Monday, March 28, 2011

Portugal Part 6: Croft Vineyards & Portrait of Adrian Bridge

Adrian Bridge is focused. You can see it in the way he walks across the land, plucks an orange from a tree, thumps a barrel, mimics the stomping cadence in the lagare, or hunkers down in the dirt to illustrate a point. To call him passionate would be an understatement. No, Adrian Bridge, CEO of the Taylor's Fladgate Partnership is beyond passionate; he is completely attuned and fully engaged in everything he turns his attention towards--from vineyards, to wine tourism. Bridge has great presence and strikes me as the type of man who could introduce himself by saying -- “Bridge. Adrian Bridge.”-- without mocking James Bond.
In the lagare
Close to the land
On a chill February day, just outside Pinhão on the Douro, Bridge escorted us through Quinta da Roeda, the Croft property purchased in 2001, where Croft Port red, white and pink is produced. Much of the harvest work is by hand, but with a technological assist. In the lagares, humans still tread the grapes, but a sophisticated piece of machinery (similar, to the one at Quinta Nova) supports the treading with a custom crush device set on rails that skims across the shallow granite vats and adjusts the pressure according to the liquid levels.
Mechanical treader
Field demo with the pneumatic snips
Out in the vineyards skilled workers perform their jobs with the aid of high technology. The day we visited, the vineyard crews were pruning the cane using pneumatic snips calibrated to cut the vine in a precise way each and every time with no human error. The shears are set to cut a certain diameter, keeping fingers safe. Apparently if you stick your finger in the clipper and pull the trigger it will not cut you, but no one volunteered to prove the point.
Quinta da Roeda
At first glance the vineyards look like they just magically planted themselves in perfect alignment with the land, but the slopes at Croft are laid out with lasers to mitigate erosion and the tenets of bio-diversity are at play here in the fields of the lords of Port.

Outdoor tables and view at Quinta do Panascal

After the tour of Croft we adjourned to the rustic yet chic Quinta do Panascal for a luncheon where we sampled several Fonseca and Taylor’s Port offerings. The Fonseca Siroco white port makes for a fine cocktail and it set the tone for the rest of the lunch, which included red and white table wines and several top ports from Fonseca and Taylor’s.

The traditional Portuguese dishes were prepared with flair and served with a touch of elegance that seems to be the hallmark of all the Fladgate port wines and guest properties.
A tiny island of delight

The vineyards under the Fladgate Partnership include Croft, Taylor’s and Fonseca. And like Adrian Bridge, they all have a singular focus on the end result, be it the exquisite expression of grape in the glass, or in the case of wine tourism, the embodiment of hospitality in the service offered at the Yeatman-- the new ultra luxury wine hotel, in Vila Nova de Gia across the river from Porto--the latest jewel in the crown of the Fladgate operation.
View of the river from Quinta do Panascal

Next Post Up--Foodie Feast at Rui Paula's DOC & Party at Quinta do Pégo!

Videos in the Annex:

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Rhone Rangers Wrap Up

Rhone Rangers Mourvedre Seminar
So I got the chance to give away two tickets to the San Francisco Rhone Rangers event that took place last weekend in my post There's a Name for My Condition: Rhone Ranger. The winner was Rick from @cheers2winecom. That post was also part of a blogging competition that awarded tickets to the event to a wine blogger-- with the Grand prize being a full weekend pass including the Winemakers dinner on Saturday night.

Well guess who won???

Hint hint...your soaking in it. Yup it was me! I was surprised and excited to learn I was the winner of the whole shebang. Thank you very much Rhone Rangers judges!

I was only able to attend the Saturday events but they were incredible. At the Mourvedre seminar moderated by Jon Bonne I really enjoyed the Tablas Creek Vineyard 08 from Paso Robles and we also tasted my old stand by and BFF the 08 Wine Creek Ranch Mourvedre by Quivira.

Next... on the the Gala Winemakers Dinner catered by Girl and the Fig followed by the Rhone Rangers Scholarship Fund auction.
Prior to the dinner a walk around tasting reception was held with the wine makers. Wow! There were some real standouts that were new to me. I was especially blown away by selections at Quady North from Southern Oregon.
A selection from Quady North

One of the many wines poured at the dinner

Auction in full swing
The auction action was fast and furious and raised funds for the scholarship, and all the incredible wines served at the event raised serious fun for all the attendees. If you love rhones, become a Rhone Ranger Member and be sure to catch the event next year.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Portugal Part 5: The Douro & Visit to Quinta Nova

Like I said in the Portugal Part 4 post, visiting the Port cellars in Oporto without a trip to the growing region in the Douro, would be like visiting a museum of flight and aeronautics, but never flying in an airplane. You miss a huge part of the experience if you don’t go to the Douro. Sure there are pictures and videos of the harvest in the port houses, but nothing compares to seeing the steep vineyards up close and personal.

