Dom Pérignon 2010

Dom Perignon 2010
For tasting notes, click here.

There’s sparkling wine.  There’s Champagne.  And then, as far as I’m concerned, there is Dom Pérignon.

Sparkling wine is simply wine that contains bubbles of carbon dioxide gas.  There are four methods of infusing the wine with bubbles, which I won’t bother with here, and fizzy wine is made around the world.

“Champagne” has for a long time been used generically and interchangeably with sparkling wine.  But, in the European Union and many other countries the name Champagne has been legally protected by the Madrid system as far back as an 1891 treaty, which reserved it for the sparkling wine produced in the eponymous region and adhering to the standards defined for it as an appellation d’origine contrôlée.  In the early 2000s Australia, Chile, Brazil, Canada, and China passed laws that limit the use of the term “Champagne” to only those products produced in the Champagne region.  Since 2006, the United States has banned  the use from all U.S.-produced wine brands, with a specific exception: producers that had approval to use the term on labels before 2006 may continue to use it, provided the term is accompanied by the wine’s actual origin (e.g., “California”).  Hence,  a wine such as “Korbels California Champagne,” is still allowed.

Dom Pérignon is named after a Benedictine monk, Dom Pérignon (1638–1715),  who was a pioneer in Champagne wine but who, contrary to popular myth, did not discover how to make sparkling wines*.  However, he was the inventor of the second fermentation in the bottle, the Méthode Traditionelle (formerly Méthode Champenoise), that creates Champagne as we know it.

Continue reading “Dom Pérignon 2010”

Scheid VDR [Very Dark Red]

Click here for tasting notes.

Scheid Family Wines got their start in 1972 when Al Scheid first purchased property in Monterey County and wine grape growing there was in its infancy. Scheid was drawn to the region for what he considered its untapped potential, for making money as well as farming.  Scheid was running his own investment company at the time.  A graduate of Harvard Business School and an investment banker, he realized that vineyards could make an excellent tax shelter, with their usual heavy investment on the front end and no income until at least five years later.  Originally named Monterey Farming Corporation, the enterprise he founded was a limited partnership; the tax laws at that time allowed investors to offset losses in one business against regular income from another one elsewhere.  And even before one acre was planted, Scheid, shrewd operator that he was, had found a customer for 100% of the grape production he anticipated (although, I’m guessing, not allowing revenue to outpace expenses, for a few years at least).

A hard-nosed origin story, for sure.  But Scheid was a firm believer in Mark Twain’s quote: “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” So the truth is what it is.

Scheid brought his eldest son, Scott, who had been working on Wall Street as an options trader, into the expanding business in 1986.  (He is now CEO.)  In 1988, Kurt Gollnick, an admired viticulturist who had previously farmed for Bien Nacido Vineyards, was brought on as General Manager of Vineyard Operations.  A few years later, Scheid’s daughter Heidi, who had been working as a business valuation consultant after earning her MBA, also joined the operation.

Initial plantings were heavy on Colombard, Chenin Blanc, and Ruby Cabernet, but by the early ’90s the market was calling for Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and, due to the 60 Minutes broadcast of The French Paradox, Merlot.  In addition, during these first 20 years or so, quite a bit of knowledge about farming wine grapes in Monterey County had been accumulated. Countering these positive developments, the vineyard scourge called phylloxera was killing vines in a large portion of the Scheid vineyards.  Other challenges, such as improvements to the irrigation system, were also involved.

A businessman first and foremost, Scheid bought out all of the initial outside investors so that operations could be streamlined and decisions made more expeditiously.  In short order, almost every single vineyard acre was redeveloped;  a new vineyard was acquired and planted to Pinot Noir; the number of customers was expanded from two to 20; and the company was rechristened Scheid Family Wines.

Continue reading “Scheid VDR [Very Dark Red]”

Underground Cellar, a Wine Site with a Twist

As a wine enthusiast and blogger, I’m always looking for delicious wines at attractive prices, and I bet you are too or you wouldn’t be reading this.

