An Introduction to LAW

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wine Tasting Trips | Comments Off on An Introduction to LAW
A lovely afternoon at Learn About Wine

A lovely afternoon at Learn About Wine

Over the weekend I had the great pleasure of attending a class at Learn About Wine, with Ian Blackburn.

Despite being on what was, no doubt, the very worst date in human history, I had an absolutely fantastic time. The class was called Palate Builder, and was a 2.0 level class. Although marketed as slightly above entry level, I think that almost anyone could gain a great deal from the workshop. Except my date. But I’m not sure that he was human

Allow me to rephrase: Although marketed as slightly above entry level, I think that almost anyone – unless a robot, alien, fungal life form or truly consummate jackass – could gain a great deal from the workshop.

We started with a flight of three whites and access to a kit called ” target=”_blank”>Le Nez

“>Le Nez Du Vin Master Kit

Le Nez Du Vin Master Kit

du Vin (“The Nose of Wine”). This Master-level 54-piece aroma kit is designed to help tasters tease out the individual scents that form the total bouquet of the wine in their hand. So, holding a glass of ” target=”_blank”>2006 Mastroberardino, Lacryma Christi, Del Vesuvio (Italy), I sniffed pure scents from tiny vials of lees, grapefruit, fig, Muscat and pear. Incredible. Having access to the pure scent made detecting the mingled ones so much easier.

My date complained that the only thing he could detect was that the air conditioning was too strong.

When we returned to our tables, those of us who were actual living, breathing people compared what we had just smelled and tasted to the other whites waiting for us at our seats. A 2006 Kenwood Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (Sonoma), and an absolutely delicious 2008 Buttonwood “Zingy” Sauvignon Blanc (Santa Ynez Valley). True to form, my favorite was the cheapest one – the “Zingy.” I found it citrus-y and (as the name implies) zingy and zippy and refreshing.

kenwood-sb

2006 Kenwood Reserve Sauvignon Blanc – yum!

It is a little surprising that I preferred the youngest wine, as usually the younger the wine, the stronger the scent of alcohol. I tend to get pretty turned off by that, although I didn’t feel that the Buttonwood had an overpowering alcohol presence at all.

However, as I learned at the class, a strong smell of alcohol does not only come from the age of the wine. “New World” wines, such as US, Australian and South American varietals tend to be more alcoholic than “Old World” (European) wines, which grow in cooler climates and tend to be more acidic. For people who are beginning to feel their way through the wine world, this is a helpful bit of information: Once one begins to tease out their preferences, knowing certain details about geography can help make wine selection easier – and more interesting!

Our next flight was a selection of three Chardonnays: 2006 Badge, Rancho Santa Rosa (Santa Rita Hills); 2004 Domaine Emilian Gillet, Quintaine, Vire-Clesse (Burgundy) and 2007 Bighorn Cellars, “Camelback Vineyard,” (Carneros). I have to say that none of these really turned my crank. The Domaine Emilian Gillet and Bighorn Cellars were buttery and complex oak-y and ok. My favorite was the Bighorn Cellars; I had trouble drinking the Badge because it was just too tart.

Interestingly, it turns out that “Carneros” is basically another way to say “Napa.” Now you know…

It takes much longer to ferment Chardonnay than Sauvignon Blanc, so Sauvignon Blanc is often more cost-effective and allows wineries to turn a profit while aging their Chardonnay. Sauvignon Blanc never touches oak barrels, so it lacks that buttery, oak-y flavor common with Chardonnay. It tends to be crisper and lighter than Chardonnay.

My date said that the Chardonnays were better than the Sauvignon Blancs, but he couldn’t taste a difference between any of the three pours in front of him. Then he began talking about how his father and grandfather bottle wine in Seattle. The women across the table from us smiled and nodded. Sometimes it’s possible to actually read someone’s mind. I think that happened here, but I can’t reprint what one woman was thinking, on account of this being a family wine blog.

