About The Author:

"Roger, The Wine Guy" is Roger Yazell, CWS. He is a member of the International Wine Guild and has had a long time admiration of wine. After careers in broadcasting, advertising and marketing account management, he explored his love of wine in hospitality, wholesale and retail sales. The intent of Roger's Grapevine is to share stories, history and information that will add to the reader's love, enjoyment and appreciation of wine and sake'.

Questions, requests for topics and comments are always welcome via email: rogerthewineguy@gmail.com.

(Note: The Wine Guy is currently undergoing chemotherapy and this blog will be on hiatus for the duration and into a recovery period. The Wine Guy is planning to celebrate his recovery with a trip to the two wine producing regions in Argentina and that should provide for some interesting new blogs. Meanwhile please enjoy the archives and feel free to email in the interim.)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A look at Lander-Jenkins

One of the best things about being in the wine trade is the opportunity to attend trade shows and trade tasting events. Even though I’m retired, as both a writer and a part-timer at retail, I still get that opportunity occasionally and always enjoy the exploration. Recently, one of my local wholesalers hosted a tasting event for two wines being rolled out to a district retail group covering Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. It didn’t hurt, at all, that the event was being held at one of my favorite sources for pizza in Scottsdale, Arizona. Thanks are due to Craig Cardella, Intermountain Regional Sales Manager from Rutherford Wine Company (pictured above with The Wine Guy) for both the wine AND the pizza tasting opportunity.

The wines were a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon from Lander-Jenkins Vineyards, St Helena, California (Napa County). This winery is still run by third and fourth generation descendants of Welch immigrants but is now a part of the Rutherford Wine Company. Rutherford’s senior winemaker, Steve Reud, had a hand in the development of these two California appellation wines that are label-branded under the name: "spirit hawk". Both Lander-Jenkins and Rutherford have a long history of sustainable viniculture and the nesting of birds of prey (owls and hawks) are encouraged in their vineyards as a means of rodent control. Steve’s memory of a soaring hawk over one of the company’s vineyards was the inspiration for the wine’s name. These two wines rolled out successfully last June and are now winding their way through the distribution network nationwide and they are due to hit the beverage departments of Cost Plus World Market stores in Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada this month. Here’s a review of the two wines I sampled:

Lander-Jenkins spirit hawk California Chardonnay:

Principally sourced from Monterrey county vineyards, this Chardonnay is accented with 3% Muscat Canelli. It is a blend of about 2/3rds stainless steel and 1/3rd French oak aged Chardonnay and comes in at about 13.5% alcohol, which is just on the moderately high side for a lighter style Chardonnay. This golden straw colored wine exhibited healthy legs, delicate aromas and definite notes of peach and apricot (probably from the balancing addition of the Muscat) There was a light creaminess in the mouth with robust acidity and just the lightest touch of oak and some mineral aftertaste on the moderate finish. Food and Wine Magazine named it one of their 12 best California Chardonnays under $15. The Wine Guy found it to be light and enjoyable but found myself wondering if it wasn’t trying to appeal to both ends of the chardonnay spectrum without offending the other. That said, it’s a good value and worth your exploration.

Lander-Jenkins spirit hawk California Cabernet Sauvignon:

This is a 92% Cabernet with the dominant portion coming from Paso Robles vineyards. There are light additions (all 3% or under) of Malbec, Merlot, Zinfandel and Petit Verdot. The alcohol is a respectable 13.5% and aging is for 14 months in French oak. This wine is moderately deep garnet in color. The fruity nose is accented with just a trace of mint. Exhibited tastes were dark fruits, principally blackberry and plum with just a light hint of spice. Tannins were moderate and the oak was subtly present and somewhat subdued. Despite the tendency to fruitiness, there was a nice lingering finish to this wine and it was, overall, an enjoyable Cabernet Sauvignon, especially if your preference is the more medium-bodied expressions of this grape.

As with their rollout last year, Lander-Jenkins introduction in the World Market stores will include an opportunity to mail in and receive some coordinating note stationery that includes imbedded seeds in the paper (a great tie-in and reminder of their commitment to sustainable viniculture). Once the notepad is used, the recipient simply plants the paper and will be rewarded with wildflowers. As gardening is my number two activity behind sipping wine, I can’t wait for the blooms.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay still rank one and two, respectively in U.S. wine consumption. If either is on your shopping list, you may want to try some Lander-Jenkins spirit hawk wine!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Muscat: What A Sweet Grape!

