Australian Chardonnay Comparative Tasting

I was invited to attend an Aussie wine seminar (thanks, Wine Australia!) and I didn’t know what the topic was until I sat down. I was delighted to see I’d be undertaking a comparative (blind) tasting of Australian Chardonnay. Since it was put on by Wine Australia, a bunch of the wines were going to be from Australia. (Major duh.)  At the reveal, this is how it broke down:

  • Australia: 6
  • France: 2
  • California: 1

The California wine was a favorite from the Sonoma Coast, but, surprisingly, did not show well. Sometimes wines are like people. We all have our bad days. The two French wines, both Burgundies, were just plain…not good. There was a weird Grand Cru Chablis and a sub-par Premier Cru Puligny-Montrachet. Does this mean Aussie Chards rule, others drool? No. But the tasting did bring up a couple interesting points based on panel’s comments.

Especially with Chardonnay, are we done being able to divide wines into New World/Old World? Like new world fruity/opulent, while old world is mineral stuff, restrained. I think this dichotomy is becoming increasingly worthless. Global warming is causing formerly cooler climate places to produce more rich and round Chardonnay. Old World regions are adopting New World techniques, and vice-versa. It’s really hard to peg a wine as one or the other! Also, who cares?

The only thing I like about blind tasting is you know nothing about the wine and might find out you love a wine you thought you hated or vice-versa. (Very into the vice-versa on this post.) That serves a purpose. And you get to do some great eye-rolling when bro-y somms navel gaze. (Why do I even leave the house?) Otherwise, it’s a fun game like charades but with more swirling, sniffing, and spitting. Or maybe you play charades in a different manner than I’m accustomed.

Anyway, I’m going to focus on two wines from the group that I found most compelling. And, in a wild coincidence (not being sarcastic), the duo of bottles was represented in person by a winemaker who made the long trip.

Australian Chardonnay Best of Tasting

My Favorite Australian Chardonnay

You know what normally happens at a blind tasting? My favorite wine is the most expensive. What the hell? Give me a break, you. So I was delighted to find out that my bestie Chard was the third least expensive. (Not third cheapest! Never use that word!)

Vineyards at Voyager Estate / Photo by Rebecca Mansell

Voyager Estate Margaret River Chardonnay 2016 ($45)

I visited the Margaret River area in 2012. One thing to note is how very, very, very far away it is from the majority of wine regions in Australia. Let’s say you were chillin’ in the Barossa Valley near Adelaide. And you though, hey, lets cruise (fly) to Margaret River. So you’d basically be headed to Perth. It’s like 1,670 miles, yo! But worth it when you get a glass of this wine from Voyager Estate.

Ok, let’s get to the wine. Smelling it, I got a bunch of licorice. And I love licorice, like black licorice. All that anise. Sure, I love a Twizzler, too. But that’s a whole different flavor profile. The wine had a nice bit of oak and not too buttery. Great texture, too. Well after the reveal I found out why. It gets 30% new oak and goes through 30% malolactic fermentation. The latter (“malo”) is what makes it buttery. So this gives you a nice light schmear, instead of a whole dang stick o’ butter. Very nice brisk, lively finish that lingers. Delicious stuff.

Voyager Estate is selling a 2011 Chard on their website, so you know this is a wine built to age. (Though heathen that I am, I like my dry white wines fresh. With a few exceptions. One would be a white wine from the same country, but a different grape. Love me some aged Aussie Riesling.)

Most Surprising Australian Chardonnay

Australian Chardonnay Comparative Tasting

The remote, striking Tumbarumba wine region

Penfolds Bin 311 Tumbarumba Chardonnay 2016 ($40)

Tumbarumba is just fun to say. (But don’t confuse it with Chumbawamba.) It’s a wine region in New South Wales, fairly cool and at a higher elevation. The Snowy Mountains provide a dramatic backdrop. Now perhaps you were that person kicking back in the Barossa and thought, “Dang, Margaret River looks nice and I like to surf and all that jazz, but is there somewhere a little closer?” Well to get to Tumbarumba you’d probably fly into Canberra, an easy-peasy 720 miles away.

Then drive to Tumbarumba. (Are we there yet?)

So are you getting the picture that Australia is a vast country, and it’s really hard to make any wine generalizations about it? Yeah? Good. Thanks. Cool.

So why was the Penfolds my most surprising Australian Chardonnay of the tasting? Well, because I had it pegged as Old World AND Chablis. Dang, was I off the mark. (To put it mildly.) The 311 (not to be confused with 311, that kinda stone-y, nu-metal group with talk-rapping mid-90s song “Down“) spent 9 months in seasoned (as in not new) oak and has a very chillaxed ABV of 12.5%.

I’d also like to note that both wines are sealed in a screwcap. These closures are not just for your “chill and kill” white wines. They belong on cellar-worthy bottles as well. Australia has certainly been one of the pioneers in that regard.

