Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wine Tasting Adventures in the Santa Clara Valley

I spent the last two Saturdays wine tasting in the Santa Clara Valley and came away absolutely amazed at how beautiful the region is and what great wines some of the wineries are producing, notably Sarah’s Vineyard and Sycamore Creek.

There are also some very old wineries that need serious renovation and revitalization of their wine growing practices if they plan to remain alive in the highly competitive wine market.

The Santa Clara Valley is only about 40 minutes south of San Jose and the Silicon Valley, yet few people are think of it as a historic wine region. For one reason or another, it has never quite taken off like Napa, Sonoma or many other well-known wine countries. Yet it is a beautiful area that has great potential to expand beyond it dozen or so wineries.

However, in order to do so it will need to incorporate other amenities such as fine dining establishments, grand hotels, Bed & Breakfasts and other attractions that are usually tied to wine regions as tourist destinations.

Emilio Guglielmo Winery

Guglielmo is a very quaint winery that has the look of an Italian village square. It is very charming and the tasting room personnel are very gracious and hospitable. Having said that, after tasting a few of their wines I found that they were just “okay.” None of them stood out as very distinct or exhibiting any notable character or quality.

Hecker Pass Winery

Hecker Pass Winery has a lot of charm and the elderly Italian gentleman serving the wine was definitely from the old world of wine making. When I asked him how long he had been making wine he replied, “All my life.” I tasted the Blanc De Blanc, a dry fruity white wine, the 2001 Chianti, and the 2000 Grenache. But what I found to be most pleasing were two of the desert wines – the Marsala ($17.95) and the Dolcetto Rosso ($18.95). I bought a bottle of each

Pedrizzetti Winery / Morgan Hill Cellars
I hate to speak so negatively about a winery, but Pedrizzetti Winery / Morgan Hill Cellars served some of the worst wines I have ever tasted. The servers were rather nice but one of them didn’t know a thing about wine other than how to transport the contents of the bottle into a glass.

I tried several of their wines, all of which were mediocre at best but there was one that really stood out as being the most “unique” wine I have ever tasted – the 2002 Henry's Art Cabernet. This wine smells like fertilizer and it tastes like the contents of a dirty diaper (to put it politely).

This is a very old and historic winery that changed hands a couple years ago and is in the process of changing from being named “Pedrizzetti Winery” to “Morgan Hill Cellars.” It is in serious need of revitalization of its wine making practices; I would suggest that they begin with a more hygienic wine making process to rid their wines of serious flaws.

This winery needs to change not only to save itself, but to save the reputation of the Santa Clara Valley. If I were new to visiting the wine country and this were the first winery in the area I had visited, I probably wouldn’t bother to try another. The reputation of the Santa Clara Valley depends not on just a few good wineries, but that all of them hold to themselves a higher standard of what they are willing to put their name on.

Sarah's Vineyard

Sarah’s Vineyard is a gem in the Santa Clara Valley. Their wines are outstanding, especially their Chardonnays and their Roussanne. They have a new wine maker who will soon be releasing some Rhone varietals and I am excited to see what they will have to offer next year. If you take a trip to this wine region, a stop at this winery is an absolute must!

Solis Winery

Solis’ wines are very respectable and I especially enjoyed the 2007 Fiano Estate, the 2007 Muscat Canelli and the 2004 Sangiovese Estate. They have beautiful grounds and I had a great time sitting out on the porch sipping their wines while enjoying a pleasant conversation with another couple who were feasting on cheese and crackers along with a bottle Solis’ 2006 Chardonnay Estate.

Sycamore Creek

My last stop on my second trip the Santa Clara Valley was at Sycamore Creek. The mature vineyards on the rolling hills are absolutely stunning and their wines are equally impressive. I tasted their red wines in the Reserve collection which included the 2006 Carignane, the 2006 Malbec, the 2006 Cabernet Franc, and the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. All of these wines were exceptional, displaying the best of what the Santa Clara Valley AVA has to offer. Along with Sarah’s Vineyard, this is an absolute “must stop” if you are visiting this wine region. The wines are all complex, vibrant and exhibit all the best qualities that these varietals are able if given the proper terroir and handled by a true craftsman.

Friday, September 5, 2008

It’s not just what is IN the glass that matters….

Imagine that you have been driving expensive high powered sports cars for years…

…Porches…Ferraris… Lamborghinis… Corvettes…

You have spent a lot of money in order to enjoy driving the fastest thing on the road.

Then one day someone pointed out to you that you had the parking break on.

“The what?” you reply.

He points out to you that the entire time you have been driving you have had the break on and it dawns on you that you have always had it on.

You reach down, take off the break and suddenly you discover a whole new level of performance, power and speed that you didn’t know your automobile was capable of.

You had always thought of yourself as a sports car enthusiast… but now you have a new level of awareness as you say to yourself, “Wow, I’ve been missing out on so much for so long!”

Have you ever had a great wine at a winery, bought a bottle and then later when you got it home it didn’t seem to live up to what you had experienced at the winery?

The problem may not be in the wine, it may be the glass you are drinking from. Many high-end wineries use top of the line wine glasses (especially Reidel) which are not made from glass, but rather from crystal. But if you purchase their expensive wines and then drink them from the wrong type of glass you will cut short the wine’s ability to fully express itself.

Last night we had a Reidel crystal wine glass demonstration in a class I am taking at Los Positas College and I was absolutely amazed to discover what a huge difference the stemware makes. Not just the quality of the glass, but the design of the stemware makes a huge impact on how you experience the particular varietal of wine.

I own a few Reidel crystal wine glasses and I have been to many wineries that use them in sit-down tasting rooms. But I had never had a side by side comparison of the same wine in different glasses to discover what difference that not only the quality of the stemware makes but the size and shape as well.

Taste a $20 dollar Sauvignon Blanc from the right Reidel crystal wine glass and you will discover all that it has to offer on the nose and palate – honeysuckle, lime, passion fruit, lemon peel, yellow grapefruit, mineral and a little spice. Put that same wine in the wrong glass and the aromas are muted, the wine seems more acidic, the longevity of the follow through is shortened and over all it tastes more like a $10 bottle of wine. Then pout that same wine back into the correct Reidel crystal wine glass and all the flavors and smells you had previously enjoyed immediately come right back! Put that same wine into the wrong Reidel crystal wine glass, say one made for Pinot Noir, and you’ll again miss the full pleasure that the wine has to offer.

How can this be?

Just as different grapes need different soils and climates to fully express their God-given grandeur so also the wine from these grapes needs to be aerated for you nose and arrive on your tongue in a particular manner in order to fully convey what they have to offer.

In other words, a $100 Bordeaux could taste like a $10 knock-off if you don’t use the right stemware.

Here is what I don’t understand….. why in the world would a winery want people to sample their expensive wines in cheap $1 glasses which make their wines smell and taste like they came from a cheap bargain bin? And why wouldn’t high-end wineries tell their customers that they need the right stemware at home to fully enjoy their wines?

While I am really excited about this new revelation, there is one major draw back from this discovery…. these glasses are EXPENSIVE!

But now knowing what I do, can I really go on to enjoy my wines knowing that I am not experiencing their full potential in stemware not designed particularly for that type of wine?

Fortunately I was able to buy a really nice set of Reidel crystal wine glasses (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon) at a huge discounted price, about 1/3 of retail, which I will be using in my wine classes. But I think I’ll also starting taking these along with me on my Adventures in the Wine Country too and see what a difference it makes when I use my Reidel crystal wine glasses along side of their cheap wine tasting glasses with their winery logos.

I also know what I’ll be putting on my Christmas wish-list this year….