Monday, February 28, 2011

Tastefully Simple's Sangria Wine Slush

One of my aunts is always posting about her "slush mixes" that I finally asked where she was purchasing these things.  One of the many comes from Tastefully Simple.

(Photo from Google Images)

The product, Samba Sangria Slush Drink Mix, comes in a bucket.  You simple add 2 bottles of your favorite red wine, a little warm water, freeze, and then enjoy.  Instant party.  

Sangria Slush Drink Mix
(Photo from Google Images)

I love how she uses these drink mixes.  She often purchases one and has a "girls night" with all of her girlfriends.  Add some yummy food to go with your drink mix of choice, and you have yourself a fun, entertaining evening with the girls.  A simple way to continue enjoying life.  Enjoy!

Wine Slush!  Drinks all around!
(Photo from Google Images)

P.S. They also sell Margarita drink mixes (in citrus flavors).  Do I hear Margarita Mondays calling?!??

Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday Wine News You Can Use - Ruby finish. Pair with Shellfish.

I think every Friday I'm going to wrap up the world of wine with a fun news article.  This isn't to say that I may find more than one news article every week, but sometimes I find fun snippets of information on wine  that I think are worth sharing, and that the consumer would appreciate. 

I should note that with the recent earthquake in Christchurch, I am tempted to post some additional information for aid to New Zealand.  As New Zealand hosts an incredible wine industry, many posts for support have been announced throughout the wine industry here.  If you would like additional information on how or where you can send aid for New Zealand, please visit: Google's Crisis Response.

With that public announcement, on with the Friday Wine News! This article was original published by, but I have posted it here for your convenience.  I like this article because it pinpoints some of the absurdity of wine writers.  Now, I cannot knock all the wine writers out there (after all, I'm trying to be one), and they have brought more news and recognition to the wine industry than some of us appreciate.  But sometimes, as a consumer, I also feel disappointed with wine descriptions as written by those wine writers or wine judges.  

I've been on both sides of the coin with this one.  From an analytical point of view, researchers find time and time again little differences in the aroma/flavor compounds associated with wine.  Now, this could be due to our lack of technology or knowledge for additional aroma/flavor compounds that may be in wine, or it could be due to the fact that it is the synergy of those aroma/flavor compounds make up the signature varietal (i.e. Merlot vs. Cabernet; Chardonnay vs. Riesling) characteristics versus individual compounds. 

From a wine-sales point of view, I often found myself explaining the wine's mouthfeel and flavor to those interested because you want a buyer to like and appreciate the wine.  It's your artwork that you are selling.  Therefore, sometimes, you come up with these unique descriptions to make your wine sound different than the thousand other selections out there.  After all, we live in a never-ending competing market.  Look at all the selections in the local wine store.  How does one make their wine different than all the others to wine over your heart?

Nonetheless, this article is interesting.  Enjoy with a glass of wine!  :)

Ruby Finish. Pair With Shellfish.

Ridiculous wine descriptors may reveal more about a bottle's price than its flavor.

The seventh edition of Robert Parker's Wine Buyers' Guide is 1,513 pages. It weighs 4.1 pounds, more than a magnum worth of wine, and even carries an oversized electronic price ($24.95 on the Kindle). The heft is due, in large part, to over-the-top descriptions of the world's wines. If you're in the market for an "indispensible" bottle, you might check out the1998 Chateau La Lagune. More "inimitable"than "indispensible" is the 2006 Chateau Malescot St. Exupery, which contains "notes of graphite, black currant liqueur, incense, and camphor."
Graphite. Black currant. Incense. And camphor? It sounds like something out of a Bollywood take on Hansel and Gretel. Never mind that graphite contains no aromatics, or that incense could mean any of a dozen flavors. Can a simple Bordeaux let loose such a witches' brew of fragrant notions?
George Taber, the reporter who covered the Judgment of Paris tasting, in which California first beat France in a wine tête-à-tête, is skeptical. "Wine critics want to be Zeus on a mountaintop," he says, but there's little objective basis to their declarations. The economist Richard Quandt, riffing on Henry Frankfurt in a missive titled "On Wine Bullshit," is less delicate. He declares the wine industry "intrinsically bullshit prone," one that "therefore attracts bullshit artists." Quandt puzzles over the term "spicy earth," from Parker's glossary: "I could go into my backyard and sprinkle some cumin, cardamom, turmeric and fenugreek; but how would I know that those are the right choices, rather than coriander, chili powder, caraway seeds and cayenne?"
Of course Parker is not the only culprit—he's just the most famous; impossible descriptions plague many reviews. Take Antonio Galloni's physics-defying phrase: "The 2005 Brunello di Montalcino is a model of weightless finesse." The review continues by conjuring up "dark wild cherries, minerals, menthol and spices."
Since it sometimes seems as though wine tasting is a fixed game of bluffs (let my gravel pass, and I won't challenge your carob), I began to wonder if wine descriptors might not be correlated with something other than flavor: price. I decided to see if I could predict the price of a bottle based on the words in the review. "Wild nettle" sure sounds fancy, but is it preferentially used in conjunction with expensive wines?

