses. Known to most as Don ‘Barolo’, you rule with a tannic, iron fist. One needs infinite patience to attain an audience with you. Rarely witnessed is your soft side, but the lucky few who live to experience your compassion sing your praises. The young, (Vinny) ‘Barbaresco’ seems to be a more approachable and less intimidating member of the family Nebbiolo, but the prudent wouldn’t dare approach either of you without at least a decanter. Although Old World authorities are wise to your racket, in California the name “Nebbiolo” is still shrouded in fog."


Rusty Sly



Thanksgiving Wines

The GOTN challenge for the November was for everyone to bring a wine that they will be serving at their Thanksgiving feast.  They were also asked to include details on the dinner entree and side dishes they will be serving with their wine choices.  I found this evening very interesting as there seemed to be a wide range of different wines selected by the group as can be seen in the list below:

  • 2014 Barons De Rothschild (Lafitte) Sauvignon Blanc/Semillion - France 

  • 2011 Louis Jadot Burgundy - France

  • 2009 Windward Monopole Pinot Noir - Paso Robles

  • 2013 Layer Cake Shiraz - South Australia

  • 2012 Carr Camp Four Vineyards Cabernet Franc - Santa Ynez

  • 2012 Oak Bridge Old Vine Petite Sirah - Lodi

  • 2013 Peju Provence Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay blend - Rutherford

Lets look at what the typical Thanksgiving dinner consists of before discussing wine selections. The majority (if not all) were planning on a very traditional style Thanksgiving dinner consisting of turkey, stuffing (fruit, meat, etc), mashed potatoes with gravy, sweet potatoes or yams, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, etc.  Did not hear much about ham or other unique main courses. So let's analyze this meal and see what wines could be good candidates.  

The main entree is turkey, which has both light and dark meat, that has a certain amount of dryness to it which may pair well with a nice buttery Chardonnay.  However, when the guests sit down and dive into the many layers of food with so many different properties, you must look at a much bigger picture than the match of just the turkey.  The normal tradition people follow (including myself) is to fill their plates with turkey, potatoes and stuffing followed by a good healthy coat of a rich, thick, savory herb packed turkey gravy.  The turkey has now moved from the dry category to being deliciously moist thanks to the gravy.  Now add cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes or yams with brown sugar and marshmallows and the the Chardonnay will definitely get lost within the confines of the savory, tangy and sweetness of these different flavors.  This is a complex situation for pairing wines.

So lets look at what is needed in a wine to go with all of these different flavors.  The one wine that is a good choice is a Pinot Noir.  The reason is that it has  high acidity with low tannins.  It offers a unique flavor profile from strawberries, cherries and cranberry.  Pinots also come in many different styles from light and elegant Burgundian styles to big, dark, fruit forward styles.  One unique twist with Pinot Noir is that they are not always cherry flavored.  Many years ago the William Seylem Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir had flavors of pure cranberry with subtle spices.  How perfect for your Thanksgiving dinner.

I was very surprised that there were no whites in the line-up as Tracy and I used to always serve Gewurztraminer or Riesling wines which also go well with this type of Thanksgiving dinner.  These two wines contain the acid but also sweetness allowing it to compliment the different foods served.  Other good choices are Grenache blends, preferably those from Southern France and even Champagne.  

The bottom line is that you want a wine that contains a fair amount of acid to cleanse the palate with very little noticeable tannins and a little sweetness and you are set.  One caveat to the recommendations is that you must like the wine otherwise it defeats the beauty of the dinner before you start.  With many guests, you can have a couple of bottles opened to satisfy different palates.  I hope everyone has a joyful Thanksgiving and please be safe.


Rusty Sly


The Beauty of Riesling Wines

Urziger Wurzgarten Vineyard

Urziger Wurzgarten Vineyard

Riesling Wines are very interesting and allure many different types of wine drinkers.  It has been my finding that people who are not really serious wine drinkers tend to go for the sweeter versions of this style of wine. There are many different styles of Riesling wines.  Riesling is a noble grape that originated in the Rhine region of Germany where it still dominates.  A question was asked at GOTN on what is meant by a noble grape.  Noble grapes, also known as international varieties, refer to grapes that are found in many different wine regions that are highly sought after.  Noble grapes are usually varietals that have a long history, such as Rieslings wines.  Riesling wines show definite characteristics dependent on the terroir that they come from.  Cool climates, such as Germany, have high acidity and exhibit apple type flavors where warmer climates, like Australia, tend to display a lime characteristic. The characteristics of this German wine is that it has a very floral bouquet with flavors of peach, honey and apricot on the palate.  Let’s throw in a little shocker, “Not all Rieslings are sweet”.  Rieslings from Alsace tend to be drier than other areas.  Rieslings are actually broken up into five different styles based heavily on sweetness; from driest to sweetest they are Kabinett, Spaltlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese.

