#DrinkPink Rosé of the Week; 2012 Château d’Esclans Whispering Angel

It’s April and for me that means, it’s the unofficial opening of Rosé season (truth be told it’s Rosé season for me pretty much year-round)!  With that in mind, I’m cranking up my annual series of weekly “Drink Pink!“ Rosé tastings.  It’s my quest for the best Pink Porch Pounders $20 or less!  This week’s Rosé is the 2012 Château d’Esclans Côtes de Provence Rosé Whispering Angel.

The Winery

Chateau d’Esclans is found nestled in the heart of Cote de Provence, the spiritual home of Rosé.   about half an hour north of St Tropez. They are both a negociant and winery.  As such they identify vineyards, grapes and wine from their estate, Chateau d’Esclans, as well as local growers to make a what are renown to be the best range Rosé in the world.

Winemaker Sacha Lichine (son of Alexis Lichine) is at the helm of this spectacular property in Provence.

The Wine

First, I want to dispel a myth about Rosé.  I can’t tell you how many time, I’ve heard that a Rosé must be consumed within a year of vintage.  That’s simply not true for a quality Rosé such as this.  Granted they’re not intended to lay down for years.  On the other hand, you’ll find it will still represent itself well within a year or two of the vintage date.

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The Whispering Angel chapel from early 19th century, with its two cherubs who have inspired the creation of Whispering Angel. Image courtesy of Chateau d’Esclans

This is Chateau d’Esclans “entry-level” Rosé.  It’s a blend of Grenache, Rolle (Vermentino), Syrah, Cinsault, Tibouren.  Tibouren is a black-skinned grape that is said to add distinctive floral and berry aromatics, along with a bit of earthiness to the blend.

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My tasting notes follow:

Pale salmon color with promising wild strawberry, raspberry, melon and wet stone aromas. On the palate it’s medium-bodied, fresh,  dry, moderately complex, and wonderfully textured with red berry, melon, and mineral flavors. Lingering finish. $17 (Costco)

Rating:  B+: It’s been a couple of years since I’ve enjoyed this wine.  But a couple of sips brought me right back to the consistent goodness that this is.  This is a perennial favorite that continues to deliver! Will buy more!

Pair with: Traditional Provençal fare including charcuterie, pâté, salade niçoise, and the aïoli platter. It’s an incredibly flexible partner at the table, complementing everything from international cuisine—curries, tagines, or chiles rellenos—to a vast array of seafoods, poultry, salads, and cheeses.

Sample purchased for review 

Ratings Key:

(A+) – 98-100/Extraordinary
(A) – 94-97/Outstanding
(A-) – 90-93/Excellent
(B+) – 86-89/Very good
(B) – 80-85/Good
(C) – 70-79/Bleh
(D) – 50-69/#Fail
__________________________________________________________________

Martin Redmond is a Financial Executive by day, and a certified wine geek with latent foodie tendencies the rest of the time. In addition to the wine lifestyle and food he enjoys family, fitness and traveling. He likes to get thoughts of wine off his mind by sharing experiences on his ENOFYLZ Wine blog, which features wine reviews, wine country travel, and wine and food pairings.

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino, with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers!

This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Blog.com. Copyright 2014 ENOFYLZ Wine Blog. All rights reserved.

Guest Post: 2014 Rhone Rangers Tasting: Spotlight On Syrah

The Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting is a huge event, with far too many wines for me to get through.  While I chose to focus on Grenache, I thought it would be great to also get a sense of Syrah.  I love Syrah – especially “cool-climate” style. So today, I’m thrilled to bring you some bonus coverage of the event by featuring Cyrus Limón (a.k.a. Mr. Syrah) from sólosyrah

Syrah, especially “cool-climate” Syrah, is Cyrus’ thing, and I trust his palate.  

Take it away Cy…

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By Cyrus Limón

The 2014 Rhone Rangers Bay Area Tasting: Spotlight on Syrah

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Umm, yes, I’d like to taste some wine with this view.

The annual Bay Area Rhone Rangers tasting is a great way for me to get a sense of the state of Syrah in California. Although it’s usually missing some of my favorite Syrah producers like Peay, Arnot-Roberts, and Failla it still has a growing cadre of cool-climate Syrah aficionados that make it a great place to check in on Syrah. This year’s tasting was my favorite so far. The location at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond was beautiful and the wineries were spread out well to allow for a lot of elbow room and a lot of face-to-face contact with winemakers. The crowd wasn’t too big (great for those of us there, but maybe not for the wineries) and although there were a few noticeably inebriated people there seemed to be less general drunkenness than in previous years.

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The beautiful Craneway Pavilion in the Richmond Marina

It’s nice to have a plan when going into big events like this and for me the plan was to taste a lot of Syrah. I checked in with the handful of producers that are doing Syrah in the style I appreciate but was also keen to find some new producers doing a cooler-climate style.

Here’s a list and brief description of wines that I tasted at this year’s Rhone Rangers that most represent the lower alcohol, cooler climate style that I love some much. The wines below are organized by the order in which I tasted them.

Kieran Robinson Wines

I’ve written about this wine before but Kieran Robinson’s 2010 Bennett Valley Vivio Syrah is a great example of elegant Syrah. The wine has mid-palate lift and some great olive and red fruit aromas. The 2009 was a bigger wine from the same vineyard with more of a meaty chocolate profile. The ’11 just got bottled and will come in at about 13.3% ABV and the 2012 at 14.3% ABV. Kieran says that this type of vintage variation is common in Bennett Valley; you pick it when it’s ripe.

Terre Rouge

Terre Rouge in an old Syrah house that wasn’t on my radar until last year’s Rhone Rangers event. Bill Easton makes spectacular Syrahs from special spots in the Sierra Foothills and Lodi. His lower end wines tend to see less oak and are made for easier drinking with an emphasis on fruit and lower tannins. His higher end Syrahs are more tannic and see a lot more new oak and are meant to age.

The 2010 Les Cotes de l’Quest was actually my favorite from the tasting because of that judicious use of oak and had a bright and pure fruit profile.

The 2008 DTR Ranch is their estate wine and sees a little more new oak. The oak was mostly in check and the Syrah flavors came through nicely.

The 2008 Sentinel Oak was a much “bigger” wine with more tannins on the finish and more new oak. It’s still got great acidity though and I’m sure this is the kind of Syrah that could age for a long time (and already has) but for me I just would have liked to see the oak dialed back a tad.

The 2008 Ascent is that vintage’s example of their flagship wine. This wine spends 24 months in new oak. It had more of a blue fruit profile. I think this is a good wine for this style but again I think the new oak could be dialed back.

Although there’s no question in my mind that these are well-made Syrahs, my question is why not let the pure fruit aromas come through more on the higher end wines keeping the new oak in check?

Two Shepherds

I love checking in on William’s wines and this was one of the few wineries where I tasted through all the wines. The whites were tasting beautifully and William’s curent release of reds seemed even more cohesive at this juncture then the last time I tasted them.