I belong to a handful of winery membership clubs, such as Cline, Clos Pegase, Keenan, and Truchard, all of which I recommend.  I also get alerts from wine flash sale sites, including Wine ‘Til Sold Out, Last Bottle, and Invino.  And I’ve tried a number of online wine clubs, like First Leaf, Wine Insiders, Vinesse, Naked Wines, Laithwaites, and WSJWine (the latter two being the same operation under different names.)  They all feature appealing loss-leader introductory offers, so trying a few is worthwhile.  First Leaf is the one I’ve stayed with, for their good selections and attentive service.

 

A wine site with a twist is Underground Cellar.  The wines aren’t the cheapest; prices start at about $25 a bottle, and increase from there.  Every day a new featured offer goes up, and you can buy any number of bottles, with free shipping on a case.  Standard stuff.  But here’s where things get interesting.  When you buy three or more bottles, they promise to upgrade all but one of them to a wine worth more than the offer price.  For example, on a recent Cabernet Sauvignon deal you could buy, say, six bottles for $180.  There is one “buy-in” selection that retails for $30 that you know you will get, and then UC selects five more for you from a range of, in this example, 20 to be upgraded.  You can’t pick the selections, but there is a list of what’s available. (On some offers, all bottles in the order are upgraded.)  There’s even a very slim chance the upgrade would be huge, like to a Stag’s Leap magnum worth $524.  And if you buy only a bottle or two at a time, UC will store them at no charge until you have accumulated a full case to get the free shipping.

If you’re looking for higher-end wines at reasonable prices, I suggest you give Underground Cellar a try. I am a satisfied customer myself.  Visit the homepage and enter your e-mail address, or sign in with Facebook to get started. Joining Underground Cellar is free, and there are no monthly fees or purchase obligations.

When you enroll, please use referral code AMBSTEPHENAs a bonus, if you use that code you will get $50 OFF YOUR FIRST ORDER OF $100 OR MORE. Yes, I will receive a small compensation if you sign up.  But hey, I’ve got to buy wine too, right?

 

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Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville 2017

Click here for tasting notes
Josephine Tychson

In 1881, Josephine Marlin Tychson and her Danish husband, John, traveled from Pennsylvania to St. Helena in the hope of alleviating his tuberculosis and becoming vintners. They purchased 147 acres of property just north of town from a retired sea captain, William Sayward, who had earlier bought the land from Charles Krug. They planted Zinfandel, Riesling, and “Burgundy” vines on the estate. Five years later, Tychson Cellars was established, but not before John’s despair over his affliction caused him to commit suicide.

After this sad event, the undaunted Josephine continued to nurture the vines she and her husband had planted together, and with the help of her foreman, Nils Larsen, she oversaw the construction of an impressive redwood winery, large enough to contain up to 30,000 gallons of wine. She became the first woman in the entire state of California to oversee the building of a winery and one of the first few female winemakers in the state.

However, her stewardship only lasted until 1894, when  she sold the facility to Larsen. He in turn leased the property to Italian immigrant Antonio Forni and sold it to him in 1898. Forni renamed the winery Lombarda Cellars after his birthplace in Italy, and the following year he razed Tychson’s winery and constructed a new building out of hand-hewn stones from nearby Glass Mountain. Workers were primarily Italian; many of their descendants live in St. Helena to this day. This historic winery structure was until fairly recently used for barrel storage and wine making, but both have since been moved off site. All wines are now made at Cardinale Winery in Oakville, part of Jackson Family Wines, the current owner of Freemark.

Forni concentrated his efforts on making Chianti and other Italian-style wines which he marketed to the numerous Italians that had moved to Barre, Vermont, the site of America’s largest marble and granite quarries. Like so many others, Forni was forced to cease most operations when Prohibition began in 1920. He was licensed to produce sacramental wine for the Catholic Church, but that barely kept the operation viable.

Lombarda Cellars on Highway 29 in 1939
The historic building today.

