Swirls: more on Clinton wedding wine

As The Wedding approaches today, lots of outlets are carrying the story of how residents inconvenienced by all the activity involving the Chelsea Clinton-Marc Mezvinsky nuptials  in Rhinebeck, New York, were given bottles of Clinton Vineyards’ Tribute. The wine is a seyval blanc, a white variety, and the New York Post appears to have gotten it wrong by calling it a sauvignon blanc, which the winery does not produce. But then again, the Post isn’t especially known for its wine coverage. In any event, we’ll be watching for more details of what wines were served at the wedding today as they trickle out from folks who attended.


Swirls: A Clinton wedding and a Clinton winery; an iPad wine list, and a ‘Nat Decants’ app

SWIRL:  The wines of Clinton Vineyards in Clinton Cornerclintons, N.Y. are getting the kind of attention this weekend that money alone can’t buy but that money and a Clinton wedding certainly can.  Though the wall of silence remains on details of Chelsea Clinton’s wedding to Marc Mezvinsky in Rhinebeck, N.Y., Wine Spectator has a juicy little tidbit on guests receiving a bottle of the winery’s Tribute, a seyval blanc.

SWIRL: While most South Gatepeople might consider it downright rude to break out an iPad in a restaurant (the iPod and iPhone are much easier to conceal in one’s lap), at least one high-end restaurant in  New York, South Gate, is using the iPad to feature its wine list, along with label images and other photographs. Seems like a cool idea indeed, although the iPad’s cost, starting at $499, might give “expensive wine list” new meaning. Read more at geek.com.


SWIRL: And speaking of apps, the Canadian wine jonat decandsurnalist Natalie MacLean, who is something of a one-woman wine  information industry, has a new mobile app that culls a great deal from her Nat Decants Web site, including 380,000 wine and food pairings (can there possibly be that many?) and thousands of wine reviews and recipes, among other things.




Swirls: rolling the dice on a restaurant wine list

Some restaurants continue to take their customers for granted when it comes to the wine end of the equation. Take the experience I had the other night at a beachfront restaurant at a  resort town that will go unnamed because the point here is to illustrate an issue rather than to point a finger at any specific establishment. This was a “family style” restaurant in a great location with  standard fare, ranging from pizzas and pastas to wine list burgers and lobster rolls, steamed mussels and various salads -- you get the idea. The wine list was standard as well, with maybe 15 bottles, most of them familiar names at somewhat inflated resort prices.

I settled on the 2008 Sycamore Lane Chardonnay. The wine caught my interest because, at $30 and with a “Santa Barbara, California” appellation listed, it seemed like a potentially good value. Or so I thought. Our friendly server appeared with the bottle and announced, “Here’s your wine.” But, in reality it wasn’t “our wine.” I noticed as she held the bottle that the vintage was 2009 not 2008. Strike one, as as a sinking feeling started to come over me. For one thing, I realized that any chance of at least a little bottle age in our chardonnay was gone. Then, as I tasted it, I noted that this was a pretty generic wine – drinkable but undistinguished. Strike two. Still, I nodded to our young server that it was okay, deciding that it wasn’t worth rocking the boat in front of our friends and children. On closer inspection, the label revealed a “California” appellation, the broadest and most generic, so the grapes really could have been from anywhere in the state. Strike three. In any event, as our food came and we settled in, the wine seemed, well, fine. And that may be the point. Most people may not realize the difference or care, but for those of us who do, is it too much to ask that the information on the wine list reflect what’s on the label and in the bottle? For $30 or potentially much more, I think not.