Conclusion

Alright so there are two awesome Australian Chardonnays that are elegant, balanced, and eminently drinkable. Both under $50. That’s not inexpensive, but we had Chardonnays twice the price that weren’t have as good. So find a friend with a twenty, through in your own $20 (and a few bucks more), and you will be a very happy (not) couple! THE END.

Why not read about a wine made from a grape that’s like the polar opposite of Chardonnay, as far as renown. Check out this fizzy Aussie bottle

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Thoughts on Chile Inspired by Winemaker Rodrigo Soto

I met Rodrigo Soto back in 2012 when I was visiting the Veramonte winery in Chile. (Sidebar: they have a really cool antique corkscrew collection there.) He’s been at the forefront of converting vineyards to organic farming for the Ritual, Neyen, Primus, and Veramonte labels.

Vineyards at Veramonte / photo courtesy the winery

Recently I had a chance to reconnect with him for an informal chat over some coffee. (We met at 8:30am, not prime wine time.) Before he caught a train to go up to Westchester (which gave me unpleasant commuting flashbacks), he left me with a couple bottles to take home.

Two of the topics covered I’d like to address here. One is the question of price and the other is regionality. And this first bottle points to both.

Ritual Supertuga Block Chardonnay Casablanca Valley 2016 ($50)

Thoughts on Chile Inspired by Winemaker Rodrigo SotoOne of the issues facing the wines of Chile is most people hear “Chilean wine” and only think “value.” Or the dreaded “cheap.” There is no denying that Chile has very high-quality wines at excellent prices. I’ve been a huge fan of its Sauvignon Blanc (and more) for that reason.

While there are some iconic (red) wines that command high prices, like Santa Rita Casa Real, Concha y Toro’s Don Melchor, and Casa Lapostolle’s Clos Apalta, it’s more of a slog for white wines. How do you get people to consider Chile a source for wines that cost $20, $30 and higher? If I gave you $50 and said get any wine you want, would Chile cross your mind?

Consider a wine like the Ritual Supertuga Block Chardonnay. It’s fermented in big ol’ oak barrels but only 18% of them are new. So you get more texture and less oakiness. (Some of the wine is also fermented in concrete eggs, which I’d call hip but they are getting so popular I don’t even know if that’s accurate anymore. Ok, they are still cool.) It’s rich, it’s elegant, it pleases.

The other issue Rodrigo Soto and I discussed is regionality. Everyone knows Chile makes wine, but how many people drill down into its distinct regions? This wine is from the Casablanca Valley and it’s one of many regions of Chilean wine worth exploring. (If you go here and click on the “See Chilean Valleys” tab you get an idea of how far these regions stretch up and down the country.)

Veramonte Pinot Noir 2016 ($11)

Though I’m steering you to think of Chile beyond budget wines, I have to toot its horn for very good Pinot Noir at outstanding prices. In my wine shop I’d have at least a three-case stack of the Veramonte Pinot Noir, with the top box meeting my exacting specifications for how you cut a case of wine with a box knife. Now I’m having flashbacks to sales reps and merchandisers with sloppy cardboard case cutting techniques. (Shudder.)

I always consider finding good Pinot Noir under $15 to be like the quest for the Holy Grail. (Sidebar: I recently saw the 1981 movie “Excalibur” for the first time in decades. The cast is spectacular: Helen Mirren, Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson, and Patrick Stewart, to name a few. It’s very weird, moody, and dark. Highly recommend.)

So the Veramonte Pinot Noir (screwcap closure, BTW) has a little bit of oomph. It’s not a light, delicate wine but more medium-bodied. Nice to note it’s 100% Pinot Noir. A lot of cheap Pinot has just enough Pinot Noir to be labeled as such, usually pumped-up with Syrah or whatever other grapes are lying around.

In conclusion: Chile is worth your premium dollars and is a multi-faceted country when it comes to regional wine nuances. You don’t have to spend $50 to experience this but if your ceiling for Chilean wine is, say, $15 and under, don’t hesitate to get into that $25+ range. Thanks to Rodrigo Soto for his time and a thought-provoking conversation. It’s definitely the most consideration I’ve given wine at 8:30 in the morning, and possibly later in the day, too.

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Master Sommelier Larry Stone and Lingua Franca Wines

lin·gua fran·ca noun: “a language that is adopted as a common language between speakers whose native languages are different.”

Lingua Franca Vineyard LSV

The headline for this article could read: “Local Boy Does Good!” Larry Stone is one of the most influential people in the wine industry. (Period). One of the first Americans to pass the Master Sommelier exam (#9 in 1988), the only American ever to win France’s Grand Prix de Sopexa competition (better known as the “Best Sommelier in the World”). Wine director for Charlie Trotters. Founder (With Robert De Niro and Robin Williams) of the legendary Rubicon in San Francisco. Dean of Wine Studies at the International Culinary Center.

In 2006, he left the restaurant business to become the Gérant of the Niebaum-Coppola winery, now Inglenook. He worked with Augustine Huneeus at Quintessa, started his own Napa property Sirita and he also ran a négociant firm, Deux Chapeaux, with Daniel Johnnes. In 2010, Stone became president of Evening Land Vineyards, where he collaborated with Burgundian winemaker Dominique Lafon. Today, Evening Land is in the capable hands of Stone’s Protégé Rajat Parr.