Forni, who never fully recovered from Prohibition, sold the winery and vineyard in 1939 to three businessmen from Southern California, Albert “Abbey” Ahern, Charles Freeman, and Markquand Foster. They renamed the winery Freemark Abbey. (Amusingly, despite the sacramental wine production history, the winery has never been part of a monastery or a religious body; the name is instead a combination which includes a portion of each partner’s name.) The winery opened a “sampling room” in 1949, making this one of the first tasting rooms in Napa Valley. (Incidentally in the 1950s Freemark Abbey was one of the largest up-valley wine grape jelly producers. An article from the September 10, 1952 issue of the Napa Register references at least twelve different types of jellies produced at the winery that year.) Continue reading “Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville 2017”

Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Click here for tasting notes.

Three decades ago, on my first visit to Napa valley, I stopped by Beringer for a tasting.  I didn’t know much about Beringer at the time, mostly that they had a long history and made some well-regarded wines.  Back then, tastings were free, but a friend had given me a tip to skip that and head upstairs to the Founders room, where you could sample Beringer’s best wines for $10.  As a bonus, there was a crowd downstairs, but I had upstairs nearly to myself. I left that session with a life-long affinity and appreciation of what Cabernets from Napa could be like. (Today, the basic tasting is $45, and the high-end samplings are $125 or $150, depending on which way you go.)

Jacob Beringer

In 1868, Jacob Beringer, enticed by the opportunities of the new world, sailed from his home in Mainz, Germany, to New York. However, after hearing that the rocky hillside soil and fertile valley floor of Napa Valley resembled that of vineyards back home in Germany, Jacob made his way to California in 1869. He became cellar foreman for Charles Krug, one of the first commercial winemakers in Napa Valley. A few years later, in 1875, Jacob and his brother, Frederick, purchased 215 acres next door to Charles Krug in St. Helena for $14,500. This parcel of land, known as Los Hermanos (the brothers), became the heart of the Beringer estate.

Here, the brothers oversaw their first harvest and crush in 1876. With Jacob serving as winemaker and Frederick as financier, they made approximately 40,000 gallons of wine, or 18,000 cases, that first year. In order to house the fermentation tanks, the first two floors of the original winery were built, and Chinese workers began digging a 1,200-foot-long tunnel to store the wine for aging.

The Beringer cave.

Continue reading “Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013”

August Hill Winery Berlyn NV

Click here for tasting notes.
Mark Wenzel

In 2002, Mark Wenzel, his wife Teri, and childhood friend Sean Ginocchio (who sold his interest in 2010) founded August Hill Winery on the hilltop land his grandfather August Engelhaupt had farmed, occasionally with Wenzel’s help. Located in Utica, Illinois, about 90 miles southwest of Chicago, in the ensuing years August Hill has expanded to include caves for aging wine, a tasting room, and a sparkling wine label called Illinois Sparkling Company.

Wenzel is both business partner and winemaker. Although he took a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Florida, he had always had an interest in wine and experimented making small batches through the years.  Once he learned that, unlikely enough, northern Illinois was developing as a viable vineyard region, the Illinois countryside and his farm boy roots beckoned to him.  After seven years as an engineer, Wenzel decided to add a new career and immersed himself in the details of grape-growing climates, varietals, and winemaking while still working in engineering for an additional seven years before he could turn to winemaking full-time. Along the way, he received hands-on experience and support from others in the winemaking industry, from both Illinois and California. When he began the sparkling wine program, he consulted with industry experts as well as an expert from France, with whom he continues to work.

Teri Wenzel is August Hill’s visual taste-maker. She’s the creative eye behind everything from the product packaging to the tasting room environment. Continue reading “August Hill Winery Berlyn NV”

Von Strasser Diamond Terrace Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Click here for tasting notes.
Rudy von Strasser

Rudy von Strasser is a Napa legend; he’s worked there for over 30 years, and played a huge part in founding the Diamond Mountain District, a part of the Mayacamas Range dividing Napa Valley from Sonoma Valley, and famous for its Cabernet. He was also instrumental in having the region designated as an AVA (American Viticultural Area).