Good Rieslings, due to their high acidity and sugar content, can be cellared forever.  By that I mean 50-100 years in some fine Rieslings.  This just blows me away.  We are always looking at body, acids and appropriate chemistry to determine the cellar life expectancy of our red wines yet a Riesling, with its normal high acid and sugar, will age for many years.  Aged Rieslings, however, do take on definite characteristics of petrol and honey notes.  Riesling is among the top three choices by consumers for white varietals next to Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.  Another item that is interesting is that Rieslings are never aged in oak.

Some Rieslings are are affected by a disease known as Noble Rot which is caused by a grey fungus called Botrytis Cinerea.  There are actually two different types of infections from botrytis.

Noble Rot (Botrytis Cinerea)

Noble Rot (Botrytis Cinerea)


  • Grey Rot, which is caused by wet damp conditions, results in loss of grape clusters that are affected.

  • Noble Rot occurs when a damp wet condition is followed by a dry condition.  Noble Rot creates a unique flavor that is found, and loved, in many sweet desert wines such as Sauternes and Tokaji.

The fungus removes water from the grape concentrating a higher percentage of sugar, fruit acids and minerals.  This interaction creates a very intense dessert wine with a unique flavor that is difficult to describe.

Rieslings are very unique and probably among one of the most misunderstood wines.  By this I mean that when you ask people if they would like a glass of Riesling wine most assume that it will be  sweet but this is definitely not true as discovered from the examples poured at GOTN.  

If you are pairing with various types of foods this opens the door to a wide range of appetizers, entrees and desserts.  One pairing example that may surprise you is that spicy foods go well with a good Riesling. 

GOTN Riesling was an experience that opened many eyes on a wine that most of us shy away from  based on a perception that they are all sweet.  I hope that this tasting enlightened those that came to a new experience with such a fantastic varietal.

To help remember the nuances of this beautiful varietal, I leave you with a comical, but truthful, overview of Rieslings from Appellation America,

You are the matriarch, though your numerous offspring rarely match your noble nature. You teach us to say words like'trockenbeerenauslese' with reverence and pride. You approach every situation with grace and elegance, yet remain firm when the situation dictates. You bring balance to an unbalanced world of Chardonnayism. You are without question the Queen of the Rhineland, with a commonwealth extending to the far away lands of Australia, Canada and America. You are The Great Lady ~ La Grande Dame ~ Die Grossartige Frau! "

I want to thank everyone that attended GOTN Riesling.  I hope that the knowledge and excitement about wines and wine knowledge was shared by all.  I would like to thank Guy Lelarge for allowing us to enjoy the warm service and hospitality of Valencia Wine Company. Guy and his staff are top notch in my book.  Hope to see everyone at our next wine adventure.


Rusty Sly

GOTN Explores Tempranillo

Grape of the night continues its quest for wine knowledge by exploring a varietal called Tempranillo that originated in Spain.  In fact, it is known as the native, or noble, grape of Spain and is the backbone of many of the fine wines from Spain and Portugal.  This varietal was believed to be related to Pinot Noir, however, ampelographic studies have shown this not to be the case. Tempranillo grapes have thick skins that contain a very high amount of anthocyanin which is responsible for producing the  dark red color of the wine.  The tannins are moderate making these wines very approachable by all.

These wines are definitely old world in terms of origin, dating back 2000 years during Roman times in the Ribera del Duero wine region of Spain.  Another region of Spain that grows and produces fantastic wines made from Tempranillo is Rioja.  Today we see this wine grown in many regions of Spain, Portugal, USA, Australia, Argentina, etc.  In Portugal it is called Tinta Roriz and it is blended with other select varietals to produce those lovely Port wines that we all love on those cold winter nights or with a chocolate dessert.

The name Tempranillo means "little early one" because it ripens early and does well with a short growing season.  This varietal adapts well to large diurnal temperature changes allowing it to be very successful, for example, in regions such as California.  One of the problems with getting Tempranillo established in California was that it was originally planted in the Central Valley where it is hot.  Tempranillos are not at their best when grown in this type of climate.  The results of these first attempts at producing Tempranillo resulted in low quality wines that were only fit for jug wine blends. This changed once this varietal was better understood and planted in regions that were more conducive for this varietal.  Now Tempranillo has evolved throughout the world as a fine wine that is enjoyed by many.