In 2012, Stone started a new winery next door – Lingua Franca.

Master Sommelier Larry Stone and Lingua Franca Wines
Larry Stone tasting at Esquin

Stone brought together a team led by Dominique Lafon. Who is Burgundy’s best-known winemaker, his name is attached to one of its most famous Domaines -Comte Lafon. The Comtes Lafon domaine, contains well over three hectares of premier cru vineyard as well a piece of burgundy’s grand cru Le Montrachet. Lafon Montrachet sells for thousands of dollars a bottle. He has been rightly called “the Wizard of Burgundy.”

He also brought on board winemaker Thomas Savre, who worked with stone and Lafon at Evening Land after working at luminary Burgundian properties as Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Domaine Dujac, and Maison Nicolas Potel. To manage the vineyards he brought on local viticulturist Mimi Casteel. Mimi is the daughter of Ted Casteel and Pat Dudley, co-founders of Bethel Heights Vineyard. She brings with her a lifetime of living and working in the valley and her families well known reputation for Sustainable and Biodynamic farming.

Master Sommelier Larry Stone and Lingua Franca WinesStone was in negotiations with Evening Land’s neighbors to purchase the land adjacent to the famed Seven Springs Vineyard, even before he left the project. After he left Evening Land the Janzen family approached him with a deal to buy the land. He sold his stake in Sirita Winery, auctioned off his personal wine collection and convinced a few friends to invest.

They cleared the land – removing fruit and Christmas Trees – planted a vineyard and built a winery, designed by Lafon and Savre. Across the road from Seven Springs it is also adjacent Domaine Serene’s Jerusalem Hill Vineyard, Argyle Winery’s Lone Star Vineyard and Domaine Drouhin’s Roserock Vineyard.

A perfect vineyard sight, a remarkably capable team and an astute understanding of the wine business. It is not surprising these wines are already creating a buzz. Lingua Franca is being poured at high-profile Paris restaurants Vitus, Taillevent and Spoon. Impressive for a new minted American Pinot Noir.

Master Sommelier Larry Stone and Lingua Franca Wines

The entire first vintage from Lingua Franca received 90 plus point scores from Wine Spectator! With The Tongue N’ Cheek making it in the

Lingua Franca Avni Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills 2015 $36.99 btl

Refined and precise, featuring a structure that’s elegantly complex, with raspberry and cinnamon aromas and sleek cherry and mineral flavors. Drink now through 2022. 772 cases made.

92 Points Wine Spectator

He told me, “We are not trying to make ‘burgundy’, although that is of course an influence. We are making wines of very little intervention, wines of place”. Stone describes it as “exploring Oregon with the mind of Burgundy.” The name Lingua Franca represents the concept of universal language, of bringing people of different worlds to common ground – shared conversation, shared enjoyment. Lingua franca could be described as a conversation between Oregon terroir and years of traditional Burgundian winemaking.

If you were to make a list of what you would need to make a great wine, every box would be checked off on the list.

Not bad for the son of refugees.

His mother was a cheesemaker, and his father was a produce buyer at Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Stone was always enamored with food and even making his own wine at age 14. At the UW, Stone was a National Merit Scholar who studied abroad in Montpellier, France, and Vienna. He pursued a doctorate in comparative literature, earning a Fulbright Scholarship to University of Tübingen in Germany.He never finished his dissertation.

He was one of Seattle’s very first Sommeliers’ at a restaurant called the Red Cabbage. Later working at the Four Seasons Olympic before heading to Chicago and Charlie Trotter’s.Master Sommelier Larry Stone and Lingua Franca Wines

Local boy does good, and then some.

 

By Lenny Rede

Leonard Redé is the marketing person here at Esquin Wine and Spirits. An instructor in the Wine Technology Program at South Seattle, he wrote the curriculum for the Associate of Arts Degree in Food and Wine Pairing Sommelier Studies. A classically trained chef and pastry chef he was nominated for educator of the year while Chef Instructor at the world renowned Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. He garnered international attention at his award winning restaurant Sapphire kitchen and bar. A restaurateur, wine steward, chef and educator with over 30 years of industry experience he has a unique blend of culinary and wine expertise. He loves to share his passion for all things gastronomic and he’ll gladly help you navigate the world of wine and is always quick with a wine pairing or recipe.

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Hess Collection Chardonnay, Oak, and Texture

Anyone who knows me is aware I am a fan of oaky white wines. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that at a recent lunch I was invited to I fell hard for the Hess Collection Chardonnay (2016).

Hess Collection Chardonnay 2016

Joining a small group of scribes at this meal was Nicole Carter, the chief marketing officer and director of winemaking for The Hess Collection. (Now that’s a busy person.) One thing she said about Chardonnay, and Napa Valley wines made from this grape in particular, struck me. “You have to deliver that texture,” said Carter.