Sips: Enjoying Schramsberg’s superb sparkling rosé

Just before going out to dinner last night, we broke out a bottle of Schramsberg’s 2006 Brut Rosé with friends, and we wereSchramsberg brut rose not disappointed. I’ve become a real Schramsberg fan over the  years  -- the winery’s all-chardonnay Blanc de Blanc is a  favorite --and I would put the Brut Rosé right up there in terms of complex and rewarding sparklers. Pale salmon in color, the wine reveals enticing aromas of bread and citrus. In the mouth, the bubbles are very fine and the tastes include red berry, lemon-lime and an herb touch that gives it an interesting end note. The citrus also lingers as it goes down. The wine is nicely balanced with zippy acidity, which makes it truly refreshing and an excellent companion for food. It matched particularly well with a smoked trout cream spread. The blend is 68 percent pinot noir and 32 percent chardonnay. The grapes come from Carneros, the Anderson Valley and the Sonoma and Marin County coastal areas. Alcohol is 12.6 percent. The suggested price is $41, which isn’t exactly a bargain, but when you think of all those lesser $10-a-glass wines at restaurants and wine bars, it kind of puts things in perspective. Besides, on a clear summer evening with a cool breeze, the wine seemed just perfect for the season.  (Received as a press sample.)


Swirls: the fastest-growing wine variety; California wine exports to China; wines by the glass

SWIRL: The fastest growing white wine variety in the United States in terms of sales is – drum roll, please -- riesling. Jim Trezise, president of the International Riesling Foundation, which promotes the grape, made the observation at this month’s Riesling Rendezvous in Bellevue, Washington.  However, he said, the “food friendliness” of riesling isn’t recognized by many wine drinkers, and riesling-taste-profile2consumers who don’t drink riesling aren’t particularly interested in trying it. At least at this point. One tool the riesling industry is promoting, with some success, is a very useful dry-to-sweet scale for the back labels on riesling bottles that tells consumers (and retailers) exactly where a bottle of riesling stands.

SWIRL: China’s growth as a wine-consuming country has been very good news for some wine regions. Bordeaux, for example, now counts China as a vital market for its wines. There’s evidence as well that American wineries are benefiting. Bloomberg Businessweek reports that  California exports to China grew a whopping 64 percent between 2008 and 2009.

SWIRL: Wine by the glass is still a very mixed bag in restaurants when it comes to depth and quality. In general, if you and a friend are each going to have a couple of glasses of wine, it pays to consider ordering a bottle, which will provide more choices and potential cost savings. That said, the AP reports that more restaurants are expanding wine-by-the-glass programs, including, yes, wines on tap.


Sips: St. Supéry’s notable un-oaked chardonnay

When it comes to un-oaked versions of chardonnay, the standard for me is Chablis, the northern Burgundy appellation where most  of the wines are made without exposure to wood but have a good deal of complexity thanks to their distinct minerality.  Unfortunately, it’s more difficult to find that character in un-oaked chardonnays from California, and the wst. superyines often suffer from a one-dimensionality without the added element of barrel  aging. One wine that succeeds, however, is St. Supéry’s 2009 Oak Free Chardonnay from the Napa Valley.

I brought a bottle of it to a dinner the other night -- friends roasted a whole 16-pound striped bass on the grill with lots of fresh thyme, parsley and lemon -- and the wine was a great way to start things off as eight of us got ready to feast on this magnificent fish outdoors on a cool evening under a  moon-filled sky. The wine is notable for its refreshing style, and one  of our friends said it reminded her of sauvignon blanc with its slightly grassy and citrus notes. I myself found a good deal of grapefruit and green apple in the mix and, interestingly, the wine turns out to be 99 percent chardonnay and one percent sauvignon blanc, demonstrating how a little bit of sauvignon can go a long way.  Alcohol is 13.5 percent and acidity is ample, making this not only an excellent food wine but one that nicely whets the appetite for things to come. The suggested price is $22. (Received as a press sample.)


Sips: a top small-production chenin blanc from Kyra Wines in Washington

This one falls under the category of excellent small-production wine at a very reasonable price. The setting was Bellevue, Washington on a recent Saturday night. I had arrived a day ahead of the third annual Riesling Rendezvous, a major conference on the grape, and found myself looking for a place to have a glass of wine or two and a bite to eat. Not far from my hotel I came across the Purple Café and Wine Bar, a large and attractive space that had plenty of room at the bar. After scanning the wines offered by th  Templatee glass, I went with the 2008 Columbia Valley Chenin Blanc from Kyra  Wines. The winery, based in Moses Lake, Washington, was unfamiliar to me, which was understandable when I read on its Facebook page that it produces just 2,000 cases a year, divided among three whites and five red offerings. Indeed, the chenin blanc, with 430 cases of the ‘08 produced, is one of the bigger bottlings, though, of course, tiny compared with production of some of the bigger and more familiar Washington wineries. The grapes were sourced from the Harold Pleasant Vineyard in the Yakima Valley.