Using descriptions of 3,000 bottles, ranging from $5 to $200 in price from an online aggregator of reviews, I first derived a weight for every word, based on the frequency with which it appeared on cheap versus expensive bottles. I then looked at the combination of words used for each bottle, and calculated the probability that the wine would fall into a given price range. The result was, essentially, a Bayesian classifier for wine. In the same way that a spam filter considers the combination of words in an e-mail to predict the legitimacy of the message, the classifier estimates the price of a bottle using its descriptors.
The analysis revealed, first off, that "cheap" and "expensive" words are used differently. Cheap words are more likely to be recycled, while words correlated with expensive wines tend to be in the tail of the distribution. That is, reviewers are more likely to create new vocabulary for top-end wines. The classifier also showed that it's possible to guess the price range of a wine based on the words in the review. From a more qualitative standpoint, there are three types of words more likely to be used for expensive wines:
  • Darker words, such as intense, supple, velvety, and smoky
  • Single flavors such as tobacco or chocolate versus fruity, good, clean, tasty, juicy for cheap wines
  • Exclusive-sounding words in place of simple descriptors. For example, old, elegant, and cuvee rather than pleasing, refreshing, value, and enjoy
  • Additionally, cheap wine is preferentially paired with chicken and pizza, while pricey wine goes with shellfish and pork
Armed with this information, we could, for example, create the most expensive-sounding review in the world: A velvety chocolate texture and enticingly layered, yet creamy, nose, this wine abounds with focused cassis and a silky ruby finish. Lush, elegant, and nuanced. Pair with pork and shellfish.
In defense of critics, one might argue that these correlations exist because expensive wines actually taste like focused cassis, where cheap wines are just juicy. But, along with Quandt and Taber, food scientists think that's doubtful. Recently, researchers have been smashing apart wines in mass spectrometers, looking for odorants like ethyl 2-methylbutanoate, which smells like apples. While they are finding minor differences between varietals, the similarities are more striking. Merlots contain slightly more earthy compounds than cabernets, but the two are otherwise indistinguishable. It's impossible, furthermore, to pick apart differentiating flavors of specific spices or flavors of earth in any wine. Granted, the human nose is more agile than a mass spectrometer, which only detects the mass and structure of molecules. It's unlikely, however, that experts have such precise senses that they can identify minute variations of tastes and odors that a sophisticated machine cannot observe at all.
Why, then, do critics preferentially pin flavors such as boysenberry and butterscotch to expensive bottles? It's simple, really. When a critic sits down to write a review he often already knows the cost of the bottle. Even at a so-called blind tasting he probably has a rough idea since he knows the prices associated with the vineyards, varietals, and regions represented there. Critics might also observe an industry standard that pairs expensive wines with certain kinds of words, and not want to seem naive or out of the loop—so when they come across a pricey bottle, they reach for the tobacco. It's the herd mentality.
Of course that doesn't explain why boysenberry, for instance, sounds expensive to wine critics, while refreshing sounds cheap. My guess is that, when it comes to invoking elegance, foreign and complex words have a natural advantage. Cigars and truffle conjure up prestige and luxury. Meanwhile, a little-known berry or spice conveys the worldly sophistication of the critic, which the drinker can share. For a price. (As for why unkosher foods, in particular, go so well with fine wine—that's a puzzle for the rabbis.)
It's worth remembering that, before the advent of modern reviews in the 1980s, critics only talked about a wine's body. Varietals were supple or strongmasculine or feminine. André Simon, the pre-eminent English-language wine critic of the early 20th century, once compared a wine to "a girl of fifteen, with laughing blue eyes." Our appreciation of wine has benefited from the innovations of Robert Parker and others, who have tried to make wine-writing less abstract through meticulous descriptions. We now have touchstones to distinguish among basic flavors: a wine can be sweet or dry, full of tannins, light or full-bodied. Think of how a sommelier would differentiate between two wines on a restaurant list: words like full, sweet, fruity, and dry are, unlike camphor, genuinely helpful. In an earnest effort to nix subjectivity from reviews, critics have gone too far, leaving us with a bag of adjectives that say a lot about price, and almost nothing about flavor.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Vignette Wine Country Soda

Did you ever want a glass of wine... but didn't want to drink anything containing alcohol?  (Your answer may be no... but just in case it is yes...), this fun product, Vignette Wine Country Soda is a non-alcoholic wine made from the juice of wine grapes.