I couldn’t agree more. The texture you get from oak is what makes most Chardonnay special. And though the Hess Collection Chardonnay spends nine months in oak, only 19% of the barrels are new. You do get a touch of luxurious toastiness. The real pilot of the ship, however, is the used oak delivering alluring texture.

Let’s talk about price. For $22, you’d be hard-pressed to find a single vineyard Chardonnay from Napa Valley with this kind of deft oak treatment. I am not sure what could hold a candle to it. This would be a great glass pour option for a restaurant.

Let’s take a look at the vineyard where it comes from, Su’skol:

Hess Collection Chardonnay, Oak, and Texture

What would it take to get you to love oak and Chardonnay again? Or just like it?

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Arnie’s Lunch with a Burgundy Legend

It’s not every day that you get to sit down and break bread with a legendary Burgundy producer.

Yet that is precisely what happened when I was invited to lunch recently with Laurent Drouhin of Burgundy’s renowned Maison Joseph Drouhin at Seattle’s Virginia Inn by Pike Place Market.

Founded in Beaune in 1880, Maison Joseph Drouhin’s cellars have spread from the historical Cellars of the Dukes of Burgundy and the Kings of France in Beaune (12th-18th centuries) to the Moulin de Vaudon, an 18th Century watermill in Chablis.

The Joseph Drouhin Domaine was assembled parcel by parcel over the years and comprises today 73 hectares (182.5 acres) of vineyards in Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Côte Chalonnaise and Chablis. It is one of the most important domains in Burgundy, with more than two thirds of the vineyards classified as Premier and Grand Crus.

Arnie’s Lunch with a Burgundy Legend

 

Laurent Drouhin who, along with his sister Véronique and brothers Frédéric and Philippe, are the latest fourth generation to run the venerable grower and negociant house in the village of Beaune.

Arnie’s Lunch with a Burgundy LegendThe Virginia Inn is a Pike Market institution offering classic French bistro fare so, naturally, I ordered the Boeuf Bourgignon. It arrived at a perfect time because we finished whites and were starting on the reds. It was old school and excellent!

 

 

Laurent guided us through a tasting of 11 wines; 5 white and 6 red:

 

White Wine

2015 Drouhin Vaudon Chablis $21.99

Nice mineral notes result from the region’s poor pebbly soils of Kimmeridgian limestone. Good value here. Fresh apple, lemon and stony flavors that play off the lively acidity. Stays juicy and long on the finish.

2015 Pouilly Vinzelles $19.99

“Clean and focused, this white evokes lemon, oak spice and mineral flavors. Has plenty of tension and builds to a long aftertaste of citrus and mineral.”

90 points Wine Spectator

2015 Chassagne-Montrachet $65.99

“Notes of petrol, resin and essence of pear and white peach can be found on the nicely layered nose. The rich, full-bodied and very generously proportioned medium weight flavors possess lovely mid-palate concentration while delivering good length on the relatively powerful finish. This is not especially complex at present though there is better aging potential here and this may surprise to the upside.” Burghound

 

2015 Meursault $55.99

“A ripe but classic nose of hazelnut and fresh white orchard fruit aromas is trimmed in a hint of matchstick. The rich, full and naturally sweet middle weight flavors also possess fine depth and length for a villages level wine. This is seductively delicious if a bit less energetic but richer and one that should repay 4 to 6 years of cellar time.” Burghound

2015 Drouhin Oregon Roserock Chardonnay $31.99

“Pale yellow-gold. Intense, mineral-inflected orchard and pit fruit, lavender and buttered toast aromas are complicated by oyster shell, fennel and vanilla nuances. Concentrated yet nervy and light on its feet, offering palate-staining, oak-kissed pear nectar, Meyer lemon and candied ginger flavors underscored by a vein of smoky minerality. Shows superb energy and power on the floral-tinged finish, which hangs on with serious, mineral-driven tenacity.”

Josh Raynolds, Vinous

 

Red Wines

 

2015 Chorey-lès-Beaume $27.99

“Bright, full red. Cool aromas of cherry, licorice and menthol. Juicy red berry flavors are accented by a hint of licorice. The tannins are firm but not dry, with the persistent finish displaying attractive perfumed lift. This makes the Rully seem a bit rustic by comparison.” Stephan Tanzer, Vinous

2015 Savigny-lès-Beaune $37.99

This is Chorey’s more muscular brother with richer, darker fruit. Laurent said that they declassify some premier crus here, as they do with other village appellations. 18 months in French oak barriques.

