I’ll be frank: I’m often not a big fan of California wine. When I drink wine, I drink with food, and I don’t want something that will overpower my palate and the flavors that I’m serving it with. But, there’s no reason why local wine can’t play friendly with food, and the 1987 Joseph Swan Zinfandel is a perfect example. In fact, it exemplifies common problems with most modern West Coast wines. Even the lightest of modern Zins dwarf the Swan’s 12.5% alcohol, and most North Coast wineries would do everything in their power to avoid Swan’s lovely acidity. Recently tasted blind with a bunch of like-minded winos, no one guessed the Swan and many pegged it for an Italian wine. It’s a logical guess, considering that the fathers of the modern California wine industry were Italian immigrants whose main goal was to have something to drink with dinner. The modern irony is that the Zinfandel favored by early Californians for its tangy acid is being ripened to raisins. Lately many classic Italian varieties that those farmers were trying to replicate are being treated the same way. Because of this over-the-top treatment Cal-Ital wines are often challenged by the first rule of new world wine; they lack “varietal correctness.” Fortunately, the wines from Palmina in Santa Barbara County buck the bigger-is-better trend. Steve and Chrystal Clifton have an obvious love of northern Italian wines (they were married in Friuli). Moreover they understand how to use Italian grape varieties with integrity. The 2003 Palmina Stolpman Vineyard Nebbiolo ($31.99) has the tar and violets of a Langhe wine. The 2005 Palmina Alisos Vineyard Traminer ($21.99) tastes more like the minerals of that variety’s Tyrolean home than the sweet perfume of most domestic (or even Alsatian) Gewurz. Palmina wines are meant for the table. Don’t miss the opportunity to taste these distinctive wines. —Paul Courtright
This is what a break from harvest looks like in the Rhone. Everyone, meet, once again, Chateau de Montfaucon owner/winemaker Rodolphe "Rudi" de Pins (on the right) and American flying winemaker Dave Potter, who's been pitching in with harvest in the Southern Rhone. In France it's tough to go far without seeing some kind of marvelous monument, and the Pont du Gard, pictured here, is one of the more spectacular ones. The three-tiered arched Roman bridge is actually an aqueduct (those clever Romans!) and spans the river Gard near Nimes. Rudi (who's done his own fair share of flying winemaking), took Dave there for a little sightseeing and R&R during harvest. Speaking of which, the report from Montfaucon is that Rudi is "very happy so far with 2006 even though the yields are low, the fruit that is coming in is lovely." We'll look forward to tasting that good stuff when it's released! In the mean time, Chateau de Montfaucon reports that they've released some older vintages of their wines to K&L, including the Baron Louis 2000 (also in magnum) and Cotes du Rhone 1999. I tasted and loved both these wines when I visited this summer (you can read about it here ) and think that's great news. Cheers! --- Courtney Cochran, aka Your Personal Sommelier, provides personalized wine services to adventurous wine collectors, purveyors and enthusiasts, making wine accessible and fun for those who think outside the mainstream wine box. Visit her site at www.CourtneyCochran.com.
It never fails to impress and delight. The gift of good Pinot, that is. I can't tell you how many times I've gifted or received outstanding, even what some might call "cult" California Pinot Noir, and it's always with a sense of giddy anticipation. If receiving, the excitement stems from my anticipation of quaffing the fabulous stuff. If receiving, I know there's an excellent chance I can wrangle a glass (or more, if I'm very crafty) from said bottle, so it's a win-win situation no matter what. I think the reason good California Pinot makes such a great gift is that, when well made, the stuff is an absolute treat. It's so delightfully smooth and rich at the same time and knitted through with simply gorgeous notes of baking spices, licorice, herbs, cherry and pomegranate fruit, leather and other treats that it's, well, a really wonderful drinking experience. Better yet, good California Pinot can be consumed right away (so no need to shove it away for years of opining) and drinks beautifully by turns with both food and just on its own, perhaps sipped next to a roaring fire on your next holiday ski getaway. (Go ahead, cue mental picture of yourself apres-ski at Tahoe or Snowmass or Telluride with said Cult Pinot. Looks good, don't it?) There's also something fabulous about uncorking a beauty of a Cali Pinot on a nothing-special Wednesday night at home, to quaff with take-out served on good china. Suddenly the mid-week hump just got a lot easier to get over. However or wherever it's drunk, great Cali Pinot is guaranteed to delight. Which is why it's at the top of my holiday gift list this year, and is a top candidate for gifting to others as well. Snag a bottle for your boss, your spouse, your favorite client, your mom - everyone is guaranteed to love it. And, they just might share it with you, if you’ve not been too naughty this year. Here are a few of my favorites, all of which can be procured from K&L with very little effort and great reward: Woodenhead. I was first introduced to this stuff by very cool wine blogger about town Alder Yarrow, who nudged me towards it at Zap (they make great Zin too, those multifaceted folks). Their Zin was outstanding, and I’ve since been thrilled to discover that the same goes for their Pinot Noir. The SF Chron described the ’03 this way: “Rose, raspberry, pomegranate, blackberry, cassis, earth, mushroom, dried herb and white pepper aromas and flavor; Burgundian style.” Tempting, no??! Here’s a pic of a bunch of Woodenhead Pinots from Pinot Days earlier this year. Look at those gorgeous pastel labels and snazzy gold caps! If there’s a cult Pinot the ladies will love, it’s this one (we’re suckers for pretty packaging). But fear not: they make some with more masculine black labels too – a little something for everyone. It’s all great, no matter the color! Recommended wine: 2004 Woodenhead "Buena Tierra Vineyard" Russian River Pinot Noir, $44.99. Only 193 cases produced of this single-vineyard beauty. How fab is that? Burrell School Vineyards. I just got back from a delightful visit to this very cool winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation, where I met winemaker/owner Dave Moulton, who’s been experimenting with a host of grape varieties including, rather famously, Cabernet Franc, in this area for more than 30 years. His Pinots are simply gorgeous, and my favorite on this trip was from the Veranda Vineyard, which is located at about 800 feet elevation in the southern part of the Santa Cruz winegrowing region. The wine strikes the perfect Pinot balance between complexity and lightness of body, and is teeming with pretty herb, spice and red fruit aromas and flavors. The oak is deftly applied and really well integrated alongside a pleasant earthiness, making a Pinot that’s perfect for our New World palates, which crave ripe fruit but appreciate a little funk as well. Plus, you can’t beat the price on this one. Who says you can't afford cult? Recommended wine: 2003 Burrell School "Veranda Vineyard" Santa Cruz Pinot Noir, $27.99. And finally, Saintsbury. A name so long affiliated with top Cali Pinot it hardly needs an introduction. Known for producing one of the most balanced Pinots in the state, this affirmed Cali cult producer only bottles very small amounts of their Brown Ranch Pinot Noir each year. The Ranch features a dazzling array of soil types, rootstocks, exposures and Pinot clones, all of which add up to a beautiful, nuanced wine that’s a welcome departure from their typically more red fruit-driven Pinots: this wine shows lovely dark fruit flavors and earthiness, a perfect combination for the fall and winter months and richer foods. Santa would approve. Recommended wine: 2003 Saintsbury "Brown Ranch" Pinot Noir, $49.99. --- Courtney Cochran, aka Your Personal Sommelier, provides personalized wine services to adventurous wine collectors, purveyors and enthusiasts, making wine accessible and fun for those who think outside the mainstream wine box. Visit her at www.CourtneyCochran.com
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