Wine Country Sodas are available in 3 flavors: Chardonnay (white), Pinot Noir (red), and Rose.  Each flavor is slightly effervescent (with bubbles) and "not overly sweet."  Of course, being from "Wine Country," they follow the all-natural product mentality - no extra preservatives, no added sugar (the sweetness comes from the grape juice itself), no added colors, and no high fructose corn syrup.  Each bottle is 100 to 110 calories. Each flavor comes in a 12-pack, which is priced at $28.50 (plus shipping if you order online: Shop at Wine Country Soda).  Perhaps not overly thrifty, but very fun!

(Photos from Google Images)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What's in My Glass Wednesdays! 2010 Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc

I'm always a sucker for Sauvignon Blanc... no matter what the region.  Agift that we were finally able to taste was the 2010 Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc.  Not only was this bottle a fantastic example of Marlborough, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc style, but the memories surrounding it will always be remembered in my mind.  I hope that those who shared it at Taste of the Himalayas will always recall the fantastic wine we drank that night... and all the laughs, as well!

Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc
(Photo from Google Images)

The D-2010 Scale 
2010 Sauvignon Blanc by Whitehaven (Marlborough, New Zealand)
Appearance (10 points possible): Faint, pale yellow, clear.  Perfect appearance for a fresh, new Sauvignon Blanc without any barrel aging. - 10 points
Aroma/Bouquet (20 points possible): Grapefruit, guava, gooseberry, fresh pineapple, cat urine (yes! I did just say "cat urine"), fresh cut grass. - 20 points
Taste (10 points possible): Thin bodied, acidic, fresh tropical flavors mid-palate and a grassy finish.  This is the traditional style for this region.  - 10 points
Balance (5 points possible): No part of this wine really stood out as being over-baring and it was, again, signature New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. - 5 points
Finish (5 points possible): Grassy flavor, smooth, easy drinking, linger flavor. - 5 points 
Add 50 points for attempt, packaging, closure, etc.
Total Points: 100
Overall Thought: This wine really couldn't go wrong.  You know with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, you're going to get some of those grassy, vegetative notes, the fresh grapefruit and gooseberry flavors (does anyone really know what a gooseberry tastes like?), the fruit forward flavors, the thin body, the crisp acidity, and the overall easy drinking wine that it is meant to be.  Additionally, most of these bottles from New Zealand are always topped with a screw cap.  It should be noted that these wines are meant to be drunk within 2 years max. 
Food Pairings: Try this with spicy foods or citrus based foods.  Of course, we matched this wine with chickpea-based foods.  I always like this style of wine on its own, too.  It is refreshing and fun.  Everyone needs a little bit of that every once and awhile.
Cost: About $12 to $20 depending on where you purchase it
Splurge Factor (out of 4): 1 - You can't find a better sparking wine that is a constant crowd pleaser at this price.
Where to buy: Look at your local wine distributor.  Gallo owns this label, so you can also try purchasing it through their website: E&J Gallo Wines.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Wine Video: Yoga for Wine Lovers

After the long-weekend holiday, I was concerned about not having material for today.  And then, material presented itself!  This short video by Harold's Planet came across my inbox, and I thought it was too cute not to post!  Of course, I am not recommending that one try yoga while consuming an entire bottle of wine.  But I think it is quite ironic to say that yoga is a popular Napa Valley activity... as is wine drinking.  I hope this short video brings you a smile for the day!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Wine News: Wine Soda Fountains Enter Wegmans

Good news for the state of PA!  Article is pasted here for your convenience.  The original article was found at

(Photo from Google Images)

Wegmans Introduces Amazing Soda Fountain For Wine

Have you ever eaten in a food court or buffet and wished that you could get a glass of wine as easily as getting a Diet Coke from a soda fountain? At the food court in the Allentown, PA Wegmans grocery store, you can purchase from a vending machine a 5-ounce glass of wine, a half-glass, or a 1-ounce "sample." A full glass costs $6 to $10.
Allentown is a test site for the wine fountain, where it is part of Wegmans' food court, legally a restaurant, and thus gets around Pennsylvania's wacky liquor laws. This is just the latest development in the Keystone State's impressive strides in mechanical wine-slinging technology, beginning with the automated kiosks now dispensing wine to people who have been properly photographed and Breathalyzed.
No word yet on Alec Baldwin's opinion of the device.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Wine Chocolates

Sometimes when you have a bad day, you just need a whole lot of chocolate and a splash of wine...  As my life is beginning to move away from Napa Valley (yes... I will be moving!) I realize that one thing I will greatly miss are my dark chocolate Cabernet truffles by Anette's Chocolates.  Although some may think that technology is ruining our daily lives, the fact that you can order these homemade candies from anywhere in the U.S. or Canada is worth it.  (Thrifty, no.  Worth it, yes!)  Hands down, some of the best chocolate truffles I have ever had (and I eat a lot of truffles!); definitely worth the indulgence.