William does have a yet-to-be-released 2012 Saralee’s Vineyard Syrah that he let me taste off to the side. I really like this Syrah (especially after the Terre Rouge wines) because it only sees neutral oak so it’s a great example of how a completely unadulterated Syrah picked at low alcohol levels can bring forth the true character of the varietal. This wine is young and had just been opened so it was full of mouth-filling acidity but also really delicious fresh fruit character. It’s an elegant Syrah that sets itself apart because of its core of acidity. I can’t wait to taste it in about 6 months to see how it continues to evolve in bottle.

Fields Family Wines

Going from William’s Syrah with it’s bracing acidity to Ryan Sherman’s easy-drinking Lodi Syrah was a study in contrast. I won’t go on too much about them here because I’ve only recently done a blog post on them but I do want to say again I am struck by how Ryan achieves fresh fruit character in his wines in Lodi. Yes they are riper styles of Syrah but these are not big vanilla and blue fruit Syrahs. His judicious use of oak, well-timed picking decisions and the cooler site along the Mokelumne River Valley allow the wines to maintain a true Syrah character.

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The affable Ryan Sherman of Fields Family Winery

Donelan Wines

I hadn’t checked in with Donelan since Tyler Thomas had moved on (link) and it was nice to meet new winemaker Joe Nielsen. Most of the Donelan wines aren’t exactly cool-climate but I was struck by their judicious use of new oak and a nice core of acidity that carried through all the Syrahs.

The 2011 Cuvee Christine is Donelan’s blend from different vineyards and is meant to illustrate the potential for Syrah in Sonoma County. It’s a nice fresh style of Syrah. Not too complex and intensely food friendly.

The 2011 Walker Hill, which I’d had before, was also well done with nice fresh fruit elements and surprising acidity.

The 2011 Richards (which was being poured at small samples off to the side) also showed enjoyable Syrah savory aromas and freshness even after spending 30 months in barrel.

Clos Saron

It was a pleasure to spend some time with Gideon Beinstock at Clos Saron. He’s the type of person I think I could sit and talk to for hours and someday I hope to get a chance to do just that at his winery in the Sierra Foothills. If you want to learn a lot more about the Clos Saron project then you’ve got to check out this excellent podcast with Levi Dalton.

All of Gideon’s Syrahs were great but I did get a common thread in the aroma profile that was both perplexing and alluring. The closest I can come to describing it is that it was almost like the aroma of a root beer candy, maybe mixed with a tootsie roll. I asked Gideon if he got any common thread of aroma through all the Syrah and although he didn’t say yes he did say that it was possible.  Gideon mentioned that it could be the native yeast from the winery and then he laughed and told me that possibly it was just his own stinky feet. (Gideon makes the wine in an old world style and still foot stomps the grapes.)  Regardless of how that interesting aroma got in there it’s clear it’s become part of the “terrior” of the Syrah.

The 2011 Stone Soup Syrah and 2009 Heart of Stone both had great cool-climate profile with savory aromas and a nice acidic core. The 2005 Heat of Stone was a bit more extracted and a riper style which Gideon attributed to an over exuberance on his part at this time of his winemaking career to extract big fruit and flavor from the grapes. He now works the grapes less (less punchdowns, less maceration) to make his wines more elegant and less “new world” in profile.

MacLaren Wine Company

I also checked in with Steve Law to get a chance to taste one of my favorite Syrahs, the 2010 Judge Family Bennett Valley Syrah. I think Steve did a great job with this wine and I’m always impressed with it’s freshness and aromas of salted plum and olive. It’s always a treat to taste.

Qupé Winery

Now these were the wines of the tasting for me.

As I mentioned before, this year’s event was less overwhelming than the previous years and I was thrilled to see that there was some space at the Qupe table for me to actually talk with Bob Lindquist and fawn over his Syrahs. I’d recently had a corked Qupe and one that was hopelessly infected with Brettanomyces so I was thrilled to get a chance to wash away those bad experiences with what I was hoping was some great Syrah.

I started off with the 2011 Bien Nacido Vineyard and boy was it tasting good. Elegant, floral, peppery and bright with a well-structured mid palate this was a delicious example of a classic site for Syrah.

The next wine was an iteration of Qupe’s famed Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard. The 2011 Sawyer Lindquist “Sonnies” is an homage to Bob Lindquist’s mother and is a selection of the best blocks from the vineyard and the best barrels from those blocks. This wine was tasting spectacular. It had that perfect combination of cool-climate characteristics mixed with rich and delicious mid-palate and an elegant finish.

The 2011 X Block Bien Nacido was also floral and elegant and tasting very much in balance at this moment.

It was a happy moment for me to taste these wines and get to talk with Bob Lindquist to extoll the virtues of cool climate Syrah. At one point Steve Law came over from MacLaren and the three of us geeked out on French Syrah and how food-friendly it is.

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Two generations of cool-climate Syrah lovers meet for the first time: Steve Law and Bob Lindquist

Lagier Meredith Vineyard

I love to check in with Stephen and Carole’s deliciously graceful Napa Syrah. This is a full wine but it’s light on it’s feet at the same time. The 2011 Syrah, Mount Veeder had a classic cool-climate Syrah black olive disposition with a full mid-palate. Again, this is a Syrah that shows that judicious use of oak and smart picking decisions can create an elegant Syrah in an area known for bigger wines.

Skylark Wine Company

I finished the day checking in with a relatively newer winery because I noticed that they had a Rodger’s Creek Syrah which is a cool-climate site near the Petaluma Gap and Carneros. The 2009 Rodgers Creek was a beautiful Syrah, peppery and bright with beautiful elegance. Another winery to get to know more and a style that I hope they stick with.

All in all, I’d say that there are more wineries attempting to make Syrah in a more floral, peppery, savory style; less blocky and big and overly brawny. Few wineries have gone all in on that style and some of my favorite Syrahs from the cooler vintages of 2010 and 2011 have climbed up in ripeness and alcohol level for 2012 and 2013 when the vintages were warmer so it’s hard to say if there’s really a stylistic shift or not. I’m heartened by many of my talks with winemakers who agree with me that Syrah doesn’t need to be jammy and oaky but then they admit that in order to please the general consumer they generally offer Syrahs that are bigger and riper to round out their portfolios. And maybe this is indeed the future of Syrah, that we just have to get comfortable with the fact that it comes in different styles and that consumers appreciate both styles.

As long as the cooler-climate styles stick around then I’m comfortable with that.

Here’s to Cool Climate Syrah – Rhône On Cyrus!

