A Pinot Noir Showdown

Delivering satisfaction almost every time, a Pinot Noir is aromatic with fruit notes ranging from cranberry to raspberry to cherry and firm but never obtrusive tannins.  Frequently it boasts vanilla, clove, licorice, mushroom, wet leaves, tobacco, and cola notes.  It can be paired with salmon or beef bourguignon.  It loves accompanying poultry dishes, especially for Thanksgiving.  Put a nice chill on it (10-20 minutes in the fridge) and its a perfect summer red!
Comparing Pinots from France, New Zealand, and the United States can help you fine tune where your palate falls on the jammy to earthiness scale of this red wine.  The following wines made this weekend’s Pinot Noir showdown.  Rascal Pinot Noir, Oregon, US (2013).  Ponga Pinot Noir, New Zealand (2013).  Francois LaPierre Castelbeaux Pinot Noir, France (2012).  Leese-Fitch Pinot Noir, Sonoma, California (2013).  You can find these for under $15.

These wines display the typical characteristics you’ll find in the regions represented.  So you can host your own Pinot Showdown and can follow the general observations below.


When admiring the wine in the glass, you’ll notice a watery rim.  The least intense color among the glasses should be associated with the French (a Burgundy village) wine.


Common aromas across the wines should be strawberries, raspberries.  The New Zealand wine may impart more of the black cherry, nutmeg and cinnamon notes. The French Pinot should give way to earthier notes and less fruit.


In the mouth, the Oregon and French wines will have more of a vegetal taste.  The French one will typically have a softer finish due to less tannins.  The New Zealand Pinot will come across as brighter thanks to its higher acidity and focus on fruit and light spices.  The California wine, here’s looking at you Sonoma, will focus on the fruit and have a similar roundness in the mouth as a French Pinot.

Which wine region do you prefer for Pinot Noir? Why?

Prosecco Doppelgangers

Due to a poor yield last year and rising demand, the 2014 Prosecco may run out this year. Processo gains its bubbles during a second fermentation. As the sugar and yeast react, carbon dioxide (bubbles) form in the sealed bottle. The process produced a soft, bright, and easy sparkling that is gaining a larger following.

Coming to the rescue are Australia and Spain’s alternatives. Australia introduced a Frizzante made from 100% Semillion. Producer states that this increases the wine’s longevity, and its marketing tag line “Prosecco is so 90s”. Spain introduced its Provetto which replaces the 2nd fermentation with a process that removes oxygen and replaces it with carbon dioxide.



A Summer Day in France

Pulled out two Rhone Valley wines this past Saturday’s tasting – a rose and a red. Found in the southern part of France’s oldest wine region, these blends are perfect for a warm summer day.

Les Dauphins Cotes-du-Rhone Reserve Rose has a pale salmon color, zesty notes, and strawberries and tart raspberries. The bright acidity brings a little refreshing breeze to the summer afternoon.

Charles Thomas Cotes-du-Rhone welcomes you with ripe, fresh red berries. A bit of damp Earth reminds you of a camping trip and ends it ends with a smooth, round finish. Put a slight chill in it, and you are ready for grilling.

An Afternoon in Temecula

While in San Diego, we took a day trip to Temecula. My friends had some wines waiting for pick up at Callaway.  We then explored a couple more vineyards before heading back home.  It was a hot day, and we quickly tired of lugging their wines into tasting rooms so they didn’t bake in the car. We went to Callaway, Baily, Falkner and Hart.  Hart was spectacular, and I signed up for their wine club.

Enjoying the view.

Enjoying the view.


Baily focuses on French styled wine.  There was a pleasant smoothness to the wines we tried.  We grabbed some of the Sangiovese to go.  What a great inexpensive wine to bring as a gift or drink with friends – there was a special of $10 a bottle for a case.