Our next flight was called “Crazy Reds” and consisted of a Zinfandel, a

Lake Sonoma Winery Dry Creek Zinfandel

Lake Sonoma Winery Dry Creek Zinfandel

Shiraz and an Italian red – Rosso di Montepulciano. While normally Zinfandel is one of my favorites, in this flight I actually preferred the Shiraz, a 2004 Emu Wine Company from Frankland River, Australia. All three of these were complex and earthy, but the Zinfandel – from Lake Sonoma Winery, Dry Creek Valley (2005), was a little spicier than I prefer. The website describes it this way:

“A solid structured wine, with firm tannins and integrated oak nuances. This Zinfandel is balanced with forward fruit flavors of blackberry and plum, and accompanied by a hint of black pepper spice.”

The Italian – a 2007 Avignonesi – was good too, although a little thin. It had a lovely finish, and would make a nice table wine. Especially at the $15 price point.

I was particularly excited about the next flight – a taste of three different Pinot Noirs. Along with Zin, Pinot is a particular favorite, and one of these Pinots happened to be from Cakebread Cellars, a winery I have heard a great deal about, but have never had the opportunity to try. The one in this tasting – a 2005 Pinot – was actually a little too oak-y for me. I expected it to be fruitier, since Cakebread is located in Carneros/Napa and wines from this region tend to be jammy and rich with ripe fruit. I just, personally didn’t feel that this one was.

The other Pinots in the flight were a 2006 Domaine Henri Delagrange, Volnay, Vielles Vinges (Burgundy), which I thought was pure fruity deliciousness; and a 2006 Margerum Wine Company from Santa Barbara County. That was quite nice, as well. I wish I had better descriptions of these wines, especially because – respectively – they cost approximately $50, $40 and $30 per bottle – obviously good stuff – but by this point I was already pretty drunk. Although I can point out that, once again, I preferred the wines with the cheaper price tag.

…And speaking of my preference for cheap: At this point my date was bemoaning the fact that we were not at a Scotch tasting. Everyone was ignoring him.

Chateau Pipeau Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2006

Chateau Pipeau Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2006

The final flight was all Cabernet. There was a ” target=”_blank”>2003 Chateau Pipeau, Saint Emilion Grand Cru (Bordeaux), a 2006 Poveriano Cabernet Franc (Italy), and a ” target=”_blank”>2005 Viader, “Dare,” Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley).

As part of this class, we were asked to break into teams to attempt to match the wines in each glass with the name, age and region on a paper in front of us. Using what we had been taught about the nose, palette, acidity and alcohol content of wines across the world, we were instructed to dissect and discuss each taste in order to identify what we were drinking.

Another important clue at our disposal were the colors of each pour. The older a wine, the browner it becomes. White wines turn golden, red wines become a little more dingy. While it is easier to see the richness of whites, obviously reds are a little more difficult because of their characteristic deep red or purple. The best way, therefore, to look for that browning effect is to hold your glass against a white backdrop. Younger reds will appear red or purple all the way to the edges, but the periphery of an older red will look almost dirty brown against the white.

This trick came in handy by the end of the class, since everything I drank was magically delicious and I was no more able to differentiate the taste of stewed plums and cherries than I was able to sing opera. I was told that the Poveriano had hints of lead. Maybe. I overheard Ian Blackburn say something about Darth Vader in describing the beautiful darkness of the Viader “Dare.” I know that the Chateau Pipeau runs about $40 a bottle in stores.

I also know that this was one of my best wine experiences to date, and that when I return – which I will – I’m going to make sure my date isn’t a sour grape.

The Weekly (almost) Wine Tasting @ Literati

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Jess' Wine Tasting Notes | Comments Off on The Weekly (almost) Wine Tasting @ Literati

Gordon and I live near each other, and there's a cafe at the intersection of the busy streets where he goes home in one direction and I go home in the other. And they have lovely food and a nice wine list at very reasonable prices. So, guess where we have our semi-weekly meetings? It's called Literati2 (a spin-off of the very successful Literati Cafe next door).

Literat2's history is lackluster. When they first opened a few years ago the food tasted like the cafe food next door but at 3 times the price. This is a restaurant with very bad parking, so they need to be providing great food and great value if they want to sustain themselves. I think they figured this out about a year ago and did a huge remodel and reworked their entire menu, too. The only thing they seem to have forgotten is to promote this massive transition in the neighborhood (where people can walk to the restaurant and skip the parking hassle) since we all thought it was that stuffy old over-priced joint it used to be. At any rate, the food is yummy and VERY reasonably priced… as are the wines! They pick great wines for the list (which they offer by the glass and carafe) and it gets refreshed every so often.

