Thursday, December 19, 2019

Sparkling Wine Along the Wine Road

Nothing makes an occasion more festive than Sparkling Wine. The pop of the cork, the rise of tiny bubbles and the gentle whoosh of foam in the glass—it’s romantic and special. But sparkling wines are not just for holidays and celebrations, they are also a fine choice for everyday meals and pair exceptionally well with a variety of foods.

Sparkling wine hails from the Champagne region of France and wines grown and produced there are labeled Champagne. In the United States we call our bubbles Sparkling Wine and they are made in a variety of methods. The traditional method called Méthode Champenoise, and the tank method called Charmat. The many styles include Blanc de Blanc–made entirely of white grapes, Blanc de Noir, and Rosé. Sparkling wines come in a range of sweetness levels from sugar called dosage that is added to the wine before corking the bottle. The most popular style is Brut with less than half a gram of sugar per glass. Extra Brut and Brut Nature have even less sugar resulting in a bone-dry wine.

Here are capsule reviews of some great sparkling wines you may find along the Wine Road.

Amista Sparkling Syrah Dry Creek Valley Morningsong Vineyards
Simply gorgeous deep ruby-cranberry color, with a fine bead and soft strawberry mousse nose.  Luscious yet lithe on the palate with citrus and berry notes that float towards a delicate quince and orange finish that is zesty, balanced and alive with flavor. Pair with crab cakes or fresh fruit and cheese.

Balletto 2013 Brut Rosé
Unflappable and delicious this is a crowd pleaser in every way. Pale pink and bright with persistent bubbles. Notes of apple and spice and piecrust on the nose. Effervescent and fresh with juicy red fruit flavors and a deep long finish of that contains a hint of lavender and plums. Pair with everything!

Dashe Sparkling Wine
100% Chenin Blanc from the Heringer Vineyard in Clarksburg, California, this sparkler is pale gold in color with a creamy, toasty, croissant like nose. Tiny persistent bead of bubbles race to the top of the glass. Light, crisp, and floral with flavors of peach and apricot and a taught minerality make this eminently pairable with a variety of foods.
Iron Horse Sparkling wineIron Horse Winter’s Cuvée

Iron Horse 2013 Winter’s Cuvée
Elegant and refined the Winter’s Cuvée is a classic sparkling wine offering great structure and supple body. The nose is a crush of red berries and hazelnuts with bright citrus and apple. Tubes fans will get it when I say this has a distinct scent of Buddha’s hand (citrus) holding an apple. Really! Flavors of lime and stone fruit predominate, with a hint of jasmine and orange blossom. A versatile wine, it can pair well with everything from oysters to tamales.
Korbel Sparkling winesKorbel Blanc de Noirs and Le Premier

Korbel 2015 Blanc de Noirs, Sonoma County
Dry and light with an almond nose with tart red apple and savory notes of spiced nuts and honey. Great body and bright finish. Pair with truffle popcorn or pork tacos

Korbel 2015 Le Premier, Sonoma County
Lovely bead of bubbles suspended in a glow of golden yellow. Fresh baked bread on the nose. Dry and effervescent on the palate with notes of caramel, honey and toasted hazelnut with medium bubbles and long creamy finish with a tinge of nutmeg.

Portalupi 2018 Arrossire di Barnera, Pauli Ranch Vineyard
You don’t see much Sparking Wines made from Barbera, it’s rather rare, so try and get a bottle of this while you can. Deep magenta color full of rose on the nose, it opens into a delicious mélange of strawberries and cream on the palate. Velvety and balanced, it glides to the finish with fresh juicy finesse and effervescent style.

Woodenhead 2015 Brut Rose Russian River Valley
Blushing pink with frothy, creamy mousse that delivers a wonderful nose full of raspberry and Rainier cherry. Fine bead of bubbles stream up the glass with juicy red fruit flavors and a balance of acid and ginger spice on the finish.

Woodenhead 2013 Blanc de Blanc Russian River Valley Buena Tierra Vineyard
100% Chardonnay Sparkling Wine full of crisp apple, lemon mousse and creamy brioche on the nose. Tropical flavors of pineapple and mandarin and a delightful butterscotch note weaves in to the mix at mid palate with a pleasant flinty finish. Pair with mac and cheese.