The fetching Mrs. Wine Guy recently suggested that I blog about good wines to enjoy while watching a sunset. While trying to narrow down the hundreds of excellent possible choices for a “Sunset Sippers” treatise, I rediscovered an old love: Muscat wine and wondered why I hadn’t written about this wonderful grape yet. It’s time to do just that!

The Muscat grape is grown for table grapes, raisins and wine. It is one of the oldest cultivated grapes and may well be ancestor of many other known varietals used in viniculture. Its documented history in beverages extends back almost 3,000 years having been discovered in residues found in the beverage vessels of King Midas’s tomb. Its popular strength began to grow in Italy’s Piedmonte where it has been utilized in wines dating back several centuries. There, it is generally thought that crusading knights brought the fist plantings back from Armenia.
Of the white grapes, Muscat has the highest know concentrations of antioxidant flavonoids and it can be capable of great aging and development. Darker varietals are know and utilized as well. You’ll even find a blend of Muscat wine and Mead called Muscadore and it’s even utilized in a beer based on the recipe derived from the beverage residue found in King Midas’s tomb.

There are hundreds of varieties and some form of the ubiquitous Muscat is found in nearly every one of the world’s wine producing regions. Some of the more commonly known are:
Muscat Canelli….the principal grape of the great wines of Italy’s Piedmont region: Asti Spumanti and Moscasto d’Asti
Black and Orange Muscat…utilized heavily in the Muscat wines found in California.
Moscatel…found in dessert and fortified wines from Spain and Portugal and one of the three grape varietals allowed in the production of Sherry.

The characteristic signatures of Muscat wines are floral aromas that can range from delicate white flowers to heavy perfumed roses and fruit flavors that range from melons and stone fruits to raisins. From light aperitifs to brandy type fortified wines in Chile and Greece to aged dessert wines in Australia, the Muscat grape offers a world of refreshing sweetness to explore. Here are just a few of The Wine Guy’s favorites as recommendations for you try as you explore this wonderful grape:

Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d’Asti: this renown Italian producer utilizes single vineyard grapes from vines that average 25 years or more in age to produce this frizzante with a floral nose and a delicate sherbert-like quality.

Sarraco Moscato d’Asti: The Sarraco family has a four-generation history and Paolo Sarraco is known throughout the Piedmont as the “Maestro of Moscato”. The delicate floral aromas and significant peach and pear flavors of this wine DO improve with age and it represents one of the best values ever found in Moscato d’Asti.

Quadry Electra Moscato: Andy and Laurel Quadry first cut their teeth in winemaking in the 1970’s and only began their first forays into producing Moscato in the 1980’s. The 2009 International Wine and Spirit Competition in London named Quadry the best winery in California. Electra is a light and crisp delight with peachy melon tones and flavors.

Quadry Essencia: Another delight from Quadry’s central valley facility in Madera, this moscato is noted for its deeper color and definite hint of orange peel in the bouquet.

Yalumba Museum Reserve Muscat: Yalumba is Australia’s largest and oldest family-owned winery and has made a name for itself producing great Viognier, Shiraz and Port. Their non-vintage Muscat is made from red and pink shoots of several Muscat varieties. Yalumba will blend well-aged old wine with young and then fortify with natural grape spirits to produce what I believe is one of the world’s best values in a dessert wine. It has a deep, tawny amber color, and a classic perfumed aroma of orange peel with a hint of ginger. Its definite raisin quality is accented with a roasted nuttiness and hint of lemon. Robert Parker rated this nicely complex beauty at 97 points in 2007. It’s not to be missed if you’re a lover of good dessert wine.

A special note for readers who also enjoy a good beer now and then:

Dogfish Head Midas Touch: One of the founders of this Maryland based craft brewery is also an archeologist. They utilized Muscat grapes in crafting this beer based on the recipe derived from the aforementioned King Midas tomb residues. It is uniquely refreshing, sweet-yet dry ale with touches of melon-like fruit, honey and saffron. A unique and enjoyable quaff!

And finally, a note of caution for your exploration:

Muscadet wine from France does NOT utilize the Muscat grape. As with all AOC French wine, its name derives from the producing region and not the grapes. The informing grape here is Melon de Bourgogne and it has characteristics that are very different from the Muscat. It’s a worthy subject but for a different kind of wine experience.

As always, your comments and inquiries are always welcome utilizing the comment feature here on Roger’s Grapevine or by emailing the author: rogerthewineguy@gmail.com

Explore the wonders of the Muscat grape and enjoy a little sweetness in life!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"In vinum,ce un Italiano" - A tribute to the Italian influence in all wine.

