- The Elements that Bind: Biochemists William Wood and Noël Relyea Blend Work, Love and Play, Giving Rise to Fine Wine
- Roxy’s Pick – Complement Your Greek Orthodox Easter Meal with a Mavrodaphne-Style Dessert Wine that Will Inspire You To Exclaim, Opa!
- They Say Cats Have Nine Lives—The 2006 Solis Sangiovese Has at Least Seven
- Mmm, Mmm Minerality: Santa Cruz Mountains Pinots Have It in Spades
- Did Someone Say, “Smoked Salmon and Pinot”?—A Taste of Both, and More, at Pinot Paradise
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The Elements that Bind: Biochemists William Wood and Noël Relyea Blend Work, Love and Play, Giving Rise to Fine Wine
Roxy’s Pick – Complement Your Greek Orthodox Easter Meal with a Mavrodaphne-Style Dessert Wine that Will Inspire You To Exclaim, Opa!
Χριστός Ανέστη, or Christós Anésti̱, means “Christ has risen” in Greek. This week is Orthodox Easter. Midnight mass, red hard-boiled eggs and lamb are just some of the traditions that accompany this Christian holiday, which celebrates the resurrection of Christ. Orthodox Easter holds a special place in my heart, bringing back many wonderful childhood memories still practiced in my family today.
Aside from lamb, wild greens, fresh feta and roasted potatoes with rosemary are some of the staples at my Easter table. And, of course there’s the wine. Wines made from the Agiorgitiko grape of Nemea, in the Peloponnese, pair nicely with Easter fare.
But, what about dessert? My favorite is Tsoureki (tsoo-REH-kee), the traditional bread of Greek Easter. Tsoureki is a sweet yeast-based bread made of eggs, milk and butter. A staple during Greek Easter, a Tsoureki loaf is formed into a three-strand braid that symbolizes the Holy Trinity. A red-dyed hard-boiled egg braided into the dough symbolizes the blood of Christ. As a child, I used to watch my Yaya (grandmother) Davis laboriously kneed the bread dough, brushing it with melted butter prior to cooking to give it shine and topping it off with sesame seeds.
So, dessert for me was always a slice of Tsoureki slathered with boysenberry, blackberry, olallieberry, Marionberry or some other dark berry jam. As an adult, Tsoureki with jam is still my go-to dessert. But now, instead of finishing off my Tsoureki with—well, in my case—soy or almond milk, I enjoy my jam-laden bread with a modest pour of Zorba desert wine.
Zorba, a California red dessert wine produced by Odyssey Winery and Vineyards in Chico, California, was inspired by the Mavrodaphne dessert wines of the Greek Peloponnese. Unlike the actual variety, which means “black laurel” in Greek, Zorba is 60 percent Zinfandel and 40 percent Barbera. The 2008 Zorba belies the 20.1 percent alcohol content, which quickly blows off, giving way to dark berry and black cherry fruits enveloped in plum and raisin, complimented by caramel and chocolate notes with a hint of coffee.
Viscous, dark and rich—yet delicate—this desert wine may not have been made in the traditional style (which includes the process of initially vinifying the wine in large vats exposed to the sun), but Zorba will definitely delight your senses and leave you wanting more. Yasou!
Zorba was a Gold Medal Winner at the 2012 San Francisco International Wine Competition.
Life’s too short, even for a cat with nine lives. So rather than push my luck, the other night I dug into my cellar of “older” vintages and pounced on my 2006 Sangiovese from Solis Winery. I wanted something that would stand up to a hearty red pasta sauce I was preparing made from fresh tomatoes grown in my father’s garden and sautéed with sundried tomatoes packed in oil; seasoned with fresh Oregon (also from my father’s garden), thyme, sage and basil; and finished off with some dollops of marinara sauce.
I purchased the 2006 Sangiovese, which was produced from Estates grapes grown in California’s Santa Clara Valley, without trying it. At the time, the wine was a wine-club-only pick, but the winery was kind enough to sell me a bottle. (Having had earlier vintages, my friend Shelli—who has an exceptional palate—recommended I buy it.)
Garnet in color, this wine’s bouquet is intense with blackberry, supported by earthy, dusty undertones. The palate is all Dr. Pepper without the fizz: lots of black cherry and cola surrounded by spice so intense the finish lasts for seconds on end.
Only 14.5 percent alcohol, this vintage has nicely balanced acid and medium—yet noticeable—tannins. Deliciously chewy upon uncorking, the 2006 Sangiovese goes the distance. The structure held up on day 2. By day 3, the wine softened on most fronts—except for the spice, which kept on giving. I can’t wait to get my paws on the current vintage.
