This is a tale of three wine stories — an up-and-coming California wine appellation, a growing business model in the wine biz, and an under-appreciated-yet-slowly-gaining-a-rep grape, Chenin Blanc. This wine review highlights all three in one, 5-minute post. Who says service is dead? The Clarksburg appellation in northeast California enfolds 59,000 acres of warm-climate land, encompassing Sacramento and bordering on the Sacramento River. About 10,000 acres of heat-loving grapevines are planted here but it’s not particularly recognized as an appellation. This is mostly because the majority of the fruit is sent outside the area for crushing not to mention the best grapes grown here remain a mystery to the majority of wine drinkers — Chenin Blanc and Petite Sirah. Clarksburg Wine Company hopes to change that. Naming their wine label after an unknown region borders on ballsy but they’re also exploring a relatively new business model — “custom crush”. Imagine calling up a winemaker and asking them to make a wine specifically to your tastes? “I’d like it to taste slightly sweet but not syrupy; high acid yet full-bodied”… that’s what custom crush companies do for you (as well as commercial entities). So, in addition to making wine under the Clarksburg Wine Company label they also make wine for others. Something for everyone, you might say.
Read more: Wine review: Clarksburg Wine Company Chenin Blancs
Temperatures are hitting the eighties here in Sonoma County and my hands are reaching for some chilled white wines (and rosés, but that’s another column). They seem to go down smoother and easier than the lonely, almost dusty Cabernets and Syrahs in the wine rack. And with more and more thirsty folks branching out from their normal white wine routine, I thought it appropriate to introduce a couple of other soft, aromatic, mouth-watering whites: Tablas Creek 2011 Cotes de Tablas and David Hill 2011 Pinot Gris.
Read more: Sippin’ and chillin’ white wines for spring: Tablas Creek & David Hill
One the juiciest parts of blind-tasting wines is the shock and awe when you uncover a really, really tasty find. It’s like unearthing a lost twenty in your jacket pocket or getting something on sale that you needed anyway. A delicious surprise. I hadn’t tried Pepi wines for many years, finding them rather boring and uninspiring in days past. But this fruity little Chenin-Viognier number caught the eye of every taster at the group tasting table. From the wine pro to the casual consumer, virtually everyone gushed, anxiously awaiting the “reveal” to find out the price. So they could go buy a case. They got their wish… Pepi Chenin Blanc-Viognier is quite affordable at $10. I hadn’t tried Pepi wines for many years, finding them rather boring and uninspiring in days past. But this fruity little Chenin-Viognier number caught the eye of every taster at the group tasting table. From wine professionals to casual consumers, virtually everyone gushed, anxiously awaiting the “reveal” to find out the price. So they could go buy a case. They got their wish… Pepi Chenin Blanc-Viognier is quite affordable.
Read more: Wine review: Pepi 2011 Chenin Blanc Viognier California
The 2011 Pinot Gris from Oregon’s Willamette Valley are simply spectacular. Loaded with tart acidity, peaches and grapefruit, you can be assured that any bottle of 2011 Oregon Pinot Gris you grab from the shelves will be worthy of passing your lips. But if you can find this one, you’re golden. The Elk Cove 2011 Pinot Gris has refreshingly crisp acids, resulting from the cooler climate experienced throughout the state during that vintage year. Fragrant citrus fruit on the nose leads into a light-bodied white with flavors of pink grapefruit (but smoother than a New Zealand Sauv Blanc), lime zest and green apples. This grog is sassy and simply easy to drink on a warm day.
Read more: Wine review: Elk Cove 2011 Pinot Gris Willamette Valley (Oregon)
Without a doubt, White Zinfandel, with its strawberry syrup-ness, has sentenced the entire class of rosés to a crude and classless reputation. But dry rosé has made a Brittany-esque comeback. Today’s new, snazzed-up pink wine is fragrant with strawberries and watermelon, and packs a tart finish fantastic for summer. My fridge is bloated with dry rosé wines all summer long, since it’s perfect for both day and nighttime, whether happy hour, picnic, lunch, dinner or brunch. I force it on everyone who crosses my threshold, explaining how the refreshing acids and understated tannins make it super food-friendly, matching both light fare and spicy food. The only thing bad about dry rosés is their lack of availability. They don’t exactly fly off the retail shelves since pink still suffers from marketing woes, so they unfortunately aren’t stocked very often. But seek and ye shall find. Especially this one from Clayhouse Wines in California’s Paso Robles.
Read more: Think pink for summer: 2011 Clayhouse Adobe Pink (rose wine review)
Torrontés is one of those grape varieties that teeters on the edge of massive popularity. Its soft, elegant feel in the mouth, coupled with extreme fragrance and fruit could make it a no-brainer for women wine drinkers and men with enough balls to drink a white wine that smells like flowers. It is truly a lovely wine. From Argentina, Torrontés was long believed to be a descendant of Spanish Torrontés but DNA evidence says it’s a cross between Muscat of Alexandria and the Mission grape (more history about the Mission grape). Thus, if you like Muscat (aka Moscato) — a wine that’s blowing up right now — then Torrontés should be flying up there with it.
Read more: White wine review: Callia Alta 2010 Torrontes Valle de Tulum (Argentina)
I admire when a winery steps outside the annoying conservative boundaries of the wine industry. Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon fame (an interview with him), The Three Thieves and their ground-breaking Bandit wine in a small box and chalk up another win to the folks at Oregon’s King Estate (reviews of their other wines), who created this Washington State-based project, North by Northwest. These guys have the chutzpah to do things differently.
Read more: Wine review: North by Northwest 2010 Riesling Horse Heaven Hills
Barbera is an unfortunately overlooked red grape/wine from the Piedmont region of Italy. But it’s SO tasty. Plenty of fruit but also high acidity, making it a quintessential food pairing experience. You’ll find Barberas from the Asti sub region, which often have often a more feminine style (due to the soil structure in that region) and the Alba sub region, producing the yin, masculine version. Barberas from Asti, as a general rule, appeal more to my taste. And this Asti from Vietti kinda rocked my world.
Read more: Wine review: Vietti 2007 Barbera d’Asti Tre Vigne
Chianti is one of the classic food wines of Italy. In this wine-soaked country, regional foods are designed to pair with regional wines. [Read about my foodie trip to Italy). They’re crafty that way. Like Garanimals back in the day. In Tuscany, the locals sip Chianti, Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Reserva (what’s the difference?) with red sauces, long-simmered bean dishes and slow-roasted meats. The higher acidity of the Sangiovese grape complements the high acidity of tomato sauces but also contrasts with the delicious fat of the meat dishes. Matches made in foodie heaven.
Read more: Wine review: Castello d’Albola 2007 Chianti Classico