Shana Speaks Wine

Wine Journalist, Copywriter, and Marketing Consultant

Drinking out loud. 

Filtering by Tag: Pinot Noir

Kosher Countdown

Consume as much pizza and pasta as you can; Passover is less than a week away.  Time to clean out your shelves and replace most of your foodstuffs with kosher-for-Passover (KfP) items.  Buh-bye bread, hello matzah.  Many people also change their wine selections during this holiday and only drink Kosher wines.  Luckily, this doesn't mean Manischewitz for a week straight; there are some great Kosher wine options out there.  I was fortunate to receive several bottles for sampling and will review them in this week leading up to the first Seder so you have some solid options for the big dinners and beyond.  Let the Kosher Countdown begin!

First, for a quick refresher on Kosher wines, read my previous post:  www.shanaspeakswine.com/2014/12/17/kosher-quickie

To start things off, I selected an intriguing New World option: The Pacifica - Evan's Collection, Pinot Noir, Oregon, 2010.  Oregon's wine industry essentially started in the 1960s when pioneering winemakers started successfully growing European varietals. Over time, many grapes have thrived, but the state's  cool climate has especially been successful for the Pinot Noir grape.  

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The winemaker, Phillip Jones, originally hailed from New Zealand, where he created wines for nearly 20 years.  He and his wife noticed an opportunity to create kosher wines in this emerging region and started the Pacifica label.  

On the nose, this wine showcases black fruits and spices with dominant layers of earth and soil.  On the palate, the body leans towards a fuller New World style, as opposed to a light-bodied Burgundy; however, I'd say it was still medium minus. Again, the palate echoes many of the characteristics the nose found, along with moderate acid and tannins. Elegant and structured, the fruits ripened as the wine opened up but still maintained the balance of the savory tones.  It's a rather high 14.5% ABV, which I found somewhat surprising; however, this could come in handy if your seder falls into the "we're taking 5 hours to go through the whole Haggadah" camp.   Overall, it's a delicious option, regardless of its Kosher certification, and a worthwhile wine to seek out. 









Holiday Prep with Chateau Frank

We're only a week into the holiday season but don't be fooled; time is going to fly.  While Christmas music still prompts an urge to sing along and the onslaught of holiday festivities hasn't reached its apex, now's the time to think about holiday beverages.

Whether you're looking for a hostess gift or something to serve at your own table, bubbly is always appropriate. While Champagne is a classic, I urge you to think domestic; specifically, the Chateau Frank Celebre Rose, Finger Lakes, NY, NV.  

Dr. Konstantin Frank is credited as one of the forefathers of Finger Lakes wines.  Merely ten years after immigrating to the US, he partnered with Charles Fournier and began producing quality wines in an area previously considered to be unsuitable for vineyard growth.  He believed, and rightly so, that it was the rootstock, not the climate, that was the cause of mediocre wines.  By growing European Vitis Vinifera, as opposed to the native Vitis Labrusca, he proved that this Northern New York territory could produce some stunning vino. 

Years later, Dr. Frank's son Willy, gifted with his father's pioneering spirit, started Chateau Frank, a label devoted specifically to sparkling wines.  Located down the road from the main winery, Chateau Frank inhabits an old winery that the previous owners converted into a champagne cellar.   Carved out deep below ground, the cellar provides the perfect cool environment essential for champagne storage.  Like his father, Willy believed that traditional varietals would thrive in the Finger Lakes climate, so he began growing the three classic Champagne grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. Again, turning to France, he mirrored the methode champenoise, the traditional method for creating champagne, to great results. 

Chateau Frank Celebre Rose, Finger Lakes, NY, NY. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

Chateau Frank Celebre Rose, Finger Lakes, NY, NY. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

The Celebre Rose showcases ripe strawberry and cherry with a hint of kiwi on the nose.  A slight note of bread is also present in the aromatics, showing the traditional champagne method in action.  Sipping through, the berries are bright and lively and the soft bubbles are texturally pleasing on the tongue.  Delicious as an apertif or with fruit-based dishes such as cranberry sauce, this bubbly is a winner for the holidays.