I go to many industry/public tastings that celebrate a specific varietal, but I have to say that Pinot Paradise is one I never miss. Held annually—three days this year, from March 22–24—with day three being my favorite (Could it be the smoked salmon from Nonno’s, among other tasty fare on which to nibble?), Pinto Paradise celebrates legendary, award-wining Pinot Noirs of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Pinot Paradise is “intimate,” as public tastings go. The event is held inside a modest-sized, European-style banquet facility in quaint downtown Campbell, California (Campbell was once the center for shipping local fruit and home to drying grounds and major canneries).
Unlike some varietal-specific tastings, Pinot Paradise truly is “paradise”—every Pinot is unique. And, that is the beauty of the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation, where Pinot Noir vines thrive. Exceptional soils rich in minerals and varied micro climates indicative of warm days and cool nights give birth to grapes that enable winemakers to craft Pinots that appeal to just about any Pinotphile.
Just like Pinots from this region, each winemaker too is unique, bringing his or her own style—not to mention personality—to every vintage. More than 30 wineries will be pouring 150 or so wines, so you will have a chance to meet the eclectic characters behind the labels. Most of the wineries are family-owned, small-to-medium-sized operations. Their histories span decades—from the turn of the 20th century (Bargetto Winery), to the heels of World War II (Mount Eden Vineyards), to the “Me decade” of the 1970s (Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard and Silver Mountain Vineyards), to the “information age” (House Family Winery).
So, prep your palate for a taste of Pinot from this hidden gem of an appellation. You definitely will get your bang for the buck. For more information on participating wineries and restaurants, and to inquire about purchasing tickets, contact the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association at, www.scmwa.com.
I wrote an article a few years back on tasting room etiquette. One of the points I did not discuss was wearing lipstick. Well, I’ve been working in the wine business for seven years now, and after last weekend—and at the risk of offending anyone, i.e. women—I’ve decided to break my silence.
Lipstick is one of a tasting room host’s worst nightmares. Most lipsticks contain wax, oils, emollients, pigments, and dyes. Some contain all of the above, as well as pig fat, fish scales, and even lead. Others contain artificial flavorings—try chocolate, caramel, and, eek!, bubble gum—and sugar substitutes such as aspartame. The result is a sticky substance that practically tattoos itself to wine glasses. Furthermore, these ingredients—aside from doing god knows what to your lips—only interfere with your palate’s ability to truly experience the wine.
I went to work last weekend and was met with a fair share of dirty wine glasses. I found this odd because the glasses are always washed in the dishwasher the night before. Then I remembered that our dishwasher had been acting up the previous weekend. We were, however, able to fix it, but little did I know that the fix would be short-term. So, I stacked the glasses in the dishwasher, added detergent, and pressed the “start” button. Nothing happened. I pressed it again: still, nothing. I began to panic (having been down this road before) and pressed the start button repeatedly, and then all of the buttons on the panel in a frantic attempt to shake the dishwasher from its slumber. Yet, that soft hum that often precedes its awakening lay in silence. A feeling of dread encircled me. I had no choice: I needed clean glasses for the day, so I rolled up my sleeves and began washing them by hand.
For several minutes I was in the “zone,” peacefully doing my domestic chore. Suddenly, I was jarred from my Zen-like state when I grabbed from the countertop the most disgusting lipstick-stained wine glass I have ever seen—not just in my years of working behind the tasting bar, but in my entire life. A bright pink, stain at least one-inch long caked the circumference of the rim. The glass looked as if it had been smothered in sloppy, neon kisses. I couldn’t touch the bowl of the glass, at least not with my bare hands. I didn’t have rubber gloves and feared that some creepy “virus” spawned from the test tubes of the cosmetic giant responsible in part for this mess would find its way onto my skin before seeping into my pores.
I timidly picked up the glass by its stem and tried rinsing off the lipstick with steaming hot water from the tap. (And, trust me when I say that our water at the winery is hot enough to give you second-degree burns.) That didn’t work. So, I tried wiping it off with a paper towel, but that only smeared the icky substance even more. I had no choice but to brave my fear and confront the pink, gooey beast—gloves or no gloves. I wet the kitchen sponge, added some dishwashing liquid to its abrasive side, and scrubbed the heck out of the rim, nearly scratching the glass—the entire time contorting my face in disgust. I held up the glass to the light just to make sure that the pink monster was gone. It wasn’t, not entirely. A greasy silhouette remained. I wouldn’t give up. I continued scrubbing until my phobia of dirty glassware prevailed, and I finally eliminated my pink, neon adversary.