Wine Chocolates by Annette's
(Photo by Annette's)

My favorites are the Winter Cabernet Truffles - dark chocolate exterior, dark chocolate ganache mixed with Cabernet wine on the inside.  Yummmm...  Although, the Gold Rush (brandy) Truffles are pretty exceptional themselves!
Gold Rush Truffles
(Photo by Annette's)

If you have a large chocolate obsession like yours truly, I also recommend their chocolate wine sauces: liquid chocolate and wine blended together to serve over ice cream, waffles, cheesecake, or many other desserts!  Or try their Merlot Fudge, which we have used countless times over fresh picked strawberries.  =)

If you're not into wine, they also make Beer Brittle!  It's crunchy, nutty, and has the taste of beer right in the brittle.  This was a definite favorite of my brothers and father. 

Beer Brittle
(Photo by Annette's)

Personally, I prefer the chocolates!  Enjoy :)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What's in My Glass Wednesdays! 2007 Korbel Natural'

One of my personal favorites by Korbel is their 2007 Natural'.  I first enjoyed this wine at Korbel's Winery (see my previous blog post on visiting Korbel Winery).  It was there that I learned that their Natural' sparkling wine has been served at the past 5 Presidential Inaugurations.  It's quite a special wine!  As I opened, it's one of my favorites by Korbel, that, in fact "Johnny Depp" and I enjoyed for Valentine's Day.  Definitely one I hope I can continue to enjoy in the years to come.

The D-2010 Scale 
2007 Natural' by KORBEL (Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, CA)
Appearance (10 points possible): straw yellow with a hint of pink, nice small bubbles - 10 points
Aroma/Bouquet (20 points possible): Yeasty, floral, apple, slightly citrus, and bready.  Nice light combination of fruit and yeast. - 18 points
Taste (10 points possible): Light acidity, very effervescent, crisp yeasty flavors in combination with a slightly floral and apple flavor.  Finish is smooth, lingering, and pleasant.  - 9 points
Balance (5 points possible): Quite perfect.  Non-invasive acidity is balanced nicely with the small hint of sweetness in the finish and light floral notes. - 4 points
Finish (5 points possible): Very smooth, floral, and yeasty.  A perfectly light sparkling wine finish. - 4 points 
Add 50 points for attempt, packaging, closure, etc.
Total Points: 95
Overall Thought: Probably my favorite of the Korbel sparkling wines.  It has this nice hint of yeasty complexity with a very light floral/apple/citrus flavor.  I love it!
Food Pairings: Will go very well with seafood, including prawns/shrimp.  Also a nice sparkling wine for light, fruity desserts.  Perfect on a spring or summer day... or for that day when you are wishing it was spring!
Cost: About $12 to $20
Splurge Factor (out of 4): 1 - You can't find a better sparking wine that is a constant crowd pleaser at this price.
Where to buy: Available online: KORBEL.  I do not believe you can buy Natural' in stores; I believe it is only available through the winery and website.  But if you get a chance, try it!  I'm sure you will find it enjoyable.  Cheers!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Wine News: Virtual Wineries

Here's a fun article I found through my Daily wine news updates that explains the next wave of buying wine: online.  It was published by, which is a Canadian publication, and this article features online or virtual, Canadian wineries.  The idea is simple: make your wine at some location that supports winemaking.  Then, sell your wine online... without purchasing an actual winery/tasting room.  You save money on location, and all purchases are done exclusively through the internet... which is how the Millennial generation prefers to make purchases. 

The article is copied here for you convenience.  To see the actual article, click on the link above:

Virtual wineries: the next wave in Canadian winemaking
By Leeann Froese
February 9, 2011

The future site of Okanagan Crush Pad at Haywire’s Switchback Vineyard in Summerland, B.C.

There’s a new buzzword for Canadian wine enthusiasts: “virtual winery”. This term is nothing new: virtual wineries have been active around the world for decades. Every wine region has them: from France to New Zealand to California. However, virtual wineries are becoming more prolific in Canada for the creation of quality small lot wines.