Falkner Wines

Aging their wines a little longer than usual – three years at least – Falkner showed a nice tasting.  A little more mellow, due to the aging, than Baily’s.  Faulkner poured both Bordeaux and Tuscan styled wines.Hart's Story

The Essentials

Temecula winemaking revival dates back to the 1960s with a vision to develop a planned community that included agricultural development.  Vines were planted, among other crops, and the development drew attention.  A few families invested in their own vineyards, and today there are a little more than 30 wineries. Much of the valley’s success is due to low rainfall, warm days, cool nights, and well-drained soils. Being in southern California, the vines receive more sun exposure and at a greater intensity.  However, the mountain range to the west helps keep a healthy mist on the vines during the mornings.  At night, cooler air travels through the range’s low spots and gaps.  The soil in the area is a result of decomposing granite which offers excellent drainage.  This is important because higher quality vines do not like their roots to be constantly wet and without the dampness there is less of a herbaceous flavor.    Temecula CA Topography Source: Google Maps http://www.cityoftemecula.org/Temecula/History/ForgottenVineyard.htm http://www.visittemeculavalley.com/visitors/wine-country/wineries/index.cfm?listsearch_submit=1&subcatID=0&subcatID_sc=–Show+All–&subcatID_sch=0&regionID=0&regionID_sc=–Show+All–&regionID_sch=0&listing_keyword=

Wine Bars and Markets in San Diego

Hello! I’ve been traveling for work and seeing friends.  The latest place was San Diego.  First time!  My friend, can’t believe we’ve known each other for more than 10 years, introduced me to Splash.  We went around the wine carousels and pick these four to try.  We stuck mostly to California wines, adding one Hungarian Cabernet Franc.  All four were great finds.  Bock and Eponymous were the top favorites among us.  Bock (Cabernet Franc, Villainy, Hungary) posted dark cherry, licorice, eucalyptus notes with softened tannins.  Eponymous (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, Sonoma, California) paired nicely with our truffle (gluten-free) pizza.

Tasting Pours at Splash

Tasting Pours at Splash

While in San Diego, we also visited the farmers market.  So many fantastic booths to visit.  Fresh oysters and fish tacos!  Almond dips and green juices.  We also said hi to John, the wine maker at Mesa Grande Corazon.  He and his wife employ natural farming practices.  We enjoyed two of his Cabernet Sauvignon and two Cabernet Franc.


Tastings at the Farmers Market

A Brouilly Legend

I love folklore. Do you know how excited I got when I learned why Chianti’s have a black rooster on their label? Real, real excited. And, I’ve also bought a bottle of wine based on the vineyard’s history. Prime example: Biale’s Black Chicken Zinfandel named after their code word “black chicken” for wine during Prohibition.

Here’s a legend from Brouilly (thanks to the Bubbly Professor passing it along)

A long time ago a new priest came to a small vineyard area in Brouilly. He had a different dialect making some words sound like others words that led the area being known today as Pisse Vielle. An old pious woman came to confession, although she probably very few, if any sins, to tell the priest. At the end of the confession, the priest said, “Go, and sin no more!” The old woman took his command to heart. However, her husband was baffled why she refused to go the bathroom even though she clearly needed to do such a thing. She told her husband that the priest had told her “to pee no more”. Baffled, the husband set off to find the priest. Realizing the priest’s dialect resulted in the word for sin being heard as the word for piss, he hurriedly passed along the message to his wife that priest meant “go, and sin no more” rather than “go, and pee no more.” Of course, the husband was in such a hurry to help his wife that he yelled down the street, “Pee old woman! The priest says you can pee!” From that point on the area was known as Pisse-Vielle or Pee Old Woman.

The next time you have a glass of Brouilly from Pisse-Vielle, which you may stumble across when looking for a Beaujolais, think how lucky you are that you can head to the bathroom when you please.

Don’t Blame Sulfites for Your Headache

Occasionally a person will be at the tasting bar and state that they avoid red wine because its sulfites give them headaches.  These is one of the rare moments where I inform (pretty much insist) that the customer is incorrect.  I nicely state, “Your headaches are much more likely coming from the alcohol you consume than the sulfites.”  I go on to say that sulfites are in both red and white wines.  It never fails; I get a deadpan stare as a response.

First, all wines have sulfites because it is a by-product of fermentation.  While there are several by-products the US government required that every bottle in the US be labeled “Contains Sulfites” beginning in 1988.  This labeling was part of the War on Drugs, and thus sulfites began getting a negative rap.  However, wine contains less sulfites than other foods, including less than candy.

