Muller Thurgau From Oregon

Monday, July 31, 2017 12:07 PM

My wine o’clock choice for Summer sipping while sitting on the front porch, whether I’m checking in on my mom by phone or greeting neighbors as they stroll by, is typically something light, dry and white, and preferably something low in alcohol. The 2015 Müller-Thurgau from Oregon’s Anne Amie meets all of my criteria. In addition, it has a delightful fruitiness that runs the gamut from citrus to fresh pear. Bottled under screw cap, there is an effervescent tingle that dissipates quickly after opening. It is a wine that is so easy to like and so pleasantly uncomplicated.




Müller-Thurgau is commonly found in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Northern Italy, Slovenia and much of Eastern Europe. Invented by a man named Dr. Herman Müller in 1882, it is a crossing between Riesling and Madeleine Royale.Dr. Herman Müller was born in the Swiss Canton of Thurgau, hence the grape’s name. In Oregon, only a handful of wineries currently grow the grape. Anne Amie’s twelve acres of vines were first planted in 1979. Luckily, despite Müller-Thurgau’s lowly reputation worldwide, Anne Amie has embraced their old-vine plot to successfully produce a wine of distinction and charm.


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It’s funny but true – I hear similar stories from winery folks all the time – aromatic varietals like Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Müller-Thurgau sell well in winery tasting rooms, but have a hard time making an impact on the wine market at large. I have a few explanations for this phenomenon. One is that after a day tasting one young heavy red after another, trying something fresh, aromatic and light on its feet is a welcome departure. Not to mention, not all occasions call for profound, contemplative wines. Sometimes the simplest wine is the most enjoyable one. Think of this 2015 Müller-Thurgau as the equivalent of the perfect Summer beach read – it’s easy to get and satisfying to consume.


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There won’t be any tropical beach getaways for my family this summer. Instead we opted for three tickets to see Hamilton, An American Musical. After nine months of listening to the soundtrack non-stop, it was satisfying to finally see it performed. We surprised my daughter with the tickets, who was left speechless when she saw that they were for that evenings’ performance. This weekend there will be more musical theater shows to see. My girl is performing in a production of Les Miserables as one of the “lovely ladies”, aka Prostitute #3. I couldn’t be more proud! -Anya Balistreri

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Classic Rioja – 75 Years In The Making!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017 11:51 AM

Viña Ardanza, the estate owned by La Rioja Alta, is celebrating its 75th Anniversay this year with the release of their 2008 Rioja Reserva. The 2008 is the first vintage that uses 100% grapes grown by the estate. In years past the 20% Garnacha that was blended in with their estate grown Tempranillo was purchased from other growers. While purchasing grapes in and of itself is not problematic, it is clear from statements made by winemaker Julio Sáenz that having control over all of the grapes is a welcome improvement. Sáenz even compares the 2008 to the extraordinary 2001 Reserva Especial which also happens to be the only other Spanish red wine I’ve ever written about for a Saturday night newsletter – that was five years ago!


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Though La Rioja Alta is considered a classic, traditional producer of Rioja, their winery facility is state-of-the art. What makes Viña Ardanza Rioja considered traditional is the winemaking and aging. After fermentation, the wine is put into barrels. The barrels are made “in house” in their own cooperage using only American oak that has been cured outside for two years. The wine does not go into new oak, but into used barrels. It is then racked, using gravity, every six months for 3 years (a little less time for the Garnacha). This extended racking method removes sediment from the wine and gently oxygenates it, which helps to soften the tannins and creates an opulent, supple texture. Nearly ten years out from harvest, the wine shows both maturity and youthful vigor. This contrast provides a complex tasting experience; flavors of fresh red cherries mingle with balsamic, herb, spice and cedar.


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Most of the time, you will hear me banging the drum for small production wineries. La Rioja Alta is not a small producer. At any one time, they are said to have over 50,000 barrels and 6.4 million bottles stored- not all of it Viña Ardanza, of course. So for the consumer of Viña Ardanza, this means an opportunity to drink aged, classic Rioja at a very affordable price. At less than $35 a bottle, you can drink an aged, ready to drink red from one of the world’s great wine regions made by one of its most respected producers. I’d say that is real value, and a true bargain.


