A RIESLING RAVE BY A RIESLING REBEL

Confession time. I have never really liked Riesling. This might very well be a cardinal sin to Riesling disciples out there. So what if this noble grape has long been the favorite among sommeliers, chefs and wine professionals? So what if it’s a versatile food-friendly wine that pairs especially well with spicy Asian cuisine that I dearly love? So what if its high acidity makes it exceptionally age-worthy?

SO WHAT?

I’ll tell you what. I’m a skeptic at heart and all of the rah-rah surrounding Riesling hasn’t wooed me. Why? I prefer bone dry wines. I pooh-pooh Riesling because of its typically higher residual sugar content. Even the drier Rieslings don’t wow me.

Until now.

Let me introduce you to Smith-Madrone, a winery located in the spring Mountain District which is on the eastern slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains that separate Napa Valley from Sonoma Valley. Andrew Doolan, a sommelier in Rhode Island, recently sent me a bottle of the 2014 Riesling. I know Andrew from the Vivino wine app community and he’s probably read a few of my Riesling rants. His glowing review of the Smith-Madrone Riesling piqued my interest. He encouraged me to give it a swirl. But before I did, I did my due diligence and researched the backstory of this wine which, by the way, has gotten high ratings and favorable reviews across the board.

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The story begins with brothers Stuart and Charles Smith (not the Charles Smith of Kung Fu Girl Riesling fame) who own and operate Smith-Madrone winery. Stuart, while pursuing his master’s degree in viticulture at UC Davis, purchased land at the highest point of Spring Mountain in 1971. His hopes to plant a vineyard were boosted when he discovered that the land actually supported a vineyard back in the 1880’s.

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Charles joined Stuart in 1973, a rugged man and outdoor enthusiast like his brother. So began the journey of Smith-Madrone vineyards, the name Madrone being a tribute to the predominant tree on the property. The Madrone is an evergreen with reddish-brown branches and trunk. The tree bears lily-of-the-valley-like flower clusters in springtime and orange-red berries in autumn.

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The vineyards are situated at elevations between 1,300 and 2,000 feet, on steep slopes up to a 34% grade. Along these precipitous inclines, specific grape varieties with differing exposures have been planted. Chardonnay is planted on cooler north facing slopes, Cabernet Sauvignon on flatter southwestern patches, and Riesling on eastern exposure slopes. The vineyards are dry-farmed meaning no irrigation or watering takes place. By relying solely on Mother Nature’s contribution in the form of rainfall, vines produce smaller berries with higher juice to skin ratio that results in a more intensely flavored grape. Grapes will hit natural maturity at a lower sugar level than if irrigation took place.

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BAM! This must be one reason I love Smith-Madrone Riesling. Concentrated juice and low residual sugar!

The vineyard soils are mainly deep-red Aiken Stoney Clay loam, volcanic-based, well-drained and deep for mountain soils. The soils are quite rocky allowing for vine roots to grow extremely deep, a boon for grapevines which inherently thrive better in challenging conditions. This combination of soil, elevation, sun exposure and the Smith brothers’ dry-farming approach is, in my estimation, a magic formula for producing stellar Riesling.

The Smith brothers’ philosophy in growing grapes is gutsy and admirable. Because they are in a semi-arid climate which in recent years has suffered drought, they honor water as a precious commodity and practice restraint in water consumption. They believe grapevines are intuitive and will adapt to their natural environment without too much human intervention. Their efforts have not gone unnoticed. German winemakers have flown out to interview them, hoping to glean techniques to improve their own Riesling vineyards.

Now armed with some fascinating facts and a healthy respect for Stuart and Charles, I uncorked the bottle of Smith-Madone 2014 Riesling, my hopes elevated, only a smidge of my Riesling rebel skepticism present.

From the first sniff and sip, I was left nearly speechless. One word burst forth: KALEIDOSCOPE! In my mind’s eye, I saw multiple points of lights in dazzling array, reflecting in sparkling symmetry. Layer upon layer of myriad shapes and colors coalesced in prism perfection, evolving in an ever changing, ever enchanting montage.