Von Strasser first entered the wine business in 1989, but he didn’t start out there. He graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 1980 with a thesis on hard-cider production, quite arcane for the time. His vision was to modernize the cider industry. While traveling the country with the intention of gleaning tips-and-tricks from the wine industry to apply to hard-cider production, he took a job at Robert Mondavi Winery in 1980; while there, he ended up falling in love with wine instead. He enrolled in UC Davis, famous for spawning thousands of winemakers, and graduated in 1985. Blessed by good fortune, a family friend introduced him to Baron Eric de Rothschild at Chateau Lafite-Rothschild and von Strasser became the first American intern at the venerable chateau. After his year was up, von Strasser returned to Napa Valley and worked for both Trefethen in the cellar and then Newton Vineyard as the assistant winemaker under John Kongsgaard. In 1989, immediately after his marriage to Rita, the couple began looking for a vineyard property on which to make their home.

In short order, they located a small block of property on Diamond Mountain that was originally planted in 1970 and was known as Roddis Cellars, but was being used by its then owner the British Gilby Gin family as a corporate retreat. In 1990, the von Strassers bought the estate and began renovating and modernizing the property, including an historic barn. Getting off to a running start, the first vintage was produced that same year from the existing six acres of Cabernet Sauvignon. Located in a large bowl in the mountain, which is also home to Diamond Creek and Reverie wineries, the von Strasser estate vineyard today is planted with 12 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon plus about three acres of Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Grüner Veltliner at 500 to 1,000 feet in elevation. Continue reading “Von Strasser Diamond Terrace Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2015”

Metz Road Riverview Vineyard Pinot Noir 2020

Click here for tasting notes.

Scheid Family Wines got their start in 1972 when Al Scheid first purchased property in Monterey County and wine grape growing there was in its infancy. Scheid was drawn to the region for what he considered its untapped potential, for making money as well as farming.  Scheid was running his own investment company at the time.  A graduate of Harvard Business School and an investment banker, he realized that vineyards could make an excellent tax shelter, with their usual heavy investment on the front end and no income until at least five years later.  Originally named Monterey Farming Corporation, the enterprise he founded was a limited partnership; the tax laws at that time allowed investors to offset losses in one business against regular income from another one elsewhere.  And even before one acre was planted, Scheid, shrewd operator that he was, had found a customer for 100% of the grape production he anticipated (although, I’m guessing, not allowing revenue to outpace expenses, for a few years at least).

A hard-nosed origin story, for sure.  But Scheid was a firm believer in Mark Twain’s quote: “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” So the truth is what it is. Continue reading “Metz Road Riverview Vineyard Pinot Noir 2020”

Ernest Vineyards

An American Viticultural Area, or AVA, is an American wine-growing region classification system inspired by the French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, or AOC, but without the French rigor.  An AVA simply defines a geographic area, and omits grape varieties, maximum production per acre, alcohol levels, etc.  The requirements for wine with an AVA designation is that 85 percent of the grapes used must be grown there, and the wine be fully finished within the state or one of the states in which the AVA is located. AVAs range in size from several hundred acres to several million; some reside within other larger AVAs.

California’s newest AVA is the West Sonoma Coast American Viticultural Area, located on the farthest western sliver of Sonoma County, holding approximately 50 vineyards planted with varieties ranging from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to Syrah in this cold, marginal grape-growing region.

Sonoma’s 19th AVA encompasses the steep, rugged mountainous terrain along the Pacific Ocean coastline. Elevations range from 400 to 1,800 feet, with vineyards planted on steep ridge tops along the San Andreas fault line up against the consistently cold Pacific Ocean, both above and below the fog line. The maritime conditions moderate the temperature in the vineyards – daytime highs are cooler, while nighttime lows are warmer than just a few miles inland. This modest diurnal temperature swing allows the fruit to ripen slowly throughout the day and the night, a phenomenon experienced only in a truly cold-climate, maritime environment.