If you love wine, the next time you spend a few moments with a glass of your favorite wine (it doesn’t matter which kind), pause to say “gracie” to the Italians. Historically, more than any other country, we owe our bountiful and varied enjoyment of the world of wine to this culture. Viniculture didn’t begin there and history has paid tribute to others but this nation is surely the “cradle” of development for the wonderfully diverse world of wine we enjoy today.

Today Italy is the world’s largest producer of wine (it produces nearly 1/5th of the world’s total) and is the home of the most vineyards (roughly a million). Italians have the largest per capita annual consumption (about 59 liters compared to the 7.7 liters in the U.S) and grows the most varietals used in making wine (over 850 of which about 350 are documented at the Italian Ministry of Agriculture & Forestry). Italians have two of the four largest wine-producing regions in the world, produce the greatest number of varieties of wine and show the greatest versatility in winemaking. They produce fine wines that easily age for 50 years and they even utilize leftover must to produce vino cotto (cooked wine). If you look into the history of the world’s significant wine producing regions, you’ll find an Italian influence.

Much of this influence dates back to the time of the Romans who developed and utilized wine as one of their most principal forms of commerce. Viniculture first developed elsewhere but it was the Romans who made it commercially viable. They pioneered the first use of structures such as trellises to enhance growing and harvesting, as well as presses to help efficiently extract the juice. The Celts may have developed the manufacture of wooden barrels but it was the Romans who first applied their usage to the storage and transport of wine. In fact, the Romans were the first to age wine for the purpose of improving flavor and quality. They were the first to recognize that planting certain grapes in specific areas produced better wine and thus were the ones who taught “terroir” to the French. The origins of the wine “toast” is also credited to the Romans who first dipped burnt bread in their wine to reduce its acidity and later developed the habit of a preliminary tasting of the wine prior to a meal to demonstrate it was free of poison. While they may have inherited most of their grapes from the Greeks, it was the Romans that carried vines and planted them throughout the known world. These and many other practices developed in Italy from the third century B.C. up to the dark ages are still seen today throughout every major wine-growing region in the world.

Today many of the new world wine producers can scratch their history and detect a similar migration of Italian influence. While Spanish missionaries first introduced wine making to California, the development of wine as an industry in that state is rife with Italian influence. That history ranges from the first large scale commercial vineyard and winery in Rancho Cucamonga to the development of the wine industry in the Napa, Sonoma and Alexander Valleys. Many of today’s significant producers in Chile and Argentina similarly have Italian backgrounds or connections. As The Wine Guy has mentioned in his previous blogs on Mexico (see the Roger’s Grapevine archives), that nation’s wine industry is also heavily influenced by Italians. Even in the recent development of New Latitude wine producing areas, there is a notable Italian presence. The commitment of two prominent Italian wine makers to develop vineyards and wine production in India was just announced in December 2009.

It really is no wonder that Americans make Italy their number one supplier of imported wine (Italy accounts for roughly 1/3rd of all our imported wine followed by Australia, France, Spain and then all the others). When it comes to wine, it seems that Italians wrote the book, (granted, some chapters are better than others!) and almost everyone else has taken a page from it.

So again, regardless of varietal…. regardless of from whence it came…regardless of the national heritage of your favorite winemaker…the next time you enjoy a truly good glass of wine (and I hope that’s soon) remember to pause and thank the Italians. Salute!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Grenache..A Great Wine to Discover

Despite being one of the world’s most widely planted grapes, Grenache doesn’t get a lot of recognition from the everyday wine drinker. Its common usage as a blending grape to add body and fruitiness to red wine blends may account for that. However, The Wine Guy believes it is deserving of some study and exploration here on Roger’s Grapevine.

Grenache probably is of Spanish origins where it is called Granacha. Records of its cultivation date back 800 years in the Aragon region where it is sometimes also referred to as Tinto Aragones. It traveled across the Pyrenees to Roussilon and from there made its way into the vineyards of Languedoc and the Rhone Valley. It also traveled to the Italian island of Sardinia where it is called Cannonau. Grenache was the dominant red grape varietal planted in Australia until the late 19th century when Shiraz began its popularity with Australian vintners. Today it is growing in usage in many wine-producing areas, most notably California, Washington, Mexico, Chile, Uruguay and South Africa.