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This Riesling is just that. From its lush bouquet of honeysuckle, lemon, orange blossom, stone fruit, pear, mint and a hint of petrol to its layered palate of apricot, peach and lychee (stone fruit trifecta!) and grapefruit, tangerine & lime (citrus trifecta!), there is no end to the vibrant scents & flavors of this immensely complex wine! There is just the faintest whisper of sweetness, barely discernible, thank the heavens above! The strong backbone of minerality is laced with pleasing salinity. Crisp & defined like the jagged points of a kaleidoscope pattern, each sip shaves the palate clean. Yet juxtaposed on that trademark acidity is a lingering silky finish that made me slap my hand on the counter & sigh.

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This is a phenomenal Riesling for Riesling haters!

This is a phenomenal Riesling for Riesling lovers!

I have reformed. No longer a Riesling rebel but now a Riesling raver, I hope you take my rah-rah review seriously. And not with a grain of salt, please, but rather a tiny bit of residual sugar on top. Trust me, an encounter with this wine will color your world in brilliant kaleidoscope patterns.

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A few more specs on this special wine:
• The 2014 vintage of Smith-Madrone Riesling is 100% pure, unadulterated Riesling from 42-year-old grapevines
• 12.8% alcohol
• 0.76% residual sugar (just the smidge I prefer. The 2012 vintage was a mere 0.45 RS!)
• pH of 3.05
• Only 1551 cases produced
• $30 for 750 ml bottle. JUST THIRTY DOLLAH! Fabulous price point for a quality wine!
• You might see kaleidoscope patterns upon first sip!

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UNDERWOOD UNDERSTOOD

I’ll be FRANK. I’m not a big Pinot Noir fan, let alone one packaged in a can. But check out the UNDERWOOD wine label! What a perfect wine to drink as Season 5 of HOUSE OF CARDS launches today!

I got hooked on the series and binge watched all four seasons at once thus leaving me high and dry for months as I eagerly awaited the debut of Season 5. I can only imagine what new depths of depravity FRANK UNDERWOOD will dip to. And along with his equally cunning wife CLAIRE, politics UNDER the UNDERWOOD regime are sure to prove far more nefarious than we can even begin to imagine.

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UNDERWOOD Pinot Noir is FRANK UNDERWOOD in vinous form. Its sheer violet hue is hypnotic. Its gossamer shimmer draws you in much like a silken spider web whose delicate wispiness belies its fatal purpose.

Stick your nose into this Pinot Noir and initially you are engulfed in blackness: black plum, blackberry and black raspberry, all tightly interwoven with a whisper of creamy vanilla. But dive in deeper and the dark forest fungal funk that UNDERgirds this wine will grip your senses a la FRANK UNDERWOOD.  Is it no wonder his initials are F.U.? Don’t let his honeyed words and smooth southern drawl fool you. Once he has you captive, that acidic bite will whip you speechless.

Think that’s ominous enough? Hold on and give UNDERWOOD Pinot Gris a gander. Pour this elegant champagne hued wine in a tall flute to admire its shimmery gold with a hint of blush pink. Much like CLAIRE UNDERWOOD’s statuesque fair beauty, this Pinot Gris in its flaxen luminosity simply glimmers in a tall glass.

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But get a little closer and you’ll be greeted with a steely gaze beneath that lovely exterior. Like the femme fatale who entices then entraps, UNDERWOOD Pinot Gris’ initial heavenly citrus and pear scents subversively morph into a vinous Hades of dank earth and decaying UNDERgrowth. Oy, that trademark Oregonian fungal funk. For me, it repulses yet captivates.

On the palate this Pinot Gris is lean and angular with a surprising bracing acidity, much like CLAIRE UNDERWOOD’S persona. Pinot Gris is often considered a neutral and approachable wine, the vinous equivalent to matte beige interior paint. But looks can be deceiving. Much as CLAIRE UNDERWOOD can hold her own against her conniving husband, so does this UNDERWOOD Pinot Gris. Don’t assume this is an UNDERdog. It makes an indelible impact.

So there you have it, my review of UNDERWOOD canned wine. It’s surprisingly decent despite its unconventional packaging. If all you can offer is tepid canned applause, keep in mind UNDERWOOD wines are available in bottles to keep wine purists appeased.