The Douro wine region has some of the most astounding scenery in the world with stacked terraces of granite and schist that form undulating curves as they follow the contours of the river. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It’s humbling to realize the amount of work it takes to get those grapes off the vines and into the wine on your table.

But there’s more than grapes in those hills and valleys along the Douro—there are 5 star hotels, guesthouses and some top-notch restaurants too. One stand-out for both wine and hospitality is Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo located just outside of Pinhão on the north bank of the river. Click on the slideshow below for a little taste of Quinta Nova.

The Lodge:
The property offers spectacular views over the vineyards and across the river. The original 18th century manor house has been converted to a hotel. A chapel on site across from the lodge dates from 1764, and honors Nossa Senhora do Carmo--the patron saint of the original riverboat crews.

The 11-room lodge has a relaxed family atmosphere and although we were there in the winter, the pool and hiking trails top my reasons for plotting a return visit in warmer months. But my number one reason to return would be for the wine. It’s literally “Come for the wine--and stay for everything else!"

The Wines:

The table wines at Quinta Nova were my favorite of the entire trip. Quinta Nova sold their port wine business a while ago, and now focus on table wines. There are so many great wines coming out of the Douro, but I ended up ordering Quinta Nova selections each time I found them on wine lists during the rest of my stay in Portugal.

A remarkable part of the program at Quinta Nova is the all woman crew. The harvest is carried out completely by hand and on foot in the narrow terraces where no machines can pass. Men assist during the harvest to transfer the heavy baskets of grapes to containers and trucks, but women harvest the grapes and do all the hand sorting as well. The Quinta Nova philosophy is that the women have a finer sensibility for detecting the quality of the fruit and do a better overall job in these tasks.

At the crush pad, the juice is cooled before pressing to avoid shock in temp changes. Everything is handled with a gentle touch and Quinta Nova is one of the only wineries in the entire region to have a Portuguese designed treading machine that simulates foot crushing by the vignerons. The machine is fully adjustable and can be programmed to recreate the precise treading tempo desired for each stage of the crush. As it becomes harder to find people to do the treading work, the machine enables the process to be replicated and ensures the continuity and consistency of the crush.

Quinta Nova is also part of a new tourism alliance called alltodouro, in partnership with Greengrape, that is working to develop integrated programs with the restaurants, vineyards, hotels and museums in the area. You can check out the tourism packages at or by contacting Alberto Chaves of Greengrape directly--

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Shane! Come Back Shane!

In my last post I wrote about some stops along the wine road during barrel tasting weekend. But we made one last stop. Stop 5: Shane Wines and Kosta Browne.
Neither Shane or Kosta Browne was on the official barrel tasting agenda but we were there along with @WhatDebPours and @SonomaWilliam for a pre-arranged tasting with Shane Finley Associate winemaker for Kosta Browne and Owner/Winemaker of Shane Wines.

First we tasted the 2010 Ma File Rosé. I love Shane’s Rosés and their light Provencal style. This vintage is a spicy delight. I bought a case. Next we tried the 2010 Judge Syrah Vineyard Bennett Valley, the 2010 Jemrose Syrah also Bennett Valley and the 2010 Charm Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley.

The Charm was Shane’s first Pinot Noir and it SOLD OUT in less than two weeks. Let that be a lesson to you. One taste and you would beg for it. As they say in South--"Tastes so good, makes you wanna slap yo' momma."
But the bottle pic here may be as close as you will get.

After tasting the Shane current selections we tried a barrel sample of Shane’s Grenache Blanc. And Wooo Weeee, Hot Diggity! All I can say is if you get an email saying this is available for purchase, don’t delay…buy it pronto. I learned my lesson with the Pinot.

We also tasted Kosta Brown Keefer Ranch Vineyard Green Valley RRV 2006 and 2008 Pinot and several barrel samples of Kosta Browne from various vineyards. It was a great privilege to taste all of them.

"Are you serious?"
Shane Finely (above) reacting with despair when asked if he would like to use @SonomaWilliam Valet Parking services at his next event. (um, little inside-outside joke there)

So, here's the deal-- get yourself on the Shane list here and if you ever get the opportunity to visit in person. GO! Shane is one of the most fun and hilarious winemakers you will ever meet. Plus he is well versed in obscure movie and music references as pertain to wine, so bring your 'A' game, or “NO Pinot for YOU!”

Roll Out the Barrel

Last weekend and this weekend the Annual Sonoma Wine Road Barrel Tasting Event is on. It's tons of fun, but I usually don’t go for two reasons: 1: It’s crowded. 2: It’s crowded. But this year we decided to do a very local barrel tasting tour and visit wineries less than 6 miles from our house.

