Sunday, November 24, 2013

Review: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay Extended Mix

Followup to "wine pairing for the vital wheat gluten gobbler," from Swirl's cellar o' samples.

Posted By on Sun, Nov 24, 2013 at 4:58 PM

In this week’s Swirl we looked at wine pairings for meatless wonders. Turns out, the familiar Burgundian dyad of Pinot and Chard hits most of the right notes with Turtle Island Foods Tofurky and Field Roast brand Celebration Roast, with all the trimmings. Here’s a longer list of samples from 2011 and 2012, rated up to five stars (asterisks).
Murphy-Goode Pinot Noir

“It’s a perfectly good crop, and they’re screwing it up!” a winemaker complained to me in the fall of 2012. He was talking about the overabundant grapes some growers were hanging on their vines to make up for the skimpy, supposedly poor 2011 harvest. Here is no apples-to-apples comparison, to be sure, but let’s see how the years compare:

2011 Francis Ford Coppola “Director’s” Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($17) Chilled lemon cheesecake aroma with muted butterscotch and oak, peppermint candy cane. Golden Delicious apple, bit of a sweet palate, plus tangy citrus zip. Nice. ***1/2

2011 La Crema Monterey Chardonnay ($20) Nutty, peanut brittle. Or musty? Soft, billowy palate, lemon-apple. ***

2012 Murphy-Goode California Chardonnay ($14) Concession stand “butter,” a little toasty oak; drinking a tub of kettle corn. If you like this flavor, this is the ticket. **1/2

2011 “Director’s Cut” Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($21) Muted sulfur, hamper aroma. Cidery flavor, but hot. Recommend the “Director’s.” **1/2

2012 Frank Family Carneros Chardonnay ($34.75) Floral, toasty oak and buttery pie crust, green apple skin; thick, lemon-custard palate, trending bitter. **1/2

Jordan 2011 RRV Chardonnay ($30) Touted as a top restaurant wine, the smoky, oaky, burnt butter-soaked Jordan was frankly unpleasant on its own. But this was also tasted with the faux fowl products, and we agreed that it was better with food. Pretty good, actually—guess they know what they’re doing. **1/2

2012 KJ “Vintner’s Reserve” California Chardonnay ($17) Ye olde ever-popular Chard seems to have ceded the signature style to others. Murky, old barrel smell with slightly tingly-sweet palate and hard, bitter edge. **

2012 KJ “Avant” Unoaked Chardonnay ($17) I smell oak, buttered oak. Nutty, soggy cashew, too, going down with cloying, butterscotch candy. What, why? **

2012 Martin Ray Unoaked RRV Chardonnay ($16.99) Nice lemon blossom notes, but nowhere near the zippy style implied by the “unoaked” label, this also flops all over. **

2012 Balverne RRV Estate Reserve Pinot Noir ($50) Translucent cherry glaze color with aroma to match, fennel spice, and sweet cherry lollipop flavor. It’s a nice quaff. ***

2012 Murphy-Goode California Pinot Noir ($15) Quite similar to the Balverne, but smokier, with vanilla and cherry, and an odd plummy gummy candy note in there. Easy to like. ***

2011 La Crema Monterey Pinot Noir ($23) Dark strawberry jam, vanilla, cinnamon. Inviting; darkly tannic. ***

2011 Cambria “Bench Break” Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir ($34) Rosemary, pine sap aromas, with currants, turn to licorice after a day. For prime rib, not lentil loaf. ***

2011 Martin Ray Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($NA) Kinda closed; cool red fruit smelled through charcoal and horse blanket. Pure palate, though, promising; start your “cellar” with this one. **1/2

2011 Pedroncelli RRV Pinot Noir ($NA) Light-bodied, not awful. **
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Monday, November 4, 2013

Gleason Ranch: Risking Everything

Posted By on Mon, Nov 4, 2013 at 3:15 PM

A familiar sight at farmers markets around the North Bay, Gleason Farms offers pasture-raised poultry and other meats that taste better than anything found in a grocery store. But the Sonoma County farm, like many other family farms these days, is facing some tough times. Money problems turn into family squabbles, and the death of two parents in six months increases the stress. Sounds like a dynamite movie plot, and it is—sort of.

