Monday, September 28, 2009

PWR's First Pick!

We have started our own small wine company, PWR Wines. The PWR stands for the People's Wine Revolution. The purpose of this blog is not to promote PWR Wines, although we strive to produce wines that would fit right in here. That is, wines that deliver high quality at low prices.

But today was our first ever pick, and we wanted to share the news. We found an old, head-trained vineyard in St. Helena planted to a mix of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, with a little bit of Viognier. We only managed to bring in 0.37 tons, barely enough to fill a single barrel, but the fruit looked beautiful on the sorting table. Here are a few pictures of our triumph!

One of two half-full bins ready to go.

Sorting the grapes: removing leaves, etc.

The "full" bin, ready to begin fermentation.

We are now in the thick of harvest and there simply are not enough hours in the day to do everything we want to do. We have a long list of wines and other discoveries to tell you about, and we will in good time. Hang in there, dear readers.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Napa Wineries Worth a Visit

Napa is home to a number of wineries we love to visit, and visitors frequently ask us for recommendations. Of course we try to tailor our suggestions to each person's interests, but there are a few wineries we feel confident proposing to the readers of this blog.

 (photo by Aaron Logan and used under the Creative Commons 1.0 license)

Wineries such as Jericho Canyon, Seavey Vineyard, Schramsberg and Quixote all offer terrific tours/tastings, but their wine prices (and in some cases tasting fees) are too high for us to recommend them here. Okay, the Schramsberg tour is pretty amazing, so we take that back.

Since most visitors to Napa arrive from the South, we'll start with Artesa, in the Carneros region in the southern part of Napa Valley (see (here, here and here for more on Artesa). We generally like their wines but think they could be much better. Still, they are a good first stop on a Napa visit because they offer a wide variety of wines and prices are reasonable (by Napa standards). But perhaps the best reason of all is that the property and views are stunning.

The Hess Collection Winery is in the hills north of Artesa on the southern slopes of Mt. Veeder. It, too, is a beautiful property, although it lacks views. We like HCW wines, but we have not kept up with them. We love visiting the winrey, though, to see Donald Hess's art collection, displayed in a museum spanning 3 stories. This is extremely modern art, and much of it will not be to everyone's liking, but it is sure to provoke thoughtful conversation. There is a tasting fee but no charge for viewing the art.

Between Napa and Yountville you will find Elyse Winery. Elyse produces a wide range of wines, including Cabernet, Zinfandel, and Rhone-inspired blends. The wines are delicious but not cheap. Still, the rosé can be had for only $15.

The next stop working Upvalley would be Mumm Napa, on the east side of the Valley just south of Rutherford. On the spectacular porch overlooking vineyards you can enjoy the bubbles that we think offer the best value in Napa. When you need to cool off, you can pop into Mumm's art gallery to see two exhibits. One exhibit changes every couple of months, and we tend to love or love-to-hate whatever is on display. There is also a permanent collection of Ansel Adams photographs that are simply exquisite. No charge to visit the galleries.

Leaving the valley floor and heading east on Highway 128 past Lake Hennessey will take you to Neyers Vineyards. Neyers offers a wide variety of wines made by the talented Tadeo Borchardt. These are all exciting, distinctive wines that reflect their origins. Not cheap, but inexpensive for Napa, with most in the $20-$35 range (and several at $48). All are delicious, and tasting with hostess Phoebe Ullberg is a delight.

Keep heading east on Hwy 128 and you will soon be at Nichelini. This is a charming place abounding with cats and bocce courts, and the owners have great tales about how they continued to produce wine through Prohibition. They have some unusual offerings such as Sauvignon Vert, and prices are reasonable (again, for Napa). Still, we think the experience of the visit itself is the best reason to go.

Burgess Cellars lies in the hills above the Valley--spectacular views once again--near the town of Angwin. Burgess offers terrific value, at prices that are reasonable for wine this good: the excellent Cabernet retails for $36, and the Merlot and Syrah are $25. Sadly they have stopped producing their Grenache. We shall miss it. Well worth a visit.

Last on our list is Casa Nuestra, on the Silverado Trail between St. Helena and Calistoga. These guys are old school and produce their wine without the modern accoutrements so common throughout Napa Valley. They produce a number of wines, and while prices have crept up of late most are still under $30. Nubian goats welcome visitors, and stepping into the tasting room is like traveling backwards in time. Good times.

Do you have a favorite that's not on this list? Please let us know. Stay tuned for lists for Sonoma and Mendocino before long. Any other requests?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Allegrini Valpolicella

A dear friend visited recently and brought some lovely wines. We enjoyed grilled pizzas on our back porch, comparing the heat of Davis summer evenings to those of Calistoga. A Ridge Three Valleys ($22) helped us through the evening. The wine worked very well, but was not particularly remarkable. Perhaps it was overshadowed by the quality of our conversation.

We might have done better with the other bottle our friend brought. We enjoyed it recently while reminiscing over the visit. The wine was Allegrini 2007 Valpolicella, which as near as we can tell retails for about $17 and is widely available for about $12. This is a wonderful wine. Beautiful and voluptuous, it is ripe without being over the top or overly alcoholic. Tannins are present but well-balanced, and the acidity is refreshing and not out of line.

In fact, our only complaint is that the wine is bottled under a synthetic stopper. We are all for alternatives to cork, but in our experience wines with synthetic closures age too rapidly, and despite notable progress they remain difficult to open, and even more difficult to re-close. This certainly did not detract from our enjoyment. However, should you decide to give this wine a try, we recommend that you not cellar it. Drink up!
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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Food & Wine's cheap wine picks

Food & Wine magazine just published its list of best American wines under $20. We have not tried all of them--have you? We would love to hear your thoughts.