I was immediately struck by the wine’s pronounced acidity, which provided nice balance to a bit of residual sugar . The overall impression was dry and fruity with lots of tropical fruit notes, apricot and a burst of citrus. It turned out to be an excellent match for a number of small plates I ordered, including salmon tartare and a spicy soybean-based edamame hummus.  The glass was $8.50, which is pretty standard when it comes to wine-bar pricing on the lower end these days. I figured that a bottle of the wine, at retail, might go for around $20 or so. The answer came the next day when I was wandering around the Pike Place market in Seattle and walked into the Pike & Western Wine Shop. Much to my surprise, the Kyra Chenin Blanc was just $12.50. I almost bought a bottle to take home to New York but then remembered the hassles of bringing wine on planes these days. Oh, well. For now I’ll just have to savor the memory of that glass and the prospect of trying more of Kyra’s wines.

The winery is owned by Kyra and Bruce Baerlocher and Kyra doubles as the winemaker. More information and shipping information can be found at their Web site.


Sips: an excellent Washington sauvignon blanc

I've been a fan of Mercer Estates, a family-owned winery in eastern Washington, for some time now. The whites, in particular, have jumped out at me. As I looked back through my revmercer sauvignoniews this  weekend I was reminded that I wrote about Mercer's riesling and pinot gris in the last couple of years in my column on MSNBC.com (I now write for Reuters and this blog). Now I can add to Mercer’s list of winning whites its 2008 Columbia Valley Sauvignon Blanc,  a beautiful example of the variety in a decidedly American style. I picked up some wet stone aromas; in the mouth the wine bursts with fruit – green apple, tropical fruit, melon, even a touch of strawberry. Some vanilla, cream and herb touches are achieved through partial fermentation; the wood influence is there but muted.  Enjoy it with any number of fish dishes, white clam sauce, grilled chicken, salads and vegetable pastas. The suggested retail price is $14 and 2,395 cases were made. Coming up: a winning Washington chenin blanc. (Mercer’s sauvignon blanc was received as a press sample.)


Sips: California pinot noir the way I like it

Anyone looking for an American pinot noir with beauty and finesse would do well to get hold of a bottle of Paul Dolan Paul Dolan pinot noitVineyards’ 2007 Mendocino County Pinot Noir. This lovely California wine with a suggested price of $30 is one of the prettiest pinots I’ve tasted in recent months. A good deal of raspberry, cherry, some floral and vanilla notes framed by  good balancing acidity help belie the fact that the wine weighs in at 14.5 percent alcohol. The color is light and transparent as in many Burgundies, and Burgundy is what the overall style reminds me of, though it’s not quite so austere as many young Burgundies are. The wine is a welcome change from the highly extracted style that dominates California pinot noir. Significantly, only 14 percent of the wine is aged in new oak, which, to my mind, is part of what gives it such a refreshing quality. The grapes are grown organically, and I can’t help but think that this contributes to the overall purity and expressiveness. Drink slightly chilled with grilled pork chops (as I did) or with wild grilled salmon or grilled chicken. Production was 4,730 cases. (Received as a press sample.)


Something different ...

You might have noticed something different here at Vint-ed. Thanks to our friends at Google, and quite by chance, we came across a great looking new template for this blog, one that we think is clean, interesting and palatable, just like, well, a nice glass of wine. So, enjoy our wine recommendations and news about the world of wine ... and let us know what you think. Cheers.

Video: wine and climate change – are we headed for syrah in Burgundy and ‘table grapes’ in Napa?

