Category Archives: Stone and Chalk

Harvest 2011 – Week 4 – Grapes, Pigs, and Fun Varieties at Asti Winery

Week 4 has come to a rather quiet close as we only processed a few hundred tons this week atAsti.  It’s a drop in the bucket for what is to come this season.  We were led by Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris from the Lodi area which both had perfect Brix, crisp acids, and really nice flavors for that region.  The weather has again proved to be wonderful for quality wine growing and is forecasted to continue for the next week as well. 

 

At Asti, we have a tradition of roasting a whole pig for the cellar crew (and whoever else happens to be at the winery at the time) on the Friday before things really get cranking around here.  Today was that day!  We enjoyed a moment of togetherness before the work really starts and grapes begin to roll in like an avalanche.  This year we celebrated the 11th Pig Roast and it was thoroughly enjoyed by all! 

 

This week I also wanted to write a bit about the fantastic tasting that we held last week.  The theme was “Unusual Varieties from Around the World”.  I set up this tasting to open our winemaking minds to different varieties than we normally would see on the everyday supermarket shelf.  They cover a wide range of personalities as well as offering great values for the money (I’ve listed what I paid for them below) and I highly recommend you check them out!  Here is the list below….

 

Adega cooperative Regional de Moncao “Trajarinho” Vinho Verde 2010 Portugal    $8.99

Zesty and Fruity

A bright blend of Trajadura and Alvarinho, this wine was crisp with a bit of residual CO2 spritzing up the glass.  A moderately intense nose of citrus and lime zest introduced a dry, high acid palate with a light body.  Refreshing and clean this is a perfect summer wine!

 

Cantine di Marzo Fiano d’Avellino 2009 Italy     $14.99

Stone and Chalk

Fiano is such a savory variety.  It lacks the zesty fruit notes that most new world consumers expect making it a bit of a hunt here in the states but if you want something different it’s worth it.  It leads with aromas of hazelnut skins, wet granite and chalk.  It has a waxy nature to the texture that lends to a fuller body balanced by moderate acid and a long dry finish.  Pair with more savory fatty foods such as cheese, nuts, and cream sauces.

 

Icardi L’aurora 2009 Piedmonte Italy    $14.99

Zesty and Fruity

Cortese is one of my favorite Italian whites and I generally prefer it over its more popular neighbor Pinot Grigio.  Primarily found in the small Piedmonte region of Gavi this particular offering was sourced from the wider regional designation.  Light aromas of citrus and white flowers delicately emerge and are followed by an off-dry palate with moderate acid and a medium-light body.  It is very well balanced and easy to drink.

 

Hetszolo Tokaji Furmint Sec      $9.99

Stone and Chalk

This is another of those wines that is a bit challenging to find at your everyday wine store.  While Tokaji typically is most well known for its sweet Botrytized dessert style, these dry styles can offer great value and interesting appeal.  It leans more towards hazelnuts, citrus, golden raisins, and mineral flavors with a dry palate and medium + acid.  It finishes with an almost citrus rind texture which keeps the wine interesting and a fun pairing with different foods.

 

Pazo Senorans Rias Baixas 2008 Spain     $17.99

Fresh and Grassy

I like to think of Albarino (the Spanish version of Alvarinho which made an appearance in our first wine of the flight) as a flowery Sauvignon Blanc with the volume turned down.  The clean primary aromas of jasmine, grapefruit, and peach skin carry through on to the palate which is dry with medium acid and body.  It’s a riper style of Albarino however it is very tasty and I love the floral element to it.

 

Dominio del Plata “Crios de Susana Balbo” 2010 Torrontes Salta Argentina    $11.99

Elegant and Floral

Torrontes is one of my favorite floral varieties and one that you can impress your friends with at parties as it’s not well known but is a Muscat cousin so it has an amazing spicy and fruity nose that is hard to mistake.  Intense aromas of flowers, citrus, and an interesting lime Jello note give way to a dry palate with high acid and light body. If you likeMuscataromas but want something dry, try this one out!

 

That’s all for the whites… I’ll write about the Red varieties tasted in my Week 5 wrap up!

One Last Post Before the End of the World! A Week in Atlanta.

Apparently the world is going to end this evening so I figured I’d better get a post up before everything broke loose.  I’ve been in Atlanta, GA this week promoting Emma Pearl as well as attending the women’s blogger conference BlogHer-Food.  One of the seminars I’ve enjoyed the most was on using social media (i.e. Twitter and Facebook) to network.  I do use both however I use Twitter for more business related topics and Facebook for its original use which is keeping up with friends.  However the funniest revelation came towards the middle of the talk when everyone started talking about following metrics on their site traffic.  These included how many visitors came to their sites, where they came from etc…  I currently don’t use metrics and just as I was getting really worried that I was missing really critical data for my website all the speakers agreed that you could get too bogged down in reading the numbers and told all the people present to not look at them.  This was because they all felt they wrote better posts before they had the numbers.  Hmmm, perhaps being in the dark is good?

Anyway, I’ve been on a market blitz this week which entails going around to a ton of restaurants and small retailers to see if they’d be interested in selling my wines on their lists or in their stores.  I’ve done this before in SC last month but this was a much busier week filled with events including a winemaker dinner and hand selling the wines in Whole Foods.  I really enjoyed this part of it because I was able to connect with people who will be drinking the wines directly. 

While I’ve been gone, back in Napa we’ve gotten close to another 2 inches of precipitation this week in the form of both rain and hail.  So far this year is shaping up to be much like 2010; lots of rain and quite a bit of cool weather.  I’m interested to see if more vines are blooming when I return on Sunday. 