A “virtual” winery means that the winery does not actually have bricks and mortar: rather the presence of the winery is by brand name, and the “winery” itself is primarily online, easier to operate with sales and advertising on a website.

Virtual wineries are a North American interpretation of the Old World French tradition of wine négociants. Négociants are merchant-vintners who purchase grapes or pre-made wine from growers and then blend, bottle and sell it under their own name. Some better-known virtual wineries in the New World would be from the United States: Underdog Wine’s Big House, Fish Eye and Cupcake to name a few. A major New Zealand winery, Kim Crawford, got its start as a virtual winery.
In the virtual winery concept, a winemaker and marketing team create a wine under their own label without necessarily growing their own grapes and then use the winemaking equipment of a host winery. In Canada, virtual wineries vary. Some have their own vineyards, while others purchase grapes; yet a major distinction being made in Canada is that while lacking an actual crush facility, the winemakers of the latest generation of virtual wineries care about the land and quality. Underlining this, many virtual wines made in Canada carry the VQA symbol of quality.

One of Canada’s better known and more successful virtual wineries is Sandhill. Made under the umbrella of Peller Estates, Sandhill wines are small production, single vineyard, high quality VQA wines made by veteran BC winemaker Howard Soon. Despite the lack of its own winery, Sandhill is committed to quality and has the accolades to prove it.

In Ontario, virtual labels created with the same passion as Sandhill include Featherstone, Charles Baker and Union. Union, made by Canadian wine industry pioneer Allan Jackson (the ‘Jackson’ in Jackson-Triggs, in his second career) is unique as far as Ontario’s virtual wineries go, as it has its own manufacturing license. So while Union uses another winery’s crush facilities, it does not need to create its wines under another winery’s umbrella.

Back in British Columbia, those in the know have their eyes on Haywire, a virtual winery opened in 2010 by wine industry marketing veteran Christine Coletta, and her husband Steve Lornie. Haywire is the first offering from a larger plan the couple has – operating a custom crush facility. Haywire was made offsite at other wineries in its first two vintages, and now plans are underway to break ground in spring 2011 on Okanagan Crush Pad. Okanagan Crush Pad will be the Okanagan’s home for other virtual wineries, offering a custom crush facility for small wineries that can benefit from shared resources. Two of Okanagan Crush Pad’s first customers will be David Scholefield and Michael Bartier who are collaborating with consulting winemaker Alberto Antonini and Master of Wine Rhys Pender who has vineyards in the Similkameen Valley.

From crush and winemaking, to tank and barrel storage, lab work, packaging and marketing, a virtual winery collective offers advantages to winemakers that want to make small lot wines but do not yet have the capital or even the desire to open a winery. They can avoid wrangling with financial institutions for funding, huge capital start-up costs, and operating expenses. Additionally, virtual wineries have an ecological advantage. There are less buildings to leave footprints in agricultural areas, and shared equipment means less equipment is needed to be constructed and shipped.

The best thing about Canada’s virtual wineries is the wines they produce. The growing emergence of virtual wineries across the country is resulting in smaller batch, interesting wines that express what Canada’s unique terroir can offer.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine's Day...

from my glass to yours... with love!

Still looking for a bottle that says "Valentine's Day?"  Try Il Cuore Wine Cellars (Check out their wine labels below!)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Wine Theater: Bottle Shock

Although probably every Napa Vallian's worst nightmare of a movie - Bottle Shock thoroughly entertained me.  Two years of living in Napa Valley and I finally watched the movie!  Amazingly, I actually enjoyed it.  I think it brings a picture to those who want to know what Napa was like before it became America's Wine Country.  It's fun, it's light hearted, and it talks about some key people in the wine industry.  Although I cannot promise all the stories within the movie are true, I'd recommend a night with a glass of Chardonnay and a rented (or purchased) DVD/Blue Ray of Bottle Shock.

P.S. If you want a good idea of what the rolling vine-covered hills of Sonoma and Napa looked like before all the commercialization, I think this movie does a good job with that.  And, the portrayal of Chateau Montelena in the film is the actual winery located in Calistoga.  Quite magnificent.  Enjoy!

(Photo from Google Images)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Romance (R)Thursdays: The Cliche Love Wine

After seeing some recent marketing extremes in the wine industry, I had to bring forth some of these perfect-for-Valentine's-Day wines.  Below are some cliche labels/packaging that I think brings forth the spirit of Valentine's Day.

I hope you not only enjoy this posting, but find one to share with your special someone this Valentine's Day.  (Please feel free to comment and share what you found!  I know the readers... and myself.. would appreciate it!)