Tempranillo is generally blended with a small amount of other red wines due to a very unique characteristic of the vines.  Tempranillo vine roots absorb potassium readily from the ground.  The potassium causes the grapes chemistry to become more basic rather than maintaining a normal acid level required to brighten up or add crispness to the wine.  To correct this chemical deficiency, selected red wines are blended with the Tempranillo therefore increasing the acid level adding the bright crispness required for a good wine.   

Tempranillos are very unique in flavors and aromas.  On the nose and palate you will get strawberry, plum, herbal, vanilla and tobacco.  Many Tempranillos are aged in oak increasing the complexity of the wine.  The oak barrels of choice are American by many of the Rioja wine makers.  Oak barrels are the source of the vanilla that is found in many Tempranillo wines.

For this tasting the GOTN brought some very unique Tempranillos to sample and review.  Examples were brought from Spain, California  and Oregon.  Each had different unique characteristics.  Spain displayed the old world barnyard nose yet on the palate this aromatic disappeared into unique complexity.  The wines from California and Oregon came through showing the typical fruits that are expected from a new world wine.  Examples ranged from very dry to subtle sweetness on the palate.  The soft flavor profile of these wines were spectacular.  

In all, it was a fantastic evening that was enjoyed by all that attended.  I would like to thank Valencia Wine Company for supporting our group and the ongoing goal of wine education.  Abagail of VWC was spectacular making sure that all of the guests were taken care of.  A standard that VWC has always maintained by Guy Lelarge (owner) and staff.

In closing, I would like to share one of my favorite quotes by Ernest Hemingway, “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.”

It is no secret to us wine lovers that the quality and perfection of the wines that we enjoy challenge all of our senses.  This includes sight, smell and taste. This perfection is what wines and gatherings like GOTN are all about. Sampling and learning all we can about these wines is what continues to excite everyone. Until next time!


Rusty Sly

Cotes Du Rhone Blanc

At this GOTN gathering we extended our adventure in the Rhone Valley by sampling the white varietals from this region.  For red Cotes du Rhone, per the AOC, the primary grapes are either Grenache (Southern Rhone) or Syrah (Northern Rhone) which must be 40% or higher in the blend.  For Cotes du Rhone Blancs the wine must contain 80% Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Bourboulenc and Viognier as the main grapes.  Piqupoul and Ungi blanc are secondary wines that cannot exceed 20%.  Cotes du Rhone Blancs allow only 8 varietals in comparison to Cotes du Rhone reds which allow 21 varietals.

As mentioned at the previous GOTN Cotes du Rhones have been around since 125 BC when the Romans built the town of Vienne.  This is the oldest wine producing region according to archaeological findings.  During these days the wines were transported and stored in clay or earthenware jugs known as amphorae.  Since these pots were porous, the insides were coated with various kinds of resins as a sealer that was acquired from various trees. Studies of the various resins used showed no benefit in preserving the wine yet people still insisted on the wines coming from resin sealed amphorae to those without.  This choice is believed to be the result of people liking the resin flavor addition to the wine.  As an example, this is no different than one adding cream to their coffee.

Tasting wines that are either fermented, or even bottled, in an amphora is very unique.  I had a good friend of mine, Greg Alonzo, introduce me to wines from the Republic of Georgia some years ago.  Many of these wines are made in clay pots, or amphorae, as well as bottled in them.  A lot of times you can detect a hint of clay on the palate when tasting these wines.  My favorite varietal from this region is Saperavi.  A very unique wine if you are ever able to find it.

The wines brought by the GOTN group were mostly from France with a couple from California.  There were many variations in these wines based on region, terroir and style.  The list included:

  • 2011 Jean Luc Colombo Cotes du Rhone Les Abeilles Blanc - France

  • 2011 Crozes Hermitage Blanc - France

  • 2012 Laudun Cotes du Rhone Villages - France

  • 2013 JT Chateau de Nages - France

  • 2012 Sobon Estate Roussanne - Amador County, California

  • 2012 Tablas Creek - Paso Robles, California

As with the red wines from this area there was a lot of diversity.  Most displayed a medium body resulting from the Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Marsanne varietals.  Notes of green apples and citrus in many made this a beautiful wine to cherish on these warm summer days.  A 100% Roussanne wine from Amador County, California surprised everyone with beautiful notes of toffee. This was quite unique.