For West Sonoma Coast Vintners member Alma Fria, the West Sonoma Coast is distinguished by its remarkable originality, “The West Sonoma Coast combines a cold, maritime climate with rocky, well-drained soils and a mountainous topography. It is a rare terroir indeed, one that distills coastal redwoods with a seafaring spirit. It has lured adventurers, naturalists, and pioneers for a near century.”

Indeed, the area comprising the West Sonoma Coast AVA has a long agricultural history dating back to the 1880s, with the earliest vitis vinifera vines planted as early as 1817. In addition to wine grapes, the area still produces commercial apples and supports a lively dairy and ranching industry, as well as many nature parks, conservancy efforts and environmental projects.

Ernest Vineyards

Todd Gottula and Erin Brooks

Located in the new AVA, Ernest Vineyards was co-founded by wife and husband team Erin Brooks and Todd Gottula in 2012. The winery was named for Gottula’s grandfather, Ernest, who he credits with introducing him to every aspect of good food, good service, and good wine. First working in the technology industry, Gottula has been in the wine world since 2007, when he bought a four-acre vineyard and planted Pinot Noir, embarking on a new phase as a grape grower. He went on to develop relationships with winegrowers and wine producers in the Sonoma region. Continue reading “Ernest Vineyards”

Tenuta Vineyards

Nancy Tenuta is one of only six female winery owners in the Livermore Valley, due east of San Francisco. Tenuta and her then-husband Ron purchased a 22-acre lot just east of the Ruby Hill subdivision in Livermore in June 2000 with the vision of immersing themselves in the world of wine. There, 14 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were being grown in about a 50/50 mix. All of the vines were between 12 and 25 years old at the time. Over the next three years, the Tenutas built a 16,000-square-foot winery and a 5,000-square-foot estate home nearby. In all, they invested more than $5 million in the project, money that Nancy Tenuta collected using a variety of “creative” means, according to her, given that banks aren’t fond of such risky ventures.

Nancy Tenuta graduated from Portland State University in 1981, and spent the next twenty years in the business world. She held a number of sales positions, and in the 1990s she traded stocks. Ron Tenuta was general manager of Protection Services Industries in Livermore, which specializes in commercial security.

With the owner’s extensive business savvy, Tenuta Vineyards quickly became Livermore’s third-largest winery in a valley that has produced wine for more than 150 years. The first and second spots are held by Wente Vineyards (300,000 cases a year) and Concannon Vineyards (200,000 cases a year) respectively. As they began to plan their operation, the Tenutas researched the local market and discovered that many wineries there were small and had no production facilities or space to store their wine. Therefor, they ambitiously built a winery facility much larger than they needed so they could provide custom crushing, sorting, barrel storage, bottling, and even vineyard maintenance to others. Because of this, Tenuta’s own wines are a minority of the operation. Only 3,000 cases of the 30,000 produced annually is released under the Tenuta label. The rest is private labeled for 15 other growers in the area. Continue reading “Tenuta Vineyards”

Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyards Pinot Noir 2019

An American Viticultural Area, or AVA, is an American wine-growing region classification system inspired by the French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, or AOC, but without the French rigor.  An AVA simply defines a geographic area, and omits grape varieties, maximum production per acre, alcohol levels, etc.  The requirements for wine with an AVA designation is that 85 percent of the grapes used must be grown there, and the wine be fully finished within the state (or one of the states) in which the AVA is located. AVAs range in size from several hundred acres to several million; some reside within other larger AVAs.

California’s newest AVA is the West Sonoma Coast American Viticultural Area, located on the farthest western sliver of Sonoma County, holding approximately 50 vineyards planted with varieties ranging from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to Syrah in this cold, marginal viticultural region.