This post was first published on Along the Wine Road here.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Bells Up Winery: Small Lots Made with Heart

When I was twelve I was asked a life-changing question: “What instrument would you like to play?” I had just enrolled in the summer music program and I clearly said I wanted to play the French Horn.

But through some confusion and what I now see as a coup finagled by my mother and the music teacher—“Oh but a French Horn will be so heavy and awkward to carry around. Perhaps something smaller –maybe the English Horn?" (Which gentle reader I assure you, the English horn is nothing close to the French horn and in fact is a reed instrument- a double reed instrument!!) So in my naivety, I said “Okay, English Horn”. But it turned out the music department did not have any English Horns. And so, through this trickery --I ended up playing the oboe! And nobody in his or her right mind chooses the oboe! Trust me on this.

So what does this have to do with wine you may ask? Well, years later, wine is the balm I use to soothe that memory of never getting to play the French horn. And this brings us to the wonderful world of David and Sara Specter and their winery, Bells Up. David was a French horn player and thus the logo and name are a nod to the symphony life. Anyone who’s ever played in a band or orchestra will know “bells up” is the command to get ready, lift up your horn and give it your all.

And David truly embodies a “bells up” life in every way.  When I met David he seemed positively giddy talking about how the winery came to be and his enthusiasm was infectious. I felt at ease immediately upon meeting him.

David showing the compact winery space.
David and his wife Sara did what many of us only dream about. They took the ultimate leap of faith and went all in on starting a winery. They left their secure and comfortable life in Cincinnati, Ohio to chase a dream of wine. What started as a hobby for David became a full time obsession and led them to buy a former Christmas tree farm in Newberg Oregon. Here they toiled to clear the land and plant their first vines. And now instead of playing only the French horn David is a virtual one-man-band performing all the winemaking tasks and running the winery while Sara handles the marketing and business end of the baton.

I was lucky to get the chance to meet with David this past August along with some fellow wine writers to learn about his venture and taste the wines.

Small Lots Made with Heart

Bells Up makes very small quantities, of micro-boutique wines, and what they refer to as “un-domaine” wines.  Most of the allotments are earmarked for wine club members and those who visit the winery. So do yourself a favor and seek them out when you are in the area.

2018 Helios 
Estate Seyval Blanc, Chehalem Mountains AVA

You don’t see much Seyval Blanc in fact Bells Up is only the second vineyard in Oregon to grow it. But this was the varietal by which David won the national amateur winemaking competition prior to relocating to Oregon from Cincinnati, Ohio. One might say David is a bit of a Seyval Blanc whisperer, coaxing the grape to its full glory and expression. Grown in volcanic Jory soils, the grapes were aged sur lie for 6 months in stainless steel –delivering a gorgeous lean mouthful full of acidity with bright citrus and crisp apple flavors and a touch of pineapple and papaya on the finish.

2018 Rhapsody
Pinot Blanc Willamette Valley AVA

Light and bright the Rhapsody Pinot Blanc had a delicious peachy nose with flavors of and lemon zest and a slight nutty almond flavor on the finish along with a surprising yet enjoyable through line of salinity.

2018 Prelude
Estate Rose of Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains AVA

Yow! What a beast of flavor. The color is deep with nose of crushed rose petals and a full and savory mouth full of red currants and cranberries and a hint of mint. Great ratio of acid to fruit, with the body and structure to pair well with hearty foods.

2016 Titan
Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

A blend of 35% Pommard (Chehalem Mountains), 34% 115 (Yamhill-Carlton) and 31% 777 (Yamhill-Carlton) clones. Exhibiting highly enjoyable quaffability now with great aging potential. Medium body with notes of clove and violets on the nose. Good balance with fruit forward freshness and a layering of flavors tempered by long deep earthy tannins.