Since we're meeting to talk about our wine blog, we incorporate a wine tasting into each meeting, and I've been remisce in uploading the results of the tastings… so here goes! (What's very interesting to me is how different my palate is from Gordon's. We always try the same wines and rarely have the same flavor profiles jump out at us.)

  1. 2007 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay
    Jess: Tingly, oaky on the nose. Very oaky in the mouth with a hint of fruit/citrus (specifically apple and grapefruit). This is a “safe wine” for me. I know I can order it, any vintage, and get a decent but oaky chardonnay.
    Gordon: Acidic nose. Dry start, sweet finish. Nice finish, long.
  2. 2006 Bex Riesling
    Jess: Light nose, appley and sweet but not too sweet. I would consider buying this, and I'm not a fan of sweet wines.
    Gordon: Tangy, honey, fruit on the nose. Viscous, sweet silky mouthfeel. Apricot. Gordon said he would buy this.
  3. 2006 Trefethen Chardonnay
    Jess: Woody and the smell of shrimp on the nose (I sometimes smell “ocean” in my wines). Balanced, fresh, medium-length finish.
    Gordon: Acidic, bright on the nose. Dry at first, has a sweet finish with licorice and lemon.
  4. 2007 Cakebread Cellars Sauvignon Blanc
    Jess: Green fruit on the nose and tangy grapefruit in the mouth. A mild Sauvignon Blanc which makes me like it more than an average Sauvignon Blanc.
    Gordon: Light nose. Lingering bitter and citrus finish.
  5. 2007 Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio
    Jess: I have a love-hate relationship with this wine. It was one of my favorites in my early wine-drinking days but seems to have gone downhill in quality/taste as its product volumes have risen. Good for their business in general, but not great for me. I ordered a glass for tasting anyway… Pineapple and apple on the nose. Light and bright taste, open at the front of the palate, sweet in the mid-palate, and a rounded but acidic finish (which is where my love affair ends).
    Gordon: I seem to have lost Gordon's notes from here out… hazard of drinking too much wine! Oh darn!
  6. D'Arenberg Grenache (a red!)
    Jess: Smells like a cabernet. Red fruit (is there such a thing?) and earthy. A little mushroomy at the back of the mouth and a bit gritty. I thought it was okay, but better with food.
  7. 2007 Brander Sauvignon Blanc
    Jess: I REALLY liked this wine. I'm going to hunt it down at the grocery store on my next wine-buying trip. Very bright, apple on the nose with a little bit of lemon. Smooth mouthfeel and I tasted watermelon in the well-balanced finish. There was a hint of zest or rind at the back of my mouth, but that went away when the Tiger Shrimp, Pesto, and Sun-dried tomato pizza arrived. And then I ordered a second glass!
  8. 2006 Bridlewood Viogner
    Jess: I'm a fan of Bridlewood wines, despite the fact that they're owned by Gallo. It's good wine at a good price. I've been drinking their Syrahs for a few years, I like their Syrah Port (which isn't truly a Port), and now, I like their Viognier. I smelled lavendar and oak on the nose. The wine was vanilla and spice with a touch of oak. It had a gentle love-bite and a smooth finish. Yum. I'll be looking for this at the grocery store, too.

I'll keep updating this post as time goes by. Maybe next time we'll get to some more reds!

Tales from the grocery store…

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wines from the Grocery Store | 1 Comment

This is a new feature I'm starting to show everyone how easy it is to buy great wine at fantastic prices. The only times I ever spend more than $20 on a bottle of wine are as follows:

  1. When I'm out wine tasting in wine country somewhere.
    I'm usually caught up in the moment (buzzed if it's the end of the day) and willing to pay full retail under these circumstances.
  2. When I'm buying someone a gift (I'll often spend $20-50 on a bottle for a friend)

Otherwise, there's no reason to spend more than $20 on a bottle of wine. Ever.