2015 Gevrey Chambertin $61.99

“Captivating aromas and flavors of pure cherry, mineral, tobacco and spice mark this supple red. Beautifully balanced, this remains long on the finish, driven by succulent acidity. Best from 2020 through 2033.” Wine Spectator

 

2011 Beaune Clos de Mouches 1er Cru $114.99

The 2011 Beaune Clos des Mouches impresses for its intensity. Green pears, exotic flowers, mint, citrus and crushed rocks are all very much alive in the glass. The flavors are beautifully defined in a salivating, crystalline wine full of personality. Clos des Mouches remains one of the undiscovered jewels of Burgundy in its price range. The 2011 is likely to enjoy broad drinking window that will last several decades. Antonio Galloni, Vinous

 

2015 Drouhin Oregon Roserock Zéphirine Pinot Noir $31.99

Arnie’s Lunch with a Burgundy Legend“Brilliant red. Vibrant, spice-accented red fruit liqueur, floral pastille and incense aromas, along with an intense mineral topnote. Stains the palate with sweet raspberry and spicecake flavors that show impressive depth as well as delicacy and nervy cut. Silky, seamless and precise, finishing with outstanding energy and velvety, slow-building tannins that harmonize smoothly with the deep fruit.”

Josh Raynolds, Vinous

 

Arnie Millan is Esquin’s European Buyer and Resident Expert on all things Burgundy.

 

 

 

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Sonoma-Cutrer Lunch at the Four Seasons

I recently had the opportunity to taste through some Sonoma Cutrer wines at the Four Seasons for lunch and it was delightful. We had the single vineyard Les Pierre Chardonnay 2004 and it was shockingly good for its age. We also had a rose and some other chardonnays and pinots here’s how it went.

We started with the 2017 Rose of pinot noir with oysters on the half shell and a perfect pairing in a Salmon Poke.  The wine bright with strawberry and cranberry notes yet slightly savory and dry.

The next four wines we enjoyed with crab salad fresh oysters and a variety of cheeses all Chardonnays.

Sonoma-Cutrer Lunch at the Four Seasons

#1 the Sonoma Valley 2016. The fruit is up front with tropical notes Mango and pineapple typical of a warmer site wine, VERY GOOD.

#2 the Russian River 2015. This wine has more depth and is more of a Burgundian style with Lemon in a liner style.  I like this wine a lot especially with the Oysters.

#3 The Cutrer 2016 – A single vineyard wine with the soil being an ancient sea bed with multifaceted rolling hills and swales.  This is a richer style with Nectarine, Butter scotch and Lemon Curd, Delicious.

#4 Les Pierres 2014 – This vineyard is a Viticulturists Dream known worldwide for its’ mineral essence and poor water retention which stresses the vines. The wine is very Burgundian in its’ style and has more concentration of mineral. Great aging potential.

Sonoma-Cutrer Lunch at the Four Seasons#5 The 2004 Les Pierres – Wow what a treat to see how this wine has evolved. The fruit is not so much upfront which is to be expected but present in the back ground and pretty mineral character.

Next the 2015 Pinot Noir one of Sonoma- Cutrer’s best kept secrets made at a different winery affectionately called the Pinot Barn, this facility represents the hand crafted approach to the varietal. The wine has really good concentration of fruit showing cherry, strawberry nuances and cranberry acidity, fabulous with the grilled fresh Salmon I ordered specifically for this wine.

Thanks for reading for any orders or questions e-mail me Jeff@esquin .com

Thanks again

CHEERS.  Jeff

Take a tour of Sonoma Cutrer

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Corn Chowder with Dungeness Crab and California Chardonnay

It is Corn Season and around town in farmers markets and produce stands you see bushels of fresh corn. Summer is full of iconic produce – watermelon, cherries, blueberries. Fresh grilled corn on the cob is about as summer as you can get. If you haven’t tried Mexican Style Grilled Corn, Elote, you should. I have a friend who always requests it when we BBQ. There a million recipes and ways to use corn – Corn Chowder, Corn Salad with grilled peppers and Cilantro Vinaigrette, Grilled Chicken with Corn Salsa, a Seafood Boil with Corn and Potatoes .

Corn Chowder with Dungeness Crab and California Chardonnay

When it comes to pairing there are many choices, but one always comes first to my mind and that is Chardonnay. Here is a little secret, one of the descriptors for Chardonnay is sweet corn, but it isn’t one your likely to see on a shelf taker or descriptor. But that sweet corn taste is echoed in many chardonnay. Add a little smoke from a grill and it plays well with a little oak, a little butter on the corn? You get the idea.

A truly classic pairing is Blanc de Blanc Champagne and Pop Corn, add a little truffle salt and you have highfalutin/ low brow combo that practically everyone loves.

Chardonnay can go from light, mineral and crisp to full bodied, buttery and oaky. This gives you a range of wines to choose from for pairing. A crisp Chablis will class up your Low Country Seafood Boil with a rich creamy corn chowder a more traditional California Chardonnay is the bomb.

Full disclosure, I am California kid and a soft spot for well-made, well-balanced California Chardonnay. Today I would like to present one of my new favorites.

Corn Chowder with Dungeness Crab and California ChardonnayGrayson Cellars Chardonnay ’16 (CA) $9.99 btl / save$3

If you like chardonnay you will fall head over heals in love with Grayson. 100% Chardonnay and shows loads of tropical fruit, especially mango, pineapple and tangerine, crisp acidity, and an elegant, mid-weight central casting California Chardonnay. “Best Buy!” 11 years in row from Wine Advocate.