2017 Candide
Nemarniki Vineyard, Reserve Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains AVA

A blend of 71% Wadenswil and 29% Pommard clones both from Chehalem Mountains AVA and grown in Loess soils. Elegant and lyrical everything you seek in a Pinot Noir is here. Bright tart berries with a powerful undercurrent of clove, white pepper, and dark plums.

2017 Villanelle
Tonnelier Vineyard Reserve Pinot Noir, Yahmill –Carlton AVA

Although this lovely pinot was named after a duet for French horn and piano—
I like to imagine it was named for my favorite assassin—Villanelle, from the TV show Killing Eve. This wine is dark and brooding revealing deep and dark fruit flavors with great balance. It’s beautiful and intense with a killer finish.

Killing Eve’s Villanelle contemplating the Villanelle Pinot

2017 Firebird
Summit View Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley Syrah

Sourced from the Oregon side of Walla Walla in the high elevations of the Milton-Freewater area. I love Walla Walla Syrah and the Firebird rings true with many characteristics from the region. Bells Up makes the Firebird Syrah in a style that echoes their Pinot methodology, giving it a lighter palate, but lush concentrated flavors and vibrating with spicy acidity.

Plan a Visit

Tastings are by appointment only as the winery is small and David himself will guide you through the wines. So plan ahead a make a visit to Bells Up. You will not be disappointed. And don’t be surprised if David’s enthusiasm doesn’t make you consider taking a leap towards a dream of your own.

Many thanks to Carl Giavanti of Giavanti PR and Consulting for arranging all the logistics and hosting a wonderful day trip in Willamette Valley.

Bells Up Winery
27895 NE Bell Road
Newberg, Oregon

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Roussanne: Varietal of the Month

Most likely you are well acquainted with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris, and perhaps Riesling and Viognier. But if you are looking to try a new white wine that is medium to full bodied, wonderfully aromatic and refreshingly acidic-- perhaps you should give Roussanne a chance. 

Hailing from the Rhône wine region in France, Roussanne is an aromatic white wine grape with a wide range of flavors depending on where it’s grown, be it a cool or warm climate. The flavor profiles can range from crisp apple, bright lemon and ripe peach to unctuous honey and guava notes. Roussanne is often blended with Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Viognier, but is a delight on it’s own as well. Juicy with good acidity Roussanne can hold it’s own with rich foods like full cream cheeses, pate or buttery lobster. There is not a lot of Roussanne grown along on the Wine Road, but it’s becoming more common, so keep your eyes peeled when you are out tasting.

Here are capsule reviews of Roussanne wines you may find along the Wine Road.

Williamson Wines
2018 Relish Roussanne, Mendocino County
Pale yellow with a tinge of green this zesty Roussanne has a zippy floral nose of spicy carnation and tangerine pith with a full mouthwatering flavors of grapefruit and apricot. The excellent acidity level and medium body support a crisp yet round mouth feel with a long honey toned finish.    

Mutt Lynch Winery
Pure Joy on the Beach—2016 Roussanne, Sonoma County
Medium yellow gold in the glass, Pure Joy on the Beach is aptly named. Sunny aromas of gardenia and honeysuckle accompany the creamy smooth flavors of bright lemon and apricot with a delightful note of beeswax on the mid palate. Great acidity balances the buttery body of this Roussanne that sings to the finish with long spicy notes on the finish.

Trattore Farms
2017 Roussanne, Alder Springs Vineyard, Mendocino County
Bright clear yellow, this Roussanne is unctuous and juicy with a soft lemony nose and notes of quince, green apple, Meyer lemon, apricot and wild flower beeswax on the palate. The taught acidity yields a dry chamomile tea that persists give this wine a clean and pleasant finish.

Quivira (The Quivira Collection)
2017 Roussanne Viognier Wine Creek Ranch, Dry Creek Valley
This 80% Roussanne 20% Viognier is a wining combination full of lemon, lavender, marigold, and guava with a bit of tomato leaf on the nose. The rich creamy mouth feel is bursting with lemony flavor and notes of caramel and ginger. It’s bright and dry with a great balance of fruit and acidity. The finish delivers a distinct honeycomb tone that’s unexpected yet warm and luscious.