And as HOUSE OF CARDS Season 5 gets UNDERway, UNDERstand that UNDERwood is UNDERrated…and oh so dangerous!

BOOK REVIEW: ROSÉ WINE – THE GUIDE TO DRINKING PINK

Everything’s coming up rosés!

Spring has sprung and is hopscotching into summer. I love this time of year when all things are made new again, at least here in the northern hemisphere. Mother Nature dons a brand new wardrobe, draping herself in vibrant shades of green accessorized with colorful pops of flowers. I, too, eagerly pack away my winter drabs and delight in sporting sundresses, shorts and sandals.

After a long Montana winter, my palate is also ready for an overhaul. I start craving lighter fare and lighter wines, especially rosés which start debuting in May for May Day, Mother’s Day and the Kentucky Derby. While those thoroughbred derby horses compete in The Run for the Roses, I, in my quest to drink pink, Run for the Rosés!

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In this season of thinking pink, I am tickled pink to highlight a new book by Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan, a Master of Wine who just released her second publication, ROSÉ WINE: The Guide to Drinking Pink.

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This book debuts in perfect timing with rosé’s renewed popularity. There’s a pink revolution happening, and rosé is rising above its reputation for being sweet and seasonal. It’s also bounding over gender boundaries. Rosé earned a reputation as being a frilly, feminine wine reserved females, but men now account for 45% of all rosé consumed in the United States. Shall we call it “Brosé?

Simonetti-Bryan expounds upon this rosé revolution in the first chapter then goes on to explain the making of rosé and the tasting of rosé using the FIVE Ss: See, Swirl, Sniff, Sip and Savor.  As in her first book, THE ONE MINUTE WINE MASTER, Jennifer includes a quiz to help identify styles of rosé that you are likely to enjoy based on a generalized assessment of your taste and scent preferences.

The next chapters are dedicated to the four different rosé styles: BLUSH, CRISP, FRUITY and RICH. Under each style section, Jennifer features wines made in that style accompanied by a photo of the bottle or label. Detailed tasting notes and information about the winery or winemaker are included. Over 70 rosés are highlighted from areas around the globe. From the palest pink to the deepest magenta, you’ll delight in seeing the world through rosé colored glasses, all the while vicariously traveling around the world in 80 rosés!

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The book concludes with a helpful resource section that contains a food pairing guide, a pronunciation guide and a quick reference wine checklist of all the wines featured, categorized per rosé style.

Punctuated with fun facts, lovely photos and helpful graphs, ROSÉ WINE: A Guide to Drinking Pink is a precise 176-page primer on pink. It’s especially suitable for those new to drinking rosé (or to those who heretofore have shunned it!). As a wine educator, I appreciate the approachable and friendly tone in which it is written.

Bravo to Jennifer-Simonetti-Bryan, the passionate promoter of pink! Let’s raise our pink drinks and clink our glasses of rosé together in celebratory cheers!

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ABBAtucci Rocks!

ABBAtucci! MAMMA MIA!

Nikki, the wine merchant and manager at a popular local market, recommended this Abbatucci Rouge Frais Impérial, a French red wine, to me. Her palate is as finely tuned as the tight harmonies of Swedish band extraordinaire, ABBA. Being an ABBA fan, I honed in on that portion of the ABBAtucci name, and if you will allow me to indulge in a bit of word whimsy, let me sing the praises of this wine.

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This wine boasts 100% Sciaccarello grape which is the DANCING QUEEN on the island of Corsica whose volcanic, granitic soils create SUPER TROUPER wine. I almost sent out an SOS after I nearly fainted with pleasure over the floral and herbal aromas of this ethereal translucent red beauty that shimmers like gossamer in the glass. Juniper, rosemary and laurel shrubs are prolific throughout Corsica, and thusly the NAME OF THE GAME in the intoxicating bouquet of this Rouge Frais.

“TAKE A CHANCE ON ME”, this elegant wine whispered from the bottle. “LAY ALL YOUR LOVE ON ME”, I answered, swooning after the first luscious sip. GIMME! GIMME! GIMMEE more of the delicate acidity & fine-boned tannins of this exquisite libation! I bet winemaker Abbatucci makes MONEY MONEY MONEY on this wine! I HAVE A DREAM of someday visiting Corsica, my first stop being the Domaine Comte Abbatucci from where this wine hails.