First Stop: Joseph Swan Winery
Great offering of barrel samples including
2009 Zinfandel Mancini Ranch 2009 Zinfandel Zeigler Vineyard 2009 Syrah Trenton Estate 2009 Syrah Great Oak Vineyard 2008 Cabernet Trenton Estate.

Stop 2: Martin Ray
The folks at Martin Ray were in an 80’s mode wearing neon green, orange, and pink and offering free (temporary) tattoos. I liked the Sauvignon Blanc they poured in the tasting room and the Pinot barrel sample.

Stop 3: Graton Ridge Cellars—The 60s were alive and well at Graton Ridge and in addition to their medal wining wines the main reason to visit Graton Ridge is for the rainbow peace sign each visitor gets on entering the tasting room. Groovy man. The giveaways don’t get any better than this! The barrel samples I liked were the 2010 Russian River Chardonnay and the 2010 Bacigalupi Zinfandel

I am a fan of Dutton Goldfield wines, so it’s hard to believe this was my first visit to their new tasting room since they opened almost a year ago. I guess it’s like the Empire state building or Statue of Liberty, you take it for granted if you live there and drive by it all the time. The new tasting room is open and airy with a great patio set up out front perfect for relaxing in the afternoon sun.

Of the five barrel samples there, I liked the 2010 Fox Den Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Green Valley of Russian River appellation and the 2010 Morelli Lane Zinfandel Russian River Valley. The Morelli smelled like a Pinot and tasted like a Zin! It’s two wines in one.

In the tasting room Sarah Kelley poured us the lovely 2008 Dutton Ranch Chardonnay as well as the 2008 Devils Gulch Vineyard Pinot from Marin County and the 2008 Cherry Ridge Syrah (also Green Valley Russian River). We also tried the 2008 Sanchietti Pinot that I loved so much in the past. This wine is close to being sold out and I snagged a few bottles from the quickly dwindling inventory. I noticed almost everyone who tasted the Sanchietti bought some on the spot.

Hanging out by the Fork Food Truck

After the tasting it was time for some food and lucky for us Sarah Piccolo of Fork Catering Food truck and Jeff Tyler of Chicago Style Hot Dogs were both on hand in the parking lot serving up their specialties.
We got a Chicago dog with EVERYTHING and a Crab roll sandwich and a Mongolian Beef sandwich from Fork. Look for Tyler and Sarah next time you are out and about.
Sarah Piccolo of Fork

We made one last stop at Shane Wines and Kosta Browne which was not part of the Barrel Tasting Trail and I’ll tell you all about it on the next post!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Folie à Deux --Share the Experience

Wine is always best paired with friends, right? Right. So recently we invited a few friends over to share some samples I received from Folie à Deux. It was especially appropriate to try the wine with others since Folie à Deux is actually a French term meaning “shared fantasies”.

For our meal we had braised leeks, vegan risotto, pot roast and mochi ice cream (ugh). Kind of an odd menu combination, I know, but one of our guests had food “issues”. Oh well, what can you do with these people? At least no one had any wine issues or restrictions. Otherwise they would have been shown to the door. Just kidding. I think.

Anyway, I opened all the wines and let everyone decide what would pair best with the particular dishes they were eating.

Wow! I was surprised by the big flavors on this wine. It had a nose of cherries and blackberries and a bit of dusty cedar. I don’t really like the scent of cedar, but this was cedar in a good way, not an old hamster cage type of cedar scent. I thought the tannins were very light, but one of our guests thought they were too strong. (guess who..)

2008 Folie à Deux Zinfandel –What a delight this was. A juicy, juicy Zin full of flavor, with pepper and nutmeg. It also had some minty notes too. But overall it was smooth and rich and very drinkable. Everyone liked this wine and this bottle was finished first.

2008 Folie à Deux Cabernet Sauvignon – An easy drinker that our problem, um I mean hard to please, guest loved. It had a nice balance and smooth tannins with ripe berry and plum fruit flavors.

The wine was good and our guests seemed happy, and although we never got to the point of sharing our fantasies, (thank god, because I’m sure one of the fantasies would involve vegan pork) we did share some great stories and a few toasts to friendship.

I would certainly seek out the Folie à Deux again. If you are looking for something inexpensive ($18-24) that will not disappoint, give it a try. Oh, and for the record, the finicky guest, dear as she was, is the wife of one of my husband’s friends. I sure hope she does not read this blog.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Portugal Part 4: A Visit to Sandeman & Vini Portugal

I thought Port was a sweet fortified wine you drank after dinner. Port was Port. But boy, was I wrong. It turns out there are many kinds of port—Ruby, Tawny, Vintage and the Special Vintage Reserve. There’s Pink and White and LBV and Colheita and Crusted and Single Quinta Vintages. Also 10, 20, 30, and 40 year vintages. But not all aged Port is from the same year, it can be any combination of years that add up to 10, 20, 30 or 40 years. It’s like the sudoku of winemaking.