This post first appeared on the Wine Road blog here: 

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Petite Sirah: Varietal of the Month

While Petite Sirah might sound like a diminutive version of Syrah, it’s a distinct variety also known as Petite Syrah or Durif, named for the French botanist Dr. François Durif. Petite Sirah is not a hybrid but true Vitis Vinifera — its parents are Peloursin and Syrah.

The grape even has it’s own fan club devoted to its cultivation and appreciation – PS (Petite Sirah) I Love You—an advocacy organization dedicated to the grape. Of note is Foppiano Vineyards, in Healdsburg, whose Petite Sirah’s are cited in the famed tome, WINE GRAPES by Master of Wine, Jancis Robinson.

Petite Sirah is a full-bodied red wine rich in dark fruit flavors with firm, robust tannins. Its dark inky-purple color is opaque in the glass and full of antioxidants. Petite Sirah thrives in California and it’s often used as a blending wine, but 100% Petite Sirah is a special treat all it’s own. Its great tannin structure makes it a prime candidate for a bit of decanting a few hours before drinking. But it’s also age worthy, with a drinking window up to 20 years for well-produced bottles.

Petite Sirah is a great complement to hearty dishes like casseroles and braised meats and of course it can hold it own beautifully with barbeque of any type. But don’t forget the cheese platter! Petite Sirah is a fine pairing to aged cheeses including blue cheese, gouda, goat cheese, Monterey jack and many smoked cheeses.

Below are capsule reviews for Petite Sirah producers you can find along the Wine Road.

2015 Petitte Sirah, Gianna's Block, Russian River Valley
2016 Petite Sirah, Russian River Valley
Both vintages of the Foppiano Petite Sirah, 2015 Gianna’a Block and 2016 Estate from Russian River Valley are textbook examples of the beauty and finesse the grape can express. The nose on the 2015 is full of rose petals and violets with gobs of black fruit on the palate and a long pleasing finish. The 2016 leads with an aroma of cocoa and plums and firm elegant tannins support a pleasing mouthful of licorice and spice and everything nice! Both drinking great now but also age worthy for the next 10-15 years. I say buy a case of each and try them at various stages of age.  

2017 L. Venturi Vineyard, Mendocino
A graceful nose of chocolate and cigar box with a touch of thyme sets the tone for a delicious juicy hit of black and ripe red fruit, particularly plums and mulberry on the palate. The taut, gripping tannins may be tamed by decanting first, allowing it to fully open to is full luscious potential. 

Dutcher Crossing
2015 Petite Sirah, Proprietors Blend, Dry Creek Valley
Deep and dark, the Dutcher Crossing Petite Sirah has bewitching nose of blueberry, black olive and crushed marigolds. The firm tannins deliver a long seamless finish with spicy top note of nutmeg and tobacco that yields to exciting and satisfying flavors of brambleberry, blackberry and a hint of zinnia.

2016 Petite Sirah Reserve, Dry Creek Valley
On the nose the Hawley is a garden of earthly delights with dusty rose, spicy carnation and faint lavender. The structure is balanced yet substantial and supports the rich flavors of blackberry pie, deep earthy brambles and a hint of clove. The long lingering tannins glide on velvety rails to the finish.

2015 Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley
Earthy dusty nose of leather and rose. An ample body full of bright raspberry and black cherry with medium firm tannins and a long unwavering finish. Drink now or cellar with aging potential of 5-7 years.

J. Rickards
2016 Brown Barn Vineyard, Alexander Valley
Dark and inky in the glass the J. Rickards delivers a muted nose of fig and dark bittersweet chocolate. On the palate an abundance of blackberry and blueberry mingles with a touch of oak and tobacco, surfing a flavorful wave of generous tannins. 


2015 Petite Sirah, Grey Palm Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley
The Cast Petite Sirah from the Grey Palm Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley is a charming example that escapes the Petite Sirah norm. The soft, light floral nose bellies its grape parentage with a lyrical balletic tannin structure that’s quite light on its toes. But raspberry, licorice and fennel on the palate confirm that it is firmly in the Petite Sirah kingdom of flavor.