ABBA Abbatucci wine

And speaking of the winemaker (or shall we say in Français, vigneron), Jean-Charles Abbatucci is a direct descendant of General Jean-Charles Abbatucci, a Corsican hero of the French Revolution. Throughout the island, streets, plazas and monuments bear the revered general’s moniker.

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Jean-Charles Abbatucci the vigneron is much revered as well for creating exceptional wines in his vineyard located in Casalabriva, a tiny town near the Corsican capital of Ajaccio. Jean-Charles is a proud Corsican and honors the unique terroir of this mountainous French Mediterranean island. He passionately adheres to biodynamic practices in tending to his vineyard. He maintains a pristine poly-culture ecosystem with sheep herds foraging through the vines; olive trees thrive on terraces nearby and untouched forests embrace the periphery. His vines are from cuttings of indigenous grapes whose history traces back to peasant farmers. In essence, he has saved these ancient grape varieties from extinction. When harvest-ready, these grapes are hand-picked, gently de-stemmed and fermented with indigenous yeasts.

Jean-Charles Abbatucci

Because of his careful adherence to such practices, Jean-Charles Abbatucci’s wines are certified biodynamic. He has been known to go the extra wild mile in following biodynamism to the letter, a philosophy that roots itself in the interconnectedness of the universe’s energies, eyebrow raising to some traditional lines of thought.

So for those sitting on the biodynamic fence who question the philosophy and skeptically wonder whether harvesting grapes when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars makes a critical difference, let me share this with you. Jean-Charles goes as far as to broadcast music from loudspeakers as he tends to his vineyard. He plays that music again during the production process.

Jean-Charles Abbatucci in vineyard

Do you wonder if he regales his grapes with ABBA tunes? Wouldn’t that be delightfully apropos given his surname? Actually, Jean-Charles plays traditional Corsican folk songs as he traverses the rows of his beloved vineyard, all in the spirit of being biodynamic and in being true to his ancestral roots. This serenading of the grapes might verifiably be the secret ingredient of his heavenly wines.

On a final note, and in keeping with my ABBA theme, let’s consider this: Napoleon Bonaparte was born on the island of Corsica and was comrade in arms with General Jean-Charles, so I’d venture to say WATERLOO would be the perfect ABBA tune to pair with ABBAtucci!

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Santé! And if I have whetted your appetite for Abbatucci, keep your eyes peeled. The wines are difficult to find here in the United States and sell out quickly. I count myself blessed to have savored this delectable Rouge Frais Impérial, thanks to Nikki kindly setting a bottle aside for me.

Nikki, thank you for your thoughtfulness. And Jean-Charles Abbatucci, THANK YOU FOR THE MUSIC!

VINHO VERDE – St. Patrick’s Day Wine

Top o’ the mornin’ to ye lads and lassies! Tomorrow we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday that marks the death of Ireland’s beloved patron saint. Many public parades mark the occasion and GREEN clad revelers sporting shamrocks will flock to local pubs to imbibe that St. Paddy’s Day libation of choice – GREEN beer.

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But for some of us wine aficionados who aren’t particularly fond of beer, this is a holiday that can truly “ale” us. What’s an oenophile to do short of artificially dying wine GREEN? I propose the perfect alternative. Vinho Verde!

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Vinho Verde (pronounced VEEN-yo VEHR-deh) literally means “GREEN wine”. This light, slightly effervescent white wine from Portugal is not literally GREEN in color. Rather, it’s a young wine mean to be drunk soon after it is made, ideally within a year. Vinho Verde hails from the Minho region of Portugal which lies in the northwestern corner of the country. This is the coolest, wettest and GREENEST part of Portugal ideal for producing highly acidic white wine.

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Taking the GREEN theme a bit farther, just north of the Minho region and across the border into Spain lies the Galicia region. This area is known as GREEN Spain, also the coolest, lushest and most verdant part of that country. Both areas are idea for growing the grapes alvarinho/albariño, trajadura/treixadura and loureiro/loureira, three of the twenty-five grape varieties used in making Vinho Verde.