It's actually quite easy and here's my recipe:

  1. Find a store near you with great prices (there must be one) and visit it often (I like Safeway stores, best prices around, plus you get a 10% discount if you buy any six bottles)
  2. Find a store near you that gets special deals (they buy large quantities of small-production wines) and get on their mailing list (I like the Wine House, best prices at a wine-specific store on this side of town)
  3. Only buy on sale! (This is my all-time money-saving tip for everything… it stretches your dollars by however much you've saved)

My latest trip was especially triumphant… here's the tally:

  1. 2008 Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc (made from Organic grapes)
    Regular price: $14.99, Sale price: $11.90, Six-pack price: $10.71
  2. 2006 Sanford Chardonnay (Flower label)
    Regular price: $21.99, Sale price: $15.39, Six-pack price: $13.85
  3. 2006 Steelhead Sauvignon Blanc
    Regular price: $18.99, Sale price: $9.98, Six-pack price: $8.98
  4. Promisquous Red
    Regular price: $16.99, Sale price: $9.98, Six-pack price: $8.98
    So-so. For $9 it's okay.
  5. 2006 Coppola Malbec
    Regular price: $18.49, Sale price: $13.98, Six-pack price: $12.58
  6. 2005 Keltie Brook Merlot
    Regular price: $18.99, Sale price: $6.99, Six-pack price: $6.29

Grand total Regular price: $110.44
Grand total Sale price: $68.22
Price I paid: $61.39 (plus tax)

TOTAL SAVINGS: $49.05 (44%)
Price per Bottle: $10.23

Caveats: I've not had most of these, so I can't yet vouch for their quality… I know the Sanford Chardonnay is good.  I don't normally drink Merlot but that was too good a price to pass up just to see if it's any good.

UPDATE

The 2008 Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc was great. It was light, not too acidic, and (as is my usual test for success) makes me want

to drink/buy more of it. The Promisquous Red and the 2005 Keltie Brook Merlot were undrinkable. The Coppola Malbec was  much like the other Coppola wines (Director's Cut excluded from this description)… decent but nothing to write home about for a fair price. The Steelhead went down smoothly, very fruity and tart, though not overly tart. I'd say the Steelhead is a classic-style reasonably well-balanced Sauvignon Blanc. It's regular price feels steep, but the sale price was a “steel.” The Sanford Chardonnay was good as usual… That's my go-to white wine.

A visit to the Ortman Family Vineyards tasting room

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wine Tasting Trips | 1 Comment

At least a year ago, Mitch and I had dinner at a great restaurant in one of my favorite local hotels. It's a seafood restaurant called Catch and it's located in the Hotel Casa del Mar in Santa Monica (beachfront, of course). Sometimes when we go to nice restaurants we like to ask the waiter for a suggestion on the wine, since they usually know better than we do what the wines are like. Our fantastic waiter (who had an equally fantastic assistant waiter) chose an Ortman Pinot Noir for us and we loved it. We loved it so much that it went on my list of wineries to visit when we get up to Paso Robles… and so we did.

Ortman Family Vineyards

Ortman Family Vineyards

The lovely tasting room is located in the middle of downtown Paso Robles (1317 Park Street, Paso Robles, CA 93446), a few doors down from Artisan (the restaurant we brunched at right before starting our tasting adventure for the day). The woman pouring the tasting was friendly and knowledgeable and was proud to be working for this winery. That's a great start to any tasting!

From one of their brochures

The Ortman Family: Chuck, Matt, and Lisa

The Ortman Family: Chuck, Matt, and Lisa

“We specialize in artisan wines crafted in the acclaimed “Ortman style,” which is founded on four decades and two generations of family winemaking experience.

The Ortman style emphasizes richness, elegance, and food friendliness, as guided by the father-and-son winemaking team of Chuck Ortman and Matt Ortman.

In order to achieve their winemaking vision, Chuck and Matt focus on varietals that excel in remarkable vineyards on California's Central Coast, including Pinot Noir from Santa Rita Hills, Chardonnay from Edna Valley, and Rhone-style wines from Paso Robles.”