Sonoma’s 19th AVA encompasses the steep, rugged mountainous terrain along the Pacific Ocean coastline. Elevations range from 400 to 1,800 feet, with vineyards planted on steep ridge tops along the San Andreas fault line up against the consistently cold Pacific Ocean, both above and below the fog line. The maritime conditions moderate the temperature in the vineyards – daytime highs are cooler, while nighttime lows are warmer than just a few miles inland. This modest diurnal temperature swing allows the fruit to ripen slowly throughout the day and the night, a phenomenon experienced only in a truly cold-climate, maritime environment.

For West Sonoma Coast Vintners member Alma Fria, the West Sonoma Coast is distinguished by its remarkable originality, “The West Sonoma Coast combines a cold, maritime climate with rocky, well-drained soils and a mountainous topography. It is a rare terroir indeed, one that distills coastal redwoods with a seafaring spirit. It has lured adventurers, naturalists and pioneers for a near century.”

Indeed, the area comprising the West Sonoma Coast AVA has a long agricultural history dating back to the 1880s, with the earliest vitis vinifera vines planted as early as 1817. In addition to wine grapes, the area still produces commercial apples and supports a lively dairy and ranching industry, as well as many nature parks, conservancy efforts and environmental projects.

In the early 1970s, Joe Phelps started looking for a place to make a little wine. After a stint in the Navy, he’d grown his father’s Greeley, Colorado-based construction business into a multi-state powerhouse, expanding to northern California in the mid-1960s to work on bridge and dam projects and the infrastructure for BART. As a hobby, he did some home winemaking in Greeley using grapes shipped by air overnight from Napa. After landing the contract to build the Souverain Winery, the idea of starting his own winery took hold.

Continue reading “Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyards Pinot Noir 2019”

Robert Hall Cabernet Sauvignon 2019

Located 20 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Paso Robles is in California’s South Central Coast region. It is one of California’s oldest wine production areas, with a winemaking tradition that stretches back to the 1790s. Known particularly for its rolling hills and valleys, nearly 80% of the wines produced here are red varietals, including Syrah, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. The climate of hot days ripen the grapes, and cool nights help to maintain acidity, complexity, and aromatics. Soils vary from silts to silt loams to clay to limestone.

An entrepreneur out of St. Paul, Minnesota who founded and grew a broad range of innovative businesses, Robert Hall and his family went on a trip to southern France in the 1970s and their passion for wine began. After “retiring” in 1999, he came to Paso Robles to realize his dream of owning a winery, which he did until his death in 2014.

When Hall and his wife Margaret purchased the land “there was nothing there” as she recalled, “but dirt.” The two were hands-on building their dream, designing the production facilities and winery. Twenty-six feet below ground are 19,000 square feet of caves. This cool sanctuary is home to 4,000 premium French oak barrels. Now the fifth-largest winery in Paso Robles, Robert Hall was named “Winery of the Year” by the California State Fair and California Mid-State Fair.

The winery and tasting room.

In August of 2016, Robert Hall was purchased by O’Neill Vintners & Distillers, the seventh-largest wine producer in California by volume. In addition to Robert Hall, the company’s national brands include Line 39, Harken, Exitus, Day Owl Rose, Austerity, and Intercept. Continue reading “Robert Hall Cabernet Sauvignon 2019”

Reddy Vineyards Field Blend 2017

A fifth-generation farmer, Vijay Reddy came to the U.S. in 1971 to pursue a graduate degree in soil and plant science, and obtained a doctorate in 1975 from Colorado State University. Along with his wife Subada, Dr. Reddy established and ran a soil consulting laboratory for 20 years while also farming cotton, peanuts, and various other produce in the high plains of west Texas near Lubbock (Reddy is a fifth-generation farmer).

In 1997, Reddy’s friends Neil Newsom and Bobby Cox talked him into planting five acres of grapes. Since his property was composed of sandy loam soils mixed with limestone deposits at an elevation of 3,305 feet, it seemed like a worthwhile experiment. Indeed, the grapes thrived.  In short order, Reddy abandoned all but grape farming, and now has 400 acres under vine; the operation sells 38 varietals to a number of Texas wineries.