As we travel through the many different wines in GOTN I have begun to realize the number of trips are endless. There are so many different factors that contribute to the cause and effect situations based on varietal, terroir and vinification processes that even challenges between a single wine style are endless in diversity.


Rusty Sly

Cotes Du Rhones from the Rhone Valley

The Rhone Valley

GOTN came together to explore the beautiful wine blends known as Cotes du Rhone.  Since I did not specify a country or region for this gathering it left the playing field wide open.  The intent with this selection was to look at the red Cotes du Rhone from the Rhone Valley.  Surprising as it may be, the group must have read my mind as all of the examples brought were from France.  I expected that we would see a few New World wines made with Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre (GSM) from California or Australia but did not.  Since the wines at this meeting were from France we will focus on this region for this article.

Cotes du Rhone allows 21 different grape varietals in this wine as controlled by the appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC).  In 1996 the Appelation criteria was changed to require that the red Cotes du Rhone had to contain 40% Grenache except for Northern Rhone where Syrah is the primary grape.  The blend that we call GSM which is Greanche, Syrah and Mouvedre work harmoniously together in the Cotes du Rhone and are the dominant varietals used.  The Grenache adds body with beautiful fruit flavors followed by the Syrah and Mouvedre that add a spicy character along with color.  The other 18 varietals are accessory wines that are used in small amounts to add uniqueness.  One item to be aware of is that they have higher alcohol than typical French wines.  This is due to the warmer climate which produces grapes with higher sugar content.  It also boosts the fruit flavor.

The Rhone River runs from Switzerland to the Mediterranean Sea through the Rhone Valley.  The climate in the Rhone Valley is Mediterranean having four distinct seasons.

  • Two dry seasons (short winter and long summer which is hot)

  • Two rainy seasons (autumn and spring)

The Cotes du Rhone region has been found to be one of the oldest wine producers based on archaeological discoveries.  The original vineyards were started by the Romans in Vienne in 125 BC.  Production from this region flourished in the 17th and 18th century.  As popularity grew in 1650 regulations were mandated to preserve the quality of these wines.  In 1737, it was decreed that all barrels that were going to be shipped or sold had to have CDR branded into them.

Up to this point in time, the Cotes du Rhone only recognized the right bank of the Rhone River.  This changed in the 19th Century when the left bank was also recognized and included.  In 1937, through the gallant efforts of Baron Le Roy, the Cotes du Rhone AOC was created.

The wines brought by the GOTN group were all from France but with many variations based on region, terroir and style.  The list included:

  • 2003 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape

  • 2011 Domaine de la Maurelle Cotes du Rhone

  • 2014 Serabel Cotes du Rhone

  • 2013 Calvet Heritage De Cotes Du Rhone Villages

  • 2010 Burle Cotes du Rhone

  • 2011 Domaine des Escaravailles Cotes du Rhone Les Sablières

  • 2009 Domaine Grand Veneur Clos de Sixte Lirac

  • 2009 Domaine Le Clos du Caillou Cote du Rhone Bouquet des Garrigues Blanc

The wines above provided everyone to see the uniqueness of this wine.  Some were lighter in profile and others were heavier with tremendous mouth feel and body.  Some were fruity with residual sugars and others dry.  All tended to be higher in alcohol than one normally finds in French wines.  The only missing region from our tasting was Northern Rhone from the Hermitage area where Syrah would have been the dominant.  That said however, there were a couple of Southern Rhone's that attested to having a high percentage of Syrah to the wine. One way to know if a Cotie Rhone is from Southern Rhone is to look at the bottle.  These bottles will display a Coat of Arms embossed into the bottle above the label.

I normally do not discuss any single wine that is brought to GOTN.  But I must talk about a very special bottle that was brought by a new guest, Greg Peters. Greg brought a bottle of 2003 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape. This is one of the best examples of this style of wine.  Chateau Beaucastel was started in 1549 by Pierre de Beaucastel.  Their vinitification process involves blending 13 of the allowable grapes which are fermented separately.  These 13 grapes are also estate grown grapes.  I believe that only one other winery does this.  The nose displays the traditional Old World character that many wine lovers (like myself) seek.  Tremendous wine and what a treat.  I want to say thanks for bringing such a treasure from your collection.