Morgan Schmidt-Feng is directing a documentary about the 150-year-old, 5th generation farm, using footage gathered over four years, showing the rise, fall and rebirth of this farm and this family. It’s called “Risking Everything,” and the trailer sure is compelling. It’s a microcosm of what’s happening to farms across the country, in a way, and the local aspect makes it that much more compelling for the North Bay audience.

By the way, here’s an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds to finish the movie.

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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Review: BNA Wine Group’s Pie Case-Themed Wines

Posted By on Sun, Nov 3, 2013 at 12:55 PM

A visit to the grocery store wine section inspired this week’s Swirl column about the Red Blend wine category. Wine brands with dessert-themed names that clearly telegraph “sweet wine here” have been all the rage lately, to wit: “Cupcake,” “Layer Cake,” “Red Velvet” and “Cherry on Top.” And then I saw a label that just cuts to the chase with “Sweet Red Wine.”

BNA Wine Group, which Swirl visited recently, prefers the nudge-and-wink of its pie-themed labels. Besides, it turned out some of the wines, made by wine industry insider and St. Helena small-town hero Tony Leonardini, have more going for them than a trendy name. Here’s a full review of the BNA wines: 

BNA Wine Group Butternut Chardonnay

2012 “Bandwagon” Monterey Unoaked Chardonnay ($17.50) There’s a saline freshness that keeps it lively through lingering, peanut brittle and golden apple pie flavors. Crisp enough on the palate, but a bit hot rather than thirst-quenching, with a lingering sensation of sweetness.

2011 “Butternut” California Chardonnay ($17.50)
Just reeks of heavily toasted oak, what else to say. It’s like someone took a barrel of Rombauer, a Napa Chardonnay that’s generally viewed as the gold standard of the toasted oaky, buttery Chardonnay style, set it on fire and watched it burn for kicks. But that’s an observation, not a criticism: this is a popular wine, and Leonardini works with a consultant to keep it consistent. It’s a deep gold hue, has got sweet, buttery, kettle corn flavor, and slobbery viscosity.

2012 “Nanna’s Shortcake” Lodi Zinfandel ($17.50) It’s a dessert, but the aroma keeps it interesting. Raspberry syrup leaps out of the glass, accented with spicy clove and Pier 1 furniture aromas. Flavors of soft, sweet, strawberry and raspberry jam, such as from little breakfast packets.

2012 “Humble Pie” Cabernet Sauvignon ($17.50)
There’s a reason the Central Coast is big on Chardonnay and Pinot: Central Coast Cab used to have a bad reputation. But there’s no funky green pepper aroma here. Their sleight of hand does not involve wine additives, says Leonardini, but calculated deployment of oak, and a fair amount of “flash détente,” a super-heating and cooling procedure that’s “Great for color, weight and a bit of the aromatics.” Pumice stone, pencil lead at first whiff, then a sort of “berry medley” breakfast snack bar character. Dusty raspberry-vanilla. Smooth, easy drinking.

2011 “The Rule” Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($24) Also with the pumice and pencil notes. Stony black fruit, with some sweetness on the backend, competing with sturdy tannin. Incense aromas crop up after a time.

2010 “Volunteer” Cabernet Sauvignon ($31) Deeper still, Stygian dark. Black currants and chocolate nibs in a puddle of blueberry sauce; German chocolate cake in a bitter union with burnt fruitcake, mashed under the heel of a leather boot. Now we’re talking serious Cab. Rich and smooth, with grippy tannin. Black olive savory notes with some air, and a day later it did not fall apart, but was improved—something I cannot say for the “red blends” from this week’s Swirl.

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