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About Cyrus Limón: Is a wine enthusiast devoted to extolling the virtues of cool-climate Syrah. He’s relatively new to the “wine thang” as I refer to it, but he’s dived headlong into it the last few years.  He started where virtually all wine enthusiasts start, with fruity wines. But his wine journey has lead him to perfect a palate for cool-climate Syrah. You can follow Cyrus on twitter @solosyrah

 

2014 Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting- The Best of Grenache

Last weekend I attended the 17th Annual Rhone Rangers San Francisco Bay Area
Weekend Celebration of American Rhones at The Craneway Pavilion, Ford Point, Richmond CA.  Rhone Rangers is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting the Rhone varietal wines produced in the U.S.

2014 Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting

The Rhone Ranger’s new digs for 2014 – Craneway Pavillion

The two-day event featured a Winemaker Dinner on Saturday at The General’s Residence, Fort Mason, San Francisco.  The evening began with a walk-around tasting reception featuring 16 wineries, followed by a four-course meal catered by the Girl & the Fig, and concluded with a live auction of wines and wine-country travel experiences with proceeds used to fund the Rhone Rangers Scholarship Fund. After dinner, Robert Haas, partner and founder, Tablas Creek Vineyard was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to the American Rhone movement.

Sunday featured a  two course Seminar Series and the Grand Tasting. I attended both.

It was my first time attending the Seminar Series, which I found both informative and entertaining.  For great recap of the seminars check out  Elaine Chukan Brown’s Hawk Wakawaka Wine Review’s -  Drinking Small Production Rhone Wines: Rhone Rangers 2014, and Tasting Grenache with the Rhone Rangers.

And did I mention there was wine at the seminars?

2014 Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting - The Best of Grenache

Wines poured for “Grenache; The World’s Most Widely Planted Rhone Grape Variety” seminar

The Grand Tasting is the LARGEST Rhone tasting held in the US – 90 wineries (For a list of participating wineries-click here), and around 400 wines to try.

This year, the Grand Tasting moved from San Francisco to Point Richmond in the East Bay. I was thrilled with the new location.  Parking was plentiful and easily accessible for drivers.  But  what I really appreciated the new location is that was BART-able by taking the train to the El Cerrito del Norte BART station, the taking the free shuttle provided by Rhone Rangers to the venue.  Glorious views the Bay too!

2014 Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting -The Best of Grenache

The calm before the Rhone Rangers storm!

Grenache Deep-Dive

If there ever there is a time the vinous cliché “So many wines, so little time” is true, it’s at a huge event like this!

Last year I focused on Rosé.  This year, I decided to do a deep dive on Grenache Noir ( as opposed to Grenache Blanc, which also seems to be gaining in popularity or Grenache Gris – a rare pinkish gray mutation of Grenache Noir)

Perhaps you …believe California wines can walk en pointe, evincing both power and delicacy.  At its best, Grenache here can do both with grace and charm. More than that: It can be a grape to reconcile those two often warring sets of taste. It rewards all who seek. It is a Rorschach test for flavor. - Jon Bonné

Why?  Well mostly because I dig Grenache.  It’s vinified in a variety of styles.  It can be almost a Pinot Noir-ish wine or a big fat juicy wine.  And in its lighter iterations, it’s a chillable red that is a versatile wine at the table – particularly in the Spring and Summer.

On to the wines I sniffed, sipped and  (mostly) spit!

Of the 33 Grenache I tasted, favorites I rated at least 90 points were:

  • 2011 Qupé Grenache Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard - Central Coast, Edna Valley - Brilliant dark ruby color with appealing cherry, strawberry and floral aromas. On the palate, it’s elegant and well structured with cherry, strawberry, and spice flavors. Long finish. 87% grenache and 13% Syrah $35
  • 2011 Eric Kent Wine Cellars Grenache The Barrel Climber - Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast;  Perfumed cherry, pomegranate, spice and a hint of floral aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, concentrated, a with a supple texture with soft well-integrated tannins and cherry, pomegranate, and spice flavors. Long finish. 91% Grenache from Greywacke Vineyard, and 9% Syrah from Las Madras Vineyard. $40
  • 2010 Law Estate Wines Beguiling - Paso Robles; Ruby-violet color with raspberry, strawberry, spice and a hint of floral aromas. On the palate, its between light and medium-bodied, and balanced with surprising acidity and raspberry, strawberry, spice and mineral flavors. Lengthy finish. 94% Grenache, 6% Syrah $65
  • 2010 Le Cuvier Winery Grenache, Single Vineyard (Barrel Sample)Paso Robles; Ruby red color with aromatic strawberry, red currant, and dark cherry aromas. On the palate, it’s medium bodied with wonderful acidity, and strawberry, red currant,  and brown spice flavors.  Long finish. – $50
  • 2011 Carica Grenache Eaglepoint Ranch - Mendocino County; Light red color with appealing cherry, red currant, and spice aromas. On the palate, it approaches medium bodied, and is well-balanced and persistent with cherry, cranberry, and spice flavor. Lingering finish. $30
  • 2011 McCay Cellars Grenache - Lodi; Ruby color with aromatic appealing spiced cherry, cranberry, and a bit of pepper aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied with medium acidity, and an appealing grip from soft tannins. It show cherry, cranberry, and spice flavors. Medium long finish. $32

Taster’s Choice

After tasting through the available Grenache, it was time for what I call “Taster’s Choice”.

Yup..it’s just what it sounds like.  I’m off “the clock”, and on to whatever I strikes my fancy. After all, this is gathering of the best Rhone wines America has to offerand I wasn’t about to leave without tasting some other wines too!  I didn’t have as much time as I’d like (time does truly fly when you’re having fun), but I was tasted another to 25 or so wines after my Grenache deep dive.  Favorites  from my post-Grenache walk about that I rated at least 90 points were:

  • 2011 Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Blanc Reserve En Bonbonne - Central Coast, Arroyo Seco
    Slightly cloudy pale gold color with intriguing peach, apple, and lanolin aromas. On the palate, it’s fresh with ample weight and peach, tart apple, spice and mineral flavors. Lingering satisfying finish. Blend of co-fermented 62% Grenache Blanc, 38% Roussanne. $50
  • 2013 Campovida Viognier Estate Grown - USA, California, North Coast, Mendocino County - Pale golden-yellow color with appealing white peach, apricot, and honey aromas. On the palate it’s medium-bodied, fresh, and persistent with focused peach, melon, apricot, and honey flavors. Lingering finish $36
  • 2011 Tablas Creek Esprit de Tablas Blanc - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles - Light yellow color with penetrating honeysuckle, mineral, spiced hazelnut, pear aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, well structured and focused with a great mouth feel.  It shows pear, green apple, spice and mineral flavors. Long finish. Blend of 64% Roussanne, 26% Grenache Blanc, and 10% Picpoul Blanc. $40
  • 2012 Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc Saralee’s Vineyard - Sonoma County, Russian River Valley - Pale yellow gold color with restrained peach, melon, and honeysuckle aromas. On the palate, it approaches medium-bodied, is well structured and fresh with an alluring creamy texture. It shows peach, apricot, spice and a hint of tropical flavors and a lingering finish.  Blend of 50% Roussanne, 35% Marsanne, 10% Viognier and 5% Grenache Blanc. $28

Rhone Rangers TCV

  • 2011 Ridge Carignane Triangle - USA, California, Sonoma County
    Dark ruby color with aromatic blackberry, black cherry raspberry, spice and a hint of roast meat aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, and well structed with wonderful acidity. It shows focused mixed berry, black cherry, and spiced vanilla flavors. Lingering finish. $26
  • 2011 Kukkula Noir - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Dark ruby color with appealing black cherry, strawberry, black currant and white pepper aromas. On the palate, it’s medium bodied, and fresh with dusty tannins. It shows black cherry, plum, black currant, with a bit of bittersweet chocolate flavors and a lingering finish. Blend of 86% Syrah 14% Counoise $45
  • 2011 L’Aventure Estate Cuvée - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Nearly opaque purple color with exuberant, layered cassis, spice, sandalwood, and spiced aromas. On the palate, it’s rich and concentrated with lush mixed dark berry, and spice flavors, sweet tannins and a subtle mineral undertone. Long finish. Blend of 48% Syrah, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon and 24% Petit Verdot. $85
2014 Rhone Rangers - Best of Grenache

Chloe Asseo – Sales, Marketing and Communications Director for L’Aventure Winery

  • 2010 Big Basin Vineyards Grizzly - Santa Cruz Mountains
    Carmine color with expansive mixed berry, licorice, dried herb and pepper aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied and vibrant with dusty tannins and dark cherry, raspberry, plum, and spice flavors. Blend of 56% Grenache, 31% Syrah & 13% Mourvedre. $48
Rhone Rangers Big Basin

Bradley Brown – Big Basin Owner and Winemaker (far right) and the Big Basin Rhone Ranger team

Miscellaneous Musings

  • I was a bit surprised at the prices of some of the Grenache.  In fact, the average price for the wines I tasted was $33.50.  I wonder if demand for Grenache is on the rise, and how well  those $35-$45 and up bottles are selling?
  • Coincidence that my three favorite Grenache were not 100% Grenache, but had some Syrah in the blend?  I think not.
  • At last year’s Grand Tasting one was able to purchase wines on the spot.  It’s convenient to have that option, and I took advantage of it and purchased a couple of bottles I liked.  We were unable to do that this year.  I’m sure it’s a licensing issue. That’s an opportunity for improvement for an otherwise awesome event.
  • The event seemed less crowded than last year. While that certainly made for (mostly) shorter lines and higher quality interaction with winery folk, if true, that would be a shame because this is such a great event.
  • Note to self – Plan to go to the Winemaker Dinner next year!

Rhone Rangers Glass

All in all, what a great event!  And if you’re in L.A or Washington D.C., the Rhone Rangers will be riding into your town later this year!  

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Martin Redmond is a Financial Executive by day, and a certified wine geek with latent foodie tendencies the rest of the time. In addition to the wine lifestyle and food he enjoys family, fitness and traveling. He likes to get thoughts of wine off his mind by sharing experiences on his ENOFYLZ Wine blog, which features wine reviews, wine country travel, and wine and food pairings.

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino, with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers!

This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Blog.com. Copyright 2014 ENOFYLZ Wine Blog. All rights reserved.

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Wine of the Week: 2012 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc

Every Thursday I feature a wine I particularly enjoy, whether it’s something new and different, is a great value, or from a producer worth checking out.  For this week, my Wine Of The Week is the 2012 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc.

The Winery

Merry Edwards, one of California’s first female winemakers, began her career at Mount Eden Vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1974.  In 1997, she co-founded  Merry Edwards Winery, a business venture allowing her to produce from select Pinot Noir grapes in Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast, including, for the first time, her own vineyards: Meredith Estate, Coopersmith, Georganne, Sanchietti and Flax.

Last year, her 40th year as a winemaker, Merry is inducted into the Culinary Institute of America’s Vintners Hall of Fame.

The Wine

My wife and I have visited the winery a few times.  While Merry Edwards is  known mostly for her single-vineyard Pinot Noirs, we always pick up a bottle or two of her Sauvignon Blanc.  It’s a Sauvignon Blanc of unique character.

Here’s what Merry Edwards Winery says about it..The rich core of this flavorful wine is fruit sourced from vines 25-35 years old. That 54% is complemented by 20% Sauvignon Musqué, which adds floral aromatics and depth not present in other types of Sauvignon Blanc. The remainder is the classic Shenandoah selection…prevalent throughout California.

The wine is fermented in barrel, and undergoes bâttonage, or stirring of lees, which gives the wine it’s weight and texture.   

Wine of the Week: 2012 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc

2012 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc

My tasting notes follow:

Pale green tinged straw color with peach, grapefruit, guava and a hint of wet stone aromas. On the palate, its medium-bodied, well structured, and fresh with great texture. It exhibits peach, grapefruit, guava and a hint of honey flavors. Long finish. 13.7% alcohol – $30

Rating: A- :

Pair with: This is a Sauvignon Blanc with some “weight”.  I like to match it with something with similar weight or a special meal.  I enjoyed this bottle with Grilled Paiche.  Delightful!  Here’s a couple of suggestions from Merry Edwards that sound fantastic;  Crabmeat Mango Salad, and Honey Lime Baked Wild Salmon with Mango & Black Bean Salsa.

Sample purchased for review

Ratings Key:

(A+) – 98-100/Extraordinary
(A) – 94-97/Outstanding
(A-) – 90-93/Excellent
(B+) – 86-89/Very good
(B) – 80-85/Good
(C) – 70-79/Bleh
(D) – 50-69/#Fail
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Martin Redmond is a Financial Executive by day, and a certified wine geek with latent foodie tendencies the rest of the time. In addition to the wine lifestyle and food he enjoys family, fitness and traveling. He likes to get thoughts of wine off his mind by sharing experiences on his ENOFYLZ Wine blog, which features wine reviews, wine country travel, and wine and food pairings.

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino, with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers!

This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Blog.com. Copyright 2014 ENOFYLZ Wine Blog. All rights reserved.

#WineWednesday Review: Gallo Hearty Burgundy

It’s been a looooong time since I’ve tasted Gallo Hearty Burgundy.  It was one of the first stops on my wine journey many moons ago.  How many moons ago?  I’m not exactly sure, but Gallo is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Gallo Hearty Burgundy with a special bottling to honor “America’s First Iconic Red Blend”

To celebrate the golden anniversary of Hearty Burgundy, Gallo Family Vineyards has produced a limited edition bottle that pays homage to the original flavor profile that first brought Americans into wine in the 1960s and 1970s.

Honesty Gallo Hearty Burgundy is a wine that was no longer on my radar, I received this bottle as a sample. That’s because my palate has evolved over the years, and I’ve come to enjoy more complex wines.  But wines like Gallo Hearty Burgundy are where most wine lovers start their journey.  A relative few dive headlong into wine, but I think most folks just want to have an affordable glass of wine they enjoy.  That’s where the most widely available brand come into the picture.

And it’s those most widely available, cheapest brands that most wine writers and bloggers (myself included) avoid.  In large part, I think, because the folks who drink the least expensive brands are not the same folks who read critical reviews of wine.  They’re not the typical wine writers audience.

When I received a bottle of Gallo Hearty Burgundy, I thought it would be cool to post about it.  This one’s for the everyday folks who want to drink wine, but not think wine!

The Winery

E&J Gallo Winery was  founded in 1933 by Ernest Gallo and Julio Gallo.  From their very humble beginnings Gallo Family Vineyards has evolved into the world’s largest family-owned winery and the largest exporter of California wine.  In addition to the Gallo Family Vineyards brand, the company makes, markets, and distributes wine under more than 60 other labels.

The company has been at the forefront of both sustainable wine growing practices and the marketing of wine (Click here for complete history).

The Wine

According to Gallo, this special bottling was crafted after careful consultation with the blend’s original winemakers to offer the same generous flavor profile, and approachability.

Although the exact grape varieties that compose the blend vary from vintage to vintage, two grapes have always part of the blend , Zinfandel, and Petite Sirah. Gallo is secretive about the exact blend, but my guess would be that this bottling also has some Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, and Tempranillo in it.  It’s a non-vintage (now more appropriately referred to as multi-vintage) wines.

Gallo_HeartyBurgundy_LimitedEditionBottle (1)

Hearty Burgundy has been credited with not only introducing Americans to wine, but also for putting American wines on the map during an era when spirits dominated consumption.

I was surprised to learn that Hearty Burgundy graced the cover of TIME in 1972 as part of an article about the booming California wine industry. In the feature, wine critic Robert Balzer called the wine “…the best wine value in the country today” as it outscored more expensive California and French reds for the TIME Board of Oenologists.

Obviously California wine has come a long way since then, but  this wine has stayed true to its original tenet - a great tasting American red blend with big, generous flavors and a value proposition that helped put wine on America’s dinner table.

And if you’ve got a recipe calling for red wine, this is a great bottle of wine to use (Tip: Only cook with wine you’d drink – do not cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink).  I used it to make Boneless Beef Short Ribs, which turned out great!

My tasting notes follow:

Inky purple color with low key fresh dark fruits, milk chocolate and a hint of spice aromas. On the palate , it’s medium-bodied with med-low acidity, and easy, likable black cherry, plum and spice  flavors. Short finish. 

Rating: B : This is a solid everyday table wine that I didn’t expect to enjoy, but I did.  And it’s very affordable at around $9 for a 1.5 liter bottle.

Pair with: Chili, Spaghetti and Meatballs, and hard cheeses

Disclosure: I received a 1.5 liter bottle of Hearty Burgundy  from Gallo Family Vineyards at no charge. I was under no obligation to post a review. All opinions on this blog are my own unless otherwise stated. 

Ratings Key:

(A+) – 98-100/Extraordinary
(A) – 94-97/Outstanding
(A-) – 90-93/Excellent
(B+) – 86-89/Very good
(B) – 80-85/Good
(C) – 70-79/Bleh
(D) – 50-69/#Fail
__________________________________________________________________

Martin Redmond is a Financial Executive by day, and a certified wine geek with latent foodie tendencies the rest of the time. In addition to the wine lifestyle and food he enjoys family, fitness and traveling. He likes to get thoughts of wine off his mind by sharing experiences on his ENOFYLZ Wine blog, which features wine reviews, wine country travel, and wine and food pairings.

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino, with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers!

This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Blog.com. Copyright 2014 ENOFYLZ Wine Blog. All rights reserved.

Drink Pink! Rosé of the Week; 2013 Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare

It’s April and for me that means, it’s the unofficial opening of Rosé season (truth be told it’s Rosé season for me pretty much year-round)!  With that in mind, I’m cranking up my annual series of weekly “Drink Pink!“ Rosé tastings.  This week’s Rosé is the 2013 Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare.

The Winery

Bonny Doon Vineyard, located in Santa Cruz, CA was established in 1983 by the inimitable Randall Grahm, a man of many interests, not the least of which is “thinking of fiendishly cunning stratagems for producing wines which express a sense of place and which actually make the world a more interesting burg“. He’s an interesting man. In fact, as I write this, based on what I know of him from his bio, and blogs about Bonny Doon, and social media, the first thing that popped into my head is that he could be the real life “Most Interesting Man in the World” (This from his Twitter profile - “Founder, Winemaker, Terroirist/Vinachrist and Prez-for Life @BonnyDoonVineyd, Defender of the Misunderstood and Underappreciated Doon-trodden Cépages of the Earth” – check out the bio here).  The wines Bonny Doon produces are a reflection of Grahm – they’re thoughtful, eclectic, often unique, and interesting wines. )  Sure, the packaging is clever with inventive names, and beautiful art work.  But don’t let the slick marketing fool you into thinking the wines aren’t serious. Nothing could be further from the truth. The wines are seriously good.

The Wine

I turned to a perennial favorite to kick off this year’s Rosé.  I picked this up at Whole Foods, and it was good to see it can still be had for under $20.  With the popularity of dry-style Rosés escalating, I’m seeing an unwelcome increase in pricing, especially on the domestic front.  It’s becoming more and more challenging to find dry, food friendly pink wines of this quality for under $20.

This an atypical Rosé in that the blend of 55% grenache, 23.5% mourvèdre, 10% roussanne, 2.5% carignane, 2% grenache blanc, 7% cinsaut includes both traditional red and white Rhône varieties.  A typical Rosé is composed of solely red grape varieties. Additionally, Bonny Doon employed the practice of bâtonnage–the stirring or re-suspension of lees after fermentation–to give the wine a creaminess of texture.

Drink Pink! Rose of the Week; 2013 Bonny Doon Vineyard Vin Gris de Cigare

2013 Bonny Doon Vineyard Vin Gris de Cigare

My tasting notes follow:

Pink color with orange hue with promising grapefruit, strawberry, and a hint of floral aromas. On the palate, it approaches medium-bodied, is dry and crisp with generous strawberry, citrus, and spice flavors, and very good length.  This wine newly released.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it tastes even better in June/July. 13% alcohol. SRP – $18

Rating:  B+: A perennial favorite that continues to deliver! Will buy more!

Pair with: Traditional Provençal fare including charcuterie, pâté, salade niçoise, and the aïoli platter. It’s an incredibly flexible partner at the table, complementing everything from international cuisine—curries, tagines, or chiles rellenos—to a vast array of seafoods, poultry, salads, and cheeses.

Sample purchased for review 

Ratings Key:

(A+) – 98-100/Extraordinary
(A) – 94-97/Outstanding
(A-) – 90-93/Excellent
(B+) – 86-89/Very good
(B) – 80-85/Good
(C) – 70-79/Bleh
(D) – 50-69/#Fail
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Martin Redmond is a Financial Executive by day, and a certified wine geek with latent foodie tendencies the rest of the time. In addition to the wine lifestyle and food he enjoys family, fitness and traveling. He likes to get thoughts of wine off his mind by sharing experiences on his ENOFYLZ Wine blog, which features wine reviews, wine country travel, and wine and food pairings.

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino, with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers!

This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Blog.com. Copyright 2014 ENOFYLZ Wine Blog. All rights reserved.

“No Reservations” Wine Tasting in Paso Robles – Tablas Creek Vineyards

My wife and I do more than our fair share of wine tasting.  We’ve hit all the major wine regions in California (and a few minor ones too;-), along with some tasting in Oregon and Spain.  From time to time we have a wine tasting experience that stands above the rest, and is everything we’re looking for – great wine and commendable service in a relaxed unpretentious environment. It’s those such experiences that are the focus of this “No Reservations” series.  Why “No Reservations”? Because I can honesty say I have “No Reservations”  about recommending the winery anyone who is looking for a great wine tasting experience.  The latest in this series features Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles.

My complete review of Tablas Creek Vineyard, including history, a recap of the tasting experience – including reviews of wines tasted may be found at the American Winery Guide’s website.

Founded by the Perrins (Chateau de Beaucastel) and importer Robert Haas, Tablas Creek produces estate-grown, internationally recognized Rhone varietals and Chateauneuf-du-Pape style blends from grapes including Syrah, Mourvedre, Viognier and Roussanne.

Tablas Creek Vineyard Tasting Room

Tablas Creek Vineyard Tasting Room

Tablas Creek is operated in much the same way as Chateau de Beaucastel, with a certified organic vineyard, an emphasis on wines of elegance and minerality, and an ongoing spirit of experimentation. However, for all its reliance on the expertise and experience of the French vineyard, Tablas Creek Vineyard is not trying to be a clone of its older cousin. According to Winemaker Neil Collins, “when people taste Beaucastel, they know it’s Beaucastel. I would hope that people will taste Tablas Creek and know it’s Tablas Creek.”

Tablas Creek Vineyard Sign Haas and the Perrins knew the Rhone varietals they wanted to focus on: Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache and Counoise for reds, and Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc for whites. However, they felt uneasy about the quality of Rhone grapevine stock available domestically and decided to import fresh cuttings of all eight varietals from Chateau de Beaucastel. The cuttings spent three years in a rigorous U.S.D.A. quarantine program before being released to the property in 1993. Over the next decade, Tablas Creek’s grapevine nursery (the only on-site vine nursery of any vineyard in California) would provide millions of cuttings of high-quality Rhone varietals to Tablas Creek, and, eventually, hundreds of other producers around the West Coast.

Tablas Creek Domaine de Beaucastel

My wife and I have been making an annual trip from our home in Northern California to the Central Coast for the last 4 years, and Tablas Creek is at the top of our list for wineries to visit.  Highly Recommended!

Related posts you might enjoy:
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Martin Redmond is a Financial Executive by day, and a certified wine geek with latent foodie tendencies the rest of the time. In addition to the wine lifestyle and food he enjoys family, fitness and traveling. He likes to get thoughts of wine off his mind by sharing experiences on his ENOFYLZ Wine blog, which features wine reviews, wine country travel, and wine and food pairings.

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino, with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers!

This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Blog.com. Copyright 2014 ENOFYLZ Wine Blog. All rights reserved.

Wine of the Week: 2010 Carlisle Mourvedre Bedrock Vineyard

Every Thursday I feature a wine I particularly enjoy, whether it’s something new and different, is a great value, or from a producer worth checking out.  For this week, my Wine Of The Week is the 2010 Carlisle Mourvedre Bedrock Vineyard.

The Winery

Carlisle Winery & Vineyards is a small Sonoma County based winery  based in Santa Rosa. According their website they specialize in the..

…production of old-vine, vineyard designated Zinfandels and red Rhone varieties (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Petite Sirah).

Mike Officer is the Owner/Winemaker.  He caught the wine “bug” early – at age 19 – when he tasted a late-harvest Riesling (It seems like we all start with sweet wines doesn’t it?) After graduating from college, he worked in software development for five years, but realized that was not his passion.  He knew the answer would involve wine, but he wasn’t sure in what capacity.

He decided to try winemaking,  starting with making 5 gallons of Zinfandel in his kitchen.  Some years later, he  and his wife Kendall found themselves making 300 cases of “garage” wine.  They decided to jump in with both feet and established Carlisle Winery & Vineyards in 1998.  They’ve focused on old-vine Zinfandel, and red Rhône blends, until the 2010 vintage, when they made their first white wines.

In addition to their own estate vineyard, they source grapes from Sonoma County, primarily the Russian River, and Dry Creek AVAs.  Officer always been a fan of old-vine vineyards.   In fact, of the 16 vineyard sources listed on their website, half ( Gold Mine RanchMartinelli Road VineyardMontafi RanchPagani Ranch VineyardPapera Ranch, Rossi Ranch Vineyard, Saitone Ranch, and Two Acres) are considered historic vineyards by the Historic Vineyard Society.

The Wine

From Carlisle…From vines planted in 1888, exceptional fruit and simple winemaking have combined to create this age-worthy old-vine Mourvedre.  Aged in French oak, 21% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. 133 cases produced.  SRP – $40

2010 Carlisle Mourvedre Bedrock Vineyard

2010 Carlisle Mourvedre Bedrock Vineyard

My tasting notes follow:

Dark nearly opaque ruby color with complex roast meat, dark fruits, violet, spice and oak aromas. On the palate it’s full-bodied with wonderful depth and concentration, along with very good acidity, velvety texture and dusty tannins.   It shows flavors of blueberry, blackberry, plum, espresso, cacao and sweetened orange rind. Long finish. 14.8% alcohol 

Rating: A- : Fantastic example of what a 100% Mourvedre can be.  It’s a shame it’s not produced more as a 100% varietal bottling (It’s hard to grow, and does best with low yields…so it’s about $$$).  This is a very age-worthy wine I’d love to try again in another 10 years.  Wish I had more!

Pair with: Beef Short Ribs, or Vegan Portobello Stroganoff, or Portobello Mushroom Lasagna.

Sample purchased for review

Ratings Key:

(A+) – 98-100/Extraordinary
(A) – 94-97/Outstanding
(A-) – 90-93/Excellent
(B+) – 86-89/Very good
(B) – 80-85/Good
(C) – 70-79/Bleh
(D) – 50-69/#Fail
__________________________________________________________________

Martin Redmond is a Financial Executive by day, and a certified wine geek with latent foodie tendencies the rest of the time. In addition to the wine lifestyle and food he enjoys family, fitness and traveling. He likes to get thoughts of wine off his mind by sharing experiences on his ENOFYLZ Wine blog, which features wine reviews, wine country travel, and wine and food pairings.