In closing, I would like to thank Guy Lelarge (VWC Proprietor) for hosting our monthly gatherings and a special thanks to staff member Abagail that poured and made sure that everyone was taken care of during the evening.  VWC is one of the oldest wine bars in Santa Clarita and they are always reaching out to support wine education and knowledge.  They also provide weekly entertainment where you can unwind and either listen to various local bands or hop out onto the floor and dance the night away.


Rusty Sly

Double Blind Tasting Red Wines

Over the past year GOTN has tasted, reviewed and analyzed many single varietal wines.  With all of this experience and knowledge I thought that it would be fun to do a double blind tasting of common single varietal red wines that we have experienced at GOTN and in our own personal wine tasting adventures. So what is a double blind tasting and what makes it so challenging? For this type of tasting, the participants do not know the winery, varietal, origin, etc. Everyone drew a varietal from a bucket at the previous GOTN for this event. The wines were brought in and brown bagged with a number written on the bag for identification. The one caveat that I requested was for everyone to analyze the wines on their own.  The power of suggestion will cloud your judgement.  Everyone has different senses and there are no right or wrong answers.

Blind tasting requires a process for deciphering what a wine is.  It can be thought of as a jigsaw puzzle that you put together to make it possible for you to identify the wine.  To be able to put this puzzle together you must concentrate on all of the details of the wine.  Here is a common process that one can use for such a tasting.

First you should look at the appearance of the wine through the glass.  Look at the color of the wine.  Is it a light red that you can see through (possible Pinot Noir), does it have purple hues (Cabernet Sauvignon) or is it dark inky purple (Petite Sirah)?  Hold the glass at 45 degrees and look through the wine at a sheet of white paper.  Are there any signs of brown or red tile color noted on the leading edge of the wine? This is a sign of age or the wine was possibly been exposed to intense heat during stages of the wine making process.

Swirl the wine in the glass and look at the side.  Do you see a clear coating which is known as glycerin?  This is what are termed legs vertically.  Different wines may display no glycerin and others may have legs down the entire side of the glass.  Why is this important?  The glycerin provides details on the viscosity of the wine.  High glycerin levels is an indicator for sweetness and body.  It also provides information on the alcohol level. The longer the legs the higher the alcohol.  Here are some more pieces that you can use to solve your puzzle.  If it has sweetness (residual sugars) and high alcohol it can be an indicator that the wine was from a warm region.  Very short or no legs and low residual sugars it can be assumed that the wine is from a cold region.

Next you need to swirl the wine to let it breath and put it up to your nose. The aroma of the wine is one of the most valuable tools for analyzing and identifying a wine.  The nose can identify 180 different aromas verses the palette which can only identify 5.  Grape varietals have certain characteristics when made into wines.  For example, a Pinot Noir will display aromas of cherry or a Syrah which displays blueberries, etc. One very important thing to remember, deciphering a wine is all about memory.  Sampling many different wines and adding what your senses have learned to memory increases you potential for solving what a wine is or what you are detecting.  If you have never smelled or tasted an item that you detect in a wine, it will be Greek to you.

As you swirl and smell the wine can you detect alcohol?  This would lead you to the possibility that it is New World.  Do you smell earthiness or do you get lots of fruit?  Earthiness can be a sign of Old World (France, Italy, Spain, etc) where lots of fruits would point you to New World (USA, Australia, New Zealand).

The final step is to taste the wine.  First, twirl the wine to help oxygenate it or open it up. Take in a good amount of wine rolling it around your entire mouth coating the whole inside.  The senses on your tongue are different depending on the location of specific receptors.  When you taste the wine are you detecting residual sugar, high acidity or tannins?  Is it a simple or complex wine?  Is it a low or high quality wine?  These are the key items that you need to solve the puzzle.  As examples, high tannins are found in Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo.  A wine that has only one flavor or aroma is simple while wines that have many are complex and is generally a sign of quality.

Wines poured at the GOTN blind tasting:

  1. 1998 Kendall Jackson Great Estates

  2. 2010 Zaca Mesa Syrah

  3. 2011 Carlson Cab Franc

  4. 2011 Jarda Grenache (Newhall)

  5. 2005 Turley Petite Sirah (Haines Canyon)

  6. 2012 Go RRE BUS To Tempranillo

I found this evening very interesting.  For the first time there was dead silence as I looked around the room.  Everyone was in deep concentration as they sampled the wines.  Most important was how well each individual put their puzzle together for the wines poured.  Worksheets were used that had wine number, color, aromatics, taste, old/new world, age, notes and varietal. Everyone did fantastic.  I hope that everyone enjoyed this challenge.  I will setup another such tasting for white varietals in the near future.