Collier Falls
2014 Petite Sirah, Hillside Estate, Sonoma Coast
Coco puffs, oiled leather, and a complex bouquet of coffee and brambles are evident on the nose of the Collier Falls Petite Sirah. Soft plush tannins deliver a deep and juicy mouthful of blackberry and ripe blueberry with a subtle note of graphite. Age potential of up to 7 years.

This post first appeared on the Wine Road blog here:

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Gewürztraminer: Varietal of the Month

Are you stuck in a white wine rut? Do you stick to the tried and true Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris, with perhaps a Riesling here and there? If so, it’s time to expand your white wine horizons and Gewürztraminer is a delicious place to start.

Gewürztraminer is a medium body, dry white wine lighter than a Chardonnay and heavier than a Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigo. Gewürz means spice in German and the grape hails from Alsace the French wine region bordering Germany. It’s a cool climate grape that exhibits great floral aromatics and refreshing spicy flavors such as lychee, passion fruit, lime, honeysuckle and ginger with a dry, crisp finish.

Sometimes we shy away from certain wines just because they are hard to pronounce, or have weird accent marks like that funny umlaut over the ü—but don’t let that stop you. God knows I’m the master of mispronunciations. But it’s not hard to say once you get the hang for it
ge·​würz·​tra·​mi·​ner—pronounced [ge-VOORTZ-tra-meener]—or just cut to the chase and call it Gewürz. Either way your palate will thank you.

Below are capsule reviews of six Gewürztraminer producers you can find along the Wine Road.

Alexander Valley Vineyards 2018 Gewurztraminer Mendocino County
The attractive wood cut illustrations on the label sets the mood for this beautiful example of Gewürz made with organic grapes from Mendocino County. Pale yellow in color, with a bright nose of peach, grapefruit pith and bosc pear with a hint of sandalwood. It’s bursting with flavors of ginger, passion fruit and lychee. Bright minerality with good acidity and a light crisp, yet creamy finish.

Williamson Wines 2018 “Gertie” Gewurztraminer, Russian River Valley
Soft off-white color with a tinge of gold with a gorgeous aromatic bouquet of white lavender and violets. “Gertie” delivers a dry, yet juicy mouthful of lychee, mango, peach, and honeysuckle-lime. Lovely harmonious balance of acidity and tannin with a clean bright finish. Great as an aperitif or paired with Indian, Thai, or Moroccan cuisine. 

Balletto Vineyards 2018 Gewürztraminer, Russian River Valley
The most delicate aromatic white floral bouquet almost belies the rich body and sultry palate full of ginger spice, lush ripe nectarine, pear and lychee with a through line of toasted nuts. Light straw gold color with pleasant acidity and firm, yet supple tannins. Beautiful and complex with a long lingering finish it can pair well with light spicy dishes or even more hearty such as turkey or pork roast.

Optima 2018 Gewürztraminer, Dry Creek Valley
Pretty pink-tinged pale yellow color, this dry Gewürztraminer emits aromatics of crushed rose petals and spicy carnation. Good crisp acidity and medium light tannins with vivid rich flavors of candied ginger, sour peach, ripe honeydew melon and basil-lime. Wonderful texture, long creamy round finish with final notes of nutmeg and orange peel.

Mietz Cellars 2017 Gewürztraminer, Russian River Valley
Medium yellow gold color with distinct perfumed floral nose. Very subtle and light bodied featuring flavors of apricot, quince, cantaloupe and a touch of clove. 13.5% ABV with a zesty burst of initial acidity and a mellow mineral finish. Pair with spicy BBQ, sushi or even with carrot cake.

J. Rickards Winery 2018 GVM White Blend 35% Gewürztraminer, Dry Creek and Alexander Valley

This blend is 35% Gewürztraminer, 33% Viognier and 32% Muscat Blanc. Pale yellow color with orange peel, peach, honey and pear nose. Creamy rich flavor that feels somewhat Viognier dominant, yet holds true to varietal characteristics of Gewürztraminer with ginger and apricot flavors and nice soft mouth feel.

This post originally appeared on Wine Road blog here:


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