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino, with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers!

This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Blog.com. Copyright 2014 ENOFYLZ Wine Blog. All rights reserved.

The Best of North Coast Rhone Wines

I attended the North Coast (California) Chapter of the  Rhone Rangers (“NCRR”) tasting last month.  The tasting was held in Oakland, at Campovida’s Taste of Place Oakland.

With the Rhone Rangers riding into the Bay Area next week, April 5-6 for the 17th Annual Rhone Rangers San Francisco Bay Area Weekend Celebration of American RhonesI thought I’d share some of my favorites from the NCRR tasting.

The NCRR, a regional chapter of the Rhone Rangers, is dedicated to the education and promotion of Rhone varietals and Rhone blends to local trade, media, and consumers, and of the wineries in Napa, Sonoma, Lake & Mendocino counties as a top California region in the production of outstanding Rhone varietal grapes and wines. In other words…sure Paso’s got the big rep for Rhone, but we get our Rhone on here in Nor Cal too! 

NorthCoast2

Source: www.rhonerangers.org (click to enlarge)

The NCRR puts on smaller, more focused events which provide the opportunity for more engagement with the wineries (more often than not it’s the owner/winemaker behind the tables pouring).  Most of the NCRR member wineries are are small, family run operations, making very small lot of wine.

I loved the smaller scale and more intimate feel of this event, which was also well organized.  And the price was definitely right at $20 ( I attended as a media guest).  And what’s a wine event without some food?  There was also delicious paella from Nora – Paella and Spanish Catering available for sale!

NCRR Paella

There were 12 wineries pouring at the event.  Half the wineries were from East Bay and are part of the East Bay Vintners Alliance, a guest sponsor of the event.  All attendees received a clipboard with up-to-date, detailed information about the wines being poured, which was quite helpful.  I tasted 45 wines.

My favorite wines (rated 90 points, or higher) from the tasting were:

  •  2006 Arrowood Syrah Saralee’s Vineyard
The Best of North Coast Rhone Rangers

Arrowood Wines

  • 2011 Carica Wines Grenache, Eaglepoint Ranch
  • 2012 Campovida Roussanne Bonofiglio Vineyards
  • 2012 Campovida Campo di Blanca Riserva
  • 2009 Cornerstone Cellars Syrah Stepping Stone
  • 2011 Cornerstone Cellars Syrah Stepping Stone
  • 2011 Eric Kent Wine Cellars Grenache The Barrel Climber
  • 2010 JC Cellars Syrah Rockpile Vineyard
  • 2009 Stage Left Cellars Petite Sirah
  • 2010 Stage Left Cellars The ExPat
  • 2011 Stark Viognier Damiano Vineyard

Christian and Jen Stark

  • 2012 Two Shepherds Grenache Blanc Saarloos Vineyard
  • 2012 Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc Saralee’s Vineyard
  • 2011 Two Shepherds Pastoral Rouge
  • 2011 Two Shepherds Syrah | Mourvedre
  • 2010 Urban Legend Grenache
photo 1 (11)

Two Shepherds “All-Stars” line-up

Part of what I really enjoy about events like this is that I get to try new to me producers.  Such was the case with Arrowood Vineyards and Winery, Eric Kent Cellars, and Stark Wine Co.  I also discovered that Urban Legend, a winery that I know for their fine Italian grape varietal wines like Barbera, and Teroldego has expanded their repertoire to include Rhone grape varieties. A very pleasant surprise indeed!

Urban Legend Owner/ Winemaker – Steve Shaffer

All attendees were asked to vote for their favorite wines of the day.  My favorite red was the 2011 Two Shepherds Pastoral Rouge. My favorite white was the 2012 Campovida Campo di Blanca – a blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier.

Be sure to check out the Rhone Rangers 17th Annual Rhone Rangers celebration next weekend.  It’s a great chance to tasted over 400 wines (Glad I had a wee bit of a head start at the NCRR tasting!) from more than 100 wineries, including Viognier, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, White Blends, Rosés, Syrah, Grenache, Red Blends and some Petite Sirah too!  The Grand Tasting will be at a new location, the world-class Craneway Pavillion, Fort Point Richmond.

Hope to see you at the big Rhone Rangers event next week!

Related posts you might enjoy:

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Martin Redmond is a Financial Executive by day, and a certified wine geek with latent foodie tendencies the rest of the time. In addition to the wine lifestyle and food he enjoys family, fitness and traveling. He likes to get thoughts of wine off his mind by sharing experiences on his ENOFYLZ Wine blog, which features wine reviews, wine country travel, and wine and food pairings.

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino, with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers!

This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Blog.com. Copyright 2014 ENOFYLZ Wine Blog. All rights reserved.

Saké 101 and SakéOne Tastings

Last month I had the pleasure of participating in a virtual tasting (a group of tasters, tasting the same beverages, interact with a host and one another) hosted by SakéOne.

SakéOne is an importer of Japan’s finest saké as well as America’s premium saké company. For more than a decade, SakéOne has been crafting junmai ginjo (premium) quality saké at its state-of- the-art kura (brewery) in Forest Grove, the heart of the Willamette Valley: Oregon’s craft beer-brewing and wine-making mecca.  SakéOne is focused on producing and importing saké that suits the American palate.

It was my second such tasting with SakéOne.  I did one last year that I never got around to blogging about, but that experience exponentially expanded by limited knowledge (and experience) with saké, and forever changed by perceptions about it.

Now it’s time to share!

My casual observation is that saké consumption is on the rise.   I’ve seen more varieties on wine merchant’s shelves, articles about saké bars, cocktails, and pairing saké with food.  And stats from Impact Databank, a leading source  of intelligence and data the adult beverage industry bear out my observation.  They report that saké consumption is steadily rising, reaching 2.55 million cases in 2011.

Here’s a quick 411 on saké

  • Saké is not rice wine.
  • Saké is brewed like beer, but drinks more like fine wine
  • Saké is made with four ingredients: rice, koji (the natural mold that converts rice starches into sugars), specially selected yeasts and water.
  • Rice is to saké what grapes are to wine.  Just as fine wine starts with better grapes, premium saké begins with the better rice.
  • Saké is classified by styles (a grade, category,  or class). The style is largely determined by how much the rice is milled. In general, the more the rice used in brewing is milled before being used, the higher the grade of sake. For example, in the chart below, Ginjo, or Junmai Gingo is made with rice that has been milled (“polished”, as the industry puts it) to remove at least the outer 40% of the original size of the grains. This means that each grain of rice is only 60% or less of its original size.
Image courtesy of http://www.thelondonfoodie.co.uk/

Image courtesy of http://www.thelondonfoodie.co.uk/

  • The Not So Good Stuff - About 75% of saké is the futsu-shu, ordinary saké style.  It’s made from ordinary table rice, has various additives, and is commonly served heated (to mask the poor quality).
  • The Good Stuff - The top 25% of saké is considered premium. There are three primary styles of premium saké, Junmai (JOON-mai)Ginjo (GEEN-joe), and Daiginjo (die-GEEN-joe).
  • Alcohol levels – Most sake is diluted with water after brewing to lower the alcohol content from 18-20% down to 14-16%, but undiluted (“Genshu”) is not.  Therefore It’s at least 18%.
  • How to ServeSaké is best served chilled in a stemmed wine glass for ultimate appreciation of aroma and taste—not in tiny square (masu), round (ochoko) cups or shot glasses. While serving saké in such vessels is customary, it is not the best for showcasing premium saké.
  • Handling - All saké should be stored in the refrigerator at all times, both before and after opening the bottle.  It will keep for a least a month, usually longer.
  •  Lifestyle Choices - Premium saké is free from additives and preservatives and is gluten-free and sulfite free. And virtually all is kosher.  There are also organic,and vegan options.