As always thanks to Guy Lelarge, owner of Valencia Wine Company and to Jennifer who takes such good care of us.


Rusty Sly

Syrah - Born on a Hilltop

                                                       Hermitage, France

                                                       Hermitage, France

The grape varietal known as Syrah in France, Shiraz in Australia and either Syrah or Shiraz, depending on the style of the winery, was originally believed to have originated in Persia in a city called Shiraz which the grape was named after.  DNA and ampelographic (field of botany that studies the identification and classification of grapevines) findings however, do not support Persia as the origin for this grape.  To date, the evidence shows that Syrah grapes originated from 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 Petite Sirah grape which is a cross of Syrah and Peloursin grapes.  The name Petite Sirah is very misleading since these wines are big, bold, deeply colored and tannic unlike the Syrah or Shiraz wines.

Syrah is 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 the largest wineries on this hill is Chapoutier Vineyards which occupies 175 of the 300 acres.

The Syrah grape was introduced to Australia in 1832 by James Bushby who brought in several varieties of Syrah vines from Europe.   In the beginning, Australia used the Syrah grape for blending but later bottled it as a single varietal which they call Shiraz.  The late blooming nature of the Syrah/Shiraz grape is suited for the warmer growing conditions found in Australia.

Syrah grapes were introduced to 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.  My experience puts the California Syrah wines in-between French and Australian versions. They tend to show similarities of both without favoring either one.

One of the key items that was noted at the tasting is that the wines from the warmer climates showed higher amounts of residual sugar with a more fruit forward profile.  The wines from cooler climates,  like the Rhone Valley of France, displayed more pepper and spice aromas in their flavor and less residual sugars.  Warmer climates result in higher sugar and low acid where cooler climates result in low sugar and high acid. When grapes are grown in warm regions like Australia they have a higher sugar content than those grown in cooler regions like France providing more food for the yeast resulting in higher alcohol content.  It is not uncommon to see Austrailian and Californian wines achieving higher alcohol content such as 16% compared to France where the alcohol content is around 13.5%.  Another item that weighs in on the difference of flavors is the acid balance since having lower acid levels in the warmer climate Syrah/Shiraz has an impact on the ability to balance the perceived sweetness of a wine.

Typical aromas and flavors from Syrah/Shiraz wines are raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, pepper, plum, leather.  Sometimes there are even notes of licorice, bitter chocolate and mocha that one can detect.

 Syrah Tasting Lineup:

  • 2011 Tobin James Syrah - Paso Robles, Ca.

  • NV    Ferrone Family Wines Shiraz - Peckville, Pa.

  • 2005 Barbieri KYLIX Syrah - Santa Barbara County

  • 2012 Brochelle Syrah - Paso Robles, Ca.

  • 2013 CP Wines Syrah - Santa Ynez, Ca.

    • Saarloos Vineyard Grapes 

    • Doug and Jackie Curran (GOTN Guests) made this Syrah

  • 2012 Herman Story - Paso Robles, Ca.

  • 2011 Etienne Pochon - Crozes - Hermitage, France

  • 2009 Cave de Tan - Crozes - Hermitage, France

  • 2011 JG - Crozes - Hermitage, France

  • NV   Ten Spoon - Prairie Thunder, Mt.

  • 2012 Nicolas Perrin Maison - Crozes - Hermitage, France

I was very pleased with the showing of people and many examples of Syrah wines that were provided by the group.  This provided a great platform for everyone to see the effects of different terroirs and climates on the Syrah grape.  Here is an overview by Appellation of America on the Syrah grape to help remember its characteristics and roles 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”.”

I would like to thank everyone for attending and especially Valencia Wine Company for their hospitality and sponsoring our group.  I also want to thank George Skorka, not only as a great friend but a great asset to the group with his extensive knowledge about wines. 

In closing, remember this is a learning experience so look for unique wines that you are not familiar with.  The goal is to expand your knowledge of wines and I feel that we are definitely going in the right direction.  So keep searching as there are many unusual wines to challenge us and I look forward to seeing all of you soon for our next adventure.

Rusty Sly

Cabernet Franc

On April 13, 2015, Grape Of The Night (GOTN) met, divided and conquered a fantastic wine varietal known as Cabernet Franc. 