I’ve had some really nice wines this week including the 2009 Karl Kaspar Riesling Kabinett from Nahe Germany (Zesty and Fruity).  This was a medium sweet wine filled with white peache and apricot flavors as well as some underlying flinty notes.  I paired it with a Tuna Tartar with Asian inspired slaw which was fantastic!!  Another notable wine this week was the 2008 Sancerre from Chateau de Sancerre (Stone and Chalk) which was very dry and refreshing with really intriguing flavors of wet river rock and dried herbs.  As I look back over my notes I’ve noticed I’ve stuck with the white wines this week. 

My thanks to all in Atlanta who’ve made this week so fantastic!  This really is a great city and I’ve enjoyed every moment!

The Best Bang for Your Buck!!!: Finding Value in Wine

One of the questions I was asked to answer a short time ago is how does one tell which wine brands offer the best values for my money?  This is a particularly challenging question because the answer often is “it depends”.  The perception of value highly depends on the end consumer…of course this means you!  You, the consumer, give the wine a value, whether you realize it or not, depending on how it makes you feel when you enjoy it (or don’t enjoy it), when you talk about it with your friends, or how it makes you feel to purchase it. 

Take Burgundy for example.  This is a fantastic region of France making some really wonderful Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  In an effort to really get to know the Crus (areas and well known vineyards of the region) some friends of mine from the WSET Diploma and I got together and pooled our resources to do a major tasting.  We ended up buying around $800 worth of wine equaling 12 bottles which we tasted blind to get our own thoughts down on paper before the big reveal of what they each were and how much they each cost. One of these bottles was $230 by itself.  I don’t remember what producer or where at this point (but it’s in my notes so I could look it up if someone is interested) but I remember being astounded by the price as I compared it to similar quality wines that I had tasted from other regions.  I couldn’t help but feel a bit cheated.  The wine was not bad in its own right, in fact I had estimated it to be around the $80 however when the real price was revealed I felt that it was significantly overvalued when some of the less expensive options offered equivalent quality for far less.  The point is not which producer made this wine or where it came from but how it made me feel as the person who had spent good money to purchase it.

That’s the problem with purely stating which brands offer the best “value” for the money.  It all depends on your definition of value.  Some people value the producer.  Others value the price they paid for the wine.  Even more value the experience of drinking the wine with friends or family at a memorable moment in their lives.  I’ve heard numerous stories of people who are out with friends and they order wine.  The atmosphere is fun, the conversation, invigorating, and someone suggests that this wine may just be the best they’ve had in a long time.  Everyone agrees and some note the variety, producer, and vintage.  These folks even go so far as to seek it out again to recreate the experience they had trying it the first time only to be disappointed that it didn’t seem as good.  This happens often and it is as much about who you’re enjoying the wine with, and where as it is about the quality of the wine itself. 

Price paid is another major factor in the perceived value of the wine.  Say you buy a wine from the grocery store.  You paid $25.  It’s a special occasion and you wanted something nice so you decide to splurge on a “Luxury” wine.  You get it home, prepare dinner, open the wine with absolute enthusiasm and take a taste.  Somehow the wine doesn’t live up to what you thought you’d get for $25 and you’re disappointed.  Now what if you had bought the same quality wine for $15 but you think it was as good as any $20 bottle you’ve had.  Now you’re excited with your purchase and think you’ve gotten a deal.  The quality didn’t change, just the price, but your entire experience just shifted from one of disappointment to one of complete satisfaction.  That satisfied feeling is, for all intents and purposes, why you wanted to know the answer to the question “Which wines offer the best value for the money” in the first place.  

Now that being said it should be clear that I want you to determine for yourself what you value most in a wine.  This will come from boundless and unbridled experimentation with different regions, price points, styles, and varieties.  In a way, it is the reason I design my tasting notes around wine’s personalities which makes it easier to explore new things if you understand that it will be similar to something you already know you like.  However I will give you a few suggestions to start your search off in the right direction…

For sparkling wines Champagne has been the king however there are brands of bubbly from the new and old worlds that are really doing great things.  New Zealand’s Cloudy Bay makes a fantastic sparkling wine that rivals the quality of vintage Champagne for a fraction of the price.  I highly recommend it if you like Light and Bubbly. 

 

For dry white wines, there are few regions in the world that compare with the quality of Burgundian Chardonnay however if you want a really nice Chardonnay from Burgundy look to the north in Chablis (Stone and Chalk).  For some reason this little area of the world isn’t in as high demand as their neighbors to the south and for me this is a great opportunity.  The good ones are expensive still by everyday drinking standards but you can get a really nice Grand Cru Chablis for around $35 as opposed to the dollars you’d spend for a similar quality white Burgundy.  It’s also a refreshingly light style that is generally unoaked which will age quite well if you want to cellar it for a bit.

For dry red wines it’s hard not to look directly at Argentina for the best values.  Their ideal climate and inexpensive labor costs are a recipe for great wines at even better values.  As people discover this, the wine imports from Argentina in to the US have risen dramatically over the past 5 years but they are still offering good quality overall.  Not all of it is stellar but it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re going to get a better wine than what you paid for.  Predominant reds are Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon (Power Punches).  Another little known value from Argentina on the white side is Torrontes (Zesty and Fruity).  If you like Muscato or Gewurztraminers then you’ll probably like Torrontes as it’s an extremely aromatic and floral variety.

Now go forth!  Try new things.  It’s ok to be disappointed once in a while because the benefits of learning what you value in a wine far outweigh the short term sighs of finding out you’ve bought a wine you don’t value.  A great way to start is by finding local wine shops that offer tastings of their wares.  That way you can “test drive” the wine before you buy and everyone goes home happy.  Remember, only you can decide how to get the best bang for your buck with wine!