This thin-skinned grape is a very early budding vine but takes a lot of time under sun and heat to ripen. The harvesting of Grenache often occurs weeks later than Cabernet Sauvignon. As a result, Grenache has a higher sugar and higher alcohol content. It produces a soft body wine that’s berry flavored with some spice and is low in tannins. As a blending grape it adds some body, some softness and fruitiness to the grapes it is blended with. Those are typically Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvedre and more recently, Tempranillo. Its fruity characteristics combined with low acidity and its pale coloring has made it well suited for producing rose’s, principally from Provence in France and Navarra in Spain. It can present some challenges for growers. Its woody vines and tendency to produce higher yields require more intense manual pruning. They also present challenges where mechanical harvesting is highly practiced. Its tight fruit clusters bring some susceptibility to plant diseases. It is, however, drought resistant and tolerates a variety of harsh soil conditions. Different soil characteristics will temper its flavor profile, with some regions enhancing the subtle spice notes of thyme and sage, some accenting the blackberry, raspberry, and cherry fruit notes. In the Priorat region of Spain, the grape takes on an almost licorice quality.

Grenache has three dominant forms, Grenache Noir, Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris. It has also been utilized in crossing to produce some other interesting grape varietals. Alicante Bouschet is a notable example (explore the Roger’s Grapevine archives for more on this wine).

You’ll find a Grenache in a lot of recognizable blends such as France’s Chateauneuf du Pape and Cotes du Rhone, Spain’s Rioja and GSM’s from Australia. Its high sugar content lends itself to the production of fortified wines and it can be found in some Australian Ports and the French port-like Banyuls. The production of Grenache as a single or dominant (85% +) wine is becoming much more common with Spanish, Australian and Californian producers leading the movement.

If you’re looking to explore Grenache, The Wine Guy has a few suggestions of some good examples to try:

From France:

Guigal Chateauneuf du Pape: Chateauneuf du Pape is a classic French blend that can contain varying proportions of up to eighteen different varietals but almost always is dominated by Grenache Noir and Syrah as a red and by Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris as a white. Guigal is a consistently good producer whose wine will typically retail in the $30 range.

Gabriel Meffre La Chasse du Pape: Labeled as a Cotes du Rhone, this wine is very similar to most Chateauneuf du Papes at less cost, this wine retails around $10 in the Prestige and under $20 in the Reserve. It is mostly Grenache and Syrah with a little Cinsault.

Paul Jaboulet Parallelle 45 Cotes du Rhone: An interesting Grenache/Syrah blend that is consistently good and offers some interesting subtle hints of coffee and orange for under $15 per bottle.

From Australia:

Grant Burge Holy Trinity GSM (Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre): A high quality blend from the Barossa Valley with great representations of both fruit and spice characteristics. It retails around $30 and is one of the few dominantly Grenache blends that ages very well.
(The high sugar and low tannin characteristics of Grenache often make it more susceptible to oxidation and thus, most Grenache wines should be drunk fairly young)

R Wines Bitch Grenache: Also from the Barossa Valley, this 100% Grenache is fairly fruit forward. It took the U.S. market by storm about two years ago and its now hard to find 2006 vintage got a couple of 90 point ratings in the trade. It may vary a little from vintage to vintage but it is generally affordably found under $10.

From Spain:

Grenacha is found in numerous Spanish wines in varying degrees and Spain is also one of the largest producers of single variety Grenacha. Do explore a number of these, particularly any from the Priorat region. One standout recommendation would be:

Bodegas Borsao Campo de Borja: A good pure Grenacha that’s fruit forward without losing spice notes. This wine has back-to-back vintages scoring 88 and 89 points and generally retails well under $10.

From California:

Cline Cashmere: A silky blend of Mourvedre, Grenache and Syrah that is priced in the $15 range. This is a fabulous sipping wine especially suitable to give to your favorite lady for Valentine’s Day. Long time devotees of this wine will note the addition of a pink ribbon to the label denoting the wine’s support in the fight against breast cancer.

J. Fillipi Pride of Cucamonga Grenache Noir: The Wine Guy got this $10 wine at the winery and I’m not sure it’s available at retail but I included it because I also heartily recommend a visit the winery tasting room in Rancho Cucamonga. The Fillipi family has a four-generation history beginning with ties to the historic Guasti Italian Vineyard Company (see Roger’s Grapevine on 1/14/10). They founded their own winery in 1922. The winery tasting room is worth a visit for their display of area winemaking history as well as the wines. You’ll also want to try their Joseph Fondante Ciello, a port style dessert wine with infused chocolate. Visit them online at www.josephfllipiwinery.com.

Grenache offers wonderful opportunities for your wine exploration. Enjoy a glass soon!