Cabernet Franc is believed to have originated in the Libournais of southwest France sometime in the 17th century.  Cardinal Richelieu was responsible for having cuttings transplanted into the Loire Valley of France.  Recent ampelographical studies (DNA fingerprinting) show that Cabernet Franc was crossed with Sauvignon Blanc to create Cabernet Sauvignon.  Cabernet Franc is one of the principal varietals in Bordeaux wines on both the Left Bank (Cabernet Sauvignon) and Right Bank (Merlot), as well as in wines of the western Loire Valley.

Cabernet Franc is often referred to as the feminine side of Cabernet Sauvignon.  It is subtly flirtatious rather than being as masculine as its sibling Cabernet Sauvignon.  The flavor profile of Cabernet Franc is found to be both fruitier and sometimes herbal, or vegetative, rather than that of Cabernet Sauvignon as well as being lighter in both color and tannins.  It is typically used for blending, however, many single varietal wines are being produced in the United States as noted at GOTN.  The nose of this varietal is very perfumy and on the palate offers softness with a little pepper.  The fact that it is so aromatic is part of the reason that it is used in blending Bordeaux/Meritage wines. 

In France on the Right Bank in St Emilion and Pomerol regions, Cab Franc is the most planted Cabernet.  The reasoning is that this region is further inland where the soil is cool and Cabernet Sauvignon would have difficulty in ripening.

Wines of the Night:

  • 2011 Carlson - Santa Ynez, Ca.

  • 2010 Lang & Reed - Napa, Ca.

  • Saint - Nicolas de Bourgueil Les Canonieres - Loire Valley, France

  • 2012 Writers Block - Lake County, Ca.

  • 2009 Kenneth Volk - Paso Robles, Ca.

  • 2011 Windmill Valley - Napa, Ca.

  • 2010 Domaine Fabrice Gasnier - Loire, France

  • 2013 Samur Champigny Thierry Germain - Loire, France

  • 2008 Anjou Rouge - Loire, France

  • 2011 Lukas & Lewellen - Santa Barbara, Ca.

  • 2012 Chateau Margene Signature Series - Paso Robles, Ca.

  • NV    Kathaleen Carmody-McKnight (Late Harvest) - Paso Robles, Ca.

In closing, to help everyone understand and remember, the nature of the Cabernet Franc varietal, I turn to Appellation America:

"Although rarely the center of attention, Cabernet Franc, your congenial nature makes you a pleasure to be with. You’re equally good company for your coarse and bitter cousin Sauvignon, as well as with the charming and curvaceous Merlot. Better yet is when you politely amuse the pair in a Meritage made in heaven. Your genteel manner has been evident since your youth. In fact, some would say you’re mature beyond your years. You are graceful and elegant, with a rather lean physique and a fresh attitude. It has been said — very discreetly of course – that your nature is a little on the perfumy side."

I would like to thank everyone that attended for supporting GOTN and our continued goal to learn more about the wines that we all love.  I would also like to thank Valencia Wine Company (VWC) for their continued support and hospitality.

As a side note, I was extremely honored by the birthday wishes from all that attended.  Yes, April 13 was my birthday.  It is such an honor to have such great friends to celebrate with.  I also want to thank the proprietor of VWC, Guy Lelarge, for opening an additional Cab Franc for the group to try as well as the Petite Shirah in honor of my birthday.  This was a very special day. Hope to see everyone at the next GOTN.  I look forward to it.


Rusty Sly

GOTN Discovers Italy With ArneIs & Vermentino

Grape of the Night (GOTN) met at the Valencia Wine Company on March 02, 2015 to bring and discuss Arneis and Vermentino.  Weather and illnesses led to a smaller than usual group for this meeting but the enthusiastic attendees and fine wines definitely made it exciting.  The Arnesis and Vermentino samples brought were all from Italy though all countries and regions were acceptable for this evening.  

Wines sampled:

  • 2012 Maurosebaste Roero Arneis

  • 2013 Donna Anita Roero Arneis

  • 2010 Pepi Lignana Leopoldino Vermentino

  • 2011 Capichera Vermentino

Arneis is a white varietal that was saved from extinction by Alfredo Currado from the Vetti Wine family.  It is primarily grown in the Roero region of Piedmont Italy where the Nebbiolo vines are also grown.  The cause of the near extinction was the result of the more sought after Nebbiolo and Barolo red wines  which were more highly sought after than the Arneis.  Consumer demand made Arneis non profitable which lead to a decrease in growing this varietal by vineyard.  An interesting fact about Arneis vines is that they are planted in vineyards with Nebbiolo vines as an indicator of bird or insect problems.  The Arnesis grape skins are softer and the grapes less tannic and more tasty to birds and insects than the Nebbiolo grapes.  This allows the vineyard time to react and protect their choice grapes if they notice the Arnesis grapes are being eaten.  Arneis in Piedmontese means "little rascal" due to the difficulty of growing this grape for wine production.  It is a wine that does not age well and should drink when young (1-3 years).