The standard tasting fee was $6 (not charged if you purchase wine) and I think they offered souvenir glasses but they were the stemless variety of which neither Mitch nor I are fans (plus we don't have room in our tiny kitchen for more wine glasses, we already have at least 20 hanging around) so we left them behind. They also had a Reserve Tasting with a tasting fee of $10 which does include the Ortman logo Riedel glass, but does not get refunded if you purchase (at least that's the formal policy, we didn't pay for either tasting). Naturally we chose one of each so we could both sample the full selection and not be too blotto to move onto our next victim, er winery.

2007 Ortman Syrah Rose – Paso Robles, $16 per bottle, 150 cases produced

Wine bottle: Ortman Syrah Rose

Wine bottle: Ortman Syrah Rose

What they say: This wine is crafted in the tradition of the dry roses that are favored in the warmer climates of Europe for their refreshing, food-friendly qualities. A round, supple texture bursts with fresh flavors of white peach, strawberry, and cinammon. Are you tough enough to drink pink?

What Jess said: Thumbs up! It's a whole-tongue experience. A mix of sweet and dry. Playful. (I like dry roses from the Central Coast. I'm also a big fan of the Beckman Grenache Rose which should have been released by now and will soon be coming home with me.)

What Mitch said: Thumbs up! Bright clean bouquet with a fruity pucker.

2007 Ortman Chardonnay – Edna Valley, $24 per bottle, 1100 cases produced

Wine bottle: Ortman Chardonnay

Wine bottle: Ortman Chardonnay

What they say: They don't call Chuck Ortman “Mr. Chardonnay” for nothing! From Firepeak Vineyard in Edna Valley, this Chardonnay exhibits the classic Ortman style—rich yet clean and impeccably balanced. Flavors of pear, apple, guava and caramel with mineral accents and refreshing acidity.

What Jess said: Thumbs up! Grapefruit/apple/pear (green fruit, light citrus) on the nose. Caramel, milky, a little oak and vanilla in the mouth.

What Mitch said: Mild velvety slide through the mouth. Subtle fruitiness.

2006 Ortman Pinot Noir – Santa Rita Hills, $36 per bottle, 750 cases produced

Wine bottle: Ortman Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills

Wine bottle: Ortman Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills

What they say: From the famed Fiddlestix Vineyard. Aged for 11 months in French oak barrels (40% new). Bright and broad, with high-toned flavors of cherry, plum, spice, and creamy cola. This classically elegant Pinot Noir is made for enjoying with food. Take it for a walk on the wild side of the dinner table.

What Jess said: Smells like the ocean. Smooth at first with a long finish, but I didn't like the finish.

What Mitch said: Surprisingly dry with a very fruity punch at the finish.

2006 Ortman Pinot Noir – Willamette Valley, $36 per bottle, 350 cases produced

Wine bottle: Ortman Pinot Noir Willamette Valley

Wine bottle: Ortman Pinot Noir Willamette Valley

What they say: Our passion for the Pinot Noir grape extends northward to Oregon's Willamette Valley, where we seek an inspiring contrast to our Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir. The 2006 vintage comes from Temperance Hill and Parish Hill vineyards, which combine to yield a Pinot Noir with delicate complexity and firm natural structure.

What Jess said: Lighter on the nose. Tingly, nutty tannins. Reminds me of French wine (of which I have extraordinarily little experience drinking).

What Mitch said: Dry again. Puckery and acidic, but mild flavor.

2006 Ortman Sangiovese – Paso Robles, $22 per bottle, 500 cases produced

Wine bottle: Ortman Sangiovese

Wine bottle: Ortman Sangiovese

What they say: A taste of Italy from Algunas Dias Vineyard. Inspired by Matt Ortman's winemaking travels in Italy. Lively integrated flavors of raspberry, cherry, and blackberry unfold along a smooth texture. Great with pizza and pastas. Buon appetito!

What Jess said: Thumbs up! Sweet, floral, and cinammon on the nose. Fruity and smooth, probably good with poultry.

What Mitch said: Thumbs up! Bright nose. Starts with a berry explosion and fades slowly to a nice dry finish.