We are very pleased to see that Siduri and Copain made the list, for Pinot Noir and Syrah, respectively.  Both producers do a terrific job, with solid quality throughout their production. Both offer value at all price points, but most of the wines are not inexpensive. They are to be applauded for ensuring the same high quality goes into their more affordable wines.

Kudos to Food & Wine for making such interesting selections. We look forward to trying the other producers on the list.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Keuka Lake Vineyards

Our friend, Staci Nugent, paid us a visit a while back. It's a long way from Ithaca, NY to the Napa Valley, and we were very happy to see her.

Staci is the winemaker at Keuka Lake Vineyards in Hammondsport, NY. She is also an up-and-coming cheesemaker. On the evidence of the gouda-style cheese she brought, she is already quite accomplished. She is in Switzerland at the time of this writing, learning from master cheesemakers.

Wine she has down. Staci very generously brought us her 2007 Goldman Reserve Dry Riesling and her 2008 Vignoles. Folks, these wines are fabulous. The Riesling is classic in every sense. Textbook mineral and stone-fruit nose, with hints of citrus. Great acid and just delicious. The wine shows what Riesling in the Finger Lakes can achieve with a talented winemaker. Well worth the $18 retail price.

The Vignoles was astonishing. The vignoles grape is a cross of American and French grape variteies. The goal with such crosses is to combine the attractive flavors of the French species with the ability to withstand the temperatures and disease pressures of the US. We cannot attest to its vineyard performance but the flavors in this wine show that the goal was achieved. Certainly Riesling-like, but with a very attractive herbal streak. The wine is labeled "gently dry," and we were concerned that it would be overly sweet. Instead, the sweetness is perfectly balanced with the acidity, and therefore barely noticeable, as in a successful trocken wine from Germany. This wine is a steal at $13.

The only bad news is that the wines have limited distribution (NY, CT, DC) and the winery can ship to only a few states (NY, CA, AK, AZ, FL, MN, DC). Good cheer to readers in those states. The rest of you should keep KLV in mind when you visit the east coast.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Wine in CANS!

Yes, we love alternative packaging. The bottle was an amazing invention 400 years ago, but it's time to move on. Cork has made tremendous progress in recent years, but a corked bottle this weekend reminded us that cork's time has come and gone as well. If any of you buy the argument that cork stoppers are ecologically important, we ask why you don't demand them in all of your beverage containers. Why should wine alone bear the burden of maintaining an artificial, if rich, ecosystem? Yes, we can continue this rant with anyone interested. But on to the real point...

We have had wine in cans, and it is good. Wine in cans is hardly new, as this article from the San Francisco Chronicle demonstrates. But the article hardly gives the impression that earlier canned wines were associated with quality.

The wines from Wild Pelican should turn that around. These wines are simply fabulous. Not "fabulous for wine in a can," but fabulous. And it comes in cans.

We read about the Wild Pelican wines in Mutineer magazine, and requested samples that were very generously provided by Tim Jacobi, of Gima International, the US distributor for the wines. Mr. Jacobi provided a great deal of information along with the wine, most of which is also on the Wild Pelican website.

But we get ahead of ourselves. How about the wine? Mr. Jacobi sent samples of two of the three Wild Pelican products (and we will be eagerly seeking out the third). The red is a Tempranillo from the D.O. Cariňena region of Spain. It is redolent of bing cherries and cherry pie, with hints of baking spices. Smooth and silky, this is very pleasant even if it does not scream "Tempranillo."

The white blew us away. It is a Chenin Blanc from South Africa's Western Cape. Chenin Blanc's home may be France's Loire Valley, but the South Africans have grown it for hundreds of years and made it their own. This instance is absolutely classic, and very aromatic with scents of green apple and gooseberry. There is some slight carbonation (it's not fizzy) that lifts the fruitiness, and mouth-watering acidity. This wine demands food, and would be perfect for a picnic.

The third wine, which we have yet to try, is a Grenache-Shiraz rosé from the Languedoc-Rousillon (France). We love rosé, as well as Grenache and Shiraz, so we have high hopes for this wine.

Mr. Jacobi advises that the roll-out of the product will be measured. The plan is to build a loyal following in key areas in the eastern and central US before releasing the wines in California. You readers on the eastern seaboard are lucky.

Prices will vary based on state taxes etc., but Mr. Jacobi expects individual cans to sell for $2.09-$2.49, with 3-packs and 6-packs costing slightly less per can. Note that the cans are 187-mL (1/4 of standard wine bottle), so at these prices a bottle equivalent would cost up to $10. It makes sense to have a small package given that there is no way to re-close the can once opened, though it might be nice to have some larger options available, too. The wines are well worth $10/bottle--the convenience, weight and environmental benefits are all bonus.

Okay, so the wine is good, now what about the packaging? The can weighs a mere 8 grams, compared to almost 200 grams for a glass bottle of the same volume. The wine is not exposed to light, which can be quite damaging, even through green glass bottles. Cans are allowed where glass containers are forbidden, and while Wild Pelican won't say it, the cans are easy to smuggle into places where wine might not be allowed at all. Finally, while we are not overly concerned with packaging aesthetics, this package looks and even feels good. No one, we hope, will feel sheepish bringing this wine to a party or opening it for friends.

Keep your eyes open for Wild Pelican, and let us know what you think when you find it.

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