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With an alcohol content averaging just 10% and a slight fizziness that comes from malolactic fermentation that takes place within the bottle, Vinho Verde is a veritable vinous substitute for foamy beer. It’s light enough for bigger gulping and celebratory in its bubbliness. Its aroma blossoms in an effusive bouquet of GREEN: lime zest, GREEN apple and honey dew melon. Its lively acidity makes it an ideal food-pairing wine, the perfect palate cleanser between bites of corned beef, cabbage, and buttery potatoes.

Here’s one more GREEN fact about Vinho Verde. It won’t cost you much GREEN. You can easily find bottles of it well under $10. About this time of year, when winter melts into spring and folks look forward to warm weather alfresco dining, you’ll see Vinho Verde advertised on sale. I purchased a dozen bottles last year for just under $60. Another plus: many Vinho Verde bottles sport screw tops. Not only is this an added convenience for picnics and patio dining, but screw caps virtually eliminate the risk of cork taint.

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So as beer lovers chug-a-lug their mugs of green glug on March 17th, we wine lovers have the perfect St. Patty’s Day prerogative. We will celebrate by pouring a GREEN  wine from a GREEN region loaded with GREEN flavors that didn’t set us back much GREEN.

Vinho Verde just might make beer lovers GREEN with envy!

BET ON THIS HORSE

Meet my NEIGHbors.

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These three spirited horses greet me on my walks past the ranch near my house.  Such a “mane” attraction they are! They love to frolic in the verdant meadow, snorting and kicking up their hooves in equine glee. When I pass by, they often stand transfixed, providing me the picture perfect Kodak moment. I’ve dubbed them “The 3 Night Mares”, and should I ever dream of owning a horse ranch, these three feisty fillies would fulfill my equine reverie.

So when I saw this bottle of 3 HORSE RANCH Chardonnay, I said, “WHOA! HOLD YOUR HORSES! This label reminds me of The 3 Night Mares!”

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I took creative license with my graphics software to feature the horse trio at their nonofficial 3 Horse Ranch in Montana.

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The official 3 HORSE RANCH is located high in the foothills above the town of Eagle, Idaho.

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The wine hails from Idaho’s new AVA (as of November 25, 2015), Eagle Foothills, a sub AVA of the Snake River Valley AVA. The family run vineyard is dedicated to natural growing methods which minimize detrimental impacts on the environment. Natural weed management is practiced and pest control measures involve encouraging a sustainable population of beneficial insects. Hand pruning, individual vine training and hand harvesting attest to 3 HORSE RANCH’S commitment to quality and purity in their 100% naturally grown grapes.

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This focus on natural growing techniques allows 3 HORSE RANCH to nurture a more intense expression of each vinifera varietal they choose to bottle. This is exhibited beautifully in their Chardonnay. Like the counterpoints in western versus English style horsemanship, this Chardonnay is rustic yet refined, hefty yet elegant, its girth camouflaging a fine-boned finesse.

Palomino gold in hue, it shimmers in the glass. On the nose, a delicious bouquet of apple pie and pear crisp waft up in aromatic tendrils, tickling my nostrils and whisking me back to grandma’s country kitchen. The first cursory sniffs are indeed delightfully fruit juicy, but upon deeper whiff I detect a subtle hint of saddle leather. On the palate, the orchard fruit flavors are girded with a Burgundian minerality lending an Old World elegance. The creamy, honeyed texture and mouth-watering acidity on the backstretch paces toward a lingering finish.

And if you allow me to engage in serious punnage, the oak has been REINED in making this an exquisitely balanced wine. From a single vineyard, it’s a PUREBRED with PEDIGREE. Only yays and no NEIGHS to this ChardonNEIGH. HOOF it to your nearest wine retailer and FILLY up your wine cellar with 3 HORSE RANCH. If I were to take a GALLOP poll, surveys would prove it’s a WINNING WINNY WINE! Come share with me an UNBRIDLED passion for the Snake River Valley terroir! Retails for approximately $18.

Okay, I’m done HORSING around!