Dishwashers—even industrial ones—are no match for lipstick. Therefore, tasting room folks must resort to cleaning glasses the old fashion way, which, oddly enough, usually results in cleaner stemware. However, I really don’t enjoy washing lipstick-stained wine glasses by hand. I’d rather spend that time talking to customers about the wines I’m pouring. So with all due respect: When it comes to your lips, please go au naturel the next time you go wine tasting. Your palate will thank you, and, more important, your tasting room host will thank you.
It’s 10 a.m. and I’m entering Lodi. Lodi, California, that is and not to be confused with Lodi, Wisconsin, home of the town’s mascot “Susie the Duck.”
Lodi, California is home to old vine Zinfandel. As I near the heart of wine country, I see nothing but naked, gnarly old vine Zinfandel vineyards for miles. The scenery prompts me to sing a little diddy I’ve just made up: “Zinfandel fields forever.” Sing it to the tune of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” by the Beatles. Make sense now?
Zinfandel is one of Lodi’s claims to fame, but I wasn’t here for the Zin; I was here for a private wine and food pairing scheduled for later that day with Bokisch Vineyards, specialists in Iberian-style wines—a far cry from Zinfandel—so I thought I’d try my palate at a few wineries.
I hate to admit, but I’ve never been wine tasting in Lodi. Not to say that I haven’t had Lodi wines at industry tastings and elsewhere. And, while I live less than 2 hours from this other wine country, I’ve stayed away for one reason or another. Maybe it’s because I assumed that I’d be overwhelmed by Zinfandel. While Zin was the star of the flights at each winery I visited, it wasn’t the only varietal being featured: Barbera, Sangiovese, Syrah, Albariño, and even Rose shared the spotlight. I would eventually come home with all but Sangiovese and Syrah. I couldn’t find a Sangiovese that I had to have. And, being a fan of coastal Syrah’s, the varietals I tried were too hot, too fruity, and lacking in substantial acidity.
Since I was in Zin country, however, I had to visit Klinker Brick, whose history dates back to the early 1900s when the family first planted Zinfandel vines in Lodi. I also wanted to get a bottle of their “Old Vine Zinfandel”—the winery’s highly recognized label that sells through retail—for a dear friend who fancies it. For me, though, the 2010 Old Vine Zinfandel from Marisa Vineyard caught my attention. Klinker Brick made just 250 six-packs (yes, six-packs) of this vintage and sells it exclusively through the tasting room. This Zin is spicy and complex, with balanced dark fruit. Not too jammy as most Zins go, this wine has enough of a tannic structure to cellar for at least two years.
Also a winner was the 2011 Klinker Brick Rosé Wine. A dry wine, this rosé is an eclectic, fun blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Carignan, Zinfandel, and Syrah that dances on the palate.
Macchia was my next stop. Macchia, which means “ink spot” in Italian, is known among locals for its Barbera. Given the amount of driving that lay before me (Lodi is still very agricultural), I passed on most of the varietals on the flight and stuck to the Barbera. Only one was being offered, but the kind tasting room host opened a second Barbera, the 2011 “Infamous,” made from grapes grown at Cooper Ranch in Plymouth, Amador County. This wine is full-bodied and rich in brambleberry fruit, with approachable tannins.
I hated to leave Macchia, as I was enjoying my chat with my tasting room hosts, but the clock was ticking and I was on a mission to buy Albariño from Harney Lane Winery before closing time. Albariño, a Spanish variety grown in Galicia, the northwest part of Spain, and of course California, is known for its rich, fruity aromas such as peaches, apricots, and nectarines. High in acid, these wines can sometimes be too fruity or too minerally, with an almost bitter aftertaste. I prefer something in-between, and one that has spent a short amount of time in neutral oak to soften the acidity. The 2011 vintage from Harney Lane is big on stone fruit with intense citrus. A tad fruitier than the previous vintage, I liked it just the same and will enjoy it with spicy fare and certain fish dishes. Other California-produced Albariños I highly recommend include Quinta Cruz and New Clairvaux Vineyard.
Winetasting in Lodi requires much driving. The wineries are spread out and the country roads are single-lane. That’s fine if it weren’t for those drivers who tended to speed and follow too closely. For this reason, I suggest tasting with a friend or significant other so that one person can give directions while the other one drives. Or, if you are alone, use a GPS so that you don’t have to continually pull off the road to read the wine trail map like I did. Furthermore, to avoid an accident—especially if you are unfamiliar with the area—take a plastic cup with you and spit your wines into it during tastings to avoid consuming too much alcohol. This is a good practice regardless. However, if you don’t feel like spending too much time on the road, you can check out a number of tasting rooms that dot the downtown area—one of which I was about to visit (see Roxy’s Pick, “Did Someone Say ‘Sea Scallop’? – Winter Fiesta Food and Wine Pairing with Bokisch Vineyards,” following this story).