Walla Walla Washington Wine, Day 1

Ever-fascinated by burgeoning U.S. wine regions outside of Napa,  I've been hearing an escalating hum about the wines of Washington State.  The Pacific Northwest has started producing some rather interesting vinos, and it seemed about time to take a trip to the other coast to see it for myself.  The destination was Walla Walla, Washington, about four and a half hours outside of Seattle. (And you'd better believe I had a lot of fun with the alliteration of "Wines of Walla Walla Washington.  Try saying it 5 times fast, especially after a couple of glasses of the juice).

Walla Walla was granted AVA status in 1984 and has continually strived to excel in viniculture.  It's an eclectic place, with elevations ranging from 400 to 2,000 feet above sea level.  And while everyone associates Seattle with constant rain, there are very distinct rainy seasons once you get out to wine country.  The terroir is also a hodgepodge of soils, giving different characteristics to the grapes.  When visiting some of the wineries, I found many  grow their grapes in various locations around the state to take advantage of the distinct terroirs. Washington wines tend to lean towards Bordeaux blends and single varietal Syrahs but as I learned, there's a whole Old World grape reinassance, such as Italian and Spanish varietals, happening over there, too.  

I was picked up by Sharon of Bella Fortuna Events on a drizzly Thursday morning (I guess I arrived during the rainy season). The first stop was L'ecole 41, one of the original founding wineries in WA state, whose charming tasting room was a converted French schoolhouse.  I was impressed with all of the wines, but the L'ecole 41 Perigee, 2011 was particularly impressive.  The Bordeaux blend showed deep blackberry, blueberry and plum fruits along with spice and medium tannins.  A bit of tobacco and ash also came through on the end and it was very apparent this wine would age well. 
 

L'ecole 41 Perigee.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

L'ecole 41 Perigee.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

The Malbec was also noteworthy and married lush fruit with a structured restraint that kept it from being a total berry bomb. 

L'ecole 41 Malbec.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

L'ecole 41 Malbec.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Located next door, Woodward Canyon was also a noted winery in the region.  I liked everything well enough, but my curiousity was piqued with the Estate Barbera, 2012. While not as earthy as Italian Barberas, nor nowhere near as acidic, it was a riper fruit style that was a unique expression of the grape.  I also enjoyed their Merlot; while it was fruit forward and plush, there were enough tannins to give it structure and backbone, unlike the limpid Merlots that are often found with New World production.

Woodward Canyon's tasting flight.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Woodward Canyon's tasting flight.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Woodward Canyon's Barbera.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

Woodward Canyon's Barbera.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

Unbeknownst to me, Walla Walla is located just a few miles away from the Oregon border; the Walla Walla AVA is actually comprised of 2/3 Washington State land and 1/3 Oregon land.  We crossed over to visit Zerba Cellars, a small producer with a rather large portfolio.

Zerba Cellars' tasting room.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Zerba Cellars' tasting room.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

For whites, I was taken by their Wild White, 2013.  This wine contained a whole potpurri of white grape varietals: 25% Chardonnay, 25% Semillon, 20% Riesling, 13% Viognier, 13% Roussanne, 4% Marsanne.  It sounds like chaos but it drank beautifully.  

Zerba Cellars Wild White.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Zerba Cellars Wild White.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

For reds, along with the traditional international big boy varietals, such as Cab, they are experimenting with Italian and Spanish grapes, such as Nebbiolo and Tempranillo.  The Estate Nebbiolo, 2011 (80% Nebbiolo, 20% Sangiovese), was rather lighter in body than its Italian brethen and almost feminine in its floral nose. Barolo-style this was not, nor was it even akin to a Barbaresco. Again, this lacked the acid that Italy is known for and I equated it more to a Burgundy Pinot Noir than anything else.  Of course, the marriage of Italy's most famous northern and southern grapes gave me pause; it's like Romeo and Juliet in a bottle. The Tempranillo, 2011, fared a bit better as the spicy and savory characters of licorice and tobacco balanced nicely with the deep blackberry and tart cherry fruits. 

Zerba Cellars Tempranillo.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne.

Zerba Cellars Tempranillo.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne.

 

The next stop was at Saviah Cellars, where they had a Pinot Noir, 2011, that was prominent in the fruit. The Laurella, 2009, in contrast,  was a unique blend of 60% Sangiovese, 20% Cab Franc and 20% Merlot.  This was Walla Walla's answer to a Super Tuscan.  However, I was most impressed with their Syrah, 2010, with a balance of fruit and spice.  

Saviah Cellars Pinot Noir.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Saviah Cellars Pinot Noir.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Saviah Cellars Laurella.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Saviah Cellars Laurella.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

The day ended with a much-anticipated trip to Gramercy Cellars.  As expected, everything was spot on. The Third Man, Columbia Valley, 2011, a Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre combo that held true to a Rhone blend. Meanwhile, the Syrah,  Columbia Valley, 2012, was a great balance of fruit, spice and savory elements such as ripe raspberry, pepper and tobacco "The Duece" Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, 2012, in contrast, showcased more tannins, structure and earthiness than the Columbia Valley Syrah.  80% of the grapes were fermented as whole cluster (meaning you get more of the stems in the winemaking process), resulting in a wine with a more tannic backbone. We finished on the "Inigo Montoya" Tempranillo, Walla Walla Valley, 2011.  Technically 90% Tempranillo, 6% Syrah and 4% Grenache, the winemaker explained they now hold the wine for an extra 6 months to give it more of a Reserva style rather than Crianza, so the aging notes of leather and tobacco have more time to develop.  

I was excited by some of the day's discoveries and couldn't wait for Day 2....

New Zealand Wine Fair

New Zealand wines have always been a bit of a hard sell for me. Touted for their Sauvignon Blanc, I haven't been able to fully get on board with the cut grass/pineapple/cat piss thing that is prevalent in so many of these wines.  I always get a little gun-shy when ordering and inevitably hide behind the fort of Old World vinos.  

So, at a recent James Beard wine event, I went into the trenches and put myself in the line of fire.  New Zealand, hit me with your best shot.  (like I went from violent warfare references to cheesy eighties tunes right there? Didja?)

Overall, there was quite a bit of what I expected, but there were a few shining gems that definitely turned my head. The Framingham Classic Riesling, Marlborough, 2011 was one of the first wines I tasted and it held my attention for most of the night.  I started with the Sauvignon Blanc, 2013, and was about to walk away but figured I'd give it's vineyard neighbor a chance, even though this first wine was textbook in all that didn't appeal to me in a Sauv Blanc. I'm glad I gave it a whirl; this Riesling had intruiging notes of charcoal up front with mineral and flint tones immediately following. Fresh peach and lemon took the edge off and although this was technically a dry wine, there was a tingle of residual sugar on the palate.  

 

 

Framingham Classic Riesling, 2011.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Framingham Classic Riesling, 2011.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Waimea Estates presented a noteworthy Gruner Veltliner, 2012. This producer is located in the Nelson region, which has very few wineries, especially in comparison to the vineyard-heavy Marlborough.  However, this wine proves branching out from the popular crowd can lead to something unique. There was nice balance between fruit, body and acidity in this accessible white. 

Waimea Gruner Veltiner, photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne

Waimea Gruner Veltiner, photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne

Astrolabe, who's Sauvignon Blanc I've written about in the past, did not disappoint with the latest vintage, but there were a couple other wines that showed this producer's skill. The Province Pinot Gris, Marlborough, 2013, presented a bouquet of honeysuckle, freesia and other flowery aromatics on the nose.  Apricots also came to light when drinking through this crisp wine.

Their Province Pinot Noir, Marlborough, 2011, was another wine worth considering.  Very New World in style, it was rather fruit forward but still characteristically light bodied, yet had a dusty violet essence that what somewhat reminscent of a Burgundy. 

 

 

Astrolabe Wines, photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Astrolabe Wines, photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Finally, there was VIlla Maria.  One of the most well-regarded wineries in the Marlborough Region, their lineup included delectable whites and reds. Their Cellar Selection Riesling, 2010, was one of the few Rieslings I encountered, besides the Framingham, that had a Germanic tilt to it. Acid? Yep. Citrus and stone fruits? Check.  But it also had a smoky charcoal essence that moved it away from its fruit-driven New World counterparts.  The Reserve Pinot Noir, 2008 and Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot Gimlett Gravels, Hawkes Bay, 2008, were two of the best reds tasted all night.  Both in balance, both delicious.

 

logo via villamaria.co.nz

logo via villamaria.co.nz

Keep tasting, friends….