The wine industry may be among the very few in which a leading figure will smile broadly when asked about climate change and declare, spontaneously, “I love it.” The comment came this week from Egon Müller, owner of the famed Scharzhof estate in Germany’s Saar Valley, when I asked him about the trend at the Riesling Rendezvous in Bellevue, Washington. The reason for his elation, of course, is that cooler-climate regions like the Saar often struggle to achieve ripeness, and warmer temperatures are certainly helping. But what happens when it eventually gets too warm?

Two climate scientists at the conference, Dr. Greg Jones of Southern Oregon University and Professor Hans Schultz of the University of Applied Sciences Wiesbaden/Geisenheim, noted that as temperatures have risen in recent decades (and continue to rise) grape ripening and harvesting have taken place earlier, among other things. “I have looked at wine regions all over the world,” Jones said, “and I can tell you I don’t see any of them getting colder.” He said this has resulted in longer growing seasons, warmer dormant periods, reduced frost damage (although when frost does occur it is causing greater damage to vines), and earlier phenology (plant growth events). “The plant is telling us it’s living in a different environment, “ he said. Schultz noted that sugar levels in grapes are getting higher and acid levels are decreasing, which doesn’t bode well for balanced wines.

The bigger impact, they said, will come when temperatures exceed the optimum range for growing various grape varieties. Over time, wine growing regions will shift north toward cooler climates in the Northern Hemisphere and further south in Southern Hemisphere. Jones wondered whether, over the next 40 years of so, the Napa Valley would become a region for table grapes and Germany’s Rhine Valley would become more suitable for syrah than riesling.  He had much more to say when I interviewed him about warming trends and wine in the video above.


Swirls: Riesling Rendezvous -- the good news and bad about riesling

Ted Baseler, president of Chateau Ste. Michelle, opened the conference here this morning in Bellevue, Washington with some good news: young people are embracing reisling more than ever; people are discovering its ability to match with exotic cuisine; and lighter-alcohol wines, a category into which riesling falls, are now “very contemporary.”

The bad news: the sweetness issue and lack of knowledge about dry rieslings remain a challenge; other burdens include the language of riesling and the words often used to describe it, including “racy acid, rot, diesel, petrol, young. Doesn’t that sound inviting,” Baseler asked, “when we’re talking about acid, rot and petrol? Right now, anything to do with petrol is not a good thing.” Lots of laughter after that remark.

Ernst Loosen, owner of Germany’s Dr. Loosen estate, also cited “the tangled web of foreign words” but noted that the range of diversity of riesling is what makes it so fascinating even if it is “hard to embrace by consumers.”

A fascinating tasting of 14 dry rieslings followed; notes and comments to follow.

Swirls: tasting my way through the ‘Riesling Rendezvous’

I tasted dozens of rieslings last night on the grounds of Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville, Washington outside Seattle.  The ocRiesling 1casion was the opening of the third annual  Riesling Rendezvous. The event has drawn almost 70 riesling producers from the United States and around the world, along with others in the wine business and media and the public, for two and a half days of tasting and discussion of their wines and exploration of riesling in general. (The wines of a Canadian producer, Cave Spring Cellars in Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula, are being poured in the photo above).

After last night’s tasting, on the bus back to our hotel, I struck up a conversation with Martin Sinkoff, director of marketing for fine wine at Frederick Wildman and Sons, the New York importer. He quickly identified a central paradox of riesling.

“Riesling is widely considered the greatest white grape,” he said. “It’s like pinot noir in its ability to express terroir. But it has trouble finding an audience.” That’s because riesling suffers from an identity crisis, a victim of its great diversity, a wine that, unlike chardonnay, for example, isn’t easy for the casual wine drinker to get his hands around. “Only riesling of the great varieties has this problem,” Sinkoff continued. “That’s because it’s made in many different places in many different styles.”

Those styles range from bone dry to very sweet with everything in between. Further complicating matters is the fact that there is a great deal of variation in what is considered dry or semi-dry or sweet riesling. This is a problem in marketing and selling the wines and forces one to learn the language of the label, at the very least, and often take a gamble on what’s in the bottle. And that’s a tall order for many Americans, who don’t like to take chances on wine, even if the potential rewards are great.