2005 Ortman Syrah – Paso Robles, $22 per bottle, 350 cases produced

Wine bottle: Ortman Syrah

Wine bottle: Ortman Syrah

What they say: From Brave Oak Vineyard. Toasty aromas of blueberry, violets, and raspberry jam. Round and supple, with juicy flavors of black cherry, plum, smoked bacon, and oak spice. While it's no sin to savor this yummy wine on its own, this Syrah will sing with skirt steak and lamb chops.

What Jess said: Very typical Syrah from the Paso Robles area. Delightful, light-touch, with a familiar terroir. A spicy finish.

What Mitch said: Nose goes all the way up. Minor tannins detectable, but it had a pleasant finish.

2007 Ortman Cuvee Eddy – Paso Robles, $24 per bottle, 1600 cases produced

Wine bottle: Ortman Cuvee Eddy

Wine bottle: Ortman Cuvee Eddy

What they say: Contrary to rumor, this Rhone-style blend is not named after the Iron Maiden band mascot, but rather for the swirls on our label that represent two winemaking generations coming full circle. Still, this wine does rock with big, juicy flavors of blackberry, blueberry and raspberry, mocha and vanilla bean.

What Jess said: Thumbs up! Smoky on the nose. Dusty, sweet cherry and tobacco. Reasonably smooth.

What Mitch said: Mildly abrasive nose, dry! Largely smooth with a medium-level of berry intensity.

From the Reserve Tasting…

2006 Ortman Pinot Noir – Fiddlestix Vineyard, $50 per bottle, 140 cases produced

Wine bottle: Ortman Pinot Noir Fiddlestix

Wine bottle: Ortman Pinot Noir Fiddlestix

What they say: Five barrels were selected to exemplify the quality and character of Fiddlestix Vineyard. Flavors of black cherry, wild berry, cola and spice finish with soft, juicy acidity. This Pinot Noir will age gracefully over the next several years. In the meantime, the genie in this bottle will benefit from brief decanting.

What Jess said: Smells like Fiddlehead Pinot Noirs (in addition to Fiddlehead Pinot Noirs coming from the Fiddlestix vineyard, they also make Pinot Noirs from Willamette Valley, so due to my relatively small experience with Oregon Pinot Noirs and relatively large experience with Fiddlehead wines, it shouldn't be surprising that I would make this connection). Very dry berry flavors are prominent.

What Mitch said: Berry, bright, not too dry, but sadly flat.

2003 Ortman Cabernet Sauvignon – Napa Valley, $45 per bottle, 350 cases produced

Wine bottle: Cabernet Sauvingon

Wine bottle: Cabernet Sauvingon

What they say: Our connection to Napa Valley's premier varietal dates back to Chuck Ortman's earliest winemaking days, when he was a winemaking consultant to some of the valley's top Cabernet producers. The 2003 vintage comes from White Cottage Ranch Vineyard on Howell Mountain. It offers juicy layered flavors of black cherry, plum, and vanilla.

What Jess said: Thumbs up! Dream-inducing nose. Tastes of salty (salami!), cloves, and blueberry with a spicy-hot finish (in a good way).

What Mitch said: Thumbs up! Dancing berries on the nose. Dry, with a burnt-like finish.

2006 Ortman Petite Sirah – Wittstrom Vineyard, $38 per bottle, 68 cases produced
What they say:The 2006 Petite Sirah marks our inaugural vintage for the varietal, which joins our small family of red wines from Paso Robles. Winemaker Matt Ortman has long been a fan of Petite Sirah, and he jumped at the chance to make it when fruit from Wittstrom Vineyard became available. This vineyard occupies and idea site for Petite Sirah, yielding a wine that is big yet elegant with lusciously intense flavors.

What Jess said: Makes me want to drink it with steak. Chalky.

What Mitch said: Heavy nose, bitter berry. Heavy but smooth.

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As an artisan family winery, we craft our wines in small lots, many of which can be difficult to find. As a member of the Ortman Generation, however, you will enjoy access to all of our wines, conveniently delivered to your home or business.
Your complimentary membership entitles you to many exclusive benefits, including:

  • Quarterly shipments of our new releases and limited-edition wines
  • 20% savings on all wine purchases
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  • Tasting fees waived for members and up to three guests
  • To join, please visit www.OrtmanVineyards.com or call us at (805) 237-9009