Sofia Blanc de Blancs by Francis Ford Coppola Winery
Refer to yesterday's blog post!

Whether you are in love or getting lucky...  ;)
Modern House Wines by Swanson Vineyards

Anybody need seduced?  Pierre Chainier Seduction Brut (Sparkling Wine) from France
Imported by A-B Imports; Also found at most distributors

shefa wine
I have no idea who makes these wines, but isn't the packaging perfect for
Valentine's Day?

I love Toad Hollow's labels
Risque by Toad Hollow Vineyards

2009 BRIDESMAID WHITE<br>A Napa Valley Blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (large img)
Never a bride? Always a bridesmaid? CELEBRATE on Valentine's Day!
2009 Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon by Bridesmaid Wines

Ooo scandalous!
NV Calvadoon by Bonny Doon Vineyard
(Back in the day, they made a wine said like: "Boo-tay-call" - cute, huh?)

Something to swoon after...
Pinot Noir by Swoon

Can't afford the gold necklace?
Imperial Champagne By Moet & Chandon

I LOVE THESE LABELS - Are you "Cheeky little red? A Voluptuous beauty?"
(There is a blonde as well... for all those blondes that feel neglected)
Wines by Oops Wines

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What's in My Glass Wednesdays! 2009 Sofia Blanc de Blancs by Francis Ford Coppola

In a recent visit to Francis Ford Coppola Winery, I finally tasted the Sofia Blanc de Blancs.  I've seen this beautiful pink plastic-wrapped bottle of bubbly in stores everywhere, and have always been tempted to purchase but refused to without a taste!  

The "Sofia" line is obviously named after Francis's daughter, Sofia Coppola - known for her wonderful sense of chic style and directing abilities.  It makes sense that she also be a wine.  :)  "Sofia" has actually become a series of wines for Coppola's winemaking ventures.  There are currently 4 wines on the market using the "Sofia" label: the Blanc de Blancs, a Riesling, a Rose, and a 4 pack of the Blanc de Blancs bottled in cans (more on this in later posting...)

Sophia Coppola - Francis Ford Coppola's Daughter
(Photo from Google Images)

As the sparkling wine was designed for Sofia's wedding, the pink foil wrapping is supposed to be a signature of the celebration.  But I also think it is mildly appropriate for the celebration of love coming up on the 14th!

Sofia Blanc de Blancs Packaging
(Photo from Google Images)

Sofia Blanc de Blancs is actually a blend of three varieties: 8% Muscat, 10% Riesling, and 82% Pinot Blanc.  It's made in the traditional Methode Champenoise style (where the yeast is left in the bottle to finish the fermentation and disgorged).  I chose to share this wine with all of you because 1) it's a pretty bottle - very feminine and eye appealing, 2) the varieties chosen for this bubbly are unique, and 3) it's something different that may be fun for Valentine's Day.  Cheers!

Sofia Blanc de Blancs - A touch of the pale, Victorian style
(Photo from Google Images)

The D-2010 Scale 
2009 Sofia Blanc de Blancs by Francis Ford Coppola (Sonoma County, CA)
Appearance (10 points possible): straw yellow color, clear, effervescent - 10 points
Aroma/Bouquet (20 points possible): Floral, tropical fruits, guava, honeysuckle, citrus, pears, and apples on the nose.  Very appealing and feminine aroma - very fruit forward and aromatic.   Not like traditional Chardonnay-based sparkling wines. - 20 points
Taste (10 points possible): Slight yeast character on the palate that doesn't quite match the fruity/floral nature of this wine, but is representative of the production (Methode Champenoise) character and its quality.  Light body, semi-sweet, floral in flavor with hints of honeysuckle and guava.  The finish is slightly off and reminds me of a Muscat wine left on the skins too long.  - 8 points
Balance (5 points possible): Very light and harmonious.  A crowd pleaser.  No obvious component sticks out, but the finish is slightly off. - 4 points
Finish (5 points possible): The finish lingers with some yeasty, Muscat flavors.  Personally, I don't prefer this type of finish as I don't think it matches the rest of the wine style, but it may be found appealing by others. - 3 points 
Add 50 points for attempt, packaging, closure, etc.
Total Points: 95
Overall Thought: I like the overall package of this wine.  I love the feminine appeal and how the whole package is considered for this wine (I can't say this enough in this post).  Not only do you have a very feminine, aromatic wine that is light, floral, and fruity, but the label and pink wrapping match the style so well.  I think it's worth a purchase, and I definitely love it for those pink or pastel weddings/events.  A good "cherry blossom" Spring wine.  Obviously, I'm a female and am somewhat prone to like these things...
Food Pairings: The winery suggests this as a picnic wine or pairing with goat cheese (which would be good with Muscat flavorings of this wine), but I also think it would be good with cheesecake and white chocolate.  With the Riesling, slight sweet base, I think this would also go well with spicier foods. 
Cost: About $19
Splurge Factor (out of 4): 2 - It's a fun buy, and I consider most sparkling wines between $10 to $30 good buys, especially when you consider the producer.  Again, this wine is unique and I know all those girls out there will like it!
Where to buy: Available on the Francis Ford Coppola Website, World Market stores, and local grocery stores.  I believe this wine is nationally distributed.  Please let me know if you can find it and share your findings with the group!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Travel Tip: Chateau Montelena