Reddy Vineyards has been recognized as a leading source of premium grapes by wine producers now for more than 20 years and is considered a pioneer in the Texas Wine industry due to their willingness to experiment with different grapes.

The Reddys

Continue reading “Reddy Vineyards Field Blend 2017”

Niepoort Dry White Porto

True Ports (now often referred to as Portos) hail from the Douro valley in northern Portugal, and have done so for over three hundred years. The region’s predominant soil is schist, composed of various medium-grained to coarse-grained metamorphic rocks with laminated, often flaky parallel layers of micaceous minerals.  The low annual rainfall makes this probably one of the driest regions of the world where grapes are grown without irrigation. This terroir results in very low-yielding vineyards, with vines bearing only a very few small bunches of full-flavored grapes whose thick skins protect them from dehydration.

Port is a fortified wine. Fortification is the addition of brandy (usually) or a neutral spirit to wine in order to boost the alcohol content. Fortified wines are often sweet, because the alcohol kills the yeast before fermentation completely runs its course, leaving residual sugar. This accounts for Port’s characteristic rich, luscious style and also contributes to the wine’s considerable ageing potential. Fortification also stabilizes the wine, a definite benefit for a product destined for the long sea voyage from Portugal to England, the first large market for it.

There are four basic categories of Port: vintage, tawny, ruby, and white.  Vintage Ports are the rarest (just one to three percent of all Port production), the best quality, and the most expensive, of course.  They are made from grapes of a single vintage and bottled within two years of harvest.  In order to maintain the highest quality standards, vintage Ports are only made in the best years, which are “declared.” These wines can age extremely well; there is an old English tradition where a vintage Port is purchased on a child’s birth year, and consumed to celebrate when he or she turns 21.  (Late Bottled Vintage Port is bottled at either four or six years old; although they have been aged longer, these Ports are often of second-tier quality when compared to a producer’s Vintage offerings.) Tawny Ports are a blend of fruit from many different years, and can be wood-aged for as many as 40 years.  A high-quality tawny Port will always list the barrel age on the label.  The characteristic amber color is the result of this wood aging.  Ruby Ports are made from wines not deemed worthy of vintage classification, and are aged in wood for about two years.  These youthful, fruity Ports are often the least expensive.  White Ports are made like other Ports, just using white grapes.  Although they have been made for as long as red Ports, they are much less familiar to Port drinkers.  Indeed, I’ve been consuming Port for decades, but this is the first white I have tried.  (These white wines run the gamut from sweet to dry, and are usually consumed as an aperitif.

The Douro

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Sosie Rosé of Syrah Vivio Vineyard Bennett Valley Sonoma 2021

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and it’s a maxim Sosie Wines lives by. “Sosie” [so-zee] is French for twin or doppelganger, and as it says right on the bottle, “We are inspired by the wines of France. So we employ an Old World approach to wine growing that favors restraint over ripeness, finesse over flamboyance. Our aim is to craft wines that show a kinship with France’s benchmark regions. Wines that are their sosie.”

Sosie Wines also pays homage to the French tradition of location, or terroir, believing that the vineyard site is perhaps the most important component of a bottle of wine.

Sosie Wines co-owner Regina Bustamante was introduced to wine at an early age, one of the first being Chateauneuf du Pape. “I remember the shape of those bottles and the crossed-keys of the papal crest. It was a symbol you could trust, my mom used to say. I never forgot that, and as a young adult one of the first places I had to visit in France was Chateauneuf. To this day I still love those wines.”

On a quest to cement that fascination, in 2006 she and partner  Scott MacFiggen took a trip to the Loire in western France, and then in 2008 they spent 10 days traveling the Côte de Nuits, walking the vineyards and tasting the wines. In 2016 they visited both northern and southern Rhone, working their way down from Côte-Rôtie to St. Joseph. Continue reading “Sosie Rosé of Syrah Vivio Vineyard Bennett Valley Sonoma 2021”