Sulfite Spectrum

Second, allergic reactions tend to manifest in rashes and/or trouble breathing or swallowing.  A headache doesn’t really mean you have an allergy.  In fact, it is believed that only 1 percent of US citizens actually have an allergic reaction to sulfites.  Other reactions while drinking wine could be attributed to proteins or histamines in the wine.  Even the tannins found in grape skins could trigger a reaction.





Portuguese Wines Have Landed

Portuguese wine has been my answer to “What’s your favorite wine?” for the past couple of months.  Even before our Wine Club picked the country to explore, I had found, drank, and loved Tapada de Villar’s Tinto (2012).  Those who I shared my new find with also enjoyed it.  Moreover, Tapada de Villar’s other bottles impressed the folks at the wine shop where I help out.  Needless to say, a white, a rose, and three of their tintos landed on our tasting bar last week.  To add a cherry on top, the tasting offered a great opportunity to see how a wine can change with different aging processes.

The Alvarinho, also known as Albarino, offers orange blossoms and citrus notes. The Rose begins with raspberry notes and ends with a drier finish due to the acidity in the wine – quite refreshing for a summer day and a little bolder than a French rose. Note that the label here shows Conde Villar vineyard, which is related to and lies north of the Tapada de Villar vineyards.

Alvarinho and Rose


First is the Conde Villar Tinto (2014), then Tapada de Villar Tinto (2013), and finally Tapada de Villar Tinto Reserva (2011).  As you move along you notice how the red fruit slowly become dried fruit notes, the tannins soften, and a hint of chocolate emerges.  This is because the first bottle is younger and was fermented in stainless steel tanks.  The next bottle was fermented the same but aged in oak barrels for 4 months.  Finally, the Reserva was aged in oak barrels for 8 months and allowed to age another year in the bottle.  Even more enjoyable is that all these bottles can fit into your budget – starting around $10 and staying under $25.

Shelving the Glass to Embrace History

The wine “vessel” has changed over the centuries, and some designers are help us drink like Romans.

In the 1950s Claus Riedel introduced glasses that complemented particular grape varietals.  The key to his success was their parabolic shapes that made tasting wine much more enjoyable than prior crystal glasses.  The design helped the wine’s aromas meet the taster’s nose, making wine taste more expensive.  Prior to this, way back to the Romans, wine was served in terracotta (clay) tumblers.

A writer for Punch experienced this historical custom thanks to today’s clay tumbler producers.  The article noted that the clay cup acts like a decanter and also helps insulate the wine so its temperature does not increasingly become warmer.  The article notes a few producers, including Mazama Wares in Portland, OR.

Mazama's Clay Tumbler

Mazama’s Clay Tumbler

What do you think about drinking from a terracotta tumbler?  Would you be willing to trade in your glass for clay?

The Last Glass and Dating

Last week I read a thoughtful Wine Spectator article about our relationships with great wines.  I couldn’t help compare the author’s comments to dating.  Yes, I am back on the dating scene and have been going on several dates the past month or so.  Wish me luck!

Referred to as the Last Glass Phenomenon, which leaves us wanting one more glass, because “by the last glass, you come to love a wine—a good wine, anyways- on its terms, not yours”.  As we engage with the wine over the course of the evening, we become better in picking up on the nuances of the wine.  The scientific explanation of oxidation that encourages the wine to release more aromas and softens harsh flavors does play a role.  However, like dating, the author explains the personal connection we create with wine are more likely the reason behind this phenomenon.  He notes that at first we are distracted by the wine’s label, price or other factors that create preconceived notions about how it will taste.  Then as we continue to drink, or explore the wine’s attributes, we are able see what the wine truly has to offer, noticing more of the aromas, taste, and characteristics such as elegance, boldness, or warmth.  “At the very end, [you have] discovered something quite beautiful that somehow, you missed at the beginning.”  Isn’t that what we hope for at the end of the date, to be pleasantly surprised and wanting another date (or glass)?  Of course, it has to be a worthy person or a bottle of wine.

This post first appeared on TheGrapeScout.