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I played tourist with my husband, daughter and one of her friends on my day-off this week. We went to the Academy of Sciences, rented a pedal-boat on Stow Lake, had lunch at The Yellow Submarine and got a scoop of ice cream at Polly Ann’s. On the way home, driving north out of the city we marveled at the majestic fog ripping down the Headlands. We drove with the windows open so we could greet the fog and let it cool us. It was a very good day. - Anya Balistreri

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Giving Back – La Cuadrilla!

Monday, July 3, 2017 11:28 AM

What is now known as The La Cuadrilla program at Stolpman Vineyards began as a way for the vineyard manager to better train his crew. The idea was to dedicate a two-acre block, or cuadra, that the vineyard crew had to then cultivate, from pruning to harvest, without supervision. This training block was called the La Cuadrilla, in Spanish meaning the people of the block. To challenge the crew even further, this two-acre training block would be set up in another part of the vineyard the next vintage. Eventually the vineyard manager confided to owner Tom Stolpman the success of this training system. It was Tom who came up with the idea of making wine from that training block and giving those bottles to the crew as a way to enjoy the fruits of their labor. By 2009, the program expanded to include fruit from other parts of the vineyard so that La Cuadrilla could be sold commercially. Profits from the sale of La Cuadrilla are divided among the vineyard crew in the form of a year-end bonus. This is a creative way for all to benefit by incentivizing learning and taking steps to achieve sustainable employment. Bravo to Stolpman Vineyards!



Of course, in order for this program to really work well, the wine has to be good – this can’t be just a gimmick. The 2015 La Cuadrilla is a lively blend of Syrah with small additions of Grenache, some of it old vine, and Sangiovese. The wine is vinified in concrete tanks and then aged in neutral barrel. La Cuadrilla has a lot of brightness and tart red fruit. It isn’t heavy or over-ripe, but is dominated by red fruit flavors and a pleasant, earthy note. Because of its fresh palate feel, it’s a great choice for warm-weather food pairings like smoky barbecued meats.




Stolpman Vineyards is located in the heart of Santa Barbara’s Ballard Canyon AVA. Ballard Canyon is Santa Barbara’s newest AVA and sits between the Santa Rita Hills and Happy Canyon. Ballard Canyon benefits from warm days during the growing season and is protected from wind by the surrounding hills. Temperatures drop significantly at night. Some soils, like at Stolpman, have limestone deposits.



I won’t only be celebrating our nation’s birthday this weekend. I will also be celebrating my mother’s birthday and my own. Mother and daughter will be throwing a joint birthday party! My brother, bless his heart, suggested putting only one candle on each of our birthday desserts. I agreed, adding that we wouldn’t want to ignite a raging inferno. My birthday year was not a particularly good vintage for wine throughout most of world. No worries here because the party calls for youthful wines, so La Cuadrilla will make an appearance on the table. It should be another great family meal up at the dacha out on the deck beneath the Redwoods. Happy Happy, Everyone! – Anya Balistreri

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Rose From Provence: Start Your Summer Right!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017 11:11 AM

The Rosés have landed! The Rosés have landed! The one I took home first, was the one I took home most often last vintage: Domaine des Aspras à Lisa Rosé. The 2016 is as delightful as was the 2015. What’s not to love? Fragrant strawberry aromas give way to nuanced berry and melon flavors on the palate.I believe my affinity for Rosé has been well established, and now that I’ve reached a certain age, I am not afraid to admit that I prefer Rosés with a fruitier profile. I still want a dry finish but I want fruit – if I want a white wine, I’ll drink one. The à Lisa Rosé gives me the fruit I am looking for along with the fresh and lively finish I crave.


Aspras in Winter


Domaine des Aspras is located in the unique Provençal village of Correns. What makes Correns unique is that the entire village is BIO. It is the first village in France to become so, which means everyone farms organically and the community has agreed to pursue sustainability in everything they do. Michael Latz, the proprietor of Domaine des Aspras, is also the Mayor of Correns. Michael’s parents, Lisa and Gottfried established the winery in the 1960’s, after first fleeing their native Germany in the thirties and then escaping the Congo Crisis of the early sixties. Neither Lisa nor Gottfried knew anything about viticulture when they settled in Correns, but they made a go of it.