Mike O’Connell, owner of Grayson Cellars, believes in using their Napa Valley location and combined winemaking skills to create some of the highest quality wines available at the by-the-glass price point. O’Connell has degrees in Business and Industrial engineering and these skills come in handy when you want to make a lot of really good wine inexpensively. But his real skill is in managing people and hiring the right people. In this case it is Larry Levin.

“Larry Levin, who is among the most experienced winemakers in the Napa Valley. After completing his Enology degree at UC Davis, Larry spent seventeen years at Dry Creek Vineyard. Larry then spent nine years as head of winemaking at Icon Estates, where he oversaw wineries such as Franciscan, Mt. Veeder, Estancia, Ravenswood, Quintessa and Ruffino (making 100 point wines!)” Larry knows good wine. We don’t usually get these kind of winemaking skills at this price point.

“A frequent entry into these best buy pages, winemaker Larry Levin knows how to fashion flavorful, authentic tasting whites and reds at bargain-basement prices.” -Robert Parker (Nov. 2014)

If you are looking for good Chard for next weekend BBQ, fish Boil or Sunday supper look no further.

This wines pairs beautifully with my corn chowder, if you want to fancy it up for company add some fresh cracked crab or avocado or both to the top! Then some fresh crusty bread and good bottle of Chardonnay and call it a day!

Lenny@esquin.com

Corn Chowder with Dungeness Crab and California Chardonnay

Corn Chowder with Dungeness Crab

Ingredients

 

1 medium yellow or white onion

1 stalk celery

1 tablespoon butter

4 ounce bacon

2 tablespoons flour

2 cups chicken broth or clam juice

2 cups water

2 red or Yukon gold potatoes

1 clove garlic, chopped fine

Pinch cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

1 bay leaf

4 ears fresh sweet corn or 4 cups frozen corn (fresh is better)

½ cup Cream

Salt to taste

Parsley to garnish

16 oz Dungeness crab meat



Method

 

  1. Peel corn and using a sharp knife cut kernels off cobs.
  2. Finely dice onion and celery.  Peel and thinly slice then dice the potato and set aside. Dice bacon.
  3. Heat a heavy stock pot and add the butter. Add the bacon and sweat add the onion and celery, stirring often until onions and celery softens.
  4.  Add flour and cook until a roux forms.
  5. Add chicken broth and water, stir until velvety and thickened.  Add diced potatoes. Add white pepper, thyme and bay leaf.
  6. Simmer gently for twenty minutes
  7. Add corn and cook for 5 minutes
  8. Remove from heat partly puree with emersion blender.
  9. Return to heat, add cream and slowly heat.
  10. Salt and pepper to taste.
  11. Simmer till soup thickens. Pour in bowl, add crab meat (2 tablespoons per bowl) and garnish with Parsley.

 

Serve with a gerat Chardonnay.

Yield 6 – 8  servings

 

 

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Weekend Wine Pairing ~ Vintager Chardonnay + Crab Tostadas with Sriracha Guacamole

Okay,  I start to really miss California when it snows in the passes in May, and the rain never ceases. Yes, I am a California native, albeit I have lived in Seattle for over 32 years, so that has to count for something, right? Oh, I do have certain California kid peccadillos. Like when my northern brethren claim indisputable expertise on Mexican food, or when I find myself defending a fondness for Zinfandel or a certain style of California Chardonnay.

Take for example a new Chard we just found.

The Californian Vintager Chardonnay Knights Valley 2012 $14.99

This is an elegant barrel aged chard produced from hand harvested grapes in the legendary Knight Valley AVA, home to winemakers like Peter Michael. Coastal fog and conifer trees create a special cool climate that gives the resulting win a balance of fruit and fresh acidity. Full bodied, yet balanced with well integrated oak and a long seductive finish. Honey crisp apple, blood orange and just a touch of vanilla give this wine all that classic Northern California Chardonnay appeal.

Only 748 cases of this wine were produced by winemaker Sam Jennings, The Vintager Chardonnay is true small production wine.

Yes, and there are certain dishes that pair perfectly with that certain style of Cali Chard – Smoked Chicken Salad, grilled Salmon, Lobster. This wine would be perfect just sitting on a sunny deck with some friends, but this also would be awesome with my Crab tostadas! Recipe below

Join us and taste this extraordinary Chardonnay, Saturday May 20th, at Esquin 2 pm to 5 pm!

xo Lenny

Weekend Wine Pairing ~ Vintager Chardonnay + Crab Tostadas with Sriracha Guacamole

Crab Tostadas with Sriracha Guacamole

1 (16 ounce) package tostadas ( or fresh made)