One of my favorite wineries that we visited here in Napa Valley is the ever-famous Chateau Montelena.  I love the architecture and history of this winery.  There's something about this winery that truly makes the term "magical" come alive.  

Located in the northern heart of Calistoga (on the upper end of the Napa Valley), you'll get a full appreciation for Wine Country, California as you drive up Highway 29 through Napa or over the Mayacamas mountain ranges from the Highway 101 side of Sonoma County.  There's something to say for the constant miles of vineyards or large mountain ranges.  

Chateau Montelena is hidden behind some redwood and eucalyptus trees, which really captures the mystique of the winery.  It is still owned by the Barrett family, the legendary winemakers of the 1970s that won the "Judgement of Paris" in 1976 for their 1973 Chardonnay wine.  For those that are not familiar, it was this 1976 wine judging led by Steven Spurrier in Paris that put California wines on the international market.  In the blind taste test (meaning that none of the judges knew which wines were Californian and which were French) Chateau Montelena's Chardonnay took first place in the white wine category among several other well known French Burgundy producers.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Since the 1970s, the California wine industry was... forever changed.  (Check out last week's What's in My Glass Wednesdays! post for information on another winery that was also submitted to this tasting.)

Chateau Montelena Winery

The legendary wine bottle still sits on display at the winery, and they offer a Chardonnay that they say is in the same style as the 1973 Chardonnay.  This is also the white wine that has been rumored to have turned brown at bottling and over the course of a few days, turned back to his beautiful light yellow hue.  

The 1973 Chardonnay Bottle from the 1976 Paris Tasting

Nonetheless, I feel like walking onto this winery is like walking onto a piece of history for this area.  It's definitely worth the extra effort to travel to, and the hospitality staff will be sure to please.

Chinese Gardens - Your entrance view from the parking lot

A map of Chateau Montelena

The Tasting Room Entrance

A carved pumpkin of the winery - we went around Halloween time

The Chinese Gardens

(All photos taken by author)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Wine News: Frog's Leap Winery Noticed for Water Saving Efforts

There's some pretty special people that I've met at Frog's Leap Winery, and I enjoyed this short article that came through on my industry updates.  I wanted to share it with everyone in case anyone ever travels to Napa Valley and needs some winery-visiting ideas.  The original article can be found at:  I've pasted it here for your convenience.

Frog's Leap Winery: Saves 64,000 Gallons of Water a 

Year with Dry-Farming

Green Wine Guide Frog's Leap Photos
The eco-renovated Red Barn from the 1880's. Photos by Jaymi Heimbuch

Frog's Leap Winery is an organic and biodynamic vineyard located in the heart of Napa's Rutherford region. Back in 1975, owner John Williams was living in St. Helena on a property that was a frog farm during the 1800s. Yes, a frog farm! In 1981 he began working for Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, an opportunity that enabled him and his buddy Larry Turley to make a 5 gallon jug o' wine using "borrowed" grapes. As a homage to the grape's origins--and the frog farm--they called it Frog's Leap. Pleased with the results, they sold their motorcycles to produce another 500 cases.

Now entering their 30th year of production, Frog's Leap has been a pioneer in terms of green winemaking. They were Napa's first winery with certified organically grown grapes and the first California winery with a LEED certified building. But one of their most impressive accomplishments is that they grow all their grapes without the use of any water; they're completely dry-farmed.

In 1994, Frog's Leap moved from the St. Helena frog farm to the historic Anderson Winery in Rutherford. Turley didn't follow as he went on to establish what is now Turley Wine Cellars. Anderson Winery was a ghost winery that had been established in 1884 by a German vintner. This new home, located in the Rutherford appellation, has many diverse microclimates and soil types. It also produces some of California's most well known wines. The west side--called the Rutherford Bench--is home to some of Napa's award-winning Cabernet Sauvignons. Frog's Leap has four of their own vineyards on this Bench.