A Room With A View


The à Lisa is the domaine’s entry-level line of wines (there is also a white and a red). As you could probably guess, the name is in honor of Michael’s mother. The Rosé is a 50/50 blend of Grenache and Cinsault grown on vineyards along the banks of the Argens River. A direct-press Rosé of 100% de-stemmed fruit, the quality here is on par with pricier Cotes de Provence and Bandol Rosés. A delicate salmon-pink hue is both pretty to look at and delicious to drink – And, there is enough weight on the palate to take this Rosé from aperitif to the dining table.



The Photographers


The night I tasted the 2016 à Lisa Rosé was not nearly as warm as the evenings we’re experiencing this weekend across most of the US, but that didn’t stop me from making one of my all-time favorite warm weather dishes, Salade Niçoise. Salade Niçoise is on regular rotation at my house for the next several months and my first choice to serve with it is a Rosé. It’s a match made in heaven.


A special thanks goes out to my brother and sister-in-law who shared their photos of Domaine des Aspras. I was able to arrange for them to visit the winery this past March after they took a river cruise along the Rhone. Though still winter with a glimmer of spring on the horizon, the photos convey the sheer beauty of the region. Hey Kiki – next time we go together! – Anya Balistreri

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Bedrock’s Standout Syrah

Wednesday, June 7, 2017 5:13 PM

I had a lovely chat this week with a customer who had just relocated to SF from overseas. Among the many wine-related topics we discussed was the price of entry for interesting, high quality, non-mass produced California wine. I threw out the number $25, saying you could find really exceptional wines starting at this price point, but added you have to do your research to find them. I then threw out a few names of producers that offer such wines, starting off my list was Bedrock.

To illustrate my point, I pointed to Bedrock’s 2015 North Coast Syrah. The North Coast Syrah is primarily made from three vineyards: Hudson, Alder Springs and Weill a Way. Hudson Ranch is located in Carneros, Alder Springs is in Mendocino, and Weill a Way is in the Sonoma Valley. The barrels of Syrah from these vineyards that did not end up in the vineyard-designated bottlings were blended together, along with some co-fermented Viognier, into the North Coast Syrah. Bear in mind, Bedrock makes three Syrahs from the Weill a Way Vineyard (highly allocated) that in 2013 received 100 points for two of them and the other 99 points from Robert Parker, Jr. Now I am not suggesting that the North Coast Syrah is any way like the Weill a Way Syrahs, but it is the same fruit. Boom!


Hudson Vineyard

For the North Coast Syrah, winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson likes to vinify using native yeasts and some whole-cluster pressed fruit. The wine is raised in 100% French oak, but none of it is new. In his liner notes for this wine, Morgan writes “I am always channeling my favorite producers of St. Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage. I want a wine that is perfumed, spicy, peppery and delicious, something long on flavor and low on pretense.” In a review by Antonio Galloni, he put it simply like this, “A huge, richly textured wine, the 2015 North Coast Syrah offers unreal quality for the money.”


Alder Springs

Our limited, or in the parlance of the day, curated domestic wine section always has several offerings from Bedrock. I will gladly accept any allocation from this winery, as I’ve followed and admired them from their inception. The quality is there, the price is fair and Bedrock’s emphasis on vineyard sites aligns with my own interest in providing TWH customers the best wine values. Check out our entire Bedrock inventory here.

The number of school days left before summer break begins are down to single digits. My little family, which includes my husband (a teacher) and my daughter (a middle-schooler) is counting down the days. I am so looking forward to sleeping in past 7:30! My natural sleep cycle does not jive with early wake-up times. But most of all, I am looking forward to welcoming spontaneity to rule the day and schedules to take a back seat. And in that space, I expect to be enjoying a glass or two of 2015 North Coast Syrah. No more pencils, no more books… – Anya Balistreri
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