But I will submit that this is also the inherent richness of riesling. For me, the diversity and the intellectual challenges associated with it are the very things that make the grape so interesting and appealing and are what drew me to this conference. With that in mind, look for a series of reflections and observations this week and beyond based on my travels through the world of riesling.

(A note about my trip: I was one of a number of journalists invited and sponsored by Chateau Ste. Michelle, which is hosting Riesling Rendezvous along with Germany’s Dr. Loosen Estate. There was no discussion or agreement about coverage of specific wines or topics.)


Sips: great California chardonnay for $13

I give Wente Vineyards’ 2008 “Morning Fog” Chardonnay from California’s Livermore Valley near San Francisco Bay high praise for its balanced approach. For one thing, use of oak is judicious, thanks to the fact that only half the wine is fermentWenteed in oak, the other half in stainless steel. Don’t get me wrong; the oak is definitely there, but it frames rather than dominates as it does in so many California chardonnays. As a result, the delicious fruit in this wine is readily apparent, especially pear and lemon notes with touches of butterscotch and cinnamon.  I enjoyed it with an appetizer of fried clam strips drizzled with lemon (stolen, I will admit, from the plate of my 11-year-old son who finds them irresistible). With alcohol at a relatively modest 13.5 percent, this is a chardonnay that should have broad appeal, providing a middle ground for those who like their oak but also those who prefer a more restrained, Burgundian  approach. The wine is 97 percent chardonnay and three percent gewürztraminer, with 86 percent from the Livermore Valley and 14 percent from Arroyo Seco in Monterey County. Perhaps most surprising, the suggested retail price of this estate grown chardonnay is just $13, a fact that almost made my eyes pop out. I served it quite cold on a very warm summer evening this week here in the northeast.


Sips: a box-wine bargain with a surprisingly good New Zealand sauvignon

Bringing a bottle of wine to dinner at a friend’s house isn’t usually a complicated affair. I simply ask for a general description of what’s being served, focusing on the main dish, and make a selection. Then I’ll often bring a second bottle, almost always a white, a rosé or a sparkling wine, to serve before dinner with appetizers. But when the dinner is “pot luck” with lots of people bringing all kinds of dishes, choosing a wine becomes a bit more challenging, as it was the other night as we got ready for a Fourth of July pot luck dinner.

But then I thought of a wine I’d been meaning to try, the one in the light blue octagonal box. Yes, box. Until the silver birchlast few years,  boxed wine was thought of largely as generic and uninteresting – cheap, drinkable stuff that you bought in the supermarket in large sizes that would last for weeks, if need be, after opening. But there have been recent moves toward packaging better wines in boxes, whether they are in the familiar “Tetra Paks,” which don’t preserve wine any longer than bottles but which are considered more “green,” or the larger bag-in-box containers that keep wine fresh for weeks and are more environmentally friendly as well.

The wine I chose fell into the latter category, the 2009 Silver Birch Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand’s Marlborough region. I wanted something fairly bold that would hold up to just about anything served at the dinner, and this one did. The wine, a brand of California-based Underdog Wine Merchants, went well with everything from salmon to chicken to rice pilaf and couscous. It was fairly typical Marlborough sauvignon, though not as racy as some, with notes of grapefruit and lime, an herbal touch and a little vanilla on the round finish. Almost everyone found it pleasing.

The box system, which prevents oxidation and is called the Octavin Home Wine Bar, has a black spout that you pull out from inside the cardboard and then twist to pour yourself a glass. It may have taken a little getting used to for a decidedly non-box wine crowd but proved to be a nice curiosity and a pleasant surprise when folks took a sip of the wine. The box contains three liters (the equivalent of four standard wine bottles) and sells for $24, making it a bargain if you think of it as $6 for a standard a bottle. The labeling claims the wine remains fresh for up to six weeks after opening, though it’s hard to imagine anyone keeping it that long. This bag in a box of wine is good enough to be drained well before that. I’ll plan to review other Octavin offerings in future posts. (Wine received as a press sample.)