The property had been punctuated by a grand red barn which was Napa's oldestboard and batten building. Williams took great care in restoring the building. The barn was rebuilt using 85% of the original wood and is now surrounded by over 40 acres of organic estate vineyard.

"We certified our first vineyard organic 24 years ago and believe me, it was not a cool thing to do back then," says Williams. Prior to 1987, Williams was buying grapes from other vineyards. That same year he purchased his first vineyard and began flexing his degree in agriculture from Cornell University. Initial soil inspections found the vineyard to be not only calcium deficient but also lacking in both zinc and boron. Growing up on a dairy farm, he was confident about the conventional methods in which to fix it; he was wrong. When the vineyard quickly took a turn for the worse, Williams started exploring alternatives. Through the owners of Fetzer Winery, John was introduced to Amigo Bob--an organic farmer from Mendocino County. Amigo Bob taught Williams how to farm with nature and not against it. John became a soil farmer and not just a grape grower.

"It [organic] was really the source of inspiration...that instructed us on the path of doing everything else. But organic farming came first," Williams notes.

Frog's Leap built Napa's first LEED certified commercial house, complete with ageothermal warming and cooling system. The closed-loop system consists of 20 different wells and has the capacity to cool a total of 10 houses. The house serves as the winery's administrative offices and its tasting room. But it isn't the only LEED certified structure on the property. Frog's Leap is also home to Napa's only LEED certified green house, no pun intended. And as you might expect from an eco-conscious winery, the day-to-day operations are 100% solar powered and have been since 2005. But these improvements are not just about the environment, they're also about good business. For example, their annual electric bill was $50,000 so solar made fiscal sense.

One of the more unique efforts that Frog's Leap has made is in the area of water conservation. No water is used on the any of the grape crops. They are completely dry farmed. John explains that "all grapes in Napa for 125 years were dry farmed. Irrigation came to Napa in the 70s, was made popular in late 80s, and became required in the 90s. Now it's thought to be completely impossible to grow grapes without water."

Dry-farmed grapes not only reduce water usage but the resulting product is significantly better. First, dry-farmed vines have an extremely deep root. This makes them robust and much more resistant to diseases. In comparison, grapes that receive irrigation end up sitting on the vine significantly longer. The grapes themselves then have an extremely high sugar content which translates to a high alcohol content, a trend that has been plaguing California wines as of late. Alcohol content has increased by 10% since the late 80s! As the alcohol content in wine increases, acidity decreases and has to be added in later. These inputs start to make the irrigated wines all taste the same. You lose the terroir and it becomes more about winemaking-witchcraft than the nuances of the actual grape.

Napa is more than equipped for dry-farming, though conventional growers will tell you otherwise. But Frog's Leap is not powered by unicorns...we checked. Dry-farming in Napa Valley requires 16-20 inches of annual rainfall in order for the vines to sustain the region's hotter months (May to October). Napa receives about 36 inches annually.

But Williams understands that the success of Frog's Leap is not just about the winery. It's about community. A rarity in today's agribusiness, all of the winery's farm workers are full-time employees paid with living wages plus benefits. How does Williams responsibly employ a labor force and keep his wines around $30 a bottle? Well, the inspiration came from his days as a dairy farmer in New York where shared labor was part of the social fabric. Using this format, his workforce now maintains four other vineyards and one winery.

"In grapes, if you farm only grapes, you prune them and then there is nothing to do. Then you go pick the grapes and then there's nothing to do. That is why we grow almost 70 different crops here. When were done pruning grapes we can then prune the fruit trees. Cross training and diversification of agriculture has helped bridge that gap. But this wasn't enough. So we went to a few neighbors [and said] 'You're hiring and firing. It's a pain in the ass. Let us do your work for you.' Now we can keep these guys year round," says Williams.

When tasting wines from Frog's Leap, you'll notice something you don't often find at other wineries: consistency. Whether it be their Sauvingnon Blanc with its minerals and kaffir lime or the 2007 Merlot with notes of cigar and pepper, Frog's Leap wines have a distinct thread of continuity between all varietals. They are flavorful but not outspoken as most California wines tend to be. The dry farming seems to amplify a wine's sense of place, giving it both distinction and relation.

For example, their 2007 Merlot will definitely surprise you. California Merlots usually come with a big cartoon-y KAPOW à la 1960's Batman. But not this one. It holds its ground without demanding the company of food. It sells for $34, a price point most of their wines revolve around. Only their Rutherford will set you back double at $75.

So, is Williams correct? Is irrigation seriously diluting the terrior out from California wines?

I am not sure. But it really does taste that way!