“Appreciating sake is like appreciating wine: look at the color, there is an initial bouquet, you can swirl it in your glass…But you also have to appreciate it as something new: leave your preconceptions behind.” - Sylvain Huet

My first foray into the world of premium saké was an eye-opener!  I was pleasantly surprised how many similarities saké shares with my beloved vino. The tasting process is essentially the same, and premium saké is meant to be served chilled in a wine  glass.  Among other things, I also discovered:

  • Sake is made in the US, not only Japan
  • Lots of diversity of styles of saké  from dry to sweet, and from light to full-bodied.  There’s even sparkling saké!
  • There are plenty of non-Japanese food pairing options
  • The sake, with which I was most familiar, the heated sake served up in Japanese restaurant is of poor quality

It was a fantastic introduction that spurred me on to purchase more saké after the tasting, and begin exploring on my own!

My tasting notes, along with some fun food pairing recommendations follow:

SakeOne May 13 Tasting

  • Murai Family Tokubetsu Honjozo - Japan, Tōhoku, Aomori
    Style: Special Honjozo, polished to 60%.  Clear color with wildflower, anise seed and slightly earthy aromas. On the palate it’s between light/medium-bodied, and smooth with a sense of umami and fruity pear and apple flavors. Medium finish.  15.5% alcohol. SRP – $25Recommended
  • Yoshinogawa Winter Warrior - Japan, Chūbu, Niigata
    Style: Junmai Ginjo. polished to 60%.  Clear with layered fresh tropical fruit, and floral aromas. On the palate, it’s medium bodied, fresh and fruity with pear, melon and tropical fruit flavors that seem to intensify along the way. Long finish. 14% alcohol. SRP – $27; Highly recommended
  • SakéMoto Junmai - Japan, Kansai, Hyōgo; 
    Style: Junmai, polished to 70%. Clear with upfront complex aromas of apple, spice, melon, and a hint of smokiness. On the palate it’s light-bodied and fresh with fresh apple, pear, melon, and anise flavors. Medium long finish. Pair sashimi, prosciutto and melon or fish tacos. 14.7% alcohol. SRP – $11; Highly recommended
  • SakéOne G Fifty Junmai Ginjo Genshu - USA, Oregon
    Style: Junmai Ginjo Genshu, polished to 50%, a Diaginjo grade. Clear color with green tinge and initially low-key aromas, followed by stronger aromas of pear, melon, pineapple,and spice aromas in the mouth. On the palate, it’s full-bodied off-dry, with low-medium acidity and a great mouth feel that’s smooth and ample with pear, melon, and spice flavors underscored by a bit of minerality. Medium-long finish. Pair with grilled meats, rich fish dishes, creamy pasta, or hard cheeses. 18% alcohol SRP – $25; Highly Recommended

The most recent tasting was done in conjunction with “White Day“, which is Japan’s answer to Valentine’s day here.  SakéOne provided  300ml bottles of Momokawa Diamond, and Pearl sakés (both junmai ginjo grade), along with SakéMoto.  Additionally, I’d purchased their G Joy sake because I’d previously enjoyed the G Fifty so much I wanted to try the G Joy, another full-bodied Junmai Ginjo Genshu style sake.

The video from this online tasting, graphics dealing with saké terminology and the brewing process, as well as the participant’s posts can be found here:

SakeOne Feb 14 Tasting

  • SakéOne Momokawa Diamond Medium Dry Junmai Ginjo - USA, Oregon; Style: Junmai Ginjo, polished to 60%Clear color with apple, honeysuckle, and a hint of floral aromas. On the palate it’s full-bodied with apple, mineral, and a bit of spice on the back palate. Medium finish. Pair with chilled kimchi or Italian pasta dishes14.8 % alcohol; SRP – $13Recommended
  • SakéOne Momokawa Pearl Junmai Ginjo Nigori Genshu - USA, Oregon  Style: Junmai Ginjo Nigori Genshu, polished to 60%.  The color of skim milk with a lovely melange of creamy tropical fruit, (coconut, pineapple banana) sweet rice, and bit of earthy aromas. On the palate, medium-bodied with a mildly sweet, off-dry tropical fruit, and sweet rice flavors. Medium-long finish. Delicious with 75% cacao dark chocolate! Also consider pairing with spicy food like Thai or curries. 18% alcohol; SRP – $13Recommended  
  • SakéOne G Joy Junmai Ginjo Genshu - USA, Oregon; Style: Junmai Ginjo Genshu, polished to 60%. Practically clear color with apple, melon, lychee aromas. On the palate, it’s rich, and full-bodied with apple, pear, yellow plum and a bit of spice flavors. Medium-long finish. Pair with BBQ tri-tip, pepperoni pizza, or shrimp ceviche tostadas. 18% alcohol, SRP – $20;  Highly recommended

It was another fun, very informative and enjoyable tasting. It was great to revisit the SakéMoto offering, and the Momokawa Nigori was the first sake of that style that I’ve really liked.  And I’ll definitely be buying the G Joy again!

There you have it…

School’s out…you’ve (hopefully) read my tasting notes…you’ve got some ideas for pairing saké with non-Japanese food….Now get out there and try some saké!  Head to your local store, wine shop or maybe purchase some online.

Think you don’t like saké?  Think again. There is such a tremendous diversity of styles, that I bet you can find one you like.

Kanpai!

All sakés were provided as samples for review, except SakéOne G Joy, which I purchased for review.  Many thanks to SakéOne and Charles Communications Associates 

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Martin Redmond is a Financial Executive by day, and a certified wine geek with latent foodie tendencies the rest of the time. In addition to the wine lifestyle and food he enjoys family, fitness and traveling. He likes to get thoughts of wine off his mind by sharing experiences on his ENOFYLZ Wine blog, which features wine reviews, wine country travel, and wine and food pairings.

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino, with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers!

This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Blog.com. Copyright 2014 ENOFYLZ Wine Blog. All rights reserved.