The other varietal that we sampled was Vermentino.  My good friend George Skorka spoke about this unique Italian varietal providing a lot of history and details.  Vermentino is grown around the Mediterranean from Spain to Italy and is most prominent from the island of Sardinia and the island of Corsica.  In France Vermentino is called Rolle and is grown primarily in Cotes de Provence.  Since all of our samples were from Italy, we will concentrate on them.  Vermentino was originally planted on the northern peninsula of Gallura where they are labeled Vermintino di Gallura DGOC.  George tested the group by asking what the acronyms DOC and DGOC means.  


  • DOC or Denominazione di Origine Controllata - controlled designation of origin.  DOC is on many Italian wines.  These wines are governed by laws that control where the grapes are grown, varietals and wine style.

  • DOCG or Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita - controlled designation of origin guaranteed.  DOCG is the highest classification with the most stringent requirements.  To carry this label there are strict rules governing grape varieties, yield, ripeness, vinification process and maturation in both barrel and bottle.

Even with the bad weather and unfortunate illnesses that struck many of our regular attendees, I found these varietals to be very unique.  The crisp beautiful flavors can serve many different occasions ranging from sitting in front of a fireplace or with a beautiful dinner consisting of seafood.  Give them a try, you will not be disappointed.

Thank you to George Skorka for always sharing his knowledge at our GOTN events.  I also want to thank Valencia Wine Company for hosting us, and how how could I forget our lovely hostess, Jennifer Tremayne.


Rusty Sly


What Is Grape of the Night (GOTN)

Several years ago I was stationed in Florida for my work.  Having a lot of free time I started to visit various wine shops and wine bars trying to sample and learn about wines.  One of the things that I discovered with most wine drinkers is that most stay within their comfort zone when it comes to wine selection.  Usually, it is one varietal and many times the same vineyard.  To help myself learn more about wine and drive my interest, I started a group called, Grape of the Night.  The idea was simple, everyone or couple would bring a specific wine varietal or blend that was previously chosen for the evening.  Sometimes a specific country, region or appellation was selected. This allowed all of the attendees to sample a large number of specific wines helping to introduce people to wines as well as differences between them.  I call this The Ultimate Flight.  When I returned home to California I had to continue this adventure, not only for myself but for the joy of watching peoples' interest and awareness grow.

Wine Discovery From 2014 GOTN

The Grape of the Night (GOTN) met at the Valencia Wine Company on February 02,2015 to bring and discuss their wine discovery for 2014.  New members were asked to bring their favorite wine.  Each person was asked to provide details on their discovery and why it was special whether it be varietal, state, region, country, etc.  Below is the list of wines that were shared:

  • 2000 Encruzado Dao - Portugal

  • 1995 Kalin Cellars Chardonnay - Sonoma County, Calif.

  • 2012 Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir - Carneros Napa, Calif.

  • 2001 Hitching Post Pinot Noir - Santa Barbara, Calif.

  • 2009 Hitching Post Hartley Ostini Pinot Noir - Santa Rita Hills, Calif.

  • 2013 Ponzi Tavola Pinot Noir -Willamette Valley, Oregon

  • 2008 Selenit Brunello Di Montalcino - Tuscany, Italy

  • Chateau de Chantegrive Bordeaux (Graves) - Bordeaux, France

  • 2012 Syrah (surprise wine) made by local DiMaggio Washington

I was fascinated by how many people bought Pinot Noirs as their discovery. This varietal is very universal and can be served at any time with many types of food from fish to red meats.  Others discovered Old World wines such as Encruzado, Bordeaux and Brunello.  Finally, there was a local wine and Chardonnays.  For me, I did not expect these selections but wines provide a never ending journey of excitement.  I want to give special thanks to out host and proprietor of Valencia Wine Company, Guy LeLarge for opening the 2001 Hitching Post Pinot Noir from his collection.  OMG, WHAT A TREAT!  The next meeting at VWC we will sample Arneis and Vermentino (all countries accepted).


Rusty Sly