Port seems way more complicated than needs be, so forget trying to sort it all out in the beginning and just start tasting. But don’t be surprised if after trying many styles, you become intrigued and desire more in-depth information. Then Oporto (aka Porto) is the place to go. Actually, Vila Nova de Gaia, just across the river, is the place. All the major Port caves and cellars are here including Calem, Kopke, Cockburn, Offley, Croft, Rozes, Taylors, Graham and of course Sandeman.


Even if you don’t know Sandeman Port you certainly have seen their branding with the iconic image of the caped man. Throughout our tour of the cellars we were shadowed by a woman in the hat and cape, a living logo that added to the drama of the tasting.

But by far the most dramatic moment of the Sandeman tour came in the Sandeman cellar when one of the Hollywood TV hosts from our group asked the winemaker to pour a barrel sample from the thief, directly into her mouth, creating an improvised Port shower. Well, Sandeman is a classy place, so you can imagine the gaping jaws when this occurred. Highly unusual behavior in such a hallowed and august Port house. Yes indeedy it was quite the scene…I only wish I had some pictures to share!! (Um hello @aneeshb or @terencecarter ... please send photos. I will post and link to your page.) Not something you see everyday, or ever for that matter.
UPDATE: This just in! Here is a photo!

After the cellar tour we were served two types of Port cocktails. The Sandeman Founder on the Rocks made with Founders Reserve Porto over ice and the Sandeman Royal prepared with Sandeman’s 20 Years Tawny Porto and Scotch Whisky. It was the first of many Port cocktails I would have in Portugal and they became an evening ritual for the remainder of the trip.

At dinner I was seated at George Sandeman’s table and I later heard that George personally chose who would sit at his table after looking at everyone’s blog. So that was nice to hear. I guess he took a peek at my blog on a good week!
The dinner was exceptional, especially the Sea Bass entree that was baked encrusted in salt, and arrived on a platter looking like it was ready for a Saveur photo shoot . The sea bass paired perfectly with the 2009 Quinta de Azvedo Vinho Verde. We also enjoyed the Sandeman 20 year Tawny with an apple and roqufort salad; the 2000 Sandeman Vau Vintage Porto with chocolate mousse; and with coffee, the Sandeman 40 year old Tawny. I loved the richness of the 40 year tawny.

George proved to be a witty conversationalist and it was a pleasure to be seated at his table. He also gave us a quick lesson in the nuance of Port, when the 20 year Port was served. We all tasted it and then George declared it was not exactly as it should be, that it was "flat"--immediately all the glasses were removed and a new bottle poured. I honestly don't know what he detected in the first bottle, but I did notice a difference in the second pour. It definitely tasted more lively, the flavors more pronounced and defined than the first.

It’s always great to be able to experience something like that even if it is not intentional. I learned a lot from that episode and was able to tune in to the differences in Port much better after that accidental object lesson. Like I said at the beginning, there is a lot more to Port than you might think, and spending time learning all about it from the experts is the best way to move from being a Port drinker to Port lover.

Vini Portugal
Of course there is more than Port in Porto and if you want to learn more about all the incredible table wines being produced in Portugal head over to Vini Portugal. Vini Portugal is a trade organization promoting wine production and producers in Portugal. You can learn about the different regions and try the wines of the day in their stylish tasting room in the historic stock exchange building near the river.
Miguel Nora, Sr. Manager for Vini Portugal hosted us afterwards at Restaurante O Comercial located in the Palácio da Bolsa - the stock exchange building in Oporto. I almost foolishly missed out on this event because I was feeling under the weather, but I'm glad I attended.

A stylish version of traditional bacalhau

It was a great opportunity to drink some wonderful Portuguese wines paired with traditional Portugese cuisine. And I got to check out the world’s most trippy writstwatch on Miguel’s wrist. I was convinced he could control the thermostat of his home or office and launch small missiles with it, it but he insisted it only told the time, albeit in a very stylish manner.

View from guest room at the Yeatman Hotel

We stayed at the magnificent Yeatman Hotel the night we visited Sandeman, and after a full day of touring three Quintas in the Minho, I was a bit exhausted by the time we got there. But it was such a brief visit I went back after the blogger trip to experience it again. I'll tell you more about The Yeatman in a separate post. But for now, here's a quick room tour featuring another drive-thru window!

Visiting the Port cellars without a trip to the growing region in the Douro, would be like visiting a museum of flight and aeronautics, but never flying in an airplane. You miss a huge part of the experience if you don’t go to the Douro. I’ll show you why in the next posts.


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