16 ounces Dungeness crab

1 lime, juiced

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

***** Garnish

2 tomatoes, seeded and diced

1 red pepper, finely diced

1 jalapeno, finely diced

1⁄2 medium onion, finely chopped

¼ cup cilantro, finely chopped

*****Guacamole

3 Haas avocados, halved, seeded and peeled

1 lime, juiced

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon Sriracha

1/2 medium onion, diced

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

1 clove garlic, minced

2 tablespoon sour cream

  1. You can fry your own tortilla but store bought are just fine
  2. In a large bowl, pull crab apart and check for any shell pieces. Combine lime juice and olive oil and dress crab with dressing and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. In another bowl combine diced tomatoes, diced peppers, onions and cilantro.
  4. In bowl of food processor combine all ingredients and pulse until well comined.
  5. Spread 1 tablespoon Guacamole on tostada top with 1 ounce of crab meat and garnish with pepper mixture

Crab Tostadas with Sriracha Guacamole Printable Recipe

The post Weekend Wine Pairing ~ Vintager Chardonnay + Crab Tostadas with Sriracha Guacamole appeared first on Madewine's Sippy Cup - Blog.

Tasting mountain wines with a valley appellation

 

Gus and I headed up to the Alexander Valley yesterday for a tasting. It was chilly and foggy in Oakland when we left early, and the ride could have been worse: only 1-3/4 hours. We drove up the 101 to Alexander Valley Road, turned east through some awfully pretty wine country, and then—before reaching the winery—stopped by the old Jimtown Store

for a late breakfast and bracing cappuccino. The temperature in the valley already was in the 80s, under a cloudless, azure sky. While I was eating Gus checked out the flowers.

Tasting mountain wines with a valley appellation

Our destination was right around the corner:

Tasting mountain wines with a valley appellation

Stonestreet Wines, owned by my employer, Jackson Family Wines. From the winery itself

 

Tasting mountain wines with a valley appellation

you can look further east, to the west wall of the great Mayacamas Mountain Range, and see the mountain

 

Tasting mountain wines with a valley appellation

Jess bought years ago, for which we’re currently trying to establish an A.V.A., since it makes no sense to say that mountain wines come from a valley appellation. The family long has called it Alexander Mountain Estate, and it was the Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays off this sprawling, beautiful property I had come to taste.

The thing to understand is that this very large estate is broken into a series of smaller vineyards, with extensive wildland corridors inbetween through which wildlife–bears, cougars, deer–can pass on their millennial expeditions. Each smaller vineyard was planted to particular varieties depending on soil analysis, elevation and exposure. (They have this wonderful schematic model in the tasting room that explains everything, but if you can ever arrange a tour of the mountain, I highly recommend it.)

Tasting mountain wines with a valley appellation

The first flight was white; the second, red. All the wines are Stonestreet. Here are my abbreviated notes. There was no need to taste blind.

CHARDONNAYS

Tasting mountain wines with a valley appellation

2013 Broken Road. Rich golden color. Complex aromas of wet stone, tropical fruit, white peach, crème brulée, baking spices. Rich and delicious, with bracing acidity and a creamy texture. Score: 95.

2013 Upper Barn Vineyard. Rich golden color. Similar to Broken Road, but more saline and minerals. Ripe white peaches, tropical fruits, buttered toast, crème brulée, vanilla bean. Insanely rich, with bracing acidity. Notable for its superior structure. Score: 96. This is the white wine I brought home with me.

2013 Gravel Bench Vineyard. Rich golden color. The oak is more apparent (it’s the only Chard aged in 100% new French oak). A big, exuberant wine, with tropical fruit, nectarine and white peach fruit. On airing the oak got more integrated. Score: 92.

2013 Gold Run Vineyard. Rich golden color. Nice, firm flintiness, but the fruit and oak star. Tiers of golden mango, crème brulée, lemon meringue, vanilla bean, honey custard. Excellent acidity. A real star. Score: 95.

2013 Bear Point Vineyard. Good golden color. Nose a bit shy, suggesting lemon verbena, honey, golden mango, white peach, vanilla bean, buttered toast. Really rich and wonderful, in a way my favorite for its exquisite tension of parts. Score: 97.

2013 Cougar Ridge Vineyard. Good golden color. A tangy green apple note brings a bite to the mango, grilled pineapple and crème brulée richness. Lots of oak in the mouth: vanilla bean, buttered toast, smoke. Soft, creamy and opulent. Score: 94.

CABERNET SAUVIGNONS

Tasting mountain wines with a valley appellation

2012 Bear Point Vineyard. Pitch black color at the center, garnet at the rim. Very young and closed now. Jammy plums, tar, coffee and smoke. Thick tannins, bracing acidity. Dense and concentrated. Needs plenty of time. After 2020. Score: 94.

2010 Rockfall. Similar color to Bear Point. At six years, still closed, mute, resistant at first. On airing, hints of dark chocolate, olive tapenade, plums, black currants. Very tannic. Great structure, lots going on down underneath the astringency: creosote, blackberry jam, black licorice, cedar, toast, mushu plum sauce. Reminds me of Lynch-Bages. Needs time. After 2020. Score: 95.

2012 Rockfall. Midnight black without a moon, turning purple at the rim: young, young, young. Hints of blackberry jam, sweet oak, cocoa, rum, plums. Great primary fruit sweetness, plump, fat, rich, but very tannic. Good acidity, elegant structure, great weight and balance, with a very long, spicy finish. Superior if possible to the 2010. Needs time. After 2020. Score: 96.

2011 Christopher’s. The highest point on the mountain, at over 2,400 feet. The blackest color of all, impenetrable. Tight, closed; airing shows blackberry jam, clove, mint (eucalyptus), dust, smoke. Extremely complex but very tannic. Massive core of ripe summer blackberries and cassis; creosote, minerals. Needs lots of time. Drink after 2020. Score: 96. This is the bottle I brought home with me.

2012 Legacy. Another dark black wine with glints of ruby and garnet at the rim. The 30% Merlot in the blend is immediately apparent, giving a floral-violet scent to Cabernet’s blackberries and plums. In the mouth, complex, smooth, more forward than the other Cabs, but still very tannic, with blackberry, cherry, shaved chocolate, anise and baking spice flavors. You could drink it now but it will age for decades. Score: 94.

Chardonnay Symposium winners tell a story

 

Looking at the medal winners from the International Chardonnay Symposium, I’m struck by the geographic diversity of origins of the top-ranked California Chards. They range from Napa Valley down to the Santa Maria Valley, with Paso Robles, the Santa Lucia Highlands, Livermore Valley, Arroyo Seco, Sonoma Valley and the Russian River Valley inbetween. (I personally think you’d have to add Anderson Valley to the mix, although no Chardonnays from there were listed among the winners. Maybe there were no entrants.)

So from Mendocino to Santa Barbara for California’s best Chardonnays. That’s a big spread, about 375 miles. In France, we tend to think of the best Chardonnays as coming from a relatively narrow spread: Chablis down to Macon.* That’s a north-south distance of about 136 miles, but you’d obviously have to deduct most of the Cotes de Nuit from that, because it’s mainly Pinot Noir. So we have a Chardonnay terroir in coastal California that’s far bigger than the Chardonnay terroir of Burgundy.

Why is that? Examining California first, there is a true coastal terroir running along the Pacific Coast that’s obvious to anyone who regularly travels that route. Everybody knows the typical pattern: bone dry summers and autumns, warmish, sunny days and cool nights, as the maritime intrusion sweeps in dependably and bathes the land in fog. Yes, the soils differ. And yes, it is true that the further south you go the more of a change there is, especially in the quality of light. Cezanne would have loved painting the Santa Barbara mountains and coast. One senses it, also, in the softening of the air you feel as, driving from San Francisco, you hit Pismo Beach on any given summer day, then make your way southward down to Buellton. It feels different to us humans, so it must feel different to grapes, too.

But still, the terroir, in a macro way, is of one piece, and given the similarly of viticultural and enological practices nowadays, I doubt if anyone could tell the difference, on a consistent basis, between a Chardonnay from the Santa Maria Valley and one from, say, Carneros. Stones and minerals, green apples, tropical fruits, bright acidity, the usual impact of oak and lees and malo—this is why the coast makes such fine Chardonnay.

Perhaps the Chardonnay-growing area of France would be larger if it weren’t for the French system of appellation controllée, which is so much more rigid than ours. But it is what it is; the French system tends to favor a multiplicity of varieties. Ours—not molded by centuries of precedent, nor by Napoleonic law—is market-based; and the market being what it is, has resulted in only a handful of varieties, including Chardonnay, dominating vast regions.

It is a common notion nowadays that this system is changing. Led by sommeliers, responsive to a taste among younger consumers for the new and different, a new reality supposedly is emerging, of new varieties, tinkered with by a new generation of winemakers born in the waning decades of the 20th century, willing to venture where their fathers would or could not. This new paradigm—if that is not too strong a word—has much to recommend it, but it also faces stiff opposition. There is, for example, a Chardonnay Symposium in California, but not a Tannat or an Assyrtiko Symposium. One has to be careful predicting the future of anything, much less consumer preferences in foodstuffs; but we can allow History to be our guide. History tells us two things: First, what was popular, wine-wise, 100 years ago is popular today, and secondly, once a wine region becomes dominated by certain varieties, it tends to remain planted to those varieties. The two things are, of course, related.

But, you will object, younger people are turning away from the Chardonnays, Cabernets and Pinot Noirs, towards other varieties, said to be fresher, lower in alcohol, crisper and more interesting. Is this true? The media makes much of this meme. But is it more than just a story? Is it really a trend? The media loves trends, and has been known—shockingly!—to manufacture new ones for its own purposes. So, while I’m sure there will be new wines and new varietals that come and go, I’m equally sure that one grape variety—Chardonnay—will always be around. And I’m proud of my state of California for doing such a magnificent job with it.

* I suppose you could argue for extending the Chardonnay region south of Macon through the Beaujolais, but I wouldn’t go that far, either geographically or qualitatively.

Remember the Orlando Martyrs