Friday, November 28, 2008

Adventures in Wine Tasting on Thanksgiving Day, 2008

While many spend the day focusing on watching football and overeating, Thanksgiving Day is a time for gathering together with family and friends to remember the Providential blessings of our nation’s forefathers and to express gratitude for all that we have been given in this country.

Traditionally this time of celebration is observed by fellow sitting together with loved ones around the dinner table to converse while feasting on turkey, potatoes, candied yams, corn bread, cranberry sauce, bread stuffing and pumpkin pie. But there is nothing better to integrate this time socializing and consumption of food than a well paired wine. So this year I chose two well paired wines from Santa Barbara - the 2005 Taz Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County and the 2004 Z Cuvée, Estate Bottled Santa Ynez Valley.

I first served the 2005 Taz Pinot Noir knowing that it would be a lighter red than the cuvee For this wine, Taz uses grapes from two vineyards in Santa Barbara County and then blends them in a complimentary way, resulting in balanced wine with a lot of complexity and nuanced fruit and spice qualities. About 70% of the wine is from the Fiddlestix Vineyard in Santa Rita Hills which lends the wine a core of dark berry fruit, while the remaing 30% of the fruit comes from the North Canyon Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley which supplies a more perfumed, spicy, red fruit character. The harvest took place over a three week period, between the 2nd and 21st of September, 2004.

With this wine, they have sort of taken a wide-angle snapshot of Santa Barbara County, a region known for its extended growing season, its coastal fogs and late afternoon breezes. Though this is not in the same rank as their flagship wine, the 100% Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Nor, they handle it the same way that they do their vineyard designate bottlings. They pick individual rows of individual blocks in Fiddlestix and North Canyon. Then they ferment whole berry in open top fermenters, keeping lots separate until it comes time to build the blend. Natasha Boffman’s goal, the winemaker, is to do as little to the fruit coming in as he needs to so that the this is a wine is a reflection of the terroir of the vineyard. At the time of bottling, the wine had a pH: 3.71, TA: 0.58g/100ml, Alcohol 14.9% and the the production was limited to 3100 cases.

My first impression on the nose is that it seemed a little excessive on the alcohol but as the wine aerated in my glass this quickly dissipated as I began to enjoy the intense notes of black cherry, light roasted coffee, cedar, dark chocolate, licorice and just a hint of tobacco and cinnamon. This wine paired well with the white meat turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy and bread stuffing in our Thanksgiving dinner. For $19.95 this is an excellent buy which explains why this was the last bottle on the shelf at Beltramos in Menlo Park.

Our second wine was the 2004 Z Cuvée, Estate Bottled from the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara. This is a unique blend of Rhone varietals including 60% Grenache, 26% Mourvedre, 13% Syrah and 1% Cinsaur. This unique combination of Rhone varietals is inspired by the Chateauneuf-de-Pape’s where they have been blending these wines together for centuries that together compliment each other such that the result is a wine that is greater than the sum of its parts. This is an enjoyable medium bodied red wine full of bright raspberry, fresh blueberry with firm but supple tannins with just a hint of dried herbs. This wine complemented the cranberry sauce, candied yams, green beans and cornbread that we enjoyed during our Thanksgiving feast. Although this wine was $5 cheaper than the first, at only $15 a bottle, this was universally the preferred wine of the evening.

Since 1972, Zaca Mesa has produced grapes from their sustainably grown estate vineyards to insure that their wines express their distinct varietal character They first started growing Rhône varieties in 1978 when they were the first to plant Syrah in Santa Barbara County. Over the years, the have discovered that portions of their vineyard are particularly well suited to other Rhône varieties such as the Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Cinsaut in this cuvée.

After a dry winter, the 2004 season started with cycles of hot and cool temperatures from early March through early May. These cycles were the contributed to 2004’s low grape yeild After a very mild summer, Santa Barbara experienced another hot cycle hit in early September which matured the small crop to ripeness when they were harvested from September 15th through October 7th. Though the days were hot, Syrah and the other Rhône varieties handled the heat well to produce intense, concentrated wines with bright flavors and lively acidity. After hand harvesting, the grapes were gently destemmed, fermented and barrel aged separately for seven months. Then the wines were combined and aged for an additional nine months in French oak barrels with a total of 16 months in French Oak (20% new oak). The cuvee was then bottled on February 21-22, 2006 with an acidity of 0.65 g/100mL, a pH of 3.49, alcohol at 14.5% with a total of 5,712 cases produced.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Book Review: “Judgment of Paris” by George M. Tabor

I purchased the book Judgment of Paris when it was first released in 2005, but until recently it sat on my shelf as a “one of these days” book to read. This semester I was studying the California wine regions so in addition to our assigned textbook, Matt Kramer’s New California Wine, I thought this book would be a helpful insight into the history of California wine.

However, as I read the book I found that while the central focus of Judgment of Paris is on the now famous 1976 wine competition, the breadth and depth of this book makes it an invaluable source for understanding the history and culture of wine of the entire world.

Part One of the book “A Driving Dream” is a personal account of the life of the man who spear headed the wine competition Steven Spurrier and his challenge of being a British wine entrepreneur and advocate in France.

The book then transitions into a brief account of the heritage of French wine and its place in the world as the domination unchallenged wine producer in the world, being viewed as have an inherent and unchallenged superiority.

In chapter 3 Tabor discusses the forgotten historical roots of California wine including the detrimental events of the severe frosts, the Great Earthquake, the rise of the disease of phylloxera and finally the deathblow of the Prohibition that brought the initial wine culture of California to a stop.

In Part Two “The Awakening” the author goes on to give his readers biographies of the founding fathers of the new Age of California wine such as Mike Grgch, Warren Winarsky, André Tchelistcheff, Robert Mondavi, Louis Martini, John Ingram, Rodney Strong and Jack Cakebread.

When we drink great wine we are not only experiencing the terrior of the land form which the grapes are grown, we are also encountering a bit of the soul of those who pour out their lives into each vintage. This is why I found particularly inspiring the accounts of the trials and tribulations and ascent to greatness of Grgch, Winarsky, Mondavi who had to overcome great obstacles, challenges and have faith to maintain their vision and dreams in order to accomplish such great achievements.

Part 3 of Judgment of Paris brings us to the dramatic event when the small pebble of the France vs. California wine competition plunged into the ocean making a ripple of waves that would spread throughout the world as these “kids from the sticks” beat the French at their own game, on their own field, using their own judges. The reader is given a detailed play by play of the wines that were entered, the judge’s reactions, and the scores that were given. A chapter is dedicated to all of the California wines and the French wines, including maps and charts providing a full account of this historic event.

In Part Four “The New World of Wine” we read of the far-reaching impact of the 1976 competition as the eyes of the world were opened to new possibilities never before imagined as Robert M. Parker Jr. said:

“The Paris tasting destroyed the myth of French Supremacy and marked the democratization of the wine world. It was a watershed in the history of wine.”

Tabor goes on to talk about how not only has the focus of where great wine can be made radically changed, but also how it is to be grown, marketed, and distributed. In essence, the global culture of wine has undergone a radical paradigm shift has taken place, all of which was sparked by the 1976 Judgment of Paris.

If you truly want to understand today’s wine world, this is definitely a “must read” book